A story from the second chapter of Mark gives a wonderful description of the challenge and glory of how women stuck in the mire of sexual sin can connect with Jesus for the help they need.
When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While Jesus was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!” (Mark 2:1-12, NIV)
Many women are like this paralyzed man: desperate for help, but seemingly unable to draw near to Jesus. They are bound up in sin of a sexual nature and are “paralyzed,” unable to move or take action. Stuck in place and helpless. They are hurting, isolated, and terrified to consider talking to anyone in their churches about what is going on in their lives.
Chris came to Harvest USA for help, having recently left her partner of 23 years. She shared that, over the years when she would feel conviction over her homosexuality, she had sought help from pastors and other Christian leaders. Chris shared that most of the time, these leaders would respond to her confession with something like, “You do know, right, that this is a sin? That God is NOT pleased with this?” She said, “I would say back to them, ‘Yes, I do know it’s a sin. . . but do you have any words to help me? To lead me out?’” No one had been able to “pick her up and carry her to Jesus” for the discipleship she needed.
Sadly, overcoming sin of a sexual nature and understanding God’s good design for sexuality are not consistent topics of discussion, much less discipleship, in the church. Many women, like Chris, feel they are just outside the reach of Jesus and unable to draw near to him regarding their private struggles and sin. Some of these women may be ministry leaders themselves, but in terms of personal struggles with pornography, sexual fantasy, and sexual behavior with men and/or other women, they are clueless about how the gospel can help them move in the direction of sexual integrity and freedom.
How can women move from their patterns of sexual sin and the paralysis of faith that accompanies hidden struggles into the healing, forgiveness, and power of the love of Christ?
If you’re stuck on a mat . . .
Here are three initial steps of faith to take if you find yourself stuck and unable to connect the gospel to your sexual struggle.
First, acknowledge that you need help from outside of yourself. Proverbs 28:13 says, “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy” (NLT). There is mercy for you, sister, as you turn to God in humility and ask him for help, which means reaching out to a person you can trust to share your struggle with.
Sharing your sexual sin struggle is key, as there is healing and freedom that comes in “naming” it before the Lord in the presence of someone else. The paralyzed man’s need was visible and obvious; yours is most likely secret, unknown to even your closest friends and coworkers. In confessing and asking for help, you are receiving the Lord’s help as you allow friends to carry you to Jesus.
Second, believe the words of God given to Christians: You are forgiven! Stand up! Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Will you believe in his gracious, loving words to you regarding even these areas of sin in your life? He welcomes you, always, at the throne of grace!
Third, pick up your mat and go home! In other words, now walk forward in faith and repentance. Keep fighting! Don’t give up! This is a lifelong aspect of following Jesus: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
My next blog post will unpack what that means. In the meantime, have you been paralyzed like Chris? Have any of these three steps of faith been helpful to you? Let me know.
14 Jan 2014
Solutions for dealing with sexual purity issues abound today. By the way, I don’t really like the word “purity” for several reasons: 1) it’s overused; 2) no one really knows what that word means anymore; 3) it’s definitely not most people’s track record or experience; and, 4) it seems unattainable, which invites despair. I much rather prefer the words “godliness” or “holiness,” because either word offers much more hope, as they imply that God is so invariably involved in the whole process.
The advice on how to deal with sin and temptation, along with the resulting guilt and shame from failure and sin, comes from varied sources today—mostly with lots of advice about what to do and not to do. One professional says to snap your wrist with a rubber band when tempted. Another says to have multiple accountability partners and call them at the first sign of temptation. We are told we need to deal with issues arising from our family of origin, work the steps, and journal our feelings/temptation cycles. Still others talk about how we need multiple Internet filters, reporting systems, and barriers in place 24/7. Just trying to get free and stay free can be a full-time job!
Now don’t get me wrong. All these things are good tips and can be very helpful tools. But they just don’t identify the core problem we all face. They don’t deal with the larger issue of why we find ourselves so trapped and enslaved by our struggles and sin. While it’s helpful to be aware of our family origins and the environmental triggers that lead us into trouble, sometimes I think we just make purity—or “godliness”—all too complex. No wonder we throw up our hands in frustration and agony, wrestling with a miserable record of trying to deal with this stuff. We try. We fail. We try again. We fail again.
However, when we begin to understand who we are “in Christ,” and start to take hold of and live out our intimate and inseparable union with him in his life and death—when we grasp that, nothing, including our sins and repeated failures, can separate us from the love of Christ. When we wonderfully give up and see that we can’t do one thing to add to what Christ has done for us; and when we rejoice in the knowledge that, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “God is our Heavenly Father who always delights to see us coming to him (at our time of deepest need), to receive us, that he is looking upon us with favor, smiling upon us, always ready to bless”—well, that changes everything (Romans: Assurance, Exposition of Chapter 5, Banner of Truth, 38-39).
It changes everything, because it changes us. It transforms us! We no longer are orphans, living out a weary existence by our own wits, but we are loved sons and daughters of a king. We are royalty! We serve a king who gives himself to us intensely, relentlessly, and completely. There’s no short cut to understanding this, no fast-track or multiple-step program to spiritual health. This is a journey of a lifetime, one that is filled increasingly with what every one of us longs for: love, peace, meaning, and a never-ending future. To effectively deal with the barrage of temptations we face—the idols, sexual and otherwise—that are always vying for a place in our hearts, Jesus must “become more precious to us than those vile lusts have been,” as a Valley of Vision prayer says.
Pastor Scotty Smith says this about realizing who we are and what we have in Christ: “The more precious he becomes to us, the more we watch our guilt and shame melt away. The more we see him for what he really is, the more we see all other precious currencies as the fool’s gold they really are. The more we come to him, the more we realize that it’s him who is always coming to us first” (Everyday Prayers, February 3).
The following is an excerpt from Dave White’s book, Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture. Published by New Growth Press. Copyright © 2012 by Harvest USA. This Harvest USA resource can be used in a one-on-one discipling relationship or in a men’s group. You can obtain this resource at our bookstore, www.harvest-usa-store.com
Week 1, Day 5: Jesus restores our manhood
We’ll discuss this in greater detail later on, but realize right now: Jesus’ mission is to make us real men! He wants us to be free from enslaving desires and behaviors. He doesn’t want us to be emasculated men, but “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11).
Jesus invites us to joy and contentment as we learn that the Christian life is best characterized, not by what we don’t get to do, but by the abundant life Christ offers us. God wants to give us more, not less. Our flesh, the world, and the enemy would have us believe that God is holding out on us, but these are vicious lies against the God who, in love, both created and redeemed us. Jesus describes this contrast poignantly in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Brothers, God is not holding out on us in calling us out of our sinful behavior and desires—he wants to give us life! He offers to liberate us from our bondage and bring us to sexual sanity.
The irony is, Jesus promises to give us what we’re hoping to find in sexual sin. Sex has become an idol for us, but the reality is that our idols are counterfeits that make huge promises, but always fail to deliver. They promise life, but bring only destruction and loss of what is most valuable. They promise excitement and contentment, but eventually lead to emptiness and despair. In a tragic demonstration of the truth of John 10, sexual sin robs us even of the ability to experience sexual fulfilment. As we examined yesterday, we are left only with a “continual lust for more.” Pursuit of sexual sin leaves us sexually insatiable and unsatisfied, filled with yearning and discontent.
But here’s the rub: Often the Christian life doesn’t fit our expectations. It doesn’t seem like an abundant life. We experience everything from minor diasppointments to horrific trauma—even as Christians—that seem to belie the promises offered by Jesus. There are reasons we turn to sexual sin. The challenges of life in a fallen world cause us to question God’s goodness and faithfulness. We’re tempted to live like orphans, taking matters into our own hands and looking for contentment and comfort wherever we can find it.
But Jesus was straight with us. He told us that the Christian life would involve taking up our crosses, denying ourselves, and laying down our lives for his sake and glory. Although some make the declaration, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” this really needs to be qualified. When Jesus invites you to follow him, he hands you a heavy cross—with splinters—that you’re expected to throw up on your shoulder, carry up a steep hill, and when you get to the top . . . they’re going to kill you.
But, Jesus’ promise to us is that there’s a resurrection on the other side of that death. We are called to deny ourselves because the reward he offers is greater than our desires. He says that if you try to save your life you’ll lose it, but if you lose it for his sake, you’ll find it.
You know the experience of slavery. Sexual sin has robbed you of life and strength—your manhood. Jesus is calling you to a hard road, but a much better road than the one you’ve chosen to travel—and with a far greater destination. The road of sexual sin leads to all kinds of death, but the road Jesus calls you to walk leads to life now and life forever. As you follow him on this road, you’ll begin to experience greater life, joy, strength, and even sexual contentment. Only Jesus can give you what your heart is ultimately longing for!
We began this week by looking at Paul’s utter frustration with his sin in Romans 7. But for Paul, it didn’t end there. He doesn’t stop in a place of despair, but cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25).
Paul remembers the hope of the gospel, even in the midst of being confounded by his sin. And he goes on from that place of struggle to write one of the most glorious passages in all of Scripture: Romans 8, which radically focuses on what God accomplished for us in Christ and the incredible promises held out to us in the gospel. This is perhaps the most beautiful picture of repentance in the Bible. In the face of his sin and utter inability, Paul begins to worship. He reminds himself not only of the forgiveness we have in Christ, but the amazing fullness of our redemption. He begins by declaring, “There is therefore now no condemnation” (verse 1) and finishes by proclaiming that nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (verse 39). Throughout this chapter, Paul rehearses the mercy showed to us, the outpouring of the Spirit who intercedes for us because we don’t even know how to pray for ourselves, the promise that God will complete his work bringing us to glory, and on and on. In the face of his sin, Paul reminds us of the fullness of life offered to us. He lays hold again of Jesus, gets on his feet, and back into the battle against sin.
Jesus wants you to experience freedom and joy. He promises you abundant life and—in the midst of the battle against sin—wants you to discover in him what will truly satisfy your soul. He wants to free you from slavery and show you what it truly means to be a man!
Week 2, Day 3: Leaky cisterns and broken masculinity
Again, sexual sin is idolatry. It is a violation of the first Great Commandment to love God, as well as a violation of the second Great Commandment to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:34–40, Mark 12:28–34). Sexual sin is always exploitative. It always takes those made in the image of God and turns them into objects for my pleasure. Do you see how the violations of these commands hang together? We exploit others (violating the second command) and, in the same moment, long to be personally exalted (violating the first command).
At first glance, it may appear that the object on the monitor, the dancer, etc., is the focus of our idolatry. But think about it: What goes on in your fantasies? You’re creating a world where everyone exists to serve, adore, and please you! That is the great offense of sexual sin. In a very tangible way, we set ourselves up as little gods and pretend others are ours to rule. In our minds we refashion the universe, throwing God out of the picture, placing ourselves at the center, and populating it with God’s creatures to worship us.
This is yet another way that sexual sin radically undercuts our masculinity. As men, we are called to cover and protect others, especially women and children. We are created to be guardians over the weak. It is a blasphemous twisting of God’s design that we cease to be protectors, instead using our strength to oppress others, turning them into objects to consume sexually. In Ezekiel 34, God brings a stinging indictment against the leaders of Israel, describing them as shepherds who devour their sheep, rather than feeding them. When we engage in sexual sin, we are guilty of the same charge. We exploit those we are called to care for.
Depending on what behaviors you engage in, this oppression can be either blatant or subtle. Perhaps this seems a little abstract. How exactly are you charged to care for the model on the page, or the actor in the video? As we’ll examine in more depth later, men were created to serve and care for others. When you partake in pornography, you are participating in the oppression. Just because you are not behind the camera, you’re not absolved of guilt. Most people in the porn industry (both men and women) suffered sexual abuse, some as young children. There is a history of pain and exploitation behind the seductive eyes and pretense of pleasure.
Of course, when your behavior involves physical contact with others, the offense is more obvious. Whether prostitution or a long-term affair, in our sin we take advantage of those who are weaker—even when they’re willing and enthusiastic participants—for our own selfish ends. This oppression is in stark contrast to who God calls you to be as a man!
Although this often sounds sexist in today’s culture, men’s greater physical strength is part of God’s design, so that he might cover and protect those who are weaker, particularly in the context of marriage (1 Peter 3:6). Similarly, he is called to be the spiritual head of his wife (Ephesians 5:22–33). This doesn’t mean that men are better, or more spiritually mature, than women. To be head ultimately means to reflect Jesus by laying down our lives for our spouses. In fact, our tendency toward passivity since the fall probably contributes to God’s command that we lead. He knows that in our sin, most of us are naturally bent to sit back and let women take charge. Although bad teaching on gender roles has caused great harm, when a man follows God’s calling, dying to self to serve like Jesus, there is no exploitation. Women are blessed and able to flourish, not treated as servants. In Christ, there is no male and female. There is a fundamental equality among all citizens of the kingdom.
When we live in sexual sin, we are violating who we are created to be. First Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” There are a lot of implications with that statement. We’ve already looked at the reality of diminishing returns and our inability to experience sexual satisfaction. But sexual sin also makes us operate radically contrary to God’s design for us as men. Sexual sin not only emasculates us through robbing us of strength and enslaving our souls, it places us outside God’s design and calling, becoming lesser men, less truly human as his image-bearers—and more like brute beasts. We rob ourselves not only of the good gift and righteous pleasure that God extends through sexuality, but we diminish ourselves as those created to uniquely “image” him in this fallen world.
All this matters deeply to God. Those we exploit are his creation. They exist to honor and serve him, not us. Remember the scary declaration from yesterday, “the Lord is an avenger in all these things” (1 Thessalonians 4:6). Jesus is returning to settle the score with his enemies. Read through the glorious description of Jesus’ triumphant return in Revelation 19:11–21, then ask yourself: Whose side would you want to be on?
And this is crucial: The verses immediately before describe Jesus’ wedding feast. Those we exploit are not mere creatures—the equivalent of God’s pets. They are his bride! If the life of an adulterer is in danger from an enraged, betrayed husband, how much greater are our souls in peril if we take lightly our violation of Jesus’ betrothed?
What does this mean for those of us who are in Christ and continue to oppress others sexually? Hear again this warning: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). Remember, your sexuality is a litmus test for your spirituality.
In the first century the Jewish leaders blew off Jesus’ warning because they were the physical offspring of Abraham. But the New Testament makes clear that the true Israelite is spiritually, not physically, generated. In the same way, I fear many in the 21st century American church have a very flip view of their sin because they’re “under grace.” The Bible always assumes that those in Christ will increasingly live as members of his kingdom, the new created order. Our lives will bear fruit that comes from the heart, not mere outward deeds. If you continue to sin sexually, brother, I urge you to take it extremely seriously. Jesus hates what you are doing and is an avenger of the oppressed. It may be that your sexual behavior demonstrates what is ultimately most true of your spiritual state—much more than your formal profession of faith!
But be encouraged: You wouldn’t be reading these words if you weren’t seeking change on some level. The Christian life is a tightrope. Our hope is never our performance, but only the grace and mercy of God. At the same time, his power is at work to effect change, and we should expect our lives to grow and bear fruit.
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Modern psychology tells us—and indeed, our entire culture seeks to convince us—that it’s not good to repress or deny our sexual urges and desires. They’re seen by many as simple biological needs that demand expression; it’s seen as unhealthy not to seek that expression. Now that might be true, were it not for the fact that sex is never really about ‘us.” It’s about the other person.
Ideally, it’s about bringing all of who we are male or female to bless someone else. As archaic as it may seem, the Bible tells us that sex most aptly blesses others and reflects God in the context of marriage between one man and one woman.
Where does this leave the unmarried? Well, it leaves them dependent on God to meet the desires they might otherwise seek to fulfill through sex. This is also the case for married couples who deal with corrupt desires.
This is tough stuff. It runs contrary to the culture. It runs smack up against the messages about sex we get from advertising, TV, and the movies, that our drives and urges must be met at all costs. Resisting where our sexual desires might take us is not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard work. It’s a form of suffering, made more extraordinary because it is entirely voluntary.
But there’s an unseen benefit to resisting instead of repressing. C.S. Lewis, the Oxford University professor who wrote more than 40 books, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, had something of value to say about this. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
“People often misunderstand what psychology teaches about ‘repressions.’ It teaches that ‘repressed’ sex is dangerous’…. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires… as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.”
Lewis is saying that it’s in the active mode of resisting our desires that we come to know more of what fuels our hearts and emotions—that we come to be more aware of our true selves.
In a world that offers numerous ways to dull our emotions and anesthetize our anxieties, fears, and uncertainties, often through sex, knowing one’s self is an amazing thing. It opens us up to knowing God in the depth of our desires in ways we’ve never imagined.
Of course there’s a hint of the supernatural in all of this. It’s not ordinary to resist the pulls of the heart. It can be done only with the power God gives as we seek to worship him and put him first in our lives, by committing our unmet desires to God for him to satisfy in his own way—in his own time.
This is not repression; it’s honestly admitting our desires, yet yielding them to God.
Jesus demonstrated this by putting aside his own desires, drives, and needs and yielding them to his Father. He did this so we could know his forgiveness and love in spite of the weakness of our own flesh and our history of failures.
This article is a reprint of a column published in the Philadelphia Daily News.
14 Jan 2014
The church pianist arched her back and stretched her arms in preparation for the opening hymn. The man in front of me didn’t miss one movement. His wife, painfully aware of the object of his gaze, jabbed him in the side, he shot back angrily, “I wasn’t looking at anything.” His remark seemed well-rehearsed, perhaps from countless other occasions of being caught stealing looks at attractive women. The couple’s hurt and anger betrayed the endless cycle of accusation, defense, guilt, effort, helplessness, and failure so often associated with struggles of lust.
Lust is a battle for us all. Christians — both men and women — have struggled with it for generations. Many have measured their or others’ spirituality on the basis of their freedom from lust. Yet for all the interest focused on lust it would seem that we ought to be far clearer about the problem and its solution. What exactly is lust, why is it so hard to change, and how can we deal with its power to shape our lives?
The color of lust
Most people have come to equate lust with sexual desire. In many cases in Scripture, lust does refer to illicit sexual desire (I Pet. 4:3). Consequently, if we are not struggling with illicit sexual thoughts or behavior, we assume we are free from lust. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The word in the New Testament that is translated “lust” means strong desire. The word can be used to describe a legitimate, godly desire. Jesus said to His disciples: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk. 22:15). Elsewhere Paul said he strongly desired to depart this life to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23), and yet he also strongly desired to be with his friends (1 Thess. 2:17). Strong, passionate, eager desire or lust is not inconsistent with God’s purpose for our lives.
On the other hand we know from the Bible and from experience that strong desire, or lust, can be immoral and destructive. I spoke to a thirty-five-year-old man, “Craig,” who had fought an obsession with pornography since he was eight years old. He was alternately victorious and then overwhelmed by his lustful desires. His occasional lapses endangered his ministry and threatened his relationship with his family.
But this man’s battle with lust was not confined solely to sexual pictures and mental images. In fact, his lust manifested itself in workaholism, extreme absorption in hobbies and reading, and an obsessive desire to please others. To focus too narrowly on his sexual lust would have caused us to lose the bigger picture of his battle with addictive desires.
“Diana” was struggling with the desire to have a fifth child. Every time she saw a newborn baby, she ruminated and obsessed about how to convince her husband. She lusted after being pregnant. Her battle was not sexual, but I would suggest she had just as great a problem with lust as the man who struggled with pornography.
When desire goes awry
When does lust become destructive? Destructive lust is any consuming desire that is either out of bounds or out of balance.
An out-of-bounds lust is a desire for any person or object or idea that is inconsistent with God’s expressed desire for our life. To feel sexual desire for our spouse is appropriate; to covet our neighbor’s wife is an illegitimate desire.
An out-of-balance lust is any legitimate desire that blocks our ability to serve God and others. For example, a student who is so consumed by getting good grades (a legitimate desire) that he is unable to spend time pursuing God is consumed by an out-of-balance lust. Likewise, a neighbor who can’t say no to her friend’s desire to go to a movie is equally imbalanced in her lust for acceptance.
Defined in this way, no one is free from the battle with lust. Why do we battle so often with its forces? And why do those battles yield so little fruit and victory? In other words, why is lust so hard to change?
The power of lust
The answer to those questions requires a more thoughtful analysis of the design and function of lust. God made us with desire—desire for intimate relationship with Him and for meaningful service in His world. The fall perverted those desires. The quest for intimacy was replaced by a desire for its quickest counterfeit: elicit sexual pleasure. Our God-given desire for meaningful service was twisted to a lust for power over others. The longing for impact become a lust for control.
These counterfeits appeal to us because they seek to replace God and His high standards with something that is familiar and undemanding. Paul says fallen man replaced the worship of God (Creator) with worship of people or things of this world (creature) (Ro. 1:18-23). The creature does not require repentance or gratitude. The creature does not demand brokenness or service. Creature worship only requires denying the true emptiness inside and hiding the shame that arises in turning our back on God and others.
Why is that form of lust so difficult to overcome? Because it is the best alternative to satisfying our empty hearts without dependently bowing our knee before God. Changing it not only requires giving up something that has worked, to some degree, to fill our empty hearts, but it also necessitates embracing a God who invites us to experience what we deeply despise— brokenness, poverty, weakness and dependency. In the face of a walk through the valley of the shadow of death, an addiction to pornography, a fifth child, or saying no to a friend seems like a lark in the park.
Even if the lust is destructive and life-threatening it may be preferable to a God who calls us to love those who harm us and serve those who in fact are below us. True worship is too costly; creature worship is, at first, less demanding.
Two faulty strategies
What is required to deal with our battle with lust? Let me first take a look at two contemporary Christian routes for dealing with lust that at times make the problem worse. These two routes—self-denial and self-enhancement—offer some help, but often lead to even greater struggles with lust and addiction. Craig eventually followed both of these paths.
1) As a new Christian, Craig viewed the struggle with lust as an overwhelming desire for sexual pleasure or relief. He saw the real enemy as sexual thoughts and feelings, and the cure as merely choosing the right procedure for conquering his lust. Victory came when he felt sufficiently guilty over his thoughts, avoided opportunities for lust, and chose to discipline his wandering mind.
Sadly, the fruit of this view is often self-hatred, shame, and contempt, which lead to increased sexual struggles. After decades of failure, many with this view either conclude they are oppressed by demons or doubt their salvation.
2) Another approach to lust is found in an adaptation of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Step recovery process. This approach sees lust as a symptom of deeper hurt. The cure is to admit that everyone is addicted, Once denial is removed, then the shame of feeling deficient can be eliminated and the real roots of the problem—loneliness, insecurity, and past trauma—can be healed and the addiction controlled.
While the first approach to dealing with lust often encourages self-hatred and denial, the second approach may increase self-absorption. When Craig adopted this approach he gained more control of his sexual lusts. But he then struggled with new, equally strong addictions. He became a group-aholic, attending several recovery-type groups per week.
He was also a self-aholic. He became absorbed with making sure no one violated his personal desires. He began sharing his feelings whenever he wanted to, no matter how inappropriate it was. He lost a great deal of sensitivity and care for others.
Craig acknowledged that he had turned from a man who lacked a self to one who put self above others and ultimately above the God who called him to serve. Unfortunately, he never looked at the deeper structure of sin involved in his lust. In part his efforts to control his lust were God-honoring; but on the other hand he never faced the fact that his lust was far more than merely a struggle with sexual thoughts.
Why discipline isn’t enough
Lust is a failure to exercise the will toward righteousness. People who battle any form of lust must work at strengthening their wills. But it is never enough merely to address one’s lack of discipline. It is crucial to view lust as a product of hatred: hatred of our loneliness and our circumstances, and hatred of the God who requires us to love in spite of our pain. Lustful addictions are the vehicle to flee from the ache in our souls and use our helplessness as an excuse not to love others and God.
What is required for destructive lust to be transformed into passionate, lively, and loving desire for God and others? I don’t believe there are pat answers or even easily-articulated steps that relieve our battle with the flesh. The ultimate cure is Heaven; until then, all change and certainly all steps are mere approximations of what is involved in knowing God and being transformed by his presence. Yet I can offer a few tentative thoughts to help the process of change.
1. Face the problem. Addictive lust feeds on the darkness of denial. “I’m not an alcoholic. I just drink to sooth my nerves—or to feel more relaxed.” “I may masturbate a lot, but doesn’t everyone at one time or another?” “I know I work too late, but it’s only until I get more settled in my job.” Deception is the ally of lust in that it allows us to serve “two masters” and make it look as if all is well (Matthew 6:24).
For example, Diana viewed her desire for a fifth child as natural and reasonable. Beneath the surface, however, her motives were less than pure. Another baby would keep her from facing the eventual loss of her youthfulness and worth as the mother of young children. And as a busy mother, she would not need to face the growing distance in her relationship with her husband. Her rage at his unwillingness to have another child masked the loneliness she felt in their marriage. Every lustful obsession serves the desire to be satisfied apart from God. If change is to occur, denial must be lifted and the ugly parts of our soul exposed.
2. Wrestle with your heart as well as your behavior. Without question, lust will not be changed without a willingness to discipline the will. I must be willing to fight, scratch and claw toward holiness (I Peter 4:1-3). If I can’t say no to avoid situations where my lust will be given room to flourish, I must make the right choices. But choice is not enough. More is required than merely the effort to avoid lust and focus on godly desire. We must repent of the deeper issues that are feeding our lust. But one cannot deeply repent of what is unknown. We need to pray that God will reveal the secret things of our heart (Psalm 139). Some of the subtle categories of the heart to be considered when dealing with a tenacious lust problem are these:
One, what is the context for my struggles with lust? Many find that lust is more severe after a stressful event, such as a failure or success. It is very important to keep a journal that records the experience of lust, the context, and the battle to deal with both the heart and obedience.
Two, what significant current or past wounds am I ignoring in my struggles with lust? Many times a lust problem is easier to bear than a deep wound that seems impossible to erase. For example, Craig found that he often gave in to sexual fantasies after phone conversations with his critical and demeaning father. His sexual addiction masked the lonely wounds and anger related to his parent.
Three, what do I feel unable to do or be—because my struggle with lust? Sadly, a struggle with lust may subtly serve as an excuse to not make choices that may seem more frightening. Craig refused to honor his father by talking about their relationship. He quietly endured his father’s reproach rather than praying and agonizing over what God might have him do to deepen his love for his father.
Repentance in the ongoing process of sanctification is not a once-for-all event. As we face our denial and repent of our rebellion against God, then we will find greater insight and increased sorrow over sin.
Honesty and repentance are crucial to change. The ultimate antidote to lust, however, is love. It is very, very difficult to destructively lust after someone you love. It is very hard to lust after something that does damage to someone you love. Lust is a consuming and absorbing possession of someone in order to dull our own pain rather than a delighting in and enhancing of another.
An engaged couple may look at one another with enormous passion and keen anticipation of their merger as one flesh, but if love prevails, then they would refuse to do anything that would mar their individual or corporate beauty. In the same way, a man and woman who work together may enjoy one another’s physical or personal beauty, but if love prevails, then each will long to increase one another’s beauty rather than stain it by the violation of destructive lust.
It is tragic that many men attempt to deal with lust by avoiding rich, intimate and honorable relationships with women. They believe that distance insures safety; in fact, reserve only seems to increase private fantasies. The only real safety net is love.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul tells us to meditate on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, and lovely. Somehow being caught up in that which is lovely is incompatible with the ugliness of destructive lust. Ultimately, the fairest and loveliest of all meditations is Jesus Christ.
Paul says the deception and enslavement to all kinds of passions begins to melt in the light of the kindness and love of God (Titus 3:3-4). The brutal power of lust will not succumb to any force of the human will unless the heart is captured by the glory and tenderness of the gospel. As the good news of freedom from God’s wrath increases our wonder, laughter, and passion to live, then the dark desire to possess, to consume, and to destroy will have less power in our lives. The joy of being forgiven, not only of behavior but also of the sin deep in our hearts, will increase our desire to love (Luke 7:47). And an increase in a desire to love will deepen our desire to see beauty enhanced in everyone whom we have the pleasure and privilege to encounter.
Lusting for godliness
Unfortunately, we will battle with lust for the remainder of our lives. But with hearts redeemed by the gospel, we will be freer to turn toward the path of beauty rather than pursue the track of hatred.
The passion of the gospel will eventually overrule and defeat the destructive lust of consumption. The pursuit of holiness will become far more than a desire to do right but a desire, or a “lust,” for the character and beauty of God. In that sense, the gospel frees us to lust after what our hearts are made for—godliness—rather than after that which leads to decay, death, and despair. Godly lust leads to life. In that sense, go and lust well.
14 Jan 2014
I was exposed to pornography at a very young age. I was six. At that point in my life I really didn’t know what I was looking at. I didn’t understand my body’s reaction to it. All I knew was I felt good and I felt guilty. Those two feelings drove me to a life of shame that I still haven’t fully unpacked. The hallmark of that shame was sneaking. And I was good at it.
But to have an entire area of my life in the dark and not talked about, meant that I knew I wasn’t functioning properly. Something was wrong, and that reality drove me to Christ.
When Christ drew me to himself and saved me, He made some radical changes in my life. I experienced a certain amount of victory concerning my habit. But I’ll never forget the first time I used pornography after I got saved. I remember thinking, “Its back.” I also remember looking in the mirror and realizing I couldn’t wait for my good works to kick in, in order to get right with God. My promise to faithfully do my devotions for a week didn’t really help. I needed to trust Christ for what he did for me on the cross, right then and there.
The problem was that I was dealing with this on my own—by myself. Because of my shame, I didn’t open up to anyone when I occasionally fell. I had no understanding concerning what pushed me toward acting out. I didn’t believe anyone would understand my behavior, and I had no concept of accountability. Becoming a leader in the church meant it was even more strategic to not let the cat out of the bag. The fact that I had an occasional bout with pornography and masturbation just wasn’t going to be brought up.
Then came along a wonderful invention called the VCR. The curiosity of wanting to see just what went on in those videos was just too much. As I began to give into this temptation I realized I was getting in way over my head. I also felt like I couldn’t stop because I hadn’t stopped. I’ll never forget when I came to what I now consider the worst soul-deadening conclusion ever in my life. And that was: “Maybe I can do both. Maybe I can be a leader in the church and look at porn at the same time.” After all, I was getting away with it, in a sense, already. I had plenty of opportunities to teach and lead in the church and nobody suspected anything thanks to my deep theological convictions. And, don’t forget my uncanny ability to sneak.
The problem with all of this is that I was married. My wife kept sensing more and more that she was living with a stranger, somebody she really didn’t know. She noticed that I wasn’t spending much time in the scriptures in my preparations for Sunday school classes. She realized I was living off of leftover energy from years’ past. As she tried to communicate this conviction to people in the church she got blown off as a woman who needed to go home and submit. Frustrated, she almost got to the same place of giving up and just living with an unresponsive husband.
Finally, two couples in our church heard my wife’s cry. They started to keep an eye on our behavior in public and realized something was wrong. One Sunday after church, these two couples approached my wife and I. They mentioned they had observed a few things in our relationship that they had concerns about. As they confronted us with their observations, we agreed to go to counseling. After all, I did love my wife, and I would rather see our marriage work out than fail. As we waited for an opening at the local counseling center, our four friends became an accountability group for us. We met together once a week to go over how my wife and I were dealing with each other and working together through everyday struggles.
Around a month into this process I rented a pornographic video. The next day, I immediately noticed how this impacted my communication with my wife. Our words were flying over each other’s heads without connecting and we were only frustrating each other. I knew I couldn’t move toward my wife and continue looking at pornography. I decided to confess my sin to the accountability group. This was the first time in my life I ever spoke out loud to any one about my problem. Needless to say, my life hasn’t been the same since. That confession, in that room, with those people, whose pursuit of my wife and myself I knew I couldn’t get around, changed my life forever.
One of the first things that happened was that God opened up an opportunity to counsel with a man who specialized in sexual issues. He directed me to a men’s Biblical Support Group at Harvest USA. I remember the first time I walked into the support group. I carefully looked around to make sure nobody knew me. Then I sat there and wept. I couldn’t believe where God had me. This was a whole new experience for me. I became aware of the fact that one of the main reasons why I kept losing this battle was because I was fighting it by myself. I desperately needed the body of Christ to act like the body of Christ. I needed men in my life to challenge me in both my thoughts and actions. I also began to see my sin as idolatry. As men courageously revealed their rituals and described their heart’s engagement when viewing pornography, I began to see clearly the same experiences in my own life. There was no other way to describe this behavior than as worship—as idolatry.
Let me conclude by saying this: If it weren’t for the loving pursuit of those two couples in our church, I really don’t know where I’d be right now. Their courageous step into the chaos of our lives is a living example of how the church is to put the “one another” passages of scripture into practice. Whenever I share my testimony, people think of situations in their lives where they wish someone would have walked into it in a similar redemptive manner. If you see people struggling in your church, that’s a call from God to you to apply his Gospel to his people.
Weeping with those who weep
Receiving painful phone calls is never easy. I am regularly contacted by individuals—often in tears—because someone in their life has made the decision to forsake their covenant, their faith—their real hope—in order to chase an empty lie.
I hear tragic stories like that of a husband with a history of pornography, caught again after a period of supposed victory, or the spouse whose entire life is shattered by the revelation of affairs spanning decades, or the wife whose enmeshed relationship with a girlfriend turned sexual. Although such scenarios are expected from our post-Christian culture, increasingly they are happening in the local church. Sexual sin is not something “out there”; it is reaching epidemic proportions in your church!
But here’s the rub: The church does not handle sexuality very well, even on a good day! This wondrous gift given to God’s people is rarely talked about positively. Even among those who should revel in sex as a demonstration of God’s joy in delighting his children and in the glorious theological truths revealed by a robust, biblical understanding of sexuality, it is surrounded by shame. In most churches, if sex is addressed at all, our teens are sternly warned, “Don’t do it until you’re married!” I have interacted with countless individuals raised in Christian homes where sexuality was never discussed. It is astounding that such a significant aspect of life—with sweeping spiritual ramifications—is so thoroughly neglected. Given the church’s failures regarding sexuality, the revelation of sexual sin is usually not handled in a balanced and redemptive manner.
There are often two polar responses when sexual sin is disclosed. If the sin is quiet, keep it that way! Do not expose it to the light of day and keep as many people in ignorance as possible. However, if it is too late and the sin has become public knowledge, the only answer is church discipline—swift and severe. Historically, the Church has struggled with “shooting the wounded,” dealing heavy handedly with sexual sin without a view to restoration and healing. There needs to be a redemptive solution, one that embraces the gospel of grace and the living Redeemer who enters into situations and relationships wracked with sin to bring reconciliation and healing. This is the work of his kingdom—“He’s come to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found!” Do we believe Jesus is big enough to handle sexual sin? Do we invite sin-sick people to come into the light, or do we encourage them to continue cowering in the shadows?
Seeking a redemption solution
1 John 1:7 speaks powerfully to what is needed in the body of Christ. Contrasting believers with those who walk in the darkness of their sin, John writes, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” This passage echoes John’s Gospel that men love the darkness and will avoid the light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19-21). Do we encourage people to come out of darkness? John makes plain that deep, meaningful fellowship in the body of Christ— genuine intimacy—will only happen as we come into the light. Further, deliberately coming into the light has a direct connection to purging sin from our life. Steve Gallagher of Pure Life Ministries writes, “If you want to stay stuck in your sin, confess it only to God. If you want to overcome it, confess it to someone else!”
We may respond that public confession is unnecessary since we have direct access to God. The Bible clearly teaches, “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” However, I argue this reflects a greater fear of man than fear of God. If I truly care what God thinks—filled with awe by his power, grandeur, love, etc.—I don’t care what you think about me! In fact, I will want to talk to you about my sin struggles because I want to be transformed and become his beautiful, long-anticipated Bride. Proverbs says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (28:12). Keeping our sin secret, guarantees continued slavery. Narcotics Anonymous uses a great slogan—“We are only as sick as our secrets!”
Every individual who comes to Harvest USA is different. The histories, life experiences, specifics of their sin and temptation, etc., are widely divergent and require particular attention. In short, there are not many universals—healing comes in specific ways, as diverse as our personal brokenness. In six years at the ministry, there is only one thing that clearly is universal: Those committed to ruthless honesty consistently overcome their sin and make great strides in holiness. In stark contrast, I have never encountered an individual who overcame sexual struggles if they were unwilling to bring the sin fully into the light with an ever-increasing number of individuals. Those who refuse this path of ruthless honesty stay stuck in their sin or return to it after a short period of “white-knuckled” abstinence.
This is all part of God’s design. James exhorts us “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Spiritual healing and transformation occurs in the context of community. Even the world has found this to be true, hence the explosion of Twelve Step groups for every imaginable, errant behavior. Scripture uses the body metaphor to powerfully illustrate that every individual within the church is inextricably linked with all the others (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Ephesians 4:17 makes this even more explicit, exhorting that the body reaches maturity only “when each part is working properly.” Jesus intends his church to be radically interdependent. This is a significant challenge that rails against our innate desire to be free and independent. There are important implications to this reality: When sexual sin arises in the local church, if we fail to deal with it in a way that honors Christ, we harm the individuals involved and impact the entire congregation!
What about the redemptive use of Church Discipline? Discipline is a crucial mark of the true church, but are we careful to enforce its biblical intention? When reading Matthew 18 that the impenitent should be treated as a “Gentile and tax collector,” too often my mind is filled with the image of kicking that dirty sinner to the church’s curb. I was struck recently reading Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage in The Message. He writes, “If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for
repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” A paraphrase for sure, but the tone impacted me strongly. What do you do with a tax collector and sinner? Offer them the hope of the gospel! This is an important insight we should always keep in mind. There are times when sin requires extreme action by the church. But at every point, we must be mindful that the intent of discipline, even in its most extreme form, is to restore the offender (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). The goal is to reflect the overwhelming love of Christ to men and women, desperately lost in their sin and folly. Even when obedience to Christ requires “casting out” the individual, he or she must be made aware that the Church’s door is always open, if only he or she will be humbled in repentance and commit to leaving the darkness for his glorious light!
A redemptive approach to dealing with sexual sin in the local church requires risk. It is a messy process that moves everyone outside their comfort zone. It requires actively pursuing those impacted by the sin at every level and bringing the situation into the light, with an eye toward God’s restoration. It is crucial that attention is given to the various relationships impacted by the ripple effect of sexual sin. However, given the constraints of this article, the focus will center on the struggler with very brief considerations for the wider circle of impact within the church as a whole.
Processing the initial disclosure
When sexual sin is exposed, it has usually existed undetected for years, sometimes decades. Sin patterns so deeply entrenched will not peel off like a dirty sock! Radical intervention is required. First, consider how the situation was revealed. Was the individual “caught,” or did he or she come forward of his or her own volition seeking help? Most men coming to Harvest USA fall in the former category. Be very wary in this circumstance. Often God uses getting caught to eventually bring someone to a place of repentance, but it usually does not start there! Pay attention to the confession. Is the person confessing only what he or she has already been caught doing, or is the person freely disclosing the full extent of the behavior? Genuine repentance means turning away from sin. Bringing hidden things into the light is the first step in that process. People engaged in sexual sin are deeply deceitful, and these patterns have been in place for a long time. Be deeply skeptical. Assume that there is always more to be revealed.
In our sin, we both deceive others and are profoundly self-deceived. This means the struggler is tempted to keep you in the dark regarding the extent of the behavior and is personally blind to the depth of the enslavement, similar to the drug addict who will continue to maintain that everything is fine while in the process of literally committing suicide. Employ the rich scriptural imagery of light and darkness in your conversation. Repeatedly hold forth the stark contrast between he who is Truth-incarnate, the King of light, over against the father of lies and his kingdom of darkness. Pray for the activity of the Spirit, who alone can bring the individual to repentance.
There is reason for concern if someone is unwilling to confess to his or her spouse specific sins already confessed to you. By God’s design, no one should know someone better than his or her spouse. There should be no secrets between a husband and wife and we need to be careful that we do not continue nurturing the unholy relational patterns already established. Change will be affected as the couple begins to address the “hidden things” openly and honestly.
pouses do need full disclosure! This does not mean the nitty-gritty details of every sexual encounter, specific websites, etc. But they need to be fully aware of the extent of the sin: how many incidents of infidelity over how long a period and with whom; the duration and frequency of Internet porn activity, unholy “chatting,” and masturbation, the amount of money squandered, etc. Spouses need counsel because their propensity is to demand too much information—certain details will do more harm than good.
Anyone who claims to be “cured” should be met with skepticism. God rarely brings ultimate deliverance from struggles with sin. The flesh remains a constant barb—but this can be redemptive! It forces us to look to him and to remember our desperate need. God will never answer the prayer that says (in effect), “Bring me to the place where I don’t need to keep crying out to you everyday!” He loves us too much! This does not diminish the reality that Jesus enables us to overcome our struggles with sin, but there is a difference between victory over sin and deliverance from all temptation! Freedom is not gauged by the absence of temptation or the exchange of heterosexual for homosexual desire. Victory is when the individual consistently chooses obedience out of love for Jesus, in the face of contrary desires!
For anyone who struggles with sexual sin, rigorous accountability is a must. Most individuals need a minimum of two people in their lives who regularly ask them probing questions about their personal life—at least once per week. Avoid exhaustive, tedious questionnaires covering every conceivable sexual sin for two reasons: 1) The flesh will always find a loophole or invent some new vehicle for sin; and 2) Deep, intimate relationships are crucial for overcoming our struggles with sin (regardless of its manifestation). Hearing “no” 100 times does not enable you to know the individual on any deeper level – even if you go over that list for weeks!
A short list of five or six pertinent, open-ended, questions that require reflection, i.e. more than a simple yes or no answer, will make your investment far more fruitful. For example, if you know the daily commute has been a problem, rather than asking, “Did you or were you tempted to stop at _____ while driving to work this week,” it is better to ask, “How did you respond when you were driving by _____? What was going on inside of you?” One question allows an easy “No,” the other forces you to engage the individual’s heart. You begin getting to know aspects of his or her person, and things carefully hidden in the past. The questions need to be tailored to the individual, responding to the specifics of the personal struggle.
Accountability needs to identify the “sin behind the sin.” Sexual sin is not primarily about lust. Lust is a component and the self-focused desire to reduce other image-bearers to commodities needs to be addressed. Sexual sin always violates the Second Great Commandment, exploiting another to satisfy self, but it is first and foremost a violation of the First Great Commandment, an idol that replaces the Creator. This means in the face of frustration, loneliness, anxiety, stress, etc. the individual runs to a false god. Rather than collapsing on Christ, pouring out his or her heart, and receiving his peace, the individual takes matters into his or her own hands.
There are times when temptation is like an ambush on a beautiful, sunny day when everything is fine, but often there are predictable patterns of behavior—sinful responses to the challenges of life in a fallen world. One man who recently came to the office was amazed by this reality after having struggled with sexual sin for decades. After paying attention to his patterns of temptation, he realized that his struggle with masturbation was far more a response to anxiety and stress, ratherthan the result of mere lust. Identifying and developing accountability for the “sin behind the sin” will enable him to run to Christ sooner and address the idols even more deeply entrenched than his struggle with sexual sin!
Accountability needs to go beyond restraining sinful behavior. God never intends us to stop in the vacuous place of “absent sin.” The call of the gospel is radical allegiance to the King. We are called to be like him in righteousness and holiness. Thus, good accountability will always balance “putting off” and “putting on” questions. Ephesians 4:20-32 and Colossians 3:5-17 powerfully demonstrate how this exchange is to take place in our lives.
Sexual sin—even with the illusion it is a private offense—is always relationally destructive. Because it is a violation of the command to love God and others, there should be specific, reflective questions that address the individual’s relationship with God and others. Is he or she engaged in spiritual disciplines personally and corporately? Is love for God evidenced by decisions of obedience? How is the person developing intimacy in primary relationships? Is he or she changing the way he or she responds to frustrating circumstances or disagreements with others? Are there specific examples of selflessness in places where he or she was formerly self-consumed? Is the person serving the community and church or seeking to be served?
“Putting on” requires patient “baby steps.” It is tremendous growth for an estranged couple to even sit down and discuss personal issues for 10 minutes at a time, 3 days a week! If the individual is single, part of the accountability plan must include a strategy for intentionally developing significant, vital relationships within the body and finding specific areas of service. It is beneficial for singles to live with a family or other singles in community, learning to selflessly serve on a day-to-day basis. Further, because there are specific ways all of us have mammoth strides yet to make in these categories, accountability is never a one-way street. Remember, a sovereign God has placed you in this circumstance. Given the interdependent reality of life in Christ, you need the struggler in your life as much as they need you!
Widening the circle
Finally, the call to live in the light means laying aside false pretenses. Great wisdom is required, but the reality of the sin and the challenges facing the family needs to be revealed to others in the church. Jesus promises that those who trust in him will never be put to shame. He invites us to be exposed, promising to clothe us in his righteousness. Will we trust him? Do we invite others to trust his promise or communicate by our secrecy that some sins should be kept quiet? Bringing strugglers into the light is a tangible demonstration of the gospel. It invites strugglers to abandon the “sandy foundations” of reputation, image, self-esteem, etc., building their entire identity on the Rock. Conversely, urging secrecy encourages strugglers to see their sin as worse than that of others.
Widening the circle does not mean public confession on Sunday morning! Rather, it means fostering gut-level, honest intimacy in the obvious relationships. Church leadership should know—including those who minister to the children of the individuals involved. People in the individuals’ home fellowship need to be aware of the sin struggle. After all, these groups should exist to minister to one another in specifically these types of circumstances! The church is called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Sexual sin is a profound burden that requires the full support of the body. It demonstrates the necessity of the “priesthood of all believers.”
Jesus is big enough to deal with all the problems in His Church. He is deeply committed to purifying and beautifying his Bride and, he invites us to join him in this work because his heart’s desire is for us to grow more deeply in love with him. The entire goal of the Christian life—the very essence of eternal life—is knowing him! His purposes to this end are powerfully at work in sexual brokenness that we may “grow up in every way into him who is the Head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Will you join him?
The following was written by Brad Currie, who led the LifeLine Group at New Life Presbyterian Church in Dresher, PA.
1. I would never say that I am the leader. I am a facilitator in a group of fellow strugglers. I am a fellow struggler in a battle that every man faces: a battle for sexual integrity and purity in a culture that is saturated by sexual content grossly out of perspective from what God intended for us. I cannot face this battle alone. I need the men in this group as much as they need me, even though I am the facilitator. Even though being a facilitator is a scary position, the Lord meets us as we step out in our own weakness.
2. A fellow struggler is someone who has been on the road of recovery for several years and, despite falling, is able to get up and keep going. A fellow struggler knows that, regardless of temptations and setbacks, he continues on the path and is headed in the right direction toward progressive victory over lust and sexual impurity. A fellow struggler is one who has empathy and compassion for other men who are entangled in similar patterns. A fellow struggler is not someone who thinks they have all the answers, telling other men what to do. A fellow struggler is someone who knows what it is like to be trapped down in that pit of sexual bondage, and since he knows how to climb out, he is willing to help others start their climb.
3. In our groups, we use a rock-climbing analogy to illustrate how the members of the group are connected to each other. Rock climbers are connected to one another from above and below by safety ropes and carabiners. Every man who comes to the group gets his own carabiner to remind him of his connection to the others. We bring the carabiners to our meetings and hook them together as a symbol of our connection with one another. The message is, “You may fall, but you are connected to others who will pull you back up and continue your climb.” This is a powerful, visual reminder of our need of one another. In group, we learn that what heals us is being engaged in strong, connected, and honest relationships with other men. Men become men in the presence of other good men.
4. The connection that is created among men belonging to a group that is safe, confidential, and supportive is immeasurably valuable. Most men are alone in their sexual struggles, believing that they are the only one grappling with their particular issue. Seeing the openness that develops among men as they begin to share their stories in a support group is astonishing. Their self-imposed barriers come down, and the honesty and intimacy that is developed with other men in the group is often the foundation for establishing honesty and non-sexual intimacy in their relationship with their wives. A Christ-centered group provides the essential framework of safety where there is no condemnation or judgment. Most men do not know how to be open, honest, and vulnerable, but in that safe atmosphere, we begin to experience true forgiveness, healing and repentance. As Christ’s love surrounds and permeates these men, they are delivered from their guilt and shame, and their spiritual vigor is restored.
5. Perhaps the best reason to be involved as a facilitator in a men’s group is the need to carry the message of hope and recovery, found in the gospel, to those who are sick and suffering. Comforting others with the comfort that you have received (II Corinthians 1:4) forces you to live out what you know to be true. You can’t effectively encourage other men in their pursuit of their sexual integrity while you are still acting out yourself. Being a facilitator in a group of fellow strugglers keeps you sharp, like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).
When Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant, it was buried in a tomb and covered with snakes. Being deathly afraid of snakes, he cries out, “Why does it have to be snakes?” thereby revealing his worst fear. But he faced his worst fear and was able to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant. In the same way, the Lord uses men who, even while they face their greatest weakness and fear, are willing to make themselves vulnerable and available to “hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11, ESV).