While sexual sin is a temptation that many face throughout life, it is increasingly finding its way into the hearts of men and women during this COVID-19 pandemic. Isolation has become the norm. We must continue fighting for sexual purity and godly change in our lives.
Change Is Possible
I have had the privilege of walking through battles with sexual sin with many men over the years. While no struggle looks exactly like another there do tend to be some commonalities. One of them is that many men seem to underestimate the effect their sin can have on them and those around them. I cannot count the number of times I have had a man sitting in my office, telling me that their sin doesn’t hurt anybody else. The truth is it is a big deal, a huge deal—a life and death deal! But change is possible as we keeping fighting for purity.
1. Change Happens Over Time
Pastors and counselors who have worked with men trapped in sexual sin generally agree that the road to recovery is a two to five-year process, with each day being a battle. I know that doesn’t sound inviting, but adopting this perspective is necessary.
Take it from a man I met with named Dave. When we began meeting, Dave was thirty-six-years old, married, and had three kids. He had been secretly addicted to pornography since he was thirteen-years-old. Dave’s parents were divorced, and he had split time between houses as a child. He didn’t mind his dad’s house, but he lived with his mom most of the time, and his stepdad was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to Dave. Dave never told anybody about it, but he hated how his stepdad made him feel.
To deal with his feelings, Dave retreated into a fortress of what he felt like he could control, specifically: porn. Pretty soon, the porn was controlling him. This progressed through high school, college, and far into adulthood. While he was no longer living under the abusive hand of his stepdad, he had trained himself that anytime he felt any negative emotions, porn made him feel better. Over time the hard circumstances changed—poor grades in college, a job he hated, failed relationships, marital trouble, and disobedient kids—but his method of medicating those things stayed the same.
He came to my office after his wife caught him in his habit and told him to get help or get out. The Lord was already working on Dave and telling him he needed to get help. He committed to our program and individual counseling, and to being in God’s Word—meditating, studying, and praying. He was ready to truly begin fighting for purity.
Today, Dave is four years free from sexual sin and he would tell you that at about the three-year mark, the temptation started to have less and less power over him. Temptation still comes, but it’s far less frequent; and when it does come, he is able to preach to himself that it is far better to live in purity before the Lord and his family and friends than to give in to the momentary and illusory pleasure sexual sin provides.
2. Change Happens in the Context of Community
When someone is dealing with sexual sin, two components are necessary: forgiveness and healing. 1 John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” There you have the forgiveness piece.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
There is the healing piece.
In my experience, people tend to be way more willing to confess to God than they are to confess to one another. This denies them the healing that is necessary for change because both pieces are vitally important. What’s more, both pieces are beneficial in the battle for sexual integrity. When we’re fighting for purity, the context of community is vital.
3. Change Requires Discipline & Commitment
If there has been one common thread in the years I have helped men battle sexual sin, it has been that sexual sin has a best buddy: Lack of Discipline and Commitment! I firmly believe this most frequently comes from a lack of understanding of the serious nature of the problem. I have very rarely seen a man who regularly disciplines himself to be in God’s Word, prays regularly, is transparent with other godly men, and regularly confesses to them, yet also regularly loses the battle with sexual sin.
Proverbs 10:17 says: “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” Proverbs 12:1 says it even more succinctly: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”
It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Discipline is necessary. To try and live life without it is, as the writer of Proverbs puts it, “stupid.”
To implement discipline and pursue wisdom in your own life, I recommend starting with a structure. Read a chapter of Proverbs a day. Get a journal and, as you read, make two columns: one for “the wise man” and one for “the fool.” Write down everything that chapter says in the corresponding column. Then, make a third column and determine which category you fall into regarding the content of that chapter. It’s humbling but also helpful to know what to pray for!
4. Change Happens Through the Power of the Holy Spirit
Thus far, I’ve focused on the role you play in the change process, but the Holy Spirit is the one who actually fills us with the power to see change happen in our lives. He, in effect, does the heavy lifting. When fighting for purity, we must recognize that it is the Holy Spirit who empowers change.
When I was in seminary, my favorite professor said, every single class, that “change only happens when the Word of God is applied to our lives by the Spirit of God.” Period. End of story. I remember thinking that was overly simplistic and unhelpful. But as I have grown older and gotten a few more scars, I believe that to be absolutely true.
In that same class, I learned about what is commonly referred to as “the counseling trialogue.” This shows the roles of the counselor, the counselee, and the Holy Spirit in counseling. Remove the word “counselor” from this and just insert the name of the other men in your group, your pastor, your friends, your wife, or anyone else that is in your life and part of your team in overcoming sexual sin. You will see that it is the Holy Spirit that empowers all parties and provides what is needed for healing and change.
You can’t “beat this” on your own. It takes the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, the encouragement and accountability of others, and God’s Word applied to your lives by God’s Spirit. And we can take comfort in the fact that it is the Holy Spirit doing the “applying” which informs our requests before the throne, helping us fight for holiness and purity.