People who are active in their addiction to sex are not unique. They have no more justification for sexual misconduct than anyone else. Two points should be made here:
- Fearless exploration of the underlying reasons for our addictive behavior is essential to the recovery process. Knowledge of the emotional pain we are trying to alleviate by the use of our destructive sexual activity will assist us on our journey toward healing.
- Discovery of the underlying causes of our addictive patterns does not grant us permission to continue this sinful behavior. We cannot legitimately use emotional pain as an excuse for our addictions.
According to Jesus, for example, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” (Matthew 5.28 NIV). The man or woman who commits “adultery… in his heart” might correctly state, “I sexualized the woman [or man] in my mind because I was stressed at work and looking for a release from my anxiety.” This observation demonstrates good awareness and significant progress toward recovery, but it is not a defense for addictive behavior. He or she still committed “adultery… in his heart” and cannot rightly claim, “It was permissible for me to sexualize another person in my mind because I was stressed at work and needed a release for my anxiety.” The former statement is a legitimate answer to the right question, “Why did I act out sexually?” and hopefully leads to further self-revelation and active steps toward healthy sexuality, including the choice to suffer redemptively rather than medicate with sex. The latter derives its conclusion from a spirit of entitlement and uses stress and anxiety as an excuse in the pursuit of porneia.
As people progress in recovery, they will learn about themselves and discover the stressors, triggers, and traumatic events which historically led to their addictive lifestyles. But, this knowledge alone is not enough to achieve sobriety. The man or woman caught in the trap of sexual addiction can know the reasons for their sin, and still want it. They must transition beyond self-awareness to battle readiness.
The addict must learn to accept the reality of the war being waged against his soul and the demonic nature of porneia’s power. With the help of Jesus and brothers or sisters in recovery, one can face, and even “overwhelmingly conquer” his or her demon (Romans 8.37 NAS). Recovering sex addicts can eventually climb the mountain of self-discovery. By the time they reach the summit, they will have gathered enough strength and confidence to take the next step. The man or woman of God is ready to do what they never before could do; and that is all there is left to do… take a stand and emphatically say “No!” to sexual temptation.
Christian addicts renounce their “secret and shameful ways” (2nd Corinthians 4.2a NIV) and makes “a covenant with [their] eyes not to look with lust at a young woman [or man]” (Job 31.1 NLT). The follower of Jesus dons “the full armor of God” so that, having “done everything,” he or she may stand their ground against porneia’s satanic assault. Standing up to your addiction is not easy; in fact, it’s unequivocally frightening, even for a true believer. But that’s what men and women of God do. They gather the courage and humility to say (and mean), “Enough is enough!” They willingly, though perhaps apprehensively, embrace the suffering which results from an active decision to resist the lure of sexual sin.
We’re told that God is faithful and provides a way of escape to every temptation thrown our way.
That promise is good news for addicts everywhere, except for one little thing… the escape route God offers us comes with a price, the price of pain. “He will show you a way out so you can endure.” I’d like “a way out” without the “endure” part. I’d prefer to be magically transported to a happy place where all bad things (including sexual temptations and painful memories) disappear like wisps of vapor on a breezy day.
I long for the Garden of Eden without that pesky and tempting “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2.17 NIV). I want an easy life with no hardships, where temptations instantly vanish at my command and without my slightest effort. Instead, I am cast into my own Garden of Gethsemane where life is characterized by struggle. I crave and grasp at what I cannot have, search for rationalizations, combat a spirit of entitlement, weep for my losses, feel the frailty of my humanness, bear the pain of my own making, second guess myself and God, wrestle with God, wrestle with my conscience, occasionally cave under the pressure of temptation, ask forgiveness as necessary, frequently remain steadfast, often stand in faith and walk in the Spirit, then falter and fight some more. The good news, and perhaps an indicator of maturity, is that my struggle is a little less intense now than it was in earlier years. The up and down swings are not as extreme. I am stabilizing and yet, while I am more receptive to the grace of God in the face of temptation than I was early in my recovery, the struggle and pain remain.
How can I choose God’s “way out” of temptation without a little suffering? The answer is, I can’t. “God is faithful,” but His ‘getaway plan’ always includes suffering. It would have cost Adam and Eve something substantial to say “no” to the serpent’s attractive offer. Refusing to partake of the “fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden” (Genesis 3.3 NIV) would have come with a price, if the first couple had chosen to pay it. The price was emotional pain, and apparently the cost was too high. Adam and Eve did not choose to suffer the pain, and often, neither do we. But endurance and emotional pain go together.
Resisting sexual temptation is a form of redemptive suffering during which God bestows His grace on you to remain firm and stand tall with dignity and in faith. The result is freedom, but freedom from the bondage of sexual addiction is not free. If you refuse to hearken when porneia beckons, prepare to suffer. There'll be hell to pay, literally! Choosing to endure the pain of withdrawal from sexual sin brings with it an undeniable sense of personal freedom... eventually. In the dark moments of sexual assault, trust Jesus who already paid hell for your freedom with the currency of His own blood. Trust the visible expression of Christ in this world... your brothers and sisters in recovery.
Be strong and suffer redemptively. Suffer with hope!