Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Counsel on Sexual Temptation in Less than 300 Words

In the last issue of Revive, a magazine published by Life Action Ministries, I was asked to weigh in on a question regarding handling sexual temptation...and to do it in less than 300 words.

Here's the scenario:

I'm so glad that my kids don't realize who I really am - who I am at night, after hours, when I'm alone with my computer. It started "innocently" enough when I was younger - glancing at women's clothing catalogs when Mom and Dad weren't around. Real problems started when my parents let me have a television in my own room, and I'd channel surf for hours at night looking for anything arousing. Later I was introduced to the vast online world of staged and airbrushed beauty, a world of "free" content piped into my own home. Now here I am, the father of two wonderful kids and the husband of a very attractive wife - but I still fall back to these illicit fantasies time and time again. I still click "search" for terms that I'd be embarrased to share here. I still double-glance at women, or worse.

How horrifying it would be to have all this exposed to my family that I love, and how many times I've tried unsuccessfully to stop looking. I don't even know why I keep this up - my wife is wonderful, and I love her. I don't need these other women - these other images - in my my life, but I keep bringing them into my heart and my home. I worry that someone will discover all this, and I know the consequences would be terribly shameful and hurtful.

In all honesty, I feel addicted. I hate to use that term, because it sounds like an excuse, but it's how I feel. It's almost like my my faith, and even my common sense, falls apart in the moment of temptation. I wish I was stronger, more resolute, more faithful in my heart, but I can't quit. Maybe I "can't", or maybe I "won't." I'm not sure. Sometimes I don't care.

Here's my answer:

Sexual sin, at any level, is a complex web of God-given desires, misplaced affections, empty promises, secrecy, and guilt. Those who find themselves trapped in the repeated cycle of failure ("I want this," "I do this," "I hate this," "I am this") often describe themselves as addicts. And no wonder. For all intents and purposes, they are addicts - trapped in the inability to stop. So what should you do?

1. Understand that there is hope. Since sexual drive, desires, and activity were designed by God, they are all fundamentally good. The misuse of these gifts can be both forgiven and redeemed through the life-changing reality of a relationship wiht Jesus.

2. Sever the power of secrecy. The trap of sexual sin is its isolation and privacy. Acknowledging the struggle and your failures is critical because it confronts the shackle of shame. Confession not only brings healing (James 5:16) and forgiveness (1 John 1:19); it brings safety since it "de-fangs" the embedded power of secrecy.

3. Identify the shallow promises that sexual sin offers you. Every sin offers you promises ("You'll enjoy this," "This will be fun," "You'll feel in control"), but sexual sin is deeply rooted in "want." It offers you the promise of being wanted in a way that you dictate, control, and direct. Asking yourself, "What do I really want in this?" will expose the shallowness, inability to fulfill, and implicit idolatry of self-centered sexuality.

4. Eclipse the lurid, greedy, self-centered promises of sexual sin with the greater promises of satisfaction found in loving God and (if you are married) in enjoying your wife. It is as practical as saturating your heart with the promises of God, memorizing Scripture, singing, and being in community with other believers. It is as personal as focusing on the beauty of your wife, serving her in many ways, and discovering the reality and depth of naked acceptance and sexual satisfaction in the relationship of marriage.

Sexual sin doesn't have to bind you. The cycle of misplaced desire, failure, and shame is half-hearted living. God offers something far better, attractive, and satisfying.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with every word of what you have written...but I am curious about something. What sin isn't deeply rooted in want? At its core, isn't all sin, even things like sex that are not of themselves evil, centered around you being "god" at the point of decision...will I choose me or will I choose thee?

Mark Vroegop said...

Certainly all sin is rooted in want or desire - see James 1:14-15. However, many people do not see sexual temptation through this lens. I have found that when you can identify the "want" behind the sexual temptation (i.e., "What am I looking for here?"), then you can eclipse the lie that you are believing. Sexual temptation offers a shallow fulfillment; other temptations certainly do that as well. But people who are trapped in a cycle of temptation do not normally stop to think about their thinking. The "want" rules their life.