Someone you know has a hidden problem. Perhaps it is your spouse or family member. What you do not know is their secret life of sexual sin. If you know about their struggle with pornography or the secret affair, what you don’t see is the hidden depths of their heart. What is on the inside is much worse then you can imagine. There you will find the deceitfulness of “evil thoughts…adultery, sexual immorality” (Matthew 15:19), a wickedness so unclean it defies sound logic and reason when it erupts and affects a career or seemingly good marriage. The pervasiveness of this problem is one of the greatest spiritual challenges facing the Christian church in this postmodern age.
FACING THE TRUTH
Christians are in deep trouble and anyone who doubts that is spiritually asleep (1 Thessalonians 5:6). To understand the breadth and depth of this crisis in the church we must have the courage to look inside.
The problem is not the pornography on the Internet or the many opportunities for sexual sin in our sexually saturated culture. It is the potential for wickedness in our own hearts coupled with the secrecy of a our personal lives. The critical questions to ask are:
Is my personal life shaped by my beliefs, ideals, and traditions as it once was?
Is my faith effectively shaping my integrity as a Christian?
Do my beliefs make a difference in my private sexual life?
There is a loud silence that must be pierced before the real problem of sexual sin will be understood and dealt with. We can start on the surface with the all too common examples, but we must also go to the unseen depths of the human heart. In humility, ask the Spirit of God to search your mind, look behind your closed doors, and examine the recesses of your heart.
JOHN’S STORY OF DEDICATION AND DECEPTION
John (not his real name) was a 25-year veteran missionary. The call to serve God came early in Bible College. By his mid-twenties he and his wife Judy were living out their passion, their calling, and dream to serve God in Nicaragua. They planted churches and discipled converts. The work was demanding but rewarding.
Early in his fifth term on the mission field John developed a nurturing relationship with Gloria, a 19-year-old Nicaraguan. She was bright, mature for her age, and passionate about learning more about Jesus. Increasingly, John spent more time investing in the spiritual life of his young devotee. She spent hours in the couple’s home and became a close friend to Judy. Judy, however, was growing more and more concerned about her husband spending a disproportionate amount of time calling, emailing, and talking with such a young attractive female. Her suspicions, and eventual accusations, were quickly rebuffed with strong rebukes for her immaturity, her petty jealousy, and her lack of commitment to the ministry. When Judy found text messages on John’s cell phone that indicated the extent of his physical relationship with Gloria, she had the evidence to confront his sexual sin and seek the assistance of their field director.
When confronted, John admitted to a 5-year affair. With his reputation destroyed, his missionary career finished, his wife shattered, and the field director left to pick up the pieces, the couple returned home to seek counseling and spiritual restoration. Incredibly, in the middle of all this chaos, John continued his relationship with the young woman via email. He rationalized his behavior by saying that he needed to continue his ministry to her.
THE REAL ENEMY
How could a veteran missionary like John, called by God and anointed by the Spirit, become so disconnected from reality and from God and His Word? Why was he a prisoner of his own evil desires? For John and others, the symptom of the problem is a single relationship they find difficult to end. For many, it is hidden sexual fantasy and lust that may or may not lead to committing fornication or adultery.
Regardless of the behavior, its frequency, or duration, why is sexual sin a pervasive problem in the church? This question must be answered. But it is often asked during a crisis when sexual sin is involved. People merely shake their heads and respond in disbelief. Without an adequate explanation, people often move on or blame the devil for attacking Christians.
We must understand the real enemy. Ignorance is no longer an option. Closed minds and blind eyes salved by comfort of our public praise and worship are inexcusable. Paul’s exhortation to the Roman church applies today: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep.” This is the day and hour that all of us must “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies…not in sexual immorality and sensuality” (Romans 13:11-13).
THE REAL STORY
In my 28 years of counseling ministry to over 2000 Christians, I have helped many escape from sexual sin and restore their intimacy with God and their loved ones. Though the names and faces are now blurred, the real story has not changed. Sexual sin continues to destroy lives, marriages, ministries, careers and dishonor the Lord’s name.
The tales of lust, sexual immorality, prostitution, homosexuality, sexual misconduct, addiction to pornography, and adultery should not be repeated. But to ignore the details causes further denial and spiritually corrodes the church. All too often those in authority are guilty of getting rid of the problem and moving on but fail to address the difficult issues that exist in the ministry. This is not the time or place to flinch at the external horror of our fallen brother/sister, or fail to examine the content of our own hearts.
Some stories are uncommon, others outrageous, so we agree with Paul, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans.” (1 Corinthians 5:1).
The Stories Are All Too Common
• Driven by lust and sexual fantasy, a pastor and his wife engage in threesome sex with their 20-year-old nanny. The pastor rationalizes his behavior by citing the multiple wives of biblical characters.
• For years a young man corrupts his mind with sexual fantasies. He eventually has sexual relations with three underage girls and goes to prison.
• A father of three, married for 19 years, has a 17-year affair with his secretary, who is his wife’s best friend. For years they vowed to God and to each other to end the relationship before it destroyed everyone in their lives.
• A young wife leaves her husband and two children to work in a strip club.
• The pastor who is caught with Internet pornography on his office computer.
• The wife who feels lonely and abandoned finds comfort in the arms of another man.
A SPIRITUAL PROBLEM
The church is already in danger of minimization, rationalization, or even worse – covering over the real tragedy with standard therapeutic labels. We must not idolize psychology and accept without question every new method of change and technique. Divorce “on the grounds of sexual immorality “ to accommodate hard heartedness equates to brain surgery for a headache. Sexual sin is a spiritual problem, not a psychological problem. It is a church problem, and a problem the church needs to confront, just as it did in the first century. With the power of redemption and the work of the Holy Spirit we are to have a course of action that exemplifies our calling. The Gospel is for the sexually impure!
The real horror is not in the destructive capacity. The real problem is the condition of a person’s heart long before he was caught in sexual sin or committed sexual acts. Sexually immoral behavior should disturb us because of the condition of the heart and the life that is revealed by the act. Then, and only then, can the horror be turned to mourning (1 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 12:21).
We must heed the words of Paul: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). There will be no grief or gentleness until we see the deceitfulness of the human heart, the deceitfulness in our own hearts, and dig the log out of their own eyes. Then the Church can begin to adequately address the pervasive plague of sexual sin.
The imaginations of the heart
We cannot close our eyes to the biblical understanding of the heart and the wicked imaginations of their own hearts. Evil desires and evil behaviors are the supreme threat. They are spawned from the deep motivations of a heart that resists repentance and the will of God.
These deep motivations create a false reality of one’s own making that denies the reality of God. It is critical to understand that whatever a person thinks they know theologically and spiritually their mind is affected by the imaginations of his heart. The truth of righteousness is replaced by the lie of impurity; what is not God becomes a god. The unthinkable then becomes the possible, and even the doable. What other explanation is there for a teaching elder who teaches vehemently on the evils of sexual immorality and the biblical mandate to keep the marriage bed pure and then becomes involved in adultery or pornography (Hebrews 13:4)?
A life driven to sexual sin reflects thinking that has long been infected by sensual images and self-pleasure. These thoughts may have become so common that a person is hardly aware of them. Therefore, what one knows or thinks they know theologically and biblically is less important than the imaginations of his heart that eventually cause him to act out what he thinks.
A person may justify the imaginations of his heart by his past and present pain. One then finds relief through false intimacy on the Internet or they may actualize their imaginations through sexual encounters with needy women who are looking for a listening ear or a man seeking use a woman sexually. In the end, people are deceived into believing their relational needs will be met and their search for significance secured through these activities. Only a biblical paradigm of the heart will effectively alert them to these mortal dangers to his soul.
A person’s theology remains the same and they still consider themselves to be a secure Christian. Their conscious thinking, however, is now being shaped from imaginations deep within their heart, imaginations so long imbedded that they no longer are aware of them. While apparently committed to their covenant of marriage, their commitment to get something for themselves coupled with years of guiltless lust became a greater danger. Someone wanting attention creates the opportunity. The affair begins, but sin may not end before they have lured other women/men into physically intimate relationships.
Self-interest is a real personal danger. Sin predisposes people, even pastors, to be a law unto themselves where they do what they want regardless of the consequences. Instead of submitting to God as the final authority for their private lives, Christians often live their lives focused on themselves. They begin to worship God’s creation (themselves) rather than the Creator.
This heart attitude seems to free them to control life and obtain their desires. Christians are, then, no longer slaves of righteousness as they should be but are slaves to sin and slaves to themselves. Simply put, Christians become committed to what they believe to be in their best interest. This lessens their commitment to God and increases their commitment to themselves.
As soon as their loyalty to God changes, Christians are in danger of being more loyal to themselves. Before they know it, sexual temptation is knocking at their door. James wrote, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).
The enticement of sexual sin always involves the self-centeredness, self-inflation, and self-deception of one’s own desires. The root of sin develops primarily from one’s self-interest, not merely from shameful childhood experiences.
Tim grew up on the mission field. The typical missionary kid, he never felt like he belonged. He was not Japanese, but he thought and spoke like the Japanese. He had a U.S. passport, but when he was home on furlough, he did not fit in with his peers. Tim started to comfort himself with masturbation in boarding school. He eventually discovered pornography. Years later, as he studied to enter the ministry, he was still lonely. Wanting to be accepted, he yielded to the offer of oral sex in a massage parlor. He justified his actions by believing he would still be a virgin when he married Janet because he had not had sexual intercourse.
Many couples who need counseling to deal with sexual sin fit the following profile. The husband is outgoing, zealous, and liked by all who come in contact with him. But he begins to believe he is married to a lifeless woman. She has no life, no feelings, and no warmth. She has given everything and has done her duty to make her husband the greatest. He is on a pedestal and self-inflated, while living a double life of sexual sin. His silver tongue is a counterfeit for genuineness. His position in the church provides him a facade of spirituality, status, and power. He is a taker, not a giver or a steward of the gifts of God.
In the end, he is only committed to what he wants, and he gets it – including sexual gratification. Sexual pleasure is only the decoration, but its function provides a powerful sense of significance.
If sexual sin is a false intimacy – empty and vain – and a counterfeit for real intimacy, how do Spirit-filled Christians fall? Sexual sin is a great deception. Not only must a Christian lie to maintain a double life and a broken marriage covenant, but he is also deceived and “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
When a Christian commits sexual sin and loses his spiritual virginity, he or she is deceived about true moral guilt and the need for forgiveness and repentance. Losing one’s virginity before marriage is serious, but losing one’s spiritual virginity before the return of Christ is much more dreadful.
The effects of sexual sin after our conversion (betrothal) are more difficult to understand: “I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s words are full of meaning and emotion as he presents himself as a spiritual father. Perhaps he remembered the Law that allowed a husband who found his new wife was not a virgin to bring her back home to her father and stone her (Deuteronomy 22:20,21).
We are responsible for the spiritual purity of others (Philippians 2:4; Hebrews 3:12,13). Paul’s strong emotions come in the form of a godly jealousy and fear. As a spiritual leader, Paul was responsible for the flock and was committed to keeping it from drifting into sin. Likewise, each of us must preserve our own spiritual fidelity so we can protect others from being deceived and led astray into an insincere and impure devotion to Christ.
Deception may come from outside sources. But regardless of the source, deception affects the mind and influences what people think about God and themselves and easily leads them astray. To understand how we are deceived is one thing, but to guard against it is another. We often do not know when we are being deceived. That is the nature of deception. Deception attacks God-centered living through self-centered thinking and comes from within one’s own heart and mind.
Every sexual sin is deceitful and affects the mind so the temptation is often not recognized for what it truly is until after the sin is committed. Christians are capable of being “deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3 NIV).
First, deceit hides what we should clearly understand and consider – our faithfulness to God and spouse. Second, deceit conceals the consequences of sexual sin so our minds are diverted from understanding its danger. Deceit prevents us from seeing the foolishness of sexual sin in the moment of temptation. When we examine the impact of sexual sin on truth, on the life of the church, and on the purity of our faith, we begin to understand how deception is one of the greatest challenges to the church today.
The nature and power of deception to attack a person’s faith combined with the subtlety of his self-centered heart is a lethal weapon against the soul. Jesus warned “many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:10-12, NIV). The church will not disappear. However, Christian morals will become more insincere and impure, leaving the bride of Christ grossly deformed. The end of this age will come, but if we stand idly by we are recklessly ignoring the command of our Lord, “See that no one leads you astray (Matt. 24:4ff).
THE DANGER IS A REAL THREAT
While Christians may think that people generally take a dim view of sexual sin, this is no longer true. The Church has entered an age when Christians are saying, “Pornography is only for self-gratification, a kept woman for feeding my neglected emotional and physical needs. A wife is to manage the home and give an image of a Christian family.”
The biblical standards of human sexuality may not be easily accepted by new converts or maintained by Christian couples that have grown up in the church. The problem is not simply a weakened attitude toward sexual sin or the minimizing of sexual sin, but a failure to know the real enemy.
The consequences of sexual sin among Christians are worse than the consequences of war, disease, economic failure, or terrorism. What happens to people in this life is far less dreadful than what can happen to them in the life to come. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4,5)
We must be trained to fight this war and know the enemy within. We cannot know another person’s heart, but deceitfulness keeps people from facing the truth of who they are inside. An examination of the darkness and ignorance in one’s heart should not be avoided. A look at indwelling sin is humiliating and takes courage and wisdom, but if believers have any interest in pleasing the Lord, knowing His will (Ephesians 5:10,17), and avoiding sinful behavior that grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), they must accept this challenge.
Will Christians fail to follow biblical standards and live out a spirituality that continues to avoid the problem of sexual sin? Christians must address anything in their heart and in the hearts of others that gives false comfort and disconnects them from biblical warnings (Hebrews 13:4).
When Paul addressed sexual sin in Corinth, the problem was more than the existence of sexual sin and how word of the problem was spreading. The greater problem was that the church took no action to correct the sexual immorality. The church’s problem was arrogance (1 Corinthians 5:2). Arrogance blinds the heart and mind and prevents one from seeing his own spiritual condition or the spiritual condition of his brother or sister. The Corinthian brand of spirituality produces insensitivity to sin. This insensitivity to sin diminishes the consequences of sexual sin in the minds of those who have a life in the Spirit.
Like the Corinthians, Christians today cannot allow their spirituality to become self-sufficient instead of dependent on the finished work of Christ. One person said in counseling: “All my attempts to control my sexual sin failed. Prayer, fasting, recovery, and casting out demons didn’t work. I couldn’t break free. I had to face myself and admit to my lack of intimacy with God. I was substituting my thirst for God for other things. I simply did not know God. I had been deceived by a shallow desire to satisfy myself. Victory came when I sought to be consumed by the joy that is set before us.”
The internal battle with the enemy will be difficult, but keeping the biblical commandment for purity will not be burdensome if God’s servants prefer His holiness above other things (1 John 5:3). In doing so, the believer’s goal is not to simply avoid sexual sin, but to partake of the divine nature. We can do this because “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3,4).
Temporary satisfaction will fully diminish when Christian respond to the radical call to pursue full satisfaction in God. It is a call to joy, freedom, and sacrificial faithfulness to God and others. It is always true. When a person seeks to find life through their own illusions of fulfillment, they will lose their lives. When a person seeks to lose his life in the reality of God’s glory, he will find life.
Harry W. Schaumburg, M.A., M.S., D.Min., Port Washington, Wisconsin, is the Executive Director of Stone Gate Resources, a ministry pointing people away from sexual sin. For nearly thirty years, Dr. Schaumburg, has devoted himself to restoring sexual purity in lives, marriages and in the church. In addition to Brief Intensive Counseling, he offers Restoring Sexual Purity Seminars to local churches. He is the author of False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction, the first biblical book on the subject.
All rights reserved. Copyrighted 2007 Harry W. Schaumburg.
Scripture references are from the English Standard Version unless indicated otherwise. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.™ Copyrighted 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.