Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg is a speaker, author, and counselor specializing in the area of sexual sin in the church. He is the director of Stone Gate Resources.
For the last twenty years thousands of men from across America struggling with sexual sin have come to our intensive counseling workshop. Over half were pastors and missionaries.
I wish our experience was unique.
Several years ago a seminary professor told me: “We no longer ask our entering students if they are struggling with pornography, we assume every student is struggling. The question we ask: ‘How serious is the struggle?’”
One missions agency told me that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicate a struggle with pornography, resulting in staff shortages on the field.
Pornography is just one level of sin, a form of visual sex, or heart adultery. Physical adultery includes an affair, multiple affairs, prostitution, and homosexuality. Other sexual behaviors within the ministry are such heinous “unfruitful works of darkness . . . it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11–12). To face the crisis we must correctly understand the nature of the problem, ask God to search our own hearts, and be committed to restore each one caught in sexual sin “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
I have pondered long and hard two questions: Why do people repeatedly return to sexual sin and why do people turn away from sexual sin?
Lured Toward Sin
First, I would say that after two decades of helping set free those held captive by sexual sin, I’m convinced that the concept of sexual addiction as a disease does not fully identify the seriousness of the problem. If we are going to get serious about the problem in the church we can ill afford to be misled in our thinking. The real problem is hidden deep within. The least bit of lust is an indication of vast corruption in the human heart. It is an enslavement that cannot be broken through any form of behavior management, recovery program, or counseling. The inside is so ravaged by sin that we can do nothing to change it.
When one is held in the grip of sexual sin, there is no hope of self-reform or self-efforts, for those living according to the “passions of their flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind” (Ephesians 2:3). To put it bluntly, those living in habitual sexual sin are “dead in their trespasses and sin” (verse 1). Dead, in a loss of spiritual life. Dead to finding satisfaction with God. Dead to living for his purpose. Holiness is dead. Wisdom is dead. Purity is dead. Love is dead. Like David, the sexual sinner has sinned “against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13), and in so doing has “utterly scorned the Lord” (verse 14). The horrible fact is they are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).
I believe addictionology plays down the seriousness of sin and the necessity of the work of God when it encourages the sexual addict to accept the theory that recovery will only be successful when they begin to believe that they are a good person at the core and just have a disease.
Diagnoses always determine the method of treatment. So ‘good’ people only need to get serious, follow the steps of recovery, and remain in recovery. The opposite is true. When dealing with sexual sin we must hold fast to the teaching of Jesus Christ, “For from within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, . . . adultery” (Mark 7:21).
By nature and by choice we satisfy ourselves, rebel against God, and have no accurate understanding of the depth of our problem. The heart is deceptive, and without supernatural change it will grow worse. The only hope is “the grace of God . . . training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12).
Look closely and you will see that the sexual sinner is disappointed with pleasure in their pursuit of what is essentially false intimacy. As one pastor, who was living in two adulterous relationships, put it: “This was the insanity; I no sooner finished the sexual act and immediately broke into tears, devastated by what I had done, but I only returned again and again to the same sinful relationship.”
As sinners we are created with desires for intimacy and for delight. Therefore, “The way to fight lust is to feed faith with the precious and magnificent promise that the pure in heart will see, face to face, the all-satisfying God of glory” (Future Grace, 338).
Yet the sexual sinner, finding no pleasure in real intimacy with God, ultimately finds no pleasure in false intimacy. Real intimacy has both pain and pleasure; false intimacy offers the illusion of no pain, but in the end there is no real pleasure! A part of exchanging the “truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25) is that you end up with pleasure now, pain forever!
Deception runs deeper than we think. Deception is inherent to the problem of sexual sin on two levels.
First, there is the double life with clandestine liaisons, endless hidden hours on a computer, or the misuse of unaccounted time away from the office or home. The behavior is carefully hidden from view, but there are lies, then more lies to cover the lies. Face the facts: the motive for secrecy is to keep doing it. But secrecy of sexual sin also indicates a person’s commitment to flee from the light. “And people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).
The second level of deception is self-deception. If the heart is deceitful, it impacts the way we want to see the secret things in our lives, particularly secret sexual sins. The missionary can justify going to nude beaches; a pastor sees the value of an affair because it makes him happy; going to a prostitute on Monday is just a reward for hard work on Sunday.
When you say, “I will keep this part of my life a secret,” what are you hiding?
Hidden from view is a scandalous behavior that would certainly horrify any congregation or spouse. It is also a calculated contradiction of one’s public image that if revealed would bring ruin. It also may be a relationship that you believe is so fulfilling you can’t imagine ending it.
Everyone thinks they are hiding their acts of sin: lust, cheating, porn, and adultery. Such thinking makes it easier to justify the secrecy for the greater good of one’s marriage, family, ministry, job, and future. Such rationalization is universal to all secret sexual sin. “After all, a lot of people would be hurt if they knew what I was doing.” As one pastor put it, “I was in a six month affair, at the same time preaching and counseling against adultery, and telling myself that God didn’t care because the church was growing.”
In reality, it is not the behavior alone that is hidden.
Secret sexual sin is an invasive poison to the soul, mind and the body. It is a poison deep within the recesses of the soul that keeps one from finding satisfaction in God and meaningful intimacy with others. This is a poison that will kill not only in this life, but also life eternal! “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure . . . has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). Sexual behavior that is indistinguishable from the unbelieving world may indicate a person is not truly a child of God.
First published on the DesiringGod.com website on March 6, 2012. The Worldview Church staff recommends Schaumburg’s book “Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships”