Sexual Immorality: How Victory Is Possible

Stephan Beitze

Pornography, masturbation, adultery, and fornication define our society. How can Christians remain pure, particularly when they are already involved in sin? Christ gives us three steps to a way out. An explanation.

In Matthew 5:29 (ESV), the Lord Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” From this passage of Scripture, we can see three clear instructions on how we must face the danger of sin.

First, recognize it: “If your right eye causes you to sin...”

We need to recognize the origin of the problem. The Lord names the place where sin is reaching in: “your right eye.” When we look at something (especially when it’s a temptation), we usually do so with both eyes. But the Lord is saying that we have to specifically identify the source of the temptation. To free ourselves from the sin of impurity, we must first ask ourselves where, exactly, sin is worming its way into our lives.

When I speak with people who are struggling with impurity, I start by asking them the following questions: through which means, where, when, and why are you falling? The most common answers sound like these: the means: a screen, or mobile phone. Location: in the bedroom, in bed, or in the bathroom. Time: evenings, when they’re alone. Of course, there are other sources, places, and moments. When an unmarried couple sins, it is usually when they are unaccompanied. Yet others give in to peer pressure (at school, work, etc.). The reason: stress, loneliness, anger, weariness, despondency when emotional and physical needs go unmet, depression, alcohol and drug use, etc.

The more specifically a Christian realizes the root of his sin, the quicker and better he can gain victory over it. Therefore, it’s very important to analyze the situation as profoundly and objectively as possible. The believer must come to the point where he recognizes, “My sin occurs in this place, at this particular time, from this source, and with this reason.”

The act must also be recognized as a sin. The believer must admit he has a problem that he’s struggling with. The enemy’s big lie consists of convincing his slave that the whole thing is no big deal, or that he can stop anytime he wants. Instead, Christians must call their sins by name: “I’m struggling with lust or addiction or pornography (or whatever else), and I can’t get rid of it.” This means that the first step to become truly free is to admit that we’re not. We create the chains of sin for ourselves.

The sinner must realize that his sin attacks God, His holiness, and His honor. He is neglecting God’s good plan for his life. He’s neglecting his testimony and his vocation. The positive influence that he could be having in his environment is absent. We Christians should be the salt of the earth, counteracting corruption. It’s time for the bound man to become righteous and admit his enslavement. His spiritual freedom is far more important than concealing his secret. Secrets have great power, and Satan knows this only too well. When a sin is confessed, it loses its power to enslave any longer. David testifies to this truth in Psalm 32:3-4: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night you hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

It’s necessary to take responsibility for our own actions. No one can make the excuse that they were seduced, for example, by other friends, society, or family members into their own wrongdoing. Sin is personal. Each person has to reach the point where he says, “I’ve sinned in this instance…it’s my fault.”

The necessity of this realization also affects those who haven’t already fallen into the sin of fornication: it’s important to recognize where the dangers are lurking. Some believers deny the possibility of falling into it themselves. They think, “This sort of thing will never happen to me.” They think they’ve mastered the issue. But the Bible says something else about it: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

Second, be radical: “tear it out and throw it away…”

We should deal with the source of our sin in the same way. Of course, the Lord doesn’t mean that literally; His statement has a very deep meaning, because we have to break with the sin we’ve recognized in our lives in such a radical way. This means that our convictions must be radical.

We often toy with temptation. We think about how far we can go without falling into sin. We talk ourselves into believing that there’s no danger in some activities, since we haven’t sinned yet. But this attitude is like dancing on the edge of a cliff. It can be fine for a while, but without paying attention, the balancing dancer will slip and fall. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with that?” we should be asking, “What’s the good of it?” and decide to stay as far as possible from the temptation. As the apostle Paul tells Timothy, “flee youthful temptations and pursue righteousness…” (2 Tim 2:22).

The story of the young Joseph is well-known. When he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9). He fled. But that decision has to be made in advance. It has to be a conviction of our thinking. If that’s not the case, and we suddenly find ourselves in the midst of temptation (to which we may often have yielded before), we won’t have the strength to resist. So, if we’re not radical in our beliefs, we also won’t behave radically in our temptation.

Before the apostle Paul addresses the attitude that we should have toward various sins, beginning in Ephesians 4:25, he admonishes us to change our minds, “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Eph 4:22-23). The New Living Translation reads, “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” Some translations in other languages read, “let yourself be changed in your thinking.”

Why does the Bible place so much value on our thoughts? Proverbs 23:7 gives us an answer: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” The Lord Jesus says that our thoughts are as serious as our deeds, because we arrive at our deeds from our thoughts (Matt 5:27-28). In other words, we are what we think. Therefore, our minds must be ready for us to change. This radical conviction also entails a radical commitment.

First, we have to confess sin. To confess means “to say the same.” As mentioned previously, we call sin by name and ask God for forgiveness. We must recognize the seriousness of sin. It can’t be explained away or treated with levity. We have to see it as radically as God does. After his sin with Bathsheba, David prayed, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps 51:1-3).

So, our decision must be radical: after confessing the sin, we commit radically to the Lord and against sin. Job had made a covenant with the Lord. He said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). Here, Job means the lustful gaze of which the Lord Jesus also says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). So this man, who was distinguished by his righteousness, made a covenant with his eyes not to sin.

Third, renounce: “For it is better that you lose one of your members…”

Finally, the Lord shows that it’s best to renounce. Renunciation can occur in various areas.

We renounce places and objects. If we know that a particular place is dangerous to us, then we avoid it. Of course, we can hardly avoid our bedroom, bathroom, or bed. But we can, for example, avoid taking our cell phone into them. Before we turn on the computer, we can ensure that the screen is facing an open door, or only use it where other members of the household are present. The cell phone can be left in the kitchen rather than being brought into the bedroom. If something is truly urgent, we’ll hear the ringing eventually. Of course, it’s a common excuse that we use our phones as alarm clocks. But we could buy an actual alarm clock.

We may have to give up certain friendships. There are relationships that don’t do us any good. They have a negative impact on our lives, be it through jokes, way of speaking, videos sent to us, certain activities, etc. The apostle Paul is very clear in comparing this to being unequally yoked (2 Cor 6:14). The believer always comes out the loser.

We could complain about losing various friends, but this is about obedience. It is written in Proverbs 4:14-16, “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.”

There may also be certain habits that we have to renounce. We may say, “This is the way our family has always done it,” or, “I’m in the habit of having a drink with colleagues.” But if it’s a habit that brings us closer to sin, then we have to break with it. Paul says that we are to control our bodies in holiness and honor, “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess 4:5).

We must renounce evil and replace it with good. Ephesians 4:22-23 says that we should get rid of the stinking clothes of our old nature and change our mindset. And then it says, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (verse 24).

After that, the apostle names some sins. First, he emphasizes the things that Christians are no longer permitted to do. But, he doesn’t stop there. The renunciation of sin must be accompanied by filling the space left by wrongdoing. It’s not just about not sinning, but about doing the opposite. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints […] Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph 5:3, 7-8).

For example, when the pressure of sexual immorality is increasing, you should do something besides what you’re currently paying attention to and renouncing. You could get some exercise, read the Bible or good books, pray, visit or call someone else in the faith, etc. This kind of strategy needs to be planned in advance. Just as a general is already planning a route for retreat before the battle, we must also keep the door of freedom open to escape from the prison of impurity.

We must also renounce our feelings of shame. One of the most difficult things for someone living in impurity to do is to confess his sin to another. It’s incredibly difficult to humiliate yourself in front of someone from your family or church, or a pastor. Who wants to open his heart to the point of vulnerability, revealing his deepest secrets? But the Lord Jesus clearly says that only the truth sets us free (John 8:31-32). Freedom results from a truth that has been found, recognized, and known. The apostle Paul tells us, “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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2).

In order to free ourselves from the slavery of impurity, we need spiritual brothers and sisters who are willing to bear our burden with us and stand by us with advice. We can openly unpack our weaknesses, temptations and failures, and find consolation, correction and guidance with them. If we ask someone to hold us accountable, it means giving them the right to ask all sorts of unpleasant questions about our behavior. We give them the authority to talk openly with us and correct us.

Often, the barrier to sin is too low for us. We jump over it too often. We’re aware that God sees us, but it has happened so often. This knowledge alone didn’t stop us. But if we had to give an account to a spiritual peer once a week, then the barrier to sin in our lives would no doubt be a great deal higher. Just the shame of confessing a sin again makes us more cautious.

Incidentally, this trusted person’s role isn’t to be a punitive police officer or judge, but to have a brotherly interest in us. They want to lovingly advise us to help us improve, so that we can finally live in victory. Only fictional characters like Rambo or James Bond can stand victorious against entire armies by themselves. The believer needs the body of Christ, the church. We need more of what is mentioned in Proverbs 12:18b: “the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Oh, how we need this medicine!

Of course, the medicine is bitter sometimes. It can really sting a wound. But it’s necessary for healing to take place. We often avoid seeing the doctor for fear of what the treatment might be like. The same thing happens when we bring our problem to a confidant in the church. We’re afraid to ask for advice, because it would actually separate us from our beloved sin! Our pride dislikes rebuke. We often think we don’t need it.

By contrast, how good it is to have someone to comfort us, to share our burden, to help us when we fall, to wash our wounds and help us find the right path! Solomon very aptly said, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecc 4:9-10).

We see a wonderful image of this in the resurrection of Lazarus. The Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and called him out of the grave. Only Christ can give new life (2 Cor 5:17). But then Jesus commanded something interesting: “‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (John 11:44). Although Lazarus was alive, he couldn’t move freely because he was still wrapped in grave clothes. Maybe he hopped to the exit of the tomb. Jesus raised Lazarus to life, but He didn’t remove the clothes Himself. This was reserved for his sisters or the bystanders.

This illustrates the situation that many are in today. Stinking grave clothes wrap around us and hinder us. The Lord has forgiven us of our sins, but we still have to seek help from fellow believers to get rid of certain attachments. Sometimes we think or wish that God would send an angel from heaven to tell us what to do and how to do it. But the Lord actually gives us such angels: a friend, family member, or a member of the church. We don’t have to be ashamed to ask the right person for help. James encourages us, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).

Renunciation brings blessings. Yes, today’s renunciation is tomorrow’s blessing! The example of young Joseph especially stands out. Although it looked at first like he had drawn the short straw because he wanted to preserve his integrity, God later exalted him even more and blessed him richly. God testifies, “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained” (1 Sam 2:30).

Midnight Call - 01/2020

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