To the person caught in the grip of a sexual affair or a pornographic addiction, life’s problems seem very physical and focused. It seems so apparent that to satisfy sexual desire we must give it what it wants. What is not always apparent, however, is that behind our physical desires are deeper spiritual appetites, which are only temporarily numbed by sexual pleasure. The real problem fueling sexual obsession is not physical but spiritual. At the root of our problems is a belief that we can satisfy our own hearts by taking matters into our own hands and by treating our desires and passions as mere physical appetites. Yet in believing this lie, we are missing our opportunity for real solutions and self-control.
Symptoms Of A Deeper Problem. It might seem humiliating enough to admit to sexual sin or addiction. It might seem to be about as much as we can bear to confess that we have not lived up to our own expectations or God’s, or that we have hurt those we love by our sexual choices. But before we can really come to terms with our problem, before we can discover the richness of God’s love and forgiveness, and before we can recover a healthy sense of passion for life, we must understand that the root of sexual sin is idolatry.
Idolatry is the worship of anything or anyone other than the one true God. The New Testament goes so far as to say that misdirected passions are idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). According to Paul, to covet (to long for that which God has not offered you) is to commit idolatry. The reason is clear. When we long for that which God has warned about and we do not “hunger and thirst” for that which our Lord has encouraged us to pursue, we have honored our own desires more than God Himself.
With this kind of danger in view, the first New Testament letter of John ends with the words, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). This warning was “the last word” of a letter that appealed to its readers to love God above all else and to love one another as a sign of our love for the Father. John realized that when God ceases to be the passion of our life, and when we do not honestly care for others with the kind of love that we ourselves have received from God, then a loss of healthy love will leave us consciously pursuing lusts that make us dangerous to ourselves and others (1 Jn. 2:15-17). These lusts are a symptom of idolatry.
The idolatry the apostle warned about has a long history. It was a root sin of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Even though Sodom is known for its sexual sins, the Scriptures make it clear that her sexual obsessions and sins were symptoms of the deeper problem of idolatry. Before falling into gender confusion and sexual abandon, the men of Sodom turned their passions away from God and inward on themselves.
The prophet Ezekiel said to Jerusalem:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before Me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen (Ezek. 16:49-50 NIV).
Sodom’s sexual sins were the result of her errors, not the cause. Behind her homosexuality was a pattern of choices that put herself, her own desires, and her own pleasure at the center of her universe. To her own eventual destruction, Sodom’s men replaced God with a form of sexual obsession that could never satisfy (see also Rom. 1:18-32).
Symptoms Of A Lost Passion For God. Sexual obsession occurs (inside or outside of marriage) when we become more focused on temporary physical pleasure than in finding our satisfaction in the design and desires of God. Addiction occurs when we lose a zeal for God and when we no longer “hunger and thirst” for what God alone can do in our hearts (Mt. 5:6). Sexual enslavement tightens its grip on us when we use the momentary intoxication of sexual pleasure to numb the restless cravings that can only be satisfied by a passion and love that God shares with those who trust Him.
What often happens, however, is that there is little around us to help us see the kind of passion we’ve lost. It is very possible that we won’t know what we’re missing. That’s why it’s so important to spend time with the One who taught us to “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” It is Christ who shows us by His own example that those who are filled with healthy love for God and others don’t have to be preoccupied with physical sexual pleasure in order to be real men and women.
Christ shows us what we’ve lost. Even without sexual relationships, He was a perfect example of masculinity. He was a source of strength and protection for the men and women in His life. He went to battle with the enemy on our behalf. He sacrificed His life for His bride, the church. He absorbed the punishment and insults of His enemies. He had close personal friendships with both men and women. He resisted the seduction of the tempter. He was strong enough to be gentle, zealous enough to clean out His Father’s house, and secure enough within Himself to weep for those He loved. Although He was God, He was in every sense a man. Yet He lived through adolescence and His twenties as a single who did not “need” a physical, sexual relationship.
Our reaction might be, “Yes, but I’m not Christ. If I were, I would have His deep desire for God and I wouldn’t have the sexual problems that I do.” That’s true.We are not Christ. But He is in us. In this life we will not be as perfect as He is. But we can place ourselves under His control.We can invite Him to live His life through us, and to do what we cannot do for ourselves.We can invite Him to turn our hearts toward God and to share with us His passion for the Father, His hunger to do the will of God, and His deep, abiding love for both friend and enemy.
But what if, in spite of our desire to please Christ, we still long for the sexual intimacy of a marital relationship? What if we are struggling with the thought that God may not give us a husband or wife?
Then we need to bring our disappointment, dissatisfaction, and sense of despair to God. This is what our Lord did in the Garden of Gethsemane. When faced with the prospect of being executed for our sins, He didn’t merely repress His fears and try to act godly. With great intensity He struggled with His longings to avoid the cross.With great honesty He pleaded with the Father to let Him avoid the coming agony. But He stayed in the garden until He was able to say, “Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk. 22:42). He struggled with God until He again had more passion for the will of God and more desire for the rescue of those He was dying for than He had for His own temporary relief.
Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “for the joy that was set before Him [to rescue us from a lost, dark eternity] endured the cross, despising the shame [of being killed as a criminal], and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” In the days of His “passion unto death,” He also became the model for God’s design for desire.