Sexual addiction is more common than many of us realize. And in the wake of purity culture, many Christians don’t know how to think well about sex and sexual sin. In this episode, Phy breaks down why sexuality deserves honor and the hope we have when we’ve fallen short.
Hello, and welcome back to Verity podcast, friends. Today, we are talking about a very sensitive topic, but one that is near and dear to my heart. If you’ve been following me for any span of time, you know that sexual addiction is a part of my testimony. And my husband and I have also shared our story together during the Marriage series of this podcast. I’m excited to be able to talk about this again, because it is how I actually got my start as a blogger and a writer, and was the niche that I began writing in before it expanded into Every Woman a Theologian. So, I am excited about this but I also know that it’s a very sensitive topic. And for some of you, it may even be a little bit triggering. So, I pray that this episode meets you where you are, and is a healing and encouraging episode for you. But I also understand if at some point you need to take a break or pause because it is triggering to something in your past or something that you’re working through right now. Just know that God wants you to be free, He wants you to have peace, and He wants you to have victory, and that His love is for you, not just for everyone else.
So, in this episode, we’re going to start by talking a little bit about why sexual sin even is sin, like what are we talking about when we say that, and then we will go into the details of why and how God forgives it.
So, if you’ve grown up in purity culture, or in perhaps a more legalistic perspective of Christianity, a lot of the things that are said about sex and said about sexuality can be twisted by this legalism, or by these rules and move us so far away from the biblical sexual ethic that we forget what it even is. We might find ourselves asking questions like, “If God is good, like I’ve been taught, and God made sex, then why is having sex bad? Is Christian sex the only kind that’s bad? And if it feels good, how can it be wrong?” And these questions break my heart, but they’re necessary and they actually lead us to the world’s primary argument for extramarital sex, which is, if it feels good, if it affirms me, if it makes me feel loved, then it can’t be wrong. And so, if you’re wondering, why does Jesus Christ call us to save sex for a covenant marriage between men and women, then this is for you.
The logic of “if it feels good, we should do it,” that argument is fundamentally flawed. If we determine moral issues based on our individual feelings, there is no actual standard for right and wrong whatsoever. This is actually rooted in deconstruction philosophy, so when I say that, I’m not talking about the word deconstruction as it’s often used in pop culture. I’m talking about the philosophy and the framework of deconstruction, which broke things down into its basic parts and wanted to append these, what they believe are westernized assumptions of right and wrong.
It all goes together with this subjective morality, the humanistic view of the world. When we look at the world this way, we can say, “Right and wrong are just a product of your culture. There is no objective moral standard. Everybody just has to find their truth.” And this is what our culture has done with sexuality. But here’s the real issue, just because something feels good does not mean it’s the right thing to do for ourselves, or for others, and this is especially true when it comes to sexuality. Every part of our bodies was designed by God for specific function, eyes, ears, legs, fingers, all of it. When that body part is used outside of its design, it affects the rest of the body and sex is not just the bodily function. It involves thoughts and emotions, and its inseparably tied to our minds and our hearts.
I was recently watching this movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 days with my husband, and I love this movie. No apologies from me on that front, but one of the characters in the movie is known for her week-long relationships with successive breakups afterwards. And most of the times in this movie, this character is sleeping with her dates in the first week or on the first date, and then following these encounters would become very emotional and cry or say “I love you.” And this would scare off the men she was dating, and she would have yet another failed relationship.
In the movie, it presents this girl as being overly emotional and clingy and needy, but in reality, those emotions can be a very natural part of having sex. They’re supposed to be there. Sex was designed for an emotional and physical closeness within the context of a lifelong covenant. It was not designed for one nightstands and drive by experiences. If we follow the messaging of movies like How to Lose a Guy and the myriad other cultural offerings we have, we would stifle our emotions, separate sex from our desire for lasting love, and continue to give ourselves to people who want to use us for physical reasons alone. Who wants to use us for their own pleasure, because they’re living out their truth. But in the Bible, we see something different. Marriage in the sexual relationship within it is a glorious example of the intimate relationship God desires with mankind.
It is pointing to a fulfillment that is way beyond sex. It’s a kind of relationship founded on commitment, faithfulness, mutual love and sacrifice and complete vulnerability. I love this verse from Proverbs that talks about this contrast. Proverbs 5, “Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. A lovely deer, a graceful doe, let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”
Okay, so maybe I don’t love reading that passage aloud. It’s a little bit PG-13, but look at the terminology that’s used “scattered,” “streets,” “strangers,” this is the life of a sexual nomad, not committing to the beauty of God designed love. Marital sex, however, is meant to be a reservoir of satisfaction, constant communication with the other person about their needs, their desires, their body, not this scattered stream of illicit sex. It’s a continual fountain in marriage, always renewed, not like these dark, empty streets of a city. It’s a place to rejoice and delight and be intoxicated with love, not overcome with temporary lust. It’s a place where we should be free to feel all the heights of emotion that accompany sex, and even if we’re moved to tears, or I love you, we don’t have to be ashamed.
Now, here’s the thing, I have to add a little addendum here. Marital sex is not always that way. It’s not perfect in a fallen world. And if you’ve been giving poor teaching about sex and marriage that says, “Oh, you owe this to your spouse, or you have to do whatever he wants, or he’s going to leave you or you have to put up with long term pornography addiction, and you need to be okay with that.” Those things are lies. And if someone is abusing marital sex, they’re not being sacrificial, they’re not being honorable, they’re not being covenantal in their sexual relationship with their spouse, then they’re actually violating the intent of marital sex. So, I’m not saying that “Oh, wow, marital sex is great all the time, and that’s why we save sex for marriage, because it’s guaranteed to be great.” No, I’ve been married for almost nine years, and in those nine years, my husband and I have constantly had to communicate through a lot of different seasons, where one or both of us struggled in this area, and our episode about that in the Marriage series, you can listen to that for more about our experience.
Let’s move on a little bit more about why sex is for marriage. So, I want to give a contrast between lust and desire. As women, many women at least longed to be pursued, they longed to be desired and this is a desire given by God, I believe. And that when God tells us to reserve sex for marriage, he’s not saying you need to deny the existence of your desire, you need to be ashamed that they exist. No, he’s revealing to us the blueprint for the most fulfilling sexual relationship you can have on earth with your husband, but he’s also giving you a blueprint for the most fulfilling relationship in general that you can have, which is your relationship with God. And that this desire for sex is pointing us to an even greater relationship, an even greater possibility for spiritual intimacy, the relationship we have with God.
So that’s why if you are single and struggling in this area, those desires are an opportunity to point you in desperation, even to the Lord your God who has compassion on you, and to remember that Jesus Christ was single until he was 33 years old. He has compassion. I mean, He’s still single right because He’s ascended to heaven, [laughs] we won’t get into that. But you have a man, Godman who was a celibate single for 33 years, setting this example for you and being compassionate for those desires, because He walked in holiness in them, and pointed us to the perfect relationship with God. So, God’s design for sex when it’s in covenant is based on real– God defined love. But when our desire for love is reduced to this desire for physical closeness alone, we’ve missed the point entirely.
The sexual sensations that are a product of sex are important, God designed them. He could have made this procreative process really boring, He didn’t. But those sensations aren’t the purpose. The purpose of sex is unity, service of one another, love for one another, and procreation, that’s a part of the purpose of sex. So, the world’s template for sex is based on lust and what you can give me in the movie star Hollywood version, and that’s not God’s intent for it. So, then the question we have to ask is, “Well, is lust wrong? Why is lust even wrong?” And you’ll say, well, look at some of the teachings of the church, and sometimes what I’ve seen is people will talk about sex and lust outside of marriage in very negative terms, “Oh, that’s bad, don’t look at a woman with lust in your eyes, or objectify her.” But then in marriage, it’s okay for a man to talk about his wife in an objectifying manner, or to demand sex whenever he wants, or a woman can do that too.
Lust can actually carry over into a marriage relationship. It’s not lust goes away, just because you got married. You have to deal with it at its root and see God’s intent for sexuality before marriage in order to walk into marriage with a selfless and sacrificial sexuality. In God’s word, here’s what we have about lust, “The lust of the flesh, and of the eyes, belongs to the world,” 1 John 2:16. We, believers, are not of the world. John 15:19. “Lust limits our ability to fight against sin, and it pollutes our hearts.” 2 Timothy 2. This should concern us since only the pure in heart will see God, according to Matthew 5, which means only those who are not walking and active unrepentant sin will experience the Lord in an intimate way. Lust wages war against our souls, in1 Peter 2, and Lustful, minds conform us to the world instead of to Christ. Romans 12:2.
If we’re to fulfill God’s will, which is for us to be holy, according to 1 Thessalonians 4, the definition and fruits of lust cannot be found in our lives. Lust is a sin. It’s wrong. So, now you might be wondering, “Well, what’s the difference then between a healthy sexual desire, desire for relationship or even an attraction to your boyfriend?” Lust objectifies. Okay, lust of any kind is focused on attaining something from the person that we’re involved with. A lustful mind is more focused on its desire than on the consequences of that desire, or the person that they are with. Lust satisfies itself first. It wants to satisfy a want, and it perceives that as a need. Here’s the thing you guys, I’m sorry to say it, but sex is not a biological need, you can survive without it. And you’re like, “Oh, okay, fine, you’re married?”
No, there have been seasons in our marriage, where one or both of us has not either wanted to participate in marital intimacy, or hasn’t been able to. If you have ever been pregnant and on bedrest for nine months, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve had a spouse who was deployed, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You can survive without sex. Jesus did it for 33 years. And in marriage, you still have to walk in self-control towards your spouse, you don’t have this person in your life just to use them whenever you feel a sexual urge. Lust satisfies itself first. Seeing sex as a right or a need in order to survive is not healthy. There should be communication about that in before marriage, and understanding that you will walk and restraint are your sexual desires. Lust twists God’s plan. It takes God’s plan for sex out of context. It focuses on the feelings of sex without the meaning of sex that God designed.
Lastly, and most importantly, lust usurps God’s authority. When we choose to lust after someone and act on it, we’re essentially saying, “I’m God of this area of my life, I will dictate the parameters, the limits and the morality of my own sexuality.” When we choose lust and sexual sin, pornography, or having sex with our boyfriend, cheating on our husband, anyway that it looks, when we choose lust, our greatest transgression is not the action itself, but our rebellion against God, and saying, “I’m going to dictate what holiness is, I’m going to dictate what is right, and this is what’s right to me. I’m going to follow my truth, instead of God’s.” And that’s pretty devastating.
Remember that love, love is sacrificial and committed, it’s covenanted. This is how God has modeled love to us. He says in Isaiah 49, “I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” In Jeremiah 31, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” In 1 John 4, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God’s kind of love is everlasting and faithful and sacrificial. And this is what He commands us to do towards others, both those we’re married to, and those we aren’t married to. So, God’s love is always meant to make us holy, and the world’s version of “love” is able to temporarily satisfy, it’s driven by some very biological and physiological responses to attraction that high we get when we are infatuated with someone. But it can never present us to God spotless and it can never preserve a holy union with someone else. If we call ourselves Christians, we must prioritize a holy and sacrificial love. God is ready, though, to take back those who haven’t lived that way, and that is what I want to talk about in the latter half of this episode.
One of my most popular blog posts on my website is called Will God Forgive Sexual Sin? And we started out talking a little bit about that but in my own testimony, I was exposed to erotic fiction, which is just pornography in written form, like Harlequin novels, even Christian romance novels sometimes are this graphic, depicting sexual scenes. In those, I learned this pattern of sexuality that’s based on my desirability, my attractiveness, and lust. It was ingrained in my mind, and I found these books accidentally when I was 12, and three years later, it was these things, my desperate addiction and my need for freedom that actually drove me to become a believer at 15 years old. But my struggle didn’t end there, and for the next seven, eight years, I was still struggling with how to be free from this, how do I get free from something that has plagued me for so long? And the bigger question I asked was, if I continue to sin, in the same way, trying to be consistent trying to fight, am I really saved? Does God really even forgive me?
Maybe you have asked those same questions, and we’re going to go to the Word of God because that is where we find the truth. We’re not going to base our answer to this on our emotions and our feelings that change so often, and are often based on misinformation. We’re going to go to the objective truth.
Here’s the thing, we’ve already talked about this. Sexual sin is anything that is outside of a covenant, sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and this is acted upon. You may be attracted to other sexual things, or have a sexual bent in other direction, but when you act upon it, that is when it becomes sexual sin. When you engage in it, fantasize about it, dwell on it, pursue it, that is when we’ve stepped outside the bounds of Christian sexuality. For me that was essentially pornography, and in seeking that out and being enraptured by the storyline and looking for those scenes and allowing them to shape my view of sexuality.
The first thing we have to do in finding out if God forgives sexual sin is to first acknowledge that God sees illicit sex as sin. When we look at Scripture, we see in Luke 7 and in John 8, Jesus forgiving women who had walked in sexual sin. One was a prostitute, one was an adulterous. Some people say, “Well, look, Jesus forgave their sin, and He called them up and let them free. So, He doesn’t actually see this as a problem,” but this is contradictory because the word “forgave” as it pertains to sin means to cancel a debt to holiness. Jesus forgave their sin, because He acknowledged it as a sin, and in some of these cases, He even said, “Go and sin no more.” So, He’s saying,” I’m forgiving you. I’m giving you grace, but I’m also calling you up. And I’m saying, ‘This was wrong, this is not God’s intent for you. Go and sin no more.'” So, acknowledging what we did wrong, is the first step, not being sorry, because we got caught, or because our parents will find out, or because the church might think differently of us, but true repentance saying, “God, yes, I have these desires. Yes, I still feel like I’m tempted that way, or I still want to go back to that.” But I know this was wrong, and I want your freedom, I want your holiness; I want to walk in peace with you. So, once you’ve acknowledged that, the second step is to repent, and this is a quote about repentance that I thought described it well. It said, “Genuine repentance pleads with the Lord to forgive, and deliver from the burden of sin and the fear of judgment. It is the attitude of the publican who, fearful of even looking towards heaven, smote his breast, pounded his chest and cried, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner,'” Luke 18. Repentance is not merely behavior reform but because true repentance involves a change of heart and purpose, inevitably results in a change of behavior.
This is so important, repentance is not merely behavior reform, it’s a change of heart. And it’s not just something we do once in a onetime salvation decision. Confession of sin is our demonstration of faith, that we believe that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross didn’t just save us eternally, and keep us with Him in His love. It also saves us presently from our sin. It applies today. We keep coming back to say, “God, I want to be right with you. God, I want to walk with you.” We can’t hold on to Christ with one hand and our sin with the other. So, here’s the question, and this is the one that I ask so often. What if I genuinely repent but when the temptation arises, again, I fail? Repentance, that change of mind and heart literally means we make every effort to remove that sin from our lives. And yet, God gives grace for the growing process.
Do you remember what Jesus told Peter about forgiveness? I’m going to read to you from Matthew 18. Peter came to Jesus and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brothers sinned against me, and I forgive him, up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but seventy times seven.” So, here’s the truth for you, if God commands us to forgive, over and over and over again, how much more patient is He with us and our weaknesses? This is how loving and kind He is. And this is why Paul writes in Romans 2, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Repentance is the change of mind, which leads to a change of behavior. We must align our lives with this decision in order to see fruit, and this is the line that I said to myself, over and over when I was in the middle of this struggle, “I am as safe from sin, as I am close to Christ.” And the reason I said this was because Paul writes, that if you walk by the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Jesus says in John 15, “If you abide in the vine, you will bear much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” So only when we abide in Him, and stay with Him, talking to Him, connected to Him, will we truly bear the fruit of repentance. The next step in having your sin forgiven is to accept his grace. Okay, accept His grace.
Romans 6 says, “But now that you’ve been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification, and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Grace is not getting what we deserve, it is mercy extended to us. So, you have been set free from sin, you are being sanctified into the image of Jesus Christ, you are set free from whatever you did, whoever you slept with, the porn you looked at, the book you read. You, if you have repented, you are set free.
This eternal life God talks about, that’s not just heaven someday, that’s abundant life today. It’s not just talking about quantity, eternity, long term. It’s talking about quality, because God loves you and wants to bless you. He wants to see you live in the freedom that he offers, and to not live under the shame, and the heaviness of walking in sexual addiction and sin, and I know what that’s like. John 10 says, “I am the door and if anyone enters through me, he will be saved. I will go in and they will go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” If you’ve accepted and acknowledged your sin, you’ve repented of the sin, you’ve acknowledged God’s forgiveness for you, now you just need to walk in that forgiveness, trusting His grace, that He loves you, and He died and gave you this forgiveness to keep relationship with you. The apple of His eye. So, when we instead shift our focus from what God has done to what we did, we live in condemnation and we start resurrecting past sins, we look at ourselves as sinners instead of saints, we cease to see ourselves as forgiven and see ourselves as failures. And when this pattern continues, listen up, when this pattern continues, it leads to despair in repetition of your sin.
When Josh and I were dating, he was in a lust free living group for men. And this group was the most unproductive group he had ever been in for accountability. And here’s why. All these guys did was sit around in a circle and rehearse their failures, and say, “Do better next time, pray a little bit.” No, we don’t rehearse our failures. Confession is one thing. Confession to the Lord and saying, “I failed, but you know what I know? God has forgiven me. And I know my identity, and I’m going to walk in that because I am a victor in Christ, I am a saint. This is not my identity.” It says in scripture that those who make a pattern and lifestyle fornication and adultery will not inherit the quality of life that God has intended. They will not inherit abundant life, that is in scripture. So, if that’s how I’m living, I know that that’s not right, but I’m not going to live that way because my identity has changed.
Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” So, you get to choose to live in your new identity. 1 Peter 2:9-10 is a verse I suggest reading, because it says here, “Those who are in Christ are chosen royal, they are priests of God, they are holy, they’re owned by Him. They are pure wanted and under grace.” You have to trust that identity, because isn’t that what it means to be a Christian. You’re putting faith in Christ’s sacrifice for you, not just for eternity, but for today.
The last thing, or the almost last thing you need to do, once you’ve gone through these processes, is to build fences. So, what purity culture tried to do is they tried to build the fences at the beginning. They tried to build fences around sexuality before people’s hearts were changed. Before they knew their identity in Christ, before they knew their sins were covered. Purity culture used shame, and rules and fences to try to achieve a transformed spirit, and that’s completely backwards. The transformed spirit builds fences and follows through on them because their heart is totally changed. It is backwards and damaging to put rules on the front end of this conversation. God does hate impurity because he knows it hurts you, but God and Jesus who is God know that love is a motivator to obedience.
The moment we cease to trust God is when we break His standards. And the standards, these walls and boundaries that we put up, they aren’t the point, but they’re a reflection of our transformation. Purity, walking in purity won’t just happen, especially for those of us who are weak. We have to be on guard, be aware and stay close to Christ. Living according to your identity, as someone who is no longer captive to sin, who is holy and righteous in God’s eyes, who is as pure as before you ever fell. This is not about virginity; this is about purity. Christ gives purity and it has nothing to do with the V card. It has everything to do with what He did on the cross. If you fall again, if it happens, get up and run back to Christ right away. This was transforming for my own journey because we have told ourselves in our head, “Well, it’s presumptuous to run back to God, when I’ve just sinned. I need to give it a few days, I need to wait a little while, I need to do some kind of penance or something before I can come back.” No, you don’t. That’s why Jesus died, so that you had access to Him. So, you can run right back.
The truth is, as you run back, it’s like in Luke 15. “God is the Father, who is running down the road to you, running to His wayward child, with His arms open to receive you.” If you think that you’re too far gone, I want you to remember what Jesus said about Mary Magdalene, the prostitute, who repented at His feet. He said, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” If you’ve been forgiven much, it will change how you go out into the world. The fact that God is not only able but willing to make you pure in his eyes is the very core of the gospel message, and He gives you the grace to walk this out. The point here is not us deserving the grace because we don’t, but God loving us enough to overwhelm our unworthiness. If you’re wanting to go back to who you were before this sin, that’s not going to happen. I thought, who I was before is what God was after. I thought that pure hearts and bodies were math equations to get good things out of life. But God didn’t make me who I was before, He made me new. That’s what He’ll do for you. My advice is return to Him earlier rather than later, always, because His amazing grace is waiting.