In conjunction with Tenth Presbyterian Church's 2010 Urban Ministry Conference, Sex in the City (3/5-7), the members of Tenth's pastoral staff and HarvestUSA will discuss issues of sex and sexuality in our culture. A list of the topics we will be discussing is available here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Who Struggles with Sexual Sin? by Rev. Marion Clark

Who struggles with sexual sin?

Well, I do. Ever since adolescence, I cannot think of a time that I have not struggled with sexual temptation and knowing the appropriate attitude and behavior to have. I suspect just about every man has similar struggle and even most women, though in different ways. One can, after all, be out of balanced both in obsessive behavior and in negative reaction against.

Here is my problem, as I see it in terms of the flesh, the world, and the devil. I’ll take them in reverse order. Regarding Satan, I do actually have an enemy who seeks my destruction, or, barring that, at least renders me ineffectual for serving Christ’s kingdom. I don’t suppose Satan has any particular interest in sex, but surely he finds it a useful tool to bring down Christians, and he has been successful in knocking more than a few church leaders. I’ve seen more gifted men than myself be taken down.

I find myself most susceptible to temptation when I am emotionally drained or feeling anxious, especially about matters related to ministry. I am not tempted to drink (don’t like the taste of beer or strong alcohol), nor take drugs (too scary), nor gamble (throwing away money). So if Satan is going to go after me, sexual temptation is the route for him to take. That is why I must keep a realistic attitude about myself and follow Scripture’s admonition to be on the alert for the devil (1 Peter 5:8-9a). Verse 9 says to resist this roaring lion who is seeking to devour me. To be honest, fear is what helps me the most here. As I said, I see this lion mauling good servants of the Lord, and I have no reason then to believe I am stronger than they in withstanding temptation nor from suffering the consequences of giving in. And so I pray for the Lord to protect me from my enemy and, to follow the example of Christ, turn to Scripture to refute his lies, which is his primary method of attack. “It’s okay, no one will know.” “You can’t be expected to be perfect.” “It will hurt no one.” “You are under a lot of pressure. It can actually help.” “It’s no big deal.” “You are not as bad as…” If I try to reason out why I should not give in to temptation, I lose. But if I quote Scripture, it is God’s Word that carries force. Besides, I now I have to be in a position to refute Scripture, which is more daunting than refuting Satan. But especially helpful is to quote (or read; I’m bad at memory work) Scripture that reassures me of the goodness and grace that is mine in Christ. Then it becomes hard to consciously betray the blessings of God.

Then there is the world. The world affects me in two ways. First, it simply batters my senses with images. The images are everywhere, and even more so in the city. News stands covers, newspaper ads, wherever an ad can possibly be placed – sexual images are being pushed in my face. Sex sells, and so it doesn’t matter what the product, sex is used to sell it, be it through images, text, radio announcements, books, TV, ads on websites and email accounts.

But the other way the world tempts me is through its effective presentation of its “world view.” Since I am already married, I’m not thinking about the pressures for a single to engage in sex (though that is enormous pressure). I’m thinking, rather, about my society’s teaching that the display of sexuality is good. Society teaches that is good to look at pictures of the naked body and at images of sex. Sex is good; therefore, it is good to discuss it, watch it, tantalize with it, and have fun with it. Watching a movie of a couple having sex is better than watching a horror movie portraying graphic violence. And which is worse, a sexually loose good guy who saves the world from destruction (“my name is Bond”) or the puritanical repressed man who is judgmental and mean-spirited? And the arguments go on. I have a hard time with the arguments. They make me waver. Add to that sexual images…the battle is tough.

Again, Scripture helps. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Trying to reason to the world too easily leads to rationalizing with the world. It is better to fill my mind with what is good and with what is also pleasing. I read books – fiction and nonfiction – that get me to thinking in wholesome ways. I remind myself through reading and music and good movies of how pleasant and exciting are the things of Christ.

Finally, there is the flesh. Take the devil and the world out of the equation. I still struggle primarily because of my sinful nature. It is said that sexual urges are natural. That is true. But ingrained in those urges is the sin nature that makes what is natural into an obsession. I can be engaged in good, wholesome activity, but a mere picture passing by immediately captures my attention. Body chemistry combined with sinful tendency work against my best intentions. No where does Romans 7 (“For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”) hit home than in this area.

What to do? I’ve spoken of turning to Scripture, of prayer, and of filling my mind with wholesome things. Proverbs 5 has a good message – avoid opportunity for sexual temptation as much as possible: “Keep your way far from her (the temptress), and do not go near the door of her house.” Sometimes to win the war, you have to avoid a battle or two or three. Sometimes to win the boxing match you have to spend a round or two avoiding your opponent. In others words, you have to acknowledge your limitations. I am never in more danger than when I think I am strong enough to withstand temptation.

Do you struggle with sexual sin? You are not alone. But you also are not alone to fight by yourself. God has given us the Holy Spirit. He has given us his Word; he has given us prayer, and many other good things to engage our minds and bodies with. But remember most of all – he has given us the gospel, the good news that we are redeemed in Christ and given his righteousness. Meditating upon such mystery, such love, such grace more than anything else gives me strength to carry on the fight for my own purity, and I trust the same for you.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing in practical ways how to overcome such a pervasive part of our culture. Only the Lord can help us to resist Satan's subtilites and devices.