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Sexual Sin in the Ministry - Desiring God

Desiring God
God-Centered Resources from the Ministry of John Piper

Sexual Sin in the Ministry
by Harry Schaumburg | March 6, 2012

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 1/5

The second level of deception is self-deception. and have no accurate understanding of the depth of our problem. “And people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). upright.5/12/12 Sexual Sin in the Ministry . particularly secret sexual sins. follow the steps of recovery. .” As sinners we are created with desires for intimacy and for delight. . I no sooner finished the sexual act and immediately broke into tears. and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). finding no pleasure in real intimacy with God. “After all. and remain in recovery. out of the heart. who was living in two adulterous relationships. Deception is inherent to the problem of sexual sin on two levels. Like David. Such thinking makes it easier to justify the secrecy for the greater good of one’s marriage. When dealing with sexual sin we must hold fast to the teaching of Jesus Christ. Face the facts: the motive for secrecy is to keep doing it. Holiness is dead. Wisdom is dead. Diagnoses always determine the method of treatment. By nature and by choice we satisfy ourselves. face to face. Purity is dead. it impacts the way we want to see the secret things in our lives. a lot of people would be hurt if they knew what I was doing. then more lies to cover the 2/5 . The missionary can justify going to nude beaches. family. The opposite is true. Everyone thinks they are hiding their acts of sin: lust. devastated by what I had done. When you say. Real intimacy has both pain and pleasure.desiringgod. . “The way to fight lust is to feed faith with the precious and magnificent promise that the pure in heart will see. pain forever! Descending Deception Deception runs deeper than we think. 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). a pastor sees the value of an affair because it makes him happy. The behavior is carefully hidden from view. the all-satisfying God of glory” (Future Grace. The only hope is “the grace of God . ultimately finds no pleasure in false intimacy. Dead to finding satisfaction with God. Dead to living for his purpose.Desiring God living in habitual sexual sin are “dead in their trespasses and sin” (verse 1). “For from within. cheating. 338). adultery” (Mark 7:21). rebel against God. training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. It is also a calculated contradiction of one’s public image that if revealed would bring ruin. and without supernatural change it will grow worse. put it: “This was the insanity. . Therefore.” As one pastor put it. endless hidden hours on a computer. 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. The heart is deceptive. If the heart is deceitful. job. Such rationalization is universal to all secret sexual sin. . but I only returned again and again to the same sinful relationship. porn. 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. come evil thoughts. or the misuse of unaccounted time away from the office or home. “I will keep this part of my life a secret. and adultery. Look closely and you will see that the sexual sinner is disappointed with pleasure in their pursuit of what is essentially false intimacy. First. and to live self-controlled.” what are you hiding? Hidden from view is a scandalous behavior that would certainly horrify any congregation or spouse. in a loss of spiritual life. false intimacy offers the illusion of no pain. sexual immorality. Love is dead. but there are lies. ministry. Dead. there is the double life with clandestine liaisons. But secrecy of sexual sin also indicates a person’s commitment to flee from the light. So ‘good’ people only need to get serious. As one pastor. “I was in a six month affair. and future. It also may be a relationship that you believe is so fulfilling you can’t imagine ending it. at the same time preaching and counseling against adultery. Yet the sexual sinner. and telling www. going to a prostitute on Monday is just a reward for hard work on Sunday. the sexual sinner has sinned “against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).

that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. restoration with God is more important than anything. Second. . Ninety-nine percent of the men were caught. The cross isn’t a recovery program. True conviction is followed by true repentance. . exposure is showing us the perfect patience of Christ. and while not the natural response. Conviction After secret sexual sin is exposed we can make the mistake of focusing on the actions and attempt to eliminate behavior. that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure . has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). 5). Many times I’ve been asked. it is not the behavior alone that is hidden. God’s ways are not our ways! In all the vileness and rebellion against God that is a big part of sexual sin. I can’t prove it.Desiring God myself that God didn’t care because the church was growing. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God.” In reality. it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that he will complete. And no matter how difficult it is for spouses and church members to see it in the moment. but I believe that God will providentially expose the secret sexual sin of his children. a sorrow over the consequences of sin. “For you may be sure of this. having been set free from sin. but of giving up one’s rights! “But thanks be to God.5/12/12 Sexual Sin in the Ministry . It is a place to die. God cares more for you. only about one-percent of the men have come to us voluntarily and preemptively. So there must be inner transformation of the heart because it is “deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). and. or who is covetous (that is. Christians must take severe measures in killing this sin. I have seen over and over again the power of God to change the darkest sinner. your soul. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality . . Sexual behavior that is indistinguishable from the unbelieving world may indicate a person is not truly a child of God. Secret sexual sin is an invasive poison to the soul. . False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees the consequences of sexual sin and the pain it caused 3/5 . and have so many people badly hurt. You are his child before you are a pastor or a husband. mind and the body. have become slaves of righteousness” www. There is no room for error when it comes to dealing with sexual sin. and your wife than he does your gifts and calling. the place to improve on what good is already there. False conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust. The Turn From Sin Why do people turn away from sexual sin? In thousands of cases that I have counseled. This is a poison that will kill not only in this life. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior without a heart change. This is the real danger: “Every unclean thought would be adultery if it could” (John Owen). We may be inadvertently feeding a false conviction rather than aiding true conviction. Heart change is critical.” (Colossians 3:5). Getting caught in sexual sin doesn’t change the heart. Exposure is a sovereign act of God. It is a poison deep within the recesses of the soul that keeps one from finding satisfaction in God and meaningful intimacy with others. but also life eternal! “For you may be sure of this. that everyone who is sexual immoral (Gk. porneia) or impure. It is not a question of giving up sexual sin. live in it for many years. There is a demand to either repent or perish (Luke 13:3. God is at work when a pastor’s sin is exposed. It staggers our finite imagination that God will allow his chosen ones to go deep into brazen sexual sin.desiringgod. an idolater) has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). It is more important than career or marriage. “How can you keep dealing with such sinful men?” There are two reasons: First.

and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:8. 20).org/blog/posts/sexual-sin-in-the-ministry 4/5 . It may not feel like dying right now. “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen.5/12/12 Sexual Sin in the Ministry . I’ve made that move three times. Inward change leads to sexual purity. when it brings us pleasure. and makes reconciliation more difficult. Don't Wait To Get Caught Some time ago I met a pastor who told me that he had two or three affairs in each of the several churches he had pastored. good and faithful servant. or you are publicly exposed. but God’s kindness to you. there is hope. bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). we foolishly think we can use our bodies as we choose when we are in love.” That man has no reason to expose his sexual sin or leave the ministry. As dead sinners we lived “in the passion of our flesh. and your congregation. Fifth. Deceived. The truly repentant sexual sinner begins to grasp. While not completely free from sin. carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:3). but in fact. the prostitute turns into an uncover police women and you are arrested for soliciting. It begins with facing the truth.” If you are a pastor stuck in sexual sin. “You are not your own. but it is better to hear. "I never knew you. Killing sexual sin starts with exposure. and they cannot live in a pattern of continual sexual sin. 41). “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. your family. no matter how well you have attempted to cover those sins with layers and layers of lies. it is evil. when it makes us a whole person or feeds our spiritual well being. it ends with no longer being enslaved (Romans 6:6). but right now you are dying on the inside. your spouse. fear is not a virtue. the heart of the true believer has been transformed. . provided you continue in his kindness” (Romans 11:22). 9). your family. for you were bought with a price. “Well done. you workers of lawlessness. He said. Second. Step into the light. you contract an STD. Seventh. embarrasses your spouse. but an inward change. your spouse. Fourth. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” than to hear. You will never www. that you may be healed” (James 5:16). you are slowly killing yourself. It is never just a struggle with your thought life.Desiring God (Romans 6:17–18). So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19. fully pleasing to him. Repentance is not just becoming sexually pure. Third. Why should anyone know? Why should anyone turn from sexual sin before being caught? First. I was only moving to a new church before I got caught in those affairs. step out from the darkness of those sins. if secret sexual sin has severe consequences. God is never mocked. “My reputation in my denomination is to take a small struggling church and see it grow. it will come out. If there is an old self to put off. Obvious examples come to mind to get help before: your Internet browsing history is discovered and shared. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil . Hear the Better Word Christ bears the wrath that will come for all sexual sin. Exposure is painful. but you are. Yes. and your congregation. Sixth. “The basic meaning of repent is to experience a change of the mind’s perceptions and dispositions and purposes” (What Jesus Demands. for God’s seed abides in him. it is worth dealing with before the devastation occurs. the exhortation is to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Repentance happens on the inside where heart change includes the development of an ingrained attitude to flee sexual immorality. you are called to put off the old and put on the new. getting caught shatters trust and honesty in marriage. . depart from me. True repentance is radical change from the inside out. If you are a true believer and real change has occurred. don’t let yourself be deceived.desiringgod. there must be a new self to put on. I plead with you. that is the gospel. humiliating yourself. Get help. exposure will be costly. only to again take another small church and see it grow. like all sexual sin.

author. He is the director of Stone Gate Resources and the author of False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction (1997) and Undefiled: Redemption From Sexual Sin. Schaumburg is a speaker. Topic: Sexual Purity Dr. Harry 5/5 .Desiring God find life in the shadows. and counselor specializing in the area of sexual sin in the church.5/12/12 Sexual Sin in the Ministry . www. and they have two adult sons. Restoration for Brok en Relationships (2009). He has been married to his wife Rosemary for 43 years.