It was late fall, 1998. I’d gone on a business trip and binged on porn movies in the hotel rooms, again, albeit without masturbating. Even though I hadn’t had self-sex, the images, filth and shame flowing through me were no less intense.
Not long after returning home, I met with Jim, a guy from the secular 12-step group I’d been attending for lunch (in the 90′s, Christ centered support groups for sexual addiction were extremely rare). After I told him what I’d done, Jim said “at least you didn’t act out,” meaning that, according to the sobriety definition of the group I was still “sober.” For the first time in eight years of “working the steps,” it hit me that the 12-step program had taken me as far as it could.
One problem was their definition of sexual sobriety. It started with “no sex with self or other persons other than the married spouse,” which was okay, and then they had a weird statement about “true sobriety meaning progressive victory over lust.” Since “progressive victory” was hard to grab onto, (or really, meaningless) everyone focused on the physical aspect of the definition. Thus, a man was “sober” if he hadn’t masturbated or had sex with another person outside of marriage. Guys with one year or more of sobriety were revered as if they were a prophet, and newcomers flocked to them for their secrets.
In the early 90′s when I first got involved in the 12-step program, I jumped in with both feet and accumulated 18 months of sobriety. Now I was one of the chosen ones who the others fawned over. I started leading meetings and sponsoring others, dispensing my wisdom like Plato. I had become the “Oracle of Sobriety,” or so I thought.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines sobriety as “Moderation in or abstinence from consumption of alcoholic liquor or use of drugs.” Even though I’d abstained from porn, masturbation, and sex outside of marriage for a year and a half, there was still a nagging emptiness inside that gnawed at me. That spiritual vacuum won out on a business trip to Canada, when I lost my 18 months of sobriety on a phone sex and masturbation binge. Overnight, my status as “O wise one” vanished, and it was back to Square One with Those-Not-Worthy-of-the-30-Day-Chip.
I bounced back quickly, and gained another three years of sobriety. With three years to my name, it seemed to me the others should have bowed down every time I walked into a meeting. How could I fall again, I thought, after going so long without acting out?
We moved from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs in 1995. With my support base gone, the ever present vacuum of emptiness intensified
into a loud roar. I fell hard, and lost my sobriety again on a bender of porn and masturbation. This time, I couldn’t get back up, and slid into a three year period of binging, shame and misery.
It was the end of that third year when I met Jim for lunch. When he told me I was “sober” even though I’d looked at porn, the light went on that I was after something deeper and more powerful than mere physical abstinence; I wanted the power within to say no to every temptation or lustful thought. Eight years of focusing on the externals had provided me with temporary relief, but not freedom; I was still a slave to sexual sin in my heart.
Purity and sobriety isn’t the same thing. The American Heritage Dictionary defines purity as:
- The quality or condition of being pure.
- Freedom from sin or guilt; innocence; chastity.
A man can abstain from sin, but still have a dark, lonely, lust filled heart. Weeds aren’t eliminated until someone digs deep, exposes the roots, and gets rid of the entire plant. If a man cuts off the top of the weed but leaves the roots intact, the top will eventually grow back. When Jesus set God’s standard for sexual purity He had something much deeper than the top of the weed in mind:
You have heard that it was said, `you shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Excerpt from The Road to Grace; Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sexual Addiction
©2006-2012 by Mike Genung. All Rights Reserved.
This excerpt may be copied and forwarded only if this permission paragraph is retained intact.
Excerpt from Chapter 5: Turn and Connect
In his prime, Iron Mike Tyson was a ferocious fighting machine with phenomenal punching power. In 1985, at the age of 20, he won the WBC title from Trevor Berbick in less than six minutes. Michael Spinks, an undefeated former champion, was knocked out by Tyson in 91 seconds. Carl “The Truth” Williams went down in 93 seconds. By 1990, Tyson had a 37–0 record with 33 knockouts.
I remember watching Tyson in one of his early fights, thinking about just how hard he could hit. There was a loud smack when Tyson connected with his opponent’s face, and his head snapped back like it’d been hit with a cannonball. The thought of taking a shot like that gave me the jitters.
Imagine getting into the ring with Mike Tyson when he was at the top of his game. The bell rings. Tyson calmly walks up to you in his trademark black trunks, grinning and showing his gold tooth, his hands down at his sides in mockery of you. You know that if this guy hits you it’s all over, so you charge him and swing hard. Tyson deftly swivels his torso and avoids your punch, still grinning, hands at his sides. You panic and swing wildly, but Tyson dances around your every blow with ease. Over the next few minutes you throw a frenzy of punches, but nothing connects.
Now you’re exhausted; your arms feel like they’re made of lead and your guard is down. Still grinning, Tyson launches a right cross to your jaw that connects with incredible force; the room starts spinning, and turns black as you drop to the floor.
Fighting sexual thoughts and temptation is like taking on Mike Tyson. Lust is far stronger, faster, smarter and more experienced than you are. The power behind it has been around for centuries, and it’s knocked out millions. Satan’s strategy is to get you in the ring with lust, because once you start swinging he knows he’ll win; he wants you fighting it. The final outcome may take a few rounds, but it doesn’t matter; he knows that once you wear yourself out, it’s lights out.
I’ve tried several different methods of dealing with sexual temptation over the years.
- Ignoring the thoughts. This doesn’t work because they keep coming back, often with greater intensity.
- Quoting Scripture. I once heard someone say that since Jesus quoted God’s word when He was tempted by Satan in the desert, we should use the same strategy in resisting temptation. I tried this and it sometimes worked, for a little while, but the thoughts always came storming back.
- “Commanding the devil to leave”. There have been a few instances where this worked, which may have meant the attack was purely spiritual. However, most of the time I’m battling my own flesh and brokenness in addition to any outside spiritual influence, making this approach ineffective.
- Calling a friend (see Chapter Two). This helps if I’m able to get someone on the phone immediately, but what happens if no one’s available? I can’t just let lustful thoughts run roughshod over me until I can talk to someone; it might be too late by then. Besides, Jesus commanded us not to commit adultery in our heart, so I need a way to cope the thoughts as temptation hits, not after I’ve sinned.
There are no verses in Scripture in which we are commanded to conquer or even attempt to conquer sexual temptation by our own strength or willpower. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39, he ran. If he would have stayed to resist her she would have touched him provocatively, sparking the flames of sexual desire. Paul confirmed the flight vs. fight approach in First Corinthians 6:18 when he wrote we are to “flee (sexual) immorality.”
Note how the Lord calls us to deal with sin in the following verses:
Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.”
2 Kings 17:13
…and (if) My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, and revive me in Your ways.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.
And I said, “Who are You, Lord?” and the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. “But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
God calls us to turn away from sin and to Him, after which He will forgive our sin, “heal our land,” and “revive us in His ways.” In the battle against the Mike Tysons of sexual temptation and thoughts, we don’t face lust, try to negotiate with it, or fight it. As soon as we’re tempted, we immediately turn away from the thought and then connect with God, setting our mind on Him and asking for His help and power. I call this the turn and connect approach…
Excerpt from The Road to Grace; Finding True Freedom from the Bondage of Sexual Addiction
©2006-2012 by Mike Genung. All Rights Reserved. This excerpt may be copied and forwarded only if this permission paragraph is retained intact.