I have recently read two books dealing with the subject of sexual sins and I thought I’d share my findings. The first book is Not Even a Hint by Pastor Joshua Harris, and the second is False Intimacy by Dr. Walter Schaumburg.
Not Even a Hint is more a practical help at coming to understand lust on a general level, and to help men and women avoid it. He defines lust simply: craving sexually what God has forbidden. So, it can involve quite a large number of things, from romance novels to pornography to getting intimately involved with a boyfriend or girlfriend. He makes a very important emphasis from the beginning, that we cannot overcome this sin by our own power. He tells a story that I think many of us can relate to, of making a contract with several of his friends not to do certain things for a period of time to avoid lust, and the great sense of pride he felt at the beginning of the contract, and the shame and guilt he felt at the end at how completely he had failed.
I can certainly relate. I actually decided at one point to stop watching all TV and movies, for that exact reason. And I kept my bargain. I never watched any TV or movies until I decided, about a year and a half later, to end my “special dispensation”. Not only did it not help much at all with my problem, but it had the added benefit of making me self-righteous, even driving a wedge between me and my wife. It was when I realized this that I decided to quit. I’m still glad I did it, because I learned some important lessons about myself and about sin- pretty much the same lessons Josh Harris relates in this book.
We are utterly dependent on the Spirit, and can only be saved by the Gospel. So Harris exhorts us at the beginning of the book not to use his practical steps and suggestions as a legalistic means of change, as if we can work our way out of our problem. We must start by believing in Jesus Christ, accepting forgiveness and praying for the Spirit. Only then is real change possible.
Harris then lists a number of practical approaches to the problem. These include things like identifying your sin triggers, identifying times of day when you’re more susceptible or places where you’re more likely to be tempted, and avoid them if possible. Reading and memorizing Scripture is another suggestion he makes. He stresses the importance of accountability partners.
This last part of the book left me a little unsatisfied. The thing that kept defeating me over and over was that when faced with the opportunity to sin, I didn’t want to avoid it. I didn’t want to remember Bible verses, or think about Jesus, or avoid looking. I wanted the sin more than I wanted anything else, so I committed it. There’s the real rub to me- how do I stop wanting to sin? If I didn’t desire it so much, I wouldn’t do it. I knew it was a lie; I knew it wouldn’t satisfy; I knew the guilt would be horrible and the potential consequences very bad; but I didn’t care. It felt so good for a short period of time, and it was that short period of time that I cared about more than anything. All kinds of addictive behaviors report the same kinds of thinking. The drunk is in a love-hate relationship with the bottle. He is perfectly aware of all the negative consequences, but the bottle is the only thing that takes the pain away, even if only for a short time.
I also question the effectiveness of accountability partners. I would ask, if someone is unwilling to be accountable to God, why would they be accountable to some man? It seems to me that accountability would only work by creating the fear of external consequences, mostly shame, and if it’s just the external consequences that are feared, then you’d just lie to your accountability partner. And the other real danger is that people will use it as a crutch, thinking that just being involved in the process will somehow produce real change, much like people often get hooked on counseling.
In my experience, there’s only one thing that will produce real change, and that is cultivating a relationship with the Lord.
This is not to say that any of Harris’ suggestions are bad ones. I think they are good ones and helpful, and he makes all of the right caveats to get a person started in the right direction. But I don’t think Harris succeeds in getting at the real nature of the problem. To say that lust is desiring what God has forbidden is certainly true, but why do we desire what God has forbidden? Why do so many people, so many pastors even, pursue insanely reckless behaviors as downloading and storing pornography at their church office? Or even worse, have affairs with secretaries or counselees? Why do women pursue one meaningless hook-up after another, even after not only knowing about, but actually experiencing, all of the potentially deadly side effects such as STDs and assault? God did not forbid these things because He wanted to spoil our fun. He forbade them because they are very bad for us. So why do we chase after what will only make us miserable?
This is where the second book steps in. Dr Schaumburg’s book, False Intimacy, does a fine job of getting at the root causes of sexually addictive behaviors and provides real, but hard, answers. I’ll review that book next. [UPDATE: That review is here.]
Despite some of my misgivings about this book, Harris obviously speaks with sincerity, insight and experience, and gets the most important things so really right that I can heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to deal with this issue. I’d especially recommend it for teens and single young adults.