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Series: How to overcome sin

[Also presented with the title “5. The issue of sexual desire and self-control”]

For the full teaching on the five steps to overcoming sin follow this link.

As we end out time together tonight, I want to give a more detailed illustration of how to overcome our sinful behaviors and habits. We have already looked at the issue of faithfulness when facing death with Peter and Jesus, and very briefly at the issue of unrighteous anger. For tonight I have chosen the issue of sexual desire and self-control.

I posted some teaching on this topic on a blog that I maintain and I’ve been amazed by the number of views it’s gotten. In fact, this is my all-time most viewed topic. This tells me that people are struggling in this area. Christians are struggling with this. Listen to some of the search engine phrases used to find and read what I posted: how Christian women can control sexual urges; should a Christian have sexual desires; coping with sexual urges; how to overcome sexual desires as a Christian; how does a man control his sexual urges; how to deal with a spouse that struggles with sexual lust.

People are struggling. As one indicator, according to one set of statistics, 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are regular viewers of pornography. Christians are struggling with this. And this is why I want to talk about this with you, even if it might make us a bit uncomfortable at times.

Let me say two things up front, 1) sexual desire was created by God and is good. Sex is God’s idea, with all of its joys and pleasures. However, like all the desires of our flesh, it often seeks expression in wrong ways. And so 2) it has to be controlled.

But this notion of self-control isn’t a popular idea in our culture, where sexual gratification has been turned into an ultimate good, without which you are not fully human. The message is “as long as you don’t hurt others – go for it. Satisfy your desires.”

Our culture tells us it’s a fool’s errand to even try to control our sexual desires fully. And even some Christians would say, “It’s impossible to be single and not be sexually active.”

But this is a pagan view of sex. We aren’t simply animals who feel an urge and then have to act! We need to recover a Christian sense of the dignity of our humanity, as those who are made in the image of God. We have sexual desires, and they are good. But we are not to be ruled by them. Rather we are to control them and keep them within the boundaries of God’s will for our lives. As Galatians 5:22-23 says, “the fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control.” This is a mark of the Christian life.

So let’s apply the five steps to our focus tonight on –

Overcoming wrong sexual desires, thoughts and actions

Step #1. Understanding what God’s will is, acknowledge your weakness to do what God says. Scripture has a lot to say about sex. Here are some verses that speak to God’s will in terms of controlling our sexual desires, thoughts and actions:

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his (or her) own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
  • 1 Timothy 5:2 – “Treat . . . older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.” And this would apply to women treating men this way as well – as fathers and brothers in all purity.
  • Matthew 5:28 – “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Again this would apply to women looking at men in this way.

So, understanding God’s will on the issue of self-control, we need to humble ourselves and be totally honest about where we are not measuring up.

Are you lustfully looking at others? Are you allowing yourself to  engage in mental fantasies? Are you viewing pornography? Are you involved in masturbation? Are you sexting? For those who are single, are you engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage – anything from making out to sexual intercourse? For those who are married, are you involved in adulterous activity – anything from flirting to actual acts of adultery?

I can’t stress this enough. The first step to overcoming is humbly and honestly acknowledging your weaknesses and failures. Pride will keep you in your sin. Pride will kill your life with God. But if we humble ourselves and confess our sins, God can help us.

Step #2. Remain alert in prayer for testing and temptation in this area. Since you know you’re weak, and you know that Satan seeks to test you; to tempt you and pressure you to sin, you need to be alert! The danger of sin and judgment looms here.

So look to God for help. And specifically ask God to keep you from testing and times of temptation. Satan asks God for permission to test us. And so we need to be praying, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one,” as Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer.

“God I am weak, please don’t let the evil one test me, so that I fail. Protect me the assaults of Satan, and from circumstances that would pressure me to sin – images that come up on my computer – and people who will encourage me or entice me to give in to temptation.”

Be alert and pray. And then, even if God allows you to be tested, because he knows you can handle it and he wants you to grow in character and godliness, you will recognize what is going on and be ready for it.

Step #3 in a time of testing– Keep your mind focused on God’s truth. We all, from time to time, have inappropriate sexual thoughts that come to mind. And these thoughts can fuel our sexual desire. What’s important is that we not entertain them.

If you do have inappropriate sexual thoughts, use the name of Jesus to rebuke wrong thoughts. Satan will often put these in our minds to tempt us, or he will tell us that it’s alright to indulge in our own sexual thoughts with all kinds of rationalizations and justifications to give in. And he often does this through other people, and in general through the influence of “the world.”

So we need to rebuke Satan, so that he has to leave. The name of Jesus is powerful. In Luke 10:17 the disciples said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” All the powers of evil have to yield to the name of Jesus. When we become aware of inappropriate thoughts say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!”

And then, use the word of God to keep your mind focused on God’s truth. This is what Jesus did when he was tested in various ways in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4-10). The Word is powerful and can bring us back to a right mind when we are being tempted and pressured. And it will remind us of God’s truth and will in this area. Use the passages I noted above. Memorize them, say them, even out loud, if you need to.

Step #4. in a time testing – Receive strength from the Spirit to control your sexual desires. Even if we control our thoughts we will still struggle at times with sexual desires. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Our fleshly desires often seek to find expression in unrighteous ways.

But Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. The Spirit, who lives within us, can strengthen our desires for righteousness so that they are stronger than the desires of our flesh. As Paul said in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit) and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So when you are struggling with sexual desires, call out to God in prayer for strength from the Spirit to do what is right.

As the Spirit strengthens us, we are then able to deny ourselves, or crucify or kill the inappropriate desires of our flesh – our fantasies or lusts. Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13, “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit (the strength the Spirit gives us) we put to death the deeds of the body (we deny ourselves, we crucify or kill the desires of our flesh), in order to follow God.

There is death and resurrection here – death to inappropriate fleshly sexual desires and the further manifestation of the new life of God within us, in this case, self-control.

Step #5. Endure the test. Keep your mind focused on God’s truth and controlling your thoughts as long as Satan is trying to lead you astray. And keep receiving strength from the Spirit to do God’s will for as long as the wrongful sexual desire persists. Keep doing these things until the immediate test or temptation passes. God doesn’t allow us to be actively tested continually.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation (or testing) has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

And then,  if you are putting the five steps into practice and continuing to fail, you will need to –

Deal with some deeper concerns

I will mention just three tonight. Sometimes wrong sexual desires and practices are connected to our inner brokenness. For instance, if you suffer from the mental health condition of mania, it can lead to reckless behavior, including promiscuity. If this is the case, then this inner brokenness needs to be dealt with, if at all possible, for the sake of Christian faithfulness.

More commonly, we need to cut off stumbling blocks. These are things that are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but they lead you to sin. So, access to the internet is fine, but if it leads you to give in to viewing pornography – it is a stumbling block for you. Friends are fine, but if certain ones encourage you to see inappropriate material they are a stumbling block for you. Being with your date is fine, but if spending too much time alone with him/her leads you to act in inappropriate ways, this is a stumbling block for you.

Jesus said, talking about lustful looks, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” – Matthew 5:29. We have to cut off what leads us to sin. This can mean making deep changes in our lifestyles and behaviors, for instance how we interact with the internet, what friends we hang out with and how we date.

And then, sometimes we have indulged our wrong desires, thoughts and actions for so long that our sin has become ingrained within us. It is an entrenched habit. And this kind of sin is harder to overcome. If this is true you may well need to ask someone to hold you accountable, to check in on you to see how you are doing regularly. This can be a powerful help to overcoming our sexual sins.

A final word

Find righteous expression for your sexual desire in marriage. This is where our sexual desires can rightly be expressed in sexual actions – as a part of a loving, committed, life-long relationship between a man and a woman.

God gave us our sexual desire, in part, to cause us to seek out a relationship with a spouse. If we are struggling with our desire and are not married, Paul says, (famously) “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” – 1 Corinthians 7:9.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:3; 5 – “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

So work on your marriage, grow in love for your spouse. Create the kind of relationship that is mutually satisfying, where both of you can find fulfillment for your sexual desires.

I pray that God will help us in this area of sexual desire and self-control. Our culture has it wrong and so many people are hurting and wounded because of this. May God help us, his people, to be a light to the world of a different and better way to approach sex, one that is governed by God’s will, the one who thought of sex in the first place.

William Higgins

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