It’s a topic we don’t talk about much in Christian circles. It’s a topic that I—though I have been a regular church-goer for all my life—didn’t hear mentioned in the church even once until a few years ago. It’s often considered to be one of the “worse” sins, so we don’t talk about it; we keep it in the dark.
But Satan works in darkness, and our sins can fester and grow when we keep them there. So it’s important to bring them to the light.
Yes, even the “taboo” topic of sexual sin.
Shame, Guilt, and Fear
Sexual sin seems to elicit these three responses:
Shame for messing up, yet again.
Guilt because of wrong choices consciously made.
Fear of confession because of a sin that was “too much,” “too terrible,” or “too dark” to share even with the closest friends.
As I consider these emotions, I am reminded of the first mention of shame, guilt, and fear in the Bible—Genesis 3. These emotions arise for the very first time when Adam and Eve, after being tempted by Satan, fall into the first sin. Their sin causes them to run from God, to hide, and to vainly cover themselves with fig leaves.
It’s a heartbreaking story that most of us know all too well. And it’s a narrative that many of us find ourselves stuck in as we wrestle with our own sin patterns. Temptation, sin, disobedience, shame, guilt, fear, distance from God . . . again and again. The cycle is tragic, and it can feel impossible to break out of.
You see, Satan is the master deceiver. He uses lies and deception to lead us into disobedience to God. He makes sin appear to be something good, appealing, and pleasurable. He then tempts us by arousing within us a desire to move beyond the limitations God has established for us. And then, once we fall, he batters us with those familiar feelings of shame, guilt, and fear:
“This sexual sin you struggle against,” he says, “It’s not so bad. Just give in to it.”
And then when we do he whispers, “Well now you’re too far gone, you might as well continue on in this lifestyle. Besides, it’s not possible to have a sexually pure relationship these days.”
And worst of all, “This sin is too dark. You’ve messed up again. God surely won’t forgive you now.”
Satan’s lies can feel so compelling when we’re already neck-deep in our own humiliation and self-criticism. But dear reader, I wish I could look you in the eyes and beg you not to believe the lies he has fed you.
Because the sad truth is that those lies cause deep shame that can warp our understanding of the truth. Pain can blind us to the grace and goodness of God. Sexual sin can leave scars that are deep and lingering and might not ever fully heal. It can bring about feelings of bitterness, grief, frustration, and anger—toward yourself and toward God. It can lead you to feel desperate, hopeless, and alone.
But this does not have to be the end of the story.
There Is Hope
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”Genesis 3:8-9
This word “but” brings hope to every tragic story.
“But the LORD God called to the man . . .” The grace in this simple verse is astounding. As Adam and Eve crouch in the bushes, hiding their nakedness, bending under the weight of the never-before-felt emotions of shame, guilt, and fear, the Lord God calls out to them.
And to you too—crouching in shame, hiding your guilt, wrestling against the barrage of Satan’s lies—a greater truth is whispered by a more trustworthy voice:
You are not too far gone because of your sexually immoral choices. (Psalm 32:1)
It is possible to have a sexually pure relationship. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God is able to forgive you. (Psalm 86:5; Psalm 103:12; 1 John 1:9; Hebrews 8:12; Isaiah 43:25)
God cares about you deeply. (Daniel 9:9)
God gave us the “limits” of sexual morality out of love for us. (Galatians 5:1; 1 Peter 2:11)
You are not unloved by God. (John 3:16-17)
Believer, I beg you not to believe the lie that God is distant, apathetic, or lacking compassion toward you because of your sin. Our God is a God who calls to the sinner in the middle of their wretchedness (Romans 5:8). Our God is a God who pursues the broken in the very depth of their pain. Our God is a God who redeems every broken story into a story of hope and beauty. And he has the power to do this in your story as well.
The Beauty of Repentance
The depth of God’s grace to meet us even in our deepest sin is astounding. For the believer who is struggling with sexual sin, it is crucial to understand the character our God who seeks out his children even in the midst of their guilt, fear, and shame. It is vital to know that there is no sin too shameful to separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39), and that even when you feel like the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), you are not alone and there is hope.
At the same time—while holding on to that understanding of the grace and goodness and mercy of God—we must also actively pursue repentance. Because it is not enough to receive God’s grace to cover your recurring sin without seeking to repent from the sin that is enslaving you.
The very definition of repentance means the act of turning—moving from facing in one direction to facing another direction. When God calls us to repent, or to turn from our sin, he is asking us to turn to something else.
This might sound simple. Then why do we find ourselves being enslaved by the same sins over and over? Why can’t we just achieve victory over our sin and not have to do it again?
A Shift in Understanding
I would like to submit to you the possibility that maybe we are having such a hard time turning from our sin and turning to Christ because we don’t fully understand just how precious Christ is. Maybe we feel hopeless in our fight against our sexual sin because somewhere in our heart we actually love our sin more than we love Christ? Maybe the reason we keep falling back into sexual sin is because we actually don’t think Christ is more desirable than our sexual fulfillment?
I know this sounds harsh, but I can only say this because I recognize this same idolatrous tendency in my own heart and sin struggles. Because that’s exactly what it is: idolatry. At the root of every sin is an improper prioritizing of something or someone over God.
This tendency that leads toward sin has been present throughout all of humanity, and it often happens because we don’t understand how truly magnificent and worthy God is. We don’t treasure God over our sin because we don’t see God as worth treasuring. We don’t value God over the tangible things (including sexual fulfillment) because we think the tangible things will actually satisfy us more.
Seeing God as of Ultimate Worth
So where does that leave us? Friends, we have to reorient our understanding of who God is. Because only when we have a correct understanding of who God is is repentance possible.
Once we see God as good, worthy, holy, beautiful, and better than anything in this world, the tangible things of this world will start to dim. When we see God as ultimate, the other affections have no choice but to be expelled from our hearts.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”1 John 2:15-17
The things of this world are so fleeting. They may satisfy for a moment, but the fulfillment they bring is insufficient and temporary.
At the end of time, when Christ returns and heaven is brought to earth, the most important thing—the thing that will endure forever and ever—will be the glory and satisfaction that comes from knowing God fully. And if knowing God here on earth does not satisfy us now, we will not be satisfied in heaven, where knowing God and dwelling in intimacy with him is our chief aim.
Remember and Hope
So, I urge you to remember who God is. See him as beautiful, worthy, holy, and sufficient. Look to him when you feel your sin trying to creep back in. Read Genesis 2 and 3 and remember that God’s deep desire is to restore humanity and creation to the perfect relationship that existed before the fall. Accept his grace amidst your stumbling efforts to eradicate your sin. Remember that, because of Christ, we have the hope of a future where sin, shame, guilt, and fear are distant memories.
Treasure Christ over every single thing in this world—even over the good things. And as you look to Christ and see his worth, may the temporal satisfactions of this world slip away and may you find strength to repent, to believe, and to have hope.
* Note: Please don’t let the enemy make you feel like you are alone in your struggle with sexual sin. I assure you, you are not. I pray you would find the strength to be open with a friend, a counselor, a family member, or a pastor so that God can begin to redeem your story.
Scripture for Further Reflection
- Genesis 1-3
- 1 John 2:1-17
- Romans 8
- Romans 5
- Psalm 51
Note: This article is lightly moderated from the original article, “Sexual Sin,” that appears on Lauren’s personal blog at www.lauren-bowerman.com.
Lauren Bowerman is a writer and a wife to Matthew. She has been privileged to call many cities, states, and countries home, and it is this nomadic lifestyle that cultivated in her a love for people, cultures, and missions. She has received her Masters in Christian and Intercultural Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is particularly passionate about writing on the intersection between suffering and faith, specifically in her experiences with depression, doubt, and infertility.