by Mike Genung
During my 20 year struggle with sex addiction I tried a number of methods to break free from the bondage of lust. My first attempt at conquering sexual sin was with willpower, but the compulsions of lust were stronger than my desire to stop. The church’s answer was to read the Bible, pray and be good (one pastor told me to “just stop”) so I read the Bible daily, memorized scripture and prayed often, but I couldn’t “be good”. The 12 step groups said “the program is the answer”, but 9 years of “working the steps” provided temporary relief, not the freedom I was looking for.
Many said to get professional counseling, so I spent 15 years and thousands of dollars exploring how messed up I was. Others said to read a book, but I learned that mere knowledge doesn’t heal the sick.
Here’s what I wish I had known when I started trying to find freedom from lust:
Freedom from sex addiction is impossible without God.
If your heart had a blocked valve that required surgery, you’d look for a heart surgeon. You know that reading a book about heart problems or knowing how sick you are isn’t going to heal you; surgery is a necessity.
Sex addiction is like heart disease. The deepest recesses of a hurting and empty heart are choked with sin, shame and distorted beliefs, blocking the flow of life to the heart. The continual use of sex addiction to medicate the pain only corrupts, hardens and closes off the heart even more.
For true freedom from lust, powerful, life changing healing is needed in the deepest recesses of the heart. People, books and program can’t deliver from sin and fill empty hearts with the love they crave; only the Living God can do this. True and lasting freedom comes when the Lord removes the blockage of sin (with our cooperation) and fills the heart with His overflowing life.
“I am the way, the truth and the life”. John 14:6
“You search in the scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life, and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”
We can’t do it alone.
For years I tried to fix myself with Bible reading, praying and confessing (many) sins to God, but the temptations always steamrolled me. Sexual sin breeds and grows stronger in isolation; the only way to kill it is to expose it to others. I started meeting with other men who I could be transparent with on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. Although frightening at first, being open with my struggles and temptations freed me from the shame and fear of my actions. Once I started bringing others into my battles on a consistent basis the sin that had owned me began to lose its grip on my life.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you may be healed”. James 5:16
“He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” Proverbs 28:13
“If it causes you to stumble cut it off”
Jesus told us to have a take-no-prisoners approach to sin; many men continue to fall because they will not eliminate the lust traps from their life. We all have to take the offensive and remove the objects and circumstances under our control that cause us to stumble.
In practical terms this means burning the stash of porn magazines (don’t just throw it in a public receptacle where someone else can find it.) If watching cable TV is a problem, block the channels or better, turn off the cable service. If the internet is your downfall, install porn blocking software, put the computer in a public place, or if necessary disconnect the service. Wife bringing in lingerie magazines? Ask her to cancel the subscription. If certain parts of town cause you to stumble, drive around them.
God isn’t going to remove the stumbling blocks for you; this is your responsibility. Those who think they can find freedom from sexual sin without removing the snares of lust from their lives are only fooling themselves.
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire” Mark 9:43
“Flee sexual immorality.”
1 Corinthians 6:18
You have to face the root issues that feed your lust.
Buried underneath the sexual acting out is a hurting heart that yearns for love and acceptance. In the deepest core of his heart the sex addict believes he is of little value and cannot be accepted or loved. The shame from acting out only reinforces his feelings of hopeless inadequacy.
Sadly, we are often taught by our earthly fathers that we are of little worth by their neglect, unspoken love or abuse. James Bryan Smith, author of the book “Rich Mullins, an arrow pointing to Heaven” writes “when a father’s love is withheld, a child will struggle with issues ranging from shyness and insecurity to a profound and crippling shame over his or her very existence. There is one thing true of all of us: we are dying to be loved. We crave it, we search for it, and if we never find it we die spiritually. Love is our deepest reason for existence.” What many sex addicts don’t see is that they’re using lust to comfort themselves from the belief that they can’t be loved as they are. This lie, which was born in hell, must be aligned with the Truth that:
God loves you just as you are, no matter what you’ve done.
One morning in the summer of 1999 I was reading through the book of 1 John. I was struck by all the verses about the Lord’s love, but the more I read about His love the worse I felt. In a moment of sadness I blurted out “Lord why is it I feel so empty when I read about your love ?”. In that still, small voice I heard the words “because you don’t believe it”. Those words, though painful to hear exposed the truth of my life. Even though I had heard and read about God’s grace for years, I really didn’t believe it. He had been saying “I love you” from day one and I’d been saying “no You don’t” by my actions and beliefs. That day I realized the Lord did love me unconditionally, and at the age of 36 my heart was flooded with peace and joy I had never experienced before.
Russell Willingham, who struggled with sex addiction himself and now counsels sex addicts for a living, writes in his book “Breaking Free” that he has never counseled a sex addict who understands God’s grace. Receiving God’s unconditional love is the greatest struggle for the sex addict because he’s been programmed to believe that he’s a loser for all of his life. Once the addict accepts and grasps the truth of God’s unconditional love in his heart (not just his head), powerful, life changing transformation takes place. He becomes filled with the love and acceptance that he’d always craved but never believed he could have. This is why books, counseling and programs can’t set people free from lust (the Lord works through these things). The unconditional love that the sex addict hungers for is found only in the Living God.
“…because of His great love with which he loved us.” Ephesians 2:4
“that you, being grounded in love… may be able to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” Ephesians 3:17-19
“And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us.” Ephesians 5:2
Seek the Lord with all of your heart.
So how do you “get filled” with God’s love? Go after the Lord like you would a new girlfriend or a job: with complete abandon and persistence. Ask Him to reveal the lies and distortions of your life and remove the things that are between you and Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He’s promised that if you seek Him with all of your heart that you will find Him.
In the process of seeking God, He will expose your motives. Many people confuse seeking freedom from lust or some other thing they want from God with seeking God Himself. I did.
The truth is that I wanted freedom from sin (to feel good) far more than I wanted the Lord. I didn’t want God on the throne of my heart because I didn’t want Him telling me to go live in China or do something I didn’t want to do. My pride was a brick wall that kept me from seeking Him. I finally became willing (actually, desperate) to let the Lord have the control of my life because He allowed me to have all the pain I needed from doing things my way. Once broken, I started seeking God with everything I had. In those times of intense seeking He filled me with the love and acceptance I had always craved, in addition to the freedom from lust I’d wanted.
“If you seek Him, He will be found by you.”
I Chronicles 28:9
“And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all of your heart”
The temptations never stop
Some guys get a little freedom, feel better and then get cocky, thinking they did something special. They forget or ignore the fact that to stay free from lust they have to stay close to God and connected to others every day. Subtle temptations and small compromises follow, and then they’re hit with an overwhelming knockout punch that drops them quickly. Dazed and confused, they wonder why they fell so fast.
We must drink from the Source of Life and stay transparent with our thought life and temptations every day for the rest of our life; there’s no other way.
“Be sober, and on the alert because your adversary the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking who he can devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
It takes time.
If you’ve spent years corrupting your mind with the images of lust, don’t expect a 1 time slam dunk emotional event that will set you free. You’ve given the hater of your soul free access to your heart and mind, and he doesn’t go down without a bitter and nasty fight. This means the process can get messy. It’s going to take time and consistent effort to find the freedom you’re looking for, but don’t give up. The Lover of your soul is eager and waiting for you to come to Him so that He can breathe new life into your heart.