By Mike Genung
“Hi, I’m Mike, a sex addict.”
This was how we were expected to introduce ourselves at the 12 step groups I attended back in the 90’s. Many who are in bondage to sexual sin have issues with justification and denial; identifying ourselves as a sex addict makes sense to face the reality and seriousness of the situation.
Yet when I look hard at Scripture, I don’t see God identifying His people by their sin. Peter wasn’t referred to as “the guy who denied Christ.” Paul was called an apostle, not a terrorist. John wasn’t described as the “son of thunder” who asked Jesus if they should ask God to reign down fire on the Samaritans.
I see God calling His people sons (Galatians 4:7), daughters (Matthew 9:22), beloved of God (Romans 1:7), and friends (John 15:15). Their identity was based on their relationship with Him, not their failures.
In my battle to break free from sexual sin, accepting who I am in God’s eyes was one of my biggest struggles. I was comfortable with “sex addict,” “failure,” “Christian pervert,” “sinner,” or “he who doesn’t deserve God’s love.”
But “Beloved of the Lord?” I couldn’t make that one fit. I had messed up too much, hurt my wife too deeply, and the shame and unworthiness were too strong. “For God so loved the world…” I believed. That I was his son and friend who He loved? No, I was a sex and porn addict. Scum.
My thinking was all messed up. Somehow I thought that if I saw myself as unloved scum that I’d please God with my “humility.” That wasn’t humility; it was more like pride. “God, I’m such a loser… me, me, me.” My focus was all on how humble I could be by debasing myself. It pleased the people in the 12 step program, to call myself a sex addict, so maybe God liked that too.
God isn’t into denial, but I also know He wanted me to receive and believe the truth. Anything else is to call Him a liar and/or be deceived.
Part of my problem was that I’d grown up believing I was lower than ant poop. I never felt like I could measure up as a kid, and I carried that baggage into my relationship with God and others. If we can’t receive love from people, receiving love from a God we can’t see is going to feel nearly impossible. I knew all the right Christian buzzwords and phrases that American Christians like, but His love was blocked from my heart. It wasn’t until God opened my heart to the truth that His love was for me that my life changed.
So here’s the deal:
Men, you are God’s son, His friend, His chosen one. You may be in bondage to lust, but sex addict isn’t your identity.
Women, you are beloved of the Lord, His daughter. Your identity is not “wife of a porn addict,” or even wife or mother. Your identity is not wrapped up in your relationships with other broken people. Neither is it wrapped around your failures; real or perceived.
A better way to begin the 12 step groups would be with, “Hi, I’m Mike. I’m a son of the living God who is addicted to sexual sin, and I need your help.” This would embrace the truth from all sides and show humility.
Saying this would probably feel a little weird at first, but that’s a good thing. We’d start asking ourselves, “Hey, if I’m God’s son, and He’s with me and is willing to heal me, fill me with His Holy Spirit, and provide all those wonderful blessings I’ve read about in Scripture, how can I doubt that freedom is near? How can I lose hope?”