“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16) is a non-negotiable command for every Christian. Isolated believers are flesh-driven, fall quickly into sin, easy prey for the attacks of the enemy, and prone to discouragement and burnout. Pride has a home in the heart of the isolated believer. It’s difficult to live in pride if you have to face another believer every week and expose your weaknesses to them.
No matter how many years they’ve spent in church, the isolated Christian reveals that one of their core values is “I will do life my way. I will not be accountable to any one and I do not need others.” You can’t line that up with a church that is supposed to be “devoted to God’s word, fellowship, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). All of us have our blind spots; we desperately need another believer to walk with on our journey and challenge us when we need it.
Surveys show that upwards of 90% of American Christians are isolated, meaning they do not meet with another believer consistently for the purposes of support, accountability, and encouragement. This is in direct opposition to the Biblical mandate every believer is given by God to live connected to others. Healing and freedom from sin come from community, not isolation. One big reason the American church is collapsing right now is that many believers are living life on their own.
Every one of you who profess to be a Christian should be meeting with another brother or sister once a week for the purpose of accountability, support, and prayer. If you’re in ministry you need this even more to avoid the twin pitfalls of pride and burnout.
If you don’t have a support partner, start the process by asking God to provide you with one, but don’t sit back and live the Christian life on your own any longer. The time we live in is too dark, you need the support of others and they need you (you didn’t think this was all about you, did you?), and it’s mandated in Scripture.
Below is a chapter from my first book, The Road to Grace. Although the context is for those who want to break free from sexual sin, you can plug any sin in there and the words still apply. The sins of the tongue are everywhere in the church these days; this one area alone shows why all of us need to be connected with others.
Isolation and Death
From The Road to grace
He who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he quarrels against all sound wisdom.
Men are drawn to stories of valiant, courageous warriors. We picture ourselves as Braveheart, leading a rough ‘n rowdy group of guys against an evil empire and wiping them out; Rocky, winning the boxing title in the last minute of a ferocious battle; or the superhero of our choice who overcomes the villain and saves the day.
Some of us might aspire to be a heroic man of God, like Elijah, a man of strong faith who took on the nation of Israel and saw God come through powerfully, or Stephen, who put his life on the line and faced the Pharisees, or Paul, a bold witness of the gospel in the midst of fierce opposition, beatings, and tribulations. We love tales of bravery and all-out risk because we want to be the kind of man who lives life this way.
A guy who can admit his weaknesses and faults is a man with guts. It takes courage and a passionate commitment to Christ to ignore our pride and confess that our lives are a mess. When another man is brutally honest with his weaknesses, he inspires and challenges others to want to be like him. True strength is measured in a man’s heart, not his bench press.
A few years back, a guy who struggled with porn came to our Strength in Numbers group for the first time. He was 6’3″, of strong build, had a beard, and had been in the military. From the outside, this guy was a man’s man. He arrived 10 minutes early, and while we waited for the others to arrive he asked some questions about the meeting.
“How many guys come to this group?” he asked. At the time, we were averaging five guys a night; joking, I said “Oh, about 25.” His knees literally buckled; he looked at me with terror and said “I’m outta here!” The idea of having to tell a large group of men that he struggled with porn and masturbation was too much for him. I quickly calmed him down, assuring him that we wouldn’t have 25 men that night.
To admit a struggle with porn, masturbation, or some other sexual sin can be a terrifying prospect. Shame, fear of rejection, and the threat to pride are real enemies that must be faced. There is a risk that the person we tell could dress us down or reject us, like the retired pastor did to me as I shared in chapter one. But, although some in the body of Christ may be uncomfortable with our stinky laundry, there are many others who can relate—and will be blessed by our honesty. Remember, at least half of the men in the church have an issue with porn.
“Why should I tell another person about my struggle with sexual sin?” you ask. “Isn’t there another way?”
In the battle against lust, willpower doesn’t work; the fact that you’re reading this book is probably proof of it. To defeat lust on our own we would have to be able to reach into our heart and clean it out; it would be like a man attempting to operate on himself for cancer.
Like every other man, I tried everything I could to avoid exposing my sexual sin to another. I made vows to God that I broke, prayed and read my Bible every day, memorized scripture, and fasted. I also made bold, heroic moves to try to conquer lust. One night while on a business trip alone in a hotel room, I cut the plug off the power cord to the TV with my pocket knife so I wouldn’t watch it. However, once the waves of lust started rolling over me, I spliced the wires of the power cord and inserted them into the wall socket. Unfortunately, I crossed a hot wire with a neutral one and shorted out the entire circuit of my room. Too embarrassed to tell hotel management what had happened, I spent the rest of my stay in darkness.
So much for willpower.
Lust feeds, breeds, and thrives off of isolation; the harder we fight against it, the stronger it gets. I have yet to hear of one person who’s been able to kick lust on their own, and I’ve been around men and women who struggle with it since 1991. In this battle, isolation is death; the only way to take away lust’s power is to eliminate the fuel that feeds it.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word isolate as “to set apart or cut off from others.” Being alone is not the same as “setting apart from.” You can be at peace in solitude by communing with God, listening to uplifting music, reading a book, or exercising. Jesus often spent time alone with God, so a solitary life is not necessarily an isolated one. We “cut ourselves off” from others, especially those who love us, when we turn inward and withdraw into our shell. I’ve spent years of my married life emotionally isolated, or “set apart” from my wife. You can be isolated in a crowd of people, just as you can be connected to God and others in solitude.
When a person is floundering in shame, the natural response is to “set apart from others” emotionally. This “setting apart from” has the insidious effect of giving lust what it needs to grow like a weed on steroids. A man who’s cut off from love still has to feed on something emotionally, so he settles for the garbage of lust.
God’s word speaks to the insanity of isolation, and what happens when we keep our sin hidden:
He who isolates himself seeks his own desire;
he quarrels against all sound wisdom.
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted
away through my groaning all day long.
When one who’s trapped on the merry-go-round of sexual addiction is in the hunt for a lust-fix, all that matters is “seeking his own desire.” Life becomes “all about me,” and all sound wisdom is thrown out the window. This is the insane, Jekyll and Hyde life of a Christian sex addict: they know God’s word and His commands against sexual sin, yet they “quarrel against it” and “seek their own desire.”
When we “set apart” and hide our sin, we embrace it; embracing sin is worshipping it, and to worship sin is to become its slave. (“For by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved,” 2 Peter 2:19b.) A man who’s “cut off from others” shoulders his heavy burden alone, and the daily grind from the oppression of sexual sin “wastes his body away.” When sexual sin ruled my life I had trouble sleeping; I was often tired, and got sick easily. As time progressed I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks and was put on antidepressants; my nervous system was fried from the weight of my sin.
We can drop our load the easy way by sharing our struggles with others of our own free will, or we can do it the hard way and wait until “it” happens, like many men do. John was one of those who waited for “it.” Addicted to porn for most of his life, John, a married man, decided to seek out a prostitute one night. Lust always leaves its victim wanting more, and pictures were no longer enough for John; he wanted the real thing. The prostitute he hit on was an undercover cop, and John’s secret life was blown wide open, placing his marriage under immense strain. It was right after this that John contacted me for help.
What most guys don’t realize is that sexual sin causes emotional and spiritual blindness. The former pastor at the church we attend used to say “sin makes you stupid.” After spending years wandering in a dense fog of dimwittedness, I know he’s right. Blind and self-absorbed, we can’t see the oncoming semi truck until it’s too late.
Would not God find this out?
For He knows the secrets of the heart.
If you won’t expose your secret sexual sin, God will. In her book An Affair of the Mind, Laurie Hall recounts the following:
One day when Alice was cleaning her husband’s hobby room, the Lord impressed on her that she needed to go look in the middle of a pile of old magazines. “What a ridiculous thought,” she told herself. But it wouldn’t go away. Finally, she walked over to the pile and pulled out the middle magazine. It was a copy of the latest edition of Playboy. Now the wadded-up, crisp towel she had found in Bob’s underwear drawer when she was putting away his clean socks made sense. He’d been masturbating to pornography.
“I never would have believed he was into that stuff,” she told me.
The Lord also opened Helen’s eyes. Her husband, a deacon in the church, was extremely jealous and given to mood swings. One night, after Helen had been asking the Lord to reveal what was going on, the Lord woke her up and urged her to go to the family room.
“You’ve got to be kidding, Lord,” she said, looking at the alarm clock. “It’s 3:00 in the morning!” Then she became aware that Paul wasn’t in bed. Walking into the family room, she was stunned to find her husband watching the Playboy channel.”
We can’t hide our sin from the Lord; we can take the “easier road” and open up on our own, or let Him do it the hard and messy way. He loves you too much too allow you to continue in sin, and what you’re doing is harmful to yourself and those who love you. I’ve heard stories from many men who had carefully covered their tracks by deleting the porn files on their computer, only to have their wife stumble on the one image they’d “somehow” forgotten.
The blowout from getting caught may be ugly, but God uses it to move a man or woman towards healing; He reveals His love for you even when He allows you to get caught. John later said that the day his sex addiction was exposed was a blessing from the Lord because he would have kept going otherwise.
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer
of a righteous man can accomplish much.
Finding freedom from lust is impossible in isolation; those who conceal their sexual sin “will not prosper.” To expose the wounds that keep you from receiving God’s grace, we must stop the bleeding (sexual acting out), and the only way to stop acting out is to stay out of and away from isolation. There is no other way.
Staying out of isolation means we meet with one man or a group of guys at a support group on a consistent, weekly basis. A Christ-centered, grace-focused, support group that focuses on helping its members find true freedom from sexual sin is better than relying on one accountability partner. With a group, you have more support, encouragement, input and prayer in your behalf. At the Blazing Grace website (www.blazinggrace.org) we have information available on the location of our Strength in Numbers groups nationwide, or how you can start your own group.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.
Many of the men who come to Strength in Numbers have few if any friends who they can share with; some are opening up for the first time in their lives. When a man walks into our group, he knows we know why he’s there and there’s no hiding; we get down to business and dispense with the small talk. In the process of unloading their burdens they discover that there’s nothing like the blessing of having a group of guys who they can be honest with. Watching these men break free from shame and rediscover their strength is one of the greatest joys of my life.
We ask the guys to be honest with any lust of the mind, struggles with temptation, use of pornography, masturbation or sex outside of marriage. We require thorough honesty, not to embarrass or humiliate, but because hiding secrets keeps them trapped in shame. A guy who says “I acted out last night” will be asked for more details; an all-night porn binge in which a guy masturbated three times is different from glancing at a lingerie model on a news website for a few moments. To expel all of our shame, we must expose all of our secret sin.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!
There is balance to what we reveal to others; be specific, but never graphic. Painting a picture of what you saw will draw those same images in the minds of your brothers and could trip them up. Keep it clean and avoid descriptive imagery. There’s also no need to discuss details like the location of the adult bookstore you visited, or the URL of any porn websites.
When temptations hit during the week, get on the phone and bring another brother into the battle. Temptations that were towering giants vanish when exposed to the light of another. Resolve to stay out of isolation, and resist the temptation to take on Godzilla on your own. In chapter five we’ll talk about how to deal with temptations in the mind.
Destroying isolation and shame takes an effective one-two punch. Read James 5:16 again:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.
God promises that we will be healed after we confess our sins and our brothers pray for us; we jab with transparency, and then throw a right cross with the prayer of others. When others pray for our specific area of need, we allow the Spirit of God to speak, minister to, and heal us where we need it. This is why it’s critical that we share all of our weaknesses, struggles, and temptations; our brothers can’t pray for that which they’re unaware of.
This doesn’t mean that wham-bam, we pray, and slam dunk, all struggles with lust are gone. God’s timing and ways aren’t like ours, and He does thorough work. There may be times when He will flesh out other issues we need to see and deal with before He gets to what was prayed for. He hears every prayer and request, and knows the right process and timing for each individual.
I’ve seen God work miracles from prayer alone. Frank first came to our group not long after he’d exposed his affairs and struggle with porn and masturbation to his wife. She had kicked Frank out of the house and was demanding a divorce; to make matters worse her friends were poisoning her with the advice to “divorce the dirty blank-blank as soon as possible.” They had two small kids, which meant that another family was about to be taken out by the black plague of sexual sin. To be honest, I had given up hope that their marriage would survive.
We continued to pray for Frank and his wife together at meetings and individually during the week, and God miraculously raised their marriage from the dead. God alone, working through the prayers of His people, saved Frank’s marriage by softening his wife’s heart. Frank did his part by staying out of isolation and away from lust; if he hadn’t, Frank wouldn’t have given his wife a reason to stay.
Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth
about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them
by My Father who is in heaven.
When Bill came to our group, his marriage was on the edge. He’d had multiple affairs a few years prior, and his wife had told Bill that she would never forgive him. Their marriage was a pressure cooker of stress and conflict. Week after week Bill came in with stories of fierce, angry battles; at one point she’d packed her suitcase and was ready to walk out the door. Although Bill had been going to groups and doing his part, his wife’s heart was hardened in bitterness against him. We continued to pray, and God worked another miracle; Bill’s wife forgave him and their marriage has been mending and growing ever since. The second part of James 5:16—“and pray for one another that you may be healed”—is just as critical as confessing our sins; any support group that neglects the power of prayer is missing out on a treasure trove of blessing.
The Lord commands us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other because He wants to heal us, not shame or punish us. You’ll never discover the incredible blessings of the James 5:16 way of life while hiding in isolation.
Should you tell your wife?
I could devote a chapter to answering this question; instead here are six reasons why those of us who are married should tell our wives of our struggle with porn or sexual sin:
1 The marriage is corrupted, and until you come clean the adulteress of lust will always be between you and your wife, thwarting intimacy, causing stress, and keeping you trapped in guilt and shame. Moreover, your porn addiction and deception are an open door of sin that Satan uses to corrupt you, your wife and your children. I’ve heard many stories over the years of men who got hooked on porn when they found their father’s stash of magazines, and it’s not uncommon to hear of a wife who looked at porn because she wanted to see what it was that entranced her husband. Recently, a wife posted the following on the forums of the Blazing Grace website:
About 6 months ago I had to go to the building out back where my husband keeps his bike and spends a lot of time to get some canning jars. I was looking for the lids and opened a cabinet to get some lids and there was a ton of porn magazines; I am not talking Playboy or a few naked girls. The hard part was that his 15-year-old daughter was standing there when I found them and she started to cry.
If you don’t take action now, your wife could be posting something like this in our forums about your son or daughter. Please don’t let it happen.
2 Your wife may not know what you’ve done, but she senses it and it will eat at her, sapping her desire for sexual intimacy and causing more friction in the marriage. Remember Helen’s story? Her husband was “extremely jealous and given to mood swings.” Of Alice’s husband, Laurie Hall writes “her husband was distant emotionally and he had lost all sexual interest in her.”3 Sexual sin warps a man’s character; your wife, who knows you better than anyone, can see it from a mile away. Once she starts seeking God for the truth, He can and will reveal it to her, just as He did with Helen and Alice.
3 Many wives are far more angry and hurt from the lies and betrayal than by what their husband did. The American Heritage Dictionary defines betrayal as “To give aid or information to an enemy of… commit treason against… to deliver into the hands of an enemy in violation of a trust or allegiance… to be false or disloyal to… to lead astray; deceive.” Your marriage covenant is a sacred pledge before God to be loyal to your wife alone; an alliance with sexual sin is “treason against” your bride, and is “leading her astray and deceiving her” into thinking she is the only woman your heart desires. The betrayal doesn’t end until the deceit stops.
4 By telling your wife, you force yourself to choose between her and sexual sin. Many men don’t see their need to choose between lust and their wife until it’s too late. Which one do you want to take care of you in your old age, porn or your wife?
5 You rob your wife and yourself by not allowing her to support and pray for you in the battle. I am convinced that a man’s most powerful ally in the battle against lust is his wife; she knows how to pray for you like no other person, and her grace and forgiveness will mean more to you than that of any man. She’s your ally and best friend; it is lust that is your common enemy.
6 Because you serve a holy God who commands us not to lie.
You should be accountable to your wife, but realize that women who are strong enough in the Lord to be an accountability partner for their husbands are rare. Tell her how you’re doing when she asks, but don’t feel that you need to tell her every time you’re struggling with sexual fantasies or temptation—that’s what your brothers are for. Men who attempt to make their wives an accountability partner put the full weight of the elephant on top of their marriage. Your wife can’t and shouldn’t attempt to fix you; her role is to support you. She has her own healing process to go through, and if you dump every struggle on her it will keep her stuck in pain. Conversely, you don’t want to be the only person she confides to about her hurt. You’re the source of her pain, so if you’re the only support she has then her pain and anger remain in the marriage, building up for an explosion. You need her to have other women who she can process with, just as she needs you to have other men for accountability with lust. Having others around both of you is a safety valve that releases tension and pressure in the marriage so it can cool and heal.
Telling your wife you’ve committed adultery emotionally (with porn) or with another person won’t be easy. But a marriage that’s been tempered by the white-hot fires of sexual addiction grows deep, strong, and resilient, able to weather the toughest trials. While I will never say that my sexual sin is in any way a good thing, God used it to purify, realign, and strengthen our marriage. We tend to fight less over small disagreements, and resolve conflict on the big ones much quicker than before.
Once you allow your wife to see you as you are, faults and all, there’s no more hiding, guilt or shame infesting the relationship. You’ll both enjoy greater intimacy, and she will be your best friend. This is marriage as God intended it to be: open, vulnerable and loving; a wellspring of blessing for one man and his one woman.
I know you may be nervous about sharing your struggles with other men and your wife, but the blessings that come from living a transparent life are far greater than anything you will experience in isolation:
1 God promises that those who confess and forsake their sins will find compassion (Proverbs 28:13). Aren’t mercy, understanding and forgiveness what you hope to receive if you expose your weaknesses? God promises you will receive it. You could tell the wrong person, like I did, but this won’t stop Him from blessing you; He has no problem leading you to others who you can be open with and “find compassion.” Ask Him to lead you to the right group or brother.
2 He promises that we will be healed if we confess our sins and others pray for us (James 5:16).
3 When we expose our dirty sins to others, the stain of shame is washed away from our heart. The compassion of those who “restore us with a spirit of gentleness” shows us we’re not the unforgivable slime Satan had been telling us we were. The grace of others validates, encourages and lifts us up, setting us free to be who God has made us to be.
4 We no longer carry the heavy burden of our sin; we’re freed from the need to hide, evade, and wear masks (Psalms 32:1–2).
5 Having others we are accountable to causes us to think twice before acting out sexually. I’ve heard the guys in Strength in Numbers say many times that having a group to come to has kept them from slipping the week prior, because they didn’t want to have to tell us they’d fallen.
6 The chains of lust are broken. This doesn’t mean the tyranny of sexual addiction is over; for true and lasting freedom all of the barriers that keep us from receiving God’s grace in the heart must still be removed. But we’re no longer the slave of lust we once were, and are working towards getting a new Master.
7 We’re not the lone stranger Christian we used to be. Like the TV show “Cheers,” we have a place to go where “everyone knows our name” and we can find support and encouragement for any of the trials of life.
8 We leave the insane wonderland of fantasy and find our way to the sweeping vistas of reality. When I was enslaved to lust I often coped with stress by running a fantasy (sexual or other) through my mind. Bringing our struggles to the light of others has a way of bringing us back to real life. The support and encouragement of others helped me regain my footing, and I discovered better ways to cope with life.
9 Our wives and children are blessed when we’re connected to others. When you participate in a group on a consistent basis you show your wife that you’re serious about making her the only woman in your life. Your children will have a father who’s less self-absorbed and pays more attention to them.
10 You will smile and laugh again. You’ll rediscover the interests and hobbies that were cast off when lust took over and find joy and contentment in the simple things in life again, like walking on the beach, hearing your kids scream “daddy” and hug you when you come home, or enjoying emotional and physical intimacy with your wife.
11 You will learn to receive and give grace. The man who’s exposed his sins and been accepted in spite of his faults is less critical of others; self-absorption fades away and he begins to be concerned for the needs of others.
12 The church at-large is strengthened. Every man who walks free from lust is a living lighthouse of hope for others who struggle; more men who “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7) mean a stronger church, and a stronger church resists, shapes, and preserves our culture, rather than the other way around.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers
to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon
the head, coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.
You should get involved with a group or get an accountability partner before proceeding past chapter three; this book will be of little use to you if you try to go it alone. To find freedom from sexual sin, the support, encouragement, and prayers of others are mandatory, not optional; you will continue to fall in isolation. Remember God’s words: “those who conceal their transgression will not prosper.” Isolation is death, and “quarreling against sound wisdom.”
Pride is often the last barrier between us and asking for the help of others; it was the case for me. I knew once I showed others who I really was that my reputation as a “good Christian” was shot. But what a relief it was to no longer have to fake it, or try to be something I could never be. Today I know that trading my pride, sin, and shame for all of the blessings mentioned above are a no-brainer, like giving someone a nickel for 10 one-ounce gold coins.
Those of us who know Christ are called to a bold life of uncompromising integrity, courage, and truth. Jesus modeled this when He walked our planet, and so have many others who have gone before us.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses
surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance
and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.