As a man who has dealt with habitual sexual sin, and as one who has ministered to hundreds of men and women living in the grip of sex addiction, these passages from Romans, the one at the top of the page from Galatians, and others like them, have perplexed me.
Theologically, and logically, what does it mean to say that we are no longer under the law, or going further, what does it mean that the law brings death?
What do these passages say to Charlie, the Christian man who finds himself three or four nights a week spending an hour or two staring at pornographic images on his computer screen? I don’t think any serious Christian would say, “Hey Charlie, its okay for you to do that; you’re under grace, not under the law.” Nor are many apt to say (or believe) that if Charlie would just forget about the law, his pornography addiction would simply go away.
I am sure that theologians and Bible scholars would have many ways of addressing these questions, but let me share with you, from practical experience, how I have found meaning and help in these passages.
In some areas we are like children
As a parent and grandparent, I know that children need the law. “Zach, you are not to play in the street.” “Jake, don’t hit your sister.” “Emily, you must be home by ten o’clock.” Children need these rules and limitations, and they need them until they have grown to the point where they know that streets are dangerous, that we don’t physically hurt other people, and that we do need to get enough sleep. The process we hope they will go through is one in which, what are at first externally imposed rules, eventually become a part of them. They take residence in their hearts and become their natural (new nature) inclination.
I believe that an adult who is continually engaging in harmful or destructive behavior is, in a way, like a child. One of the clearest marks of immaturity is the inability to defer gratification. Habitually seeking the comfort and pleasure of lust is clearly a mark of immaturity. The person who cannot stop acting out sexually is like a child—at least in this part of his or her life.
I am not saying that people who struggle with sexual sin are themselves immature, but that they are immature with respect to their sexuality. Their relationship with sex is that of an adolescent. And, as regards sex, they still needs the law.
Our experience has shown that the more severe the addiction, the more stringent the law needs to be. AA tells the alcoholic that he or she can never take an alcoholic drink. In our ministry we have people who have to cut themselves off totally from the internet, others who can only use the internet with filters, and still others who have progressed or grown up to the point at which the internet is no longer a threat.
Being set free from the law is a process
Before sin entered the world, no one was under the law. When we go to be with the Lord, there will be no law. But in the in-between time—now—there is a place for the law. God put his first covenant people, the Jews, under strict law. Then, through Jesus Christ, He set us free from having to live under the law. Truly, Jesus has set us free; we don’t have to sin ever. But sin is not totally purged from our bodies. The Spirit dwells in us to draw our hearts to righteousness, but the last embers of sin in us have not yet been fully snuffed out.
I no longer live under a law that says I must not have sex with men. Although I was once addicted to such behavior, the thought of having sex with a man today never seriously crosses my mind or challenges my will. That law has no application to me any more. But the thought of indulging in a little sexual fantasy does show up on my radar screen from time to time, so I do have a law that says, “Don’t even start to entertain such thoughts.”
Sanctification, growing in righteousness, is a process of growing away from the law and towards grace, towards pure freedom.
Look forward, not backward
Consider that living under the law reflects life before Jesus and freedom from the law is a goal towards which we are headed. This means that when we look at the law, we tend to look backward. But an essential part of our life as new creatures is that we don’t have to constantly look backward. The cross has taken care of the past. Our aim as believers should be to look forward, and when we look forward, we look beyond the law. We look towards who we are becoming.
I believe that looking forward is a great strategy in gaining victory over sexual sin.
The modern evangelical focus regarding sexuality is very sin-centered. Look at the number of Christian books we have on dealing with sexuality; except for a few marriage books, most Christian books deal with sex from a sin perspective.
This is looking backward. How about looking forward; looking not to who we have been, but toward who we are becoming? What if our primary view of sexuality were centered not on sexual sin, but rather, on God’s beautiful plan for sexuality? This is the theme of Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the “theology of the body” (which we will review in this newsletter later this year). Josh Glaser and I have been reading these teachings, and we are finding them a tremendous help to us personally and professionally.
What is it we look forward to? First, we meditate on the wonderful gift our sexuality is, and what a joyful thing it can be if we use it the way the Designer meant it to be used. Then we start to imagine ourselves becoming the men or women God created us to be. We look forward to becoming sons and daughters who, in our sexuality, as well as other ways, bring delight to the Father’s heart every day. We look forward and we see that we are becoming men or women who:
• Reflect God’s perfectly designed masculinity or femininity.
• In our hearts see sexuality as a wonderful gift from God, a gift so precious that it must be saved for the one special person who is or will become husband or wife
• Or (in the case of single people) view a chaste life is a precious gift to God
• Through God’s power, have gained mastery over ourselves, and therefore walk in true freedom.
To the extent that sin has some power over us, we do live under the law, but let us turn our eyes to the days beyond the law, towards who we are becoming. Resisting sin pleases God. But I would imagine that our becoming more and more the sons and daughters He has created us to be, brings even greater joy to His heart. As our hearts focus on who we are becoming, we take our eyes off of sin, and we start living beyond the law.
By Alan Medinger
Originally Published February 2006