By Harry W. Schaumburg
This is an extremely important question. A sound biblical answer is needed if someone wants a foundation for total freedom from sexual sin. Before presenting a biblical view, lets look at the concept of powerlessness within the recovery community. For the sex and love addict, recovery requires that they come to the point of believing, “We admit that we were powerless (emphases added) over our sex and love addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Addictionology teaches that the person has to surrender to the paradox of this understanding; that is, to accept that every attempt to control the sexual behavior actually intensified the problem. The person must give up trying to control the behavior by any means possible and admit they can’t stop it.
The concept of being powerless is directly connected to believing in inevitability and the unintentional nature of the person’s behavior. As the reasoning goes, the person is not a bad person; he or she has a chronic, progressive, and some like Ann Wilson Schaef believe, a potentially “fatal disease”.1 Therefore, if the person did not intend to go to a prostitute, topless bar or look at pornography they should not be censured or punished. Addictive patterns are seen as a learned disease: “if we learned it, it is not who we are.”2 With this new understanding they can begin to restructure their beliefs. Their thinking can shift from “I am basically a bad, unworthy person,” to an understanding that they are basically a good person with a disease; a disease caused by abuse, a shame-based family, or from words that destroy self-worth. This new view of self allows them to distinguish themselves as an individual from their powerful illness. Their new belief is: “I am a worthwhile person deserving of pride.” Please note, “plausible arguments” (Col. 2:4) such as these entice many desperate souls precisely because the arguments are appealing, sound reasonable and seem to be equivalent to the sound biblical doctrine of total depravity. However, there is a huge difference between being powerless over a disease and powerless over sin. On a practical level, what’s at stake is real freedom over sexual sin versus behavior management.
Second, recovery from sex and love addiction requires that an addict come to an understanding and state that they “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” While some form of faith is required, it is not based on any specific conception of God. Yet faith is seen as essential because it is the beginning of their spiritual healing. Faith initially comes from being in contact with sober sex and love addicts in regular meetings. There the addict sees and hears that others with the disease have progressed to lead positive and healthy lives. Now they have power, now there is hope. As they experience this power from the group it brings the realization that a “. . . belief in any specific God or divinity was unnecessary. Our need for faith could be answered with an affirming hope, a sense of the possibility for spiritual guidance that was already apparent in the experience of the members of the group who preceded us.”3 Once again, it is very easy for the Christian seeking help to be taken “…captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Many attending such groups have reported how meaningful their group experience has become because whenever they ‘slip’ they will find acceptance from the group and the encouragement to continue working the 12 steps. Christian fellowship, accountability, and support groups can offer a powerful level of acceptance without diligently going about our responsibility to “See to it…that no one is sexually immoral” (Heb. 12:15, 16). And that “…sexual immorality and all impurity …must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Eph. 5:3).
Third, and underlying these beginning steps in the recovery process, is the strong belief that the sex and love addict will remain an addict, hopefully sober, but still identified as an addict with an illness for life. Being a sex or love addict—and talking as a sex and love addict—is the price of membership in the group. One could quickly assume that this lines up with the idea that we are not sinless and are all sinners saved by grace. While many Christians mix the concepts of sexual sin and sexual addiction, it is not a match in addictionology. The view that sexual addiction is a sin is clearly unacceptable, even dangerous, to many in the recovery community. Their criticism would sound like this: “Moral models are based on beliefs or judgments of what is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. These judgments imply that people who compulsively use sex are bad or sinful people; that there is something morally wrong with them. This model contributes little to our understanding of why people use sex compulsively and offers no real help to those who have problems in their lives because of their sexual behavior.” Paul in opposing ascetic disciplines had a different view, saying it is “self-made religion” (Col. 2:23). Jesus warns, quoting Isaiah, “‘…in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matt. 15:9). We must be careful not to embrace spiritual exercises done at the dictate of presumptuous human thought. Self-made religion is not only worthless because it only changes behavior, but it excites its own “indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23) such as pride and arrogance.
Many Christians who struggle with sex and love addiction desperately seek help. Seeing no contradiction with the understanding of recovery, they move to change some of the wording to make the concepts sound more spiritual. I believe there is another view of change and it’s not just semantics. I express this view not to attack others in their struggle and not to declare that I have a better way than anyone else. I will insist on another view for the sake of Truth and for all those in bondage to sexual sin, so they have an opportunity for real freedom, not just behavior management. I believe that there is hope through sexual redemption. This approach to real change has withstood the test of time and effectiveness beyond any contemporary program of behavior management or self-help. Its history extends far beyond the world’s most popular self-help groups started by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith in 1935. It is older than the Wesleyan movement, the Puritan movement, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Augustine. Sexual redemption takes us back to the Cross of Christ and the power of the resurrection. We must honestly ask, “Do we believe more in the power of sexual addiction as a disease than we believe in the power of the resurrection to conquer sin?”
We must insist, that a man or a woman caught in the paralytic bondage of sexual sin is only a “sex addict” for life if Christ has not been raised from the dead. “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:13-14). For anyone to deny, even by implication, that the power of the resurrection doesn’t work to break the bondage of sin weakens, if not destroys, the heart of the gospel message.
I have sympathy and great concern for all who have prayed to have their sexual sin taken away and seen no results. That experience is not sufficient reason to question the power of the resurrection. One reason this happens is the failure to understand and live out the power of the resurrection. The power that raised Christ from the dead is real power. The resurrection of Christ has no spiritual value and there is no sexual redemption if this historical foundation does not exist. Paul clearly states that our faith is utter futility without the power of the resurrection. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and your are still in your sins” (vs. 17). If Christ has not been raised, you can’t say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed…(1 Cor. 6:11), referring to “…sexually immoral….adulterers” (vs. 9).. The gospel teaches that “…Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25) is a reality. Christ’s death is for our redemption and our sanctification. Equally, we must insist that we are now “…raised with Christ…” (Col. 3:1), “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col.2:12).
The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus offers deep encouragement to those discouraged in their struggle with sexual sin. Though you may have been abused, raised in a shame-based family, and your self-worth completely trashed, if you are in Christ you are not powerless over sexual sin. The questions are asked: how can you have the power of the resurrection in a life of darkness and evil, and your life filled with the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11)? How, when your life is in jeopardy, or your job, or your marriage, or your health, or your respect in the community is on the line—how can you rise up and devote yourself to the will of God? The answer: to be free from sexual sin for the glory of God takes power in the best of circumstances. But to know freedom when your life is falling apart, that takes a power of soul which is utterly beyond us. We are given the power, we don’t earn it. We are called to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality…” (Col. 3:5). If that is what we are called to do, then the power has to come from some source placed within us. “…being found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law (or, 12 steps), but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection…” (Phil. 3:9, 10). Paul prays, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might…” (Col. 1:11). “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness…” (Vs. 13).
The Christian’s hope is a strong confidence in God who has power to produce change in how we live. If that is true, then a radical change in our desires and longings will mean a radical change in our sexuality. Something new comes into being, the power of the resurrection, and that is what Jesus and John and Paul and Peter call the new birth or regeneration. That is the reason Peter says we are “born anew to a living hope.”
The death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior means that there is sexual redemption. “The body is not meant for sexual immorality (it’s not built for it), but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Cor. 6:13, 14). We dare not have the “…appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 2:5). Are we powerless over sexual sin? Yes! But “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:3-5). Are we powerless? No! In the truest sense of raw power, there is a power that can raise the dead; an invincible power over the bondage of sexual sin. Death is the first step. It ends everything, nothing is left. Not one breath, not one word, and not one thought. With that first step there follows the second: resurrection power alive in us.
Resurrection power must be proceeded by death, our death (Romans 6:11), whereby Jesus Christ has complete and effective dominion over us. Once identified with His death, the resurrection power of Christ penetrates every bit of our earthly nature. Our part is to “…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:10). The power to overcome sexual sin is not in the support group, it is within us if we have died. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so the we would no longer be enslaved (addicted) to sin (sexual sin). For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6, 7). Paul then states, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Romans 6:12). “For sin will have no dominion over you (that’s real power), since you are not under the law but under grace” (vs. 14).
This is my prayer for everyone who is losing the battle with sexual sin and is desperate for real freedom: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Heb. 13:20, 21). Notice that there are two aspects to true freedom in Christ: “You may do His will, and God working in us. May you know a new level of surrender of your life, and then know the power of the resurrection.
Dr. Harry Schaumburg is the founder of Stone Gate Resources, a counseling ministry offering brief intensive counseling, and blogs at Restoring Sexual Purity. The ministry specializes in the treatment of adultery, pornography and all forms of sexual sin through Biblical Intensive Counseling.
Copyrighted 2008 Harry W. Schaumburg. Article originally posted here.
1Anne Wilson Schaef, Escape from Intimacy—Untangling the “Love” Addictions: Sex, Romance, Relationships (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 10.
2Ibid., 41, 42
3 The Augustine Fellowship. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (Boston, MA, Fellowship-Wide Service, 1986), p. 75