Though it’s late December, I just lived through Groundhog’s Day again. (If you haven’t seen the movie, in Groundhog’s Day, Bill Murray keeps living through the same day until he “gets it right” and breaks the cycle.) In my case, I was talking with a student who’s trapped in a cycle of sexual sin. It’s a conversation I’ve had many times with him over the years.
“So, how did Thanksgiving break go with your girlfriend?” I asked.
“I knew you were going to ask,” my friend replied. “I’ve been dreading this conversation, because I knew you were going to ask.”
“I’m guessing it didn’t go so well, huh?”
“It didn’t start very well,” my friend said. “We slept together again, and I really felt terrible. I felt even worse knowing I was going to have to face you.”
My friend paused for a minute, looked at me, and asked, “Did you ever have to do this? You know, when you and Katie were dating?”
“Oh, yeah,” I replied. “I hated it, but I needed it. Just like you.”
“So you actually told another person what you were doing wrong like I’m doing now?”
“Vic Black was my Navigator staff person at Auburn University,” I replied, “and I talked with him every week about how Katie and I were doing. It was terrible, sometimes.”
This gave my friend courage to keep opening up to me. He knew that I could relate with compassion to his struggles. That’s a vital element in helping people find freedom. Very few of us can break out of habitual sin cycles alone. We need to experience the power of God, and very often, this means the help of godly friends.
The path toward sexual wholeness and holiness is a lot like the path toward spiritual maturity. It doesn’t consist in greater degrees of independence but in greater reliance on the grace of God and the help of God’s people. As the writer of Hebrews tells it, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
Four Essential Elements to Help Others Struggling With Sexual Sin
1. A compassionate appraisal of the weaknesses and sin of others
Even though Jesus never sinned, He was able to “sympathize with our weaknesses [because He was] tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) In my case, I have been tempted and sinned. My honest recounting of past sins or open confession of current struggles helps people realize that I stand in need of God’s grace just like they do.
2. An understanding of how the gospel applies to Christians who are struggling with compulsive sin
Everyone burdened by the weight of guilt and shame needs to hear the good news of the gospel. When a friend confesses sexual sin to me, I want the first words out of my mouth to be something like, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, [God] made you alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)
3. The moral authority to call someone to a higher place
Though I do not consider myself morally superior to anyone I meet with – and I do not mask my current struggles with sin – I believe I need to be experiencing significant freedom from sexual sin to help another person. If I am saying, “You can be free” but showing that I am not free, my words will sound empty.
4. Wise counsel about next steps
When a friend opens up to me about his sexual struggles, he’s usually asking for advice. He’s not looking for a generic prescription to read the Bible and pray more. Rather, he’s hoping I can spot something in the interplay of his fear, lust, temptation, and rationalization that might help him break the cycle of sin. He’s hoping I can diagnose why his soul feels so empty, or how he can live well through the next long weekend with his girlfriend. Good questions and proven practices are an asset here.