21 2014
Why Lust is Primarily a Spiritual Rather Than a Moral Problem

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1

It is absolutely essential that Christian leaders understand that the foundations of lust are spiritual in nature. If we miss it, we will be unable to properly minister to people who struggle with lust, porn and sexual sin.

The human being who has surrendered to sexual addiction has “taken himself or herself out of the whole context of what is right or wrong.” (SA White Book, page 202) This is an important truth. What it means, among many things, is that appeals to morality have no power in cases of long-term sexual addiction. The addict has normally used numerous moral upbraidings on himself to no effect for years. We lust addicts are people who know exactly what the right thing to do is but find ourselves without resources in ourselves to do it.

The Church often refers to pastors and others who have experienced a “moral failure,” but what has actually happened is a “spiritual failure.” This is why early 12 Steppers spoke of an “authentic spiritual experience” as necessary for recovery. Renewed morality follows renewed spirituality. It is powerless to lead it.

A Spiritual Misconnection

The essence of sexual addiction is a misconnection or a false spiritual connection. This is why the Bible spends so much time talking about idolatry, which in essence is a false connection, the attempt to derive God-like results from things that claim to deliver them but ultimately cannot. Humans are not bodies that possess a spirit. We are spiritual entities that possess bodies. Because humans derive their identity from God, we are the only creatures who possess a spirit, one that possesses the unique breath of God himself.

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7.

We are therefore given the opportunity of making spiritual connections in many forms and in many arenas. When we surrender our spirit to someone or something, we receive the spirit of whatever we engage with in return. Alcoholism, materialism, lust, resentment in combative relationships and so many other things all infuse the one who indulges in them with the spirit that animates them. Unfortunately, the sexaholic has established a pattern, usually over years or decades, of reaching out for the false connection and engaging with picture lust or bodies pre-programmed by the addictive brain as sex objects.

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jeremiah 2:13

The reason lust is a spiritual disease is that like all addictions, it is instigated and agitated by underlying spiritual issues. Driven by character defects of resentment, control, self-centeredness, ego and fear, we find temporary relief in idolatry, the fleeting comfort of the god of lust. This is the false spiritual connection that has run us ragged and ruined our lives. Much of this results in the long-term reality of broken relationships with God and others.

The irony of lust-addicts looking for connection is that we inevitably become isolated people. We become “people apart” alternately believing ourselves to be “special,” either superior in our entitlement or inferior in our shameful behavior. We cannot understand and accept that we are simply human, wanting to connect and in desperate need of fellowship.

What I am saying is that we must understand the proper relationship between cause and effect in sexual addiction. Years ago doctors would speak about how elderly people would “fall and break their hip.” They portrayed the cause and effect this way, until recent times when they discovered that some elderly people actually break their hip first and then fall. This new understanding brought a different perspective toward the problem and the solution. Combating loss of bone density and strengthening the hip and surrounding area became as important as eliminating falls. So it is with sexual addiction. We must understand cause and effect here as well. The cause is spiritual, the effect moral. Until the spiritual is healed and redirected, there can be no moral change.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that the immoral behavior of the addict is of no significance. We know that the effects of it in terms of marriage, family life, vocation, mental and financial health can be devastating. But appeals to morality simply cannot instigate real change. The Apostle Paul makes a similar argument in Romans about the law’s inability to save us;

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:20

But the law still has value.

So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Romans 7:12

The law is of value, just not “saving value.” It cannot change a sex addict. I have known good theology and believed it for years. But having an excellent compass that points true north is only of value if you possess the power to go there. “Believing” without spiritual change is the essence of futility. Is this the reason there are about the same number of lust addicts in the church as outside it? We in the addiction-recovery community have learned through painful experience that appeals to morality will not work with most sex addicts, because neither our fall nor our recovery is about trying to be good. In fact, attempts to be good are often indications of our deep-seated powerlessness. We have all failed at the attempt. Didn’t Jesus say we would when he said, “No one is good but God alone?” Mark 10:18 Didn’t Paul assert this when he said, quoting Psalm 14, “As, it is written, No one is righteous, not even one?” Romans 3:10.

Most of us have condemned our own immoral behavior for years, to no effect and even wept tears that felt like repentance at the time. We are people who have experienced deep shame. Morality with its unbending laws, humanly elevated winners (good people) and losers (bad people) and church-driven public exposure too often work against real recovery. (Note: I am not saying that church discipline should not be exercised. It should, but always to serve the intended purpose of spiritual restoration.)

What the Christian addict needs (We can only speak for ourselves) is an authentic connection with God and his Son Jesus Christ, one that understands something of his radical identification with our fallen humanity and his availability to bear our lust away in the very moment it occurs. We also need connection with those who struggle as we do and compassionate, healthy others as well. We must have the authentically human and divine connection we are looking for or we die spiritually. It is this connection that saves us, not appeals to morality or a false and often fleeting “repentance” that seeks to be the cause rather than the result of spiritual change. The spiritual gives birth to the moral. This is the message of the New Testament, so we should not be surprised to learn it is also the message of a recovery that works.

There is so much more to learn and say about this topic. But all recovery ministry must begin here or it never begins.

Jay Haug