16 May 2019
“To be honest, I can’t imagine life without it.” He was referring to porn. His tone expressed exasperation, discouragement, defeat. There were nods of agreement in the room from the group of men—several had said roughly the same thing recently and continued to feel it that way. Giving up porn was their life or death battle.
I had known these men for a few years having led their biblical support group at Harvest USA. They had all showed progress against their sin, with varying levels of “victory.” The one who spoke up had gone a significant time without a fall. Every day he said no to porn, every day he fought to give up porn—but only by harboring the secret concession that he could still go to it tomorrow.
I felt tempted to give in to their discouragement. A slew of biblical scenes came to my mind: Rachel hiding the family gods in her saddlebag (Genesis 31); Achan burying some of the spoil in his tent (Joshua 7); the rich young ruler walking away sad, unwilling to give up his “one thing.” (Mark 10:17-22).
Here is their fatal flaw, I thought—they will not forsake their idol. This will not have a good ending.
My discouragement increased.
But in my mind I settled on the story of the rich young ruler and remembered that sentence, “Jesus loved him.” While the rich young ruler walked away thinking I can’t imagine life without it, Jesus was loving him. We are not told the end of that young man’s story. But I have more than a little hope for him—because Jesus loved him. And that’s why I ultimately couldn’t lose hope for the men that I had come to love, either.
Could it be that moments like this, when confronted by the stark choice Jesus gives us, to follow him or to follow our wayward hearts into idolatry and sin, are when the necessary climatic turn can happen in one’s life?
How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it.
They—and all of us—are faced daily with the choice to believe the gospel and follow Jesus. Other biblical phrases echo the scene from the young ruler story: “He that loses his life, for me, will find it. . . ”; “. . . consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God. . . ”; “If you are in Christ, you are a new creation; the old is gone; the new has come”; “Behold, I am making all things new.”
You see, these men have reached a point where they are facing the question of their existence at its starkest and darkest: “Am I willing to die to all that I’ve been living? Am I ready to forsake forever my familiar idolatrous refuge? Am I willing to let Jesus re-create me? Do I want to be holy, to be steadily reshaped into the character and image of Christ?”
How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it. We had thought repentance was change, only to discover that it really means becoming a completely different person!
How do we help someone who is at this place?
First, cheer them on to the right choice.
Remind them that Jesus’ promise of new life is for crises such as this. He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is nothing but death in the “old,” and nothing but life in the “new.” Implore them to run after new life. At the point of crisis, remind them that Jesus loves them. Even in their struggle; even in their doubt; even in their stumbling and falling.
Second, model life-long faith and repentance yourself as you walk with your brothers.
Your role in encouraging them is not just for this crisis moment; you need to show them by example that this is an ongoing turning. We want to believe we can turn once from an idol that has been a long-time staple of our life, then never have to face the decision again. It is true that there is a decisive turning when we know in our hearts that we belong to Christ and no longer to ourselves, but the full implications of that take a lifetime to work out.
As a new believer, this decisive turning comes with a sense of joy and freedom. But we do not know ourselves very well. God knows us perfectly. We do not see all at once what it will mean to “put off the old self” and “put on the new.” There are other idols we do not immediately see.
As we mature in our life as a Christian, the Spirit progressively brings us from one repentance crisis to another, each time showing us another piece of what is earthly in us and giving us the opportunity—no, the necessity—of saying goodbye to it, of reaffirming, “This is not who I am anymore; I don’t have to do this.”
Third (and this is of course the most important), pray with and for them.
Prayer is how we re-focus on the person who is the power behind our repentance, Jesus himself. It is his work. He is the one to whom we turn. His is the life by which we turn. His is the voice that beckons us to forsake our old life to live his new life.
I have more than a little hope for these friends of mine. I have every reason to believe Jesus loves them, and has brought them to this crisis of eternal identity with his hand outstretched, inviting them to trust him, beckoning them to life, “Come, follow me. . . I am making all things new.”
07 Feb 2019
The first time I skydived, I was terrified and excited to be thrown out of my comfort zone. I could see the cloudy sky and minute details of the ground below—very far below. The instructor, to whom I was attached in tandem, yelled out as the wind rushed in the open door as my comfort zone slowly slipped away, “Are you ready?!” My heart raced as I said yes and before I knew it, we were falling out of the plane into the open air. After an exhilarating free fall, the parachute cord was pulled and down we gracefully floated to the ground. As I look back, I realized that I could have missed the rush of that experience had I not taken that initial step out of the comfort zone of the plane.
Years ago, when God began a life-transforming process in my life, I struggled to “step out of the plane.” I mean, I did want to follow Jesus, and I did want to do whatever it took. But not always. As the real-deal of what it was going to look like to be free from unhealthy relationships and sinful patterns in my life, I tried everything I could to delay being obedient to what God had set before me.
What I was trying to do—stay within my comfort zone by not stepping into the freefall of obeying God, which was terrifying—is what many sexual strugglers do.
Obedience begins with a willingness to submit oneself to the will of God. John 14:15 sums it up, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Notice in this verse that love precedes the command. It is from an overflow of our love for God that makes us willing to be obedient. What often isn’t expressed in this discussion is how easy it is to waste time dancing around obedience all while trying to justify your delays.
Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another.
In Psalm 119:60, David says, “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments.” To hasten is “to move or act quickly.” David is reminding us that out of our love for God, we are not called to just keep his commandments, we should strive to be quick to obey.
Being quick to obey can be difficult for many reasons. Decisions are usually accompanied by a host of emotions, feelings that toss you to and fro, often times confusing the matter by fogging what’s otherwise seemingly black and white. Most would agree, obedience usually costs us something. But often times, the most profound spiritual growth comes as we make commitments to walk in obedience regardless of how we feel. Lived out, we pray for Christ-enabling power to make changes, then it requires us to make up our mind to love God by just doing it, or in some cases, stop doing it.
Romans 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” What it looks like to “put on” and make no provision for worldly desires will look different for each of us. There is no formula, but here are four examples of ways to hasten obedience and not delay in order to break free from sinful patterns.
- Pursue Jesus every day
Here’s the amazing truth for all of us: we don’t walk alone! Far better than being attached to a professional skydiver, we are united with Jesus. Our first obedience is to abide in his love and Word and to deepen our understanding of our identity of being in Christ. We show our love for God through our obedience, but this is never about us mustering up the courage or strength to do it. As Paul said in Phil. 2:13, “its God who is at work” in us to change our desires and give us a willingness to obey him.
- Develop Accountability in Relationships
Determine to walk in honesty and intentionality with a community of believers. It could also be referred to as living intentionally intrusive lives with one another. While it is ideal to have others take the initiative to ask questions, make a commitment to confess your sins whether asked or not.
- Avoid relational connections that tempt you towards sin
It is important to disconnect from people that have been a part of your past sinful decisions. This is painful to acknowledge, but your past selfish choices could lead to hard consequences that hurt people you love. Staying in this type of relationship isn’t really loving if it doesn’t lead to obeying God. Although a choice like this can easily be misconstrued, it is actually an act of love and helps avoid being mired in long-term messy situations. For people on both sides of this type of obedience, God can be trusted with whatever consequences may come.
- Implement Technology Restrictions
Make modifications to any form of technology that grips or controls your emotional state, especially social media. These types of limitations expose what you allow in your life and how that positively or negatively affects what comes out in thought, word and behavior. This may seem minimal, but give it a try for a week or two and see for yourself.
Maybe for you all these steps look overwhelming. The good news (because there is Good news!), is God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. His command, his calls to quick obedience, are doable things God wants to help us with. The ground may look very far below, but it is God’s promise to get us there safely.
Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.
So what could this look like in your life? Maybe it looks like being quick to fight against focusing on the negative but rather fight for a thankful heart (Philippians 4:6-7). Or maybe this looks like being quick to break the cycle of selfish inward thinking (2 Corinthians 10:5). Or maybe this looks like being quick to have honest conversations with God through prayer in the day in and day out battle of life.
Here’s the bottom line in learning to obey God quickly: Christ is with you. You are not jumping out of any plane without him.
He is the ultimate Instructor who is tender and compassionate towards us as we learn how to walk in ways of new life in new light. He will bind up our broken hearts, lift our drooping heads, and provide peace that surpasses understanding. All while blessing our obedience and delighting in our efforts on this long road no matter how many times we fail to hasten.
Shalee talks more about this issue in the accompanying video: Why Is Delayed Obedience So Dangerous? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
07 Feb 2019
It’s hard to obey God when it costs something of us. It’s even harder to quickly obey, to obey without hesitation. But the more we linger or delay, the things that trouble us grow in power and strength over us. In this video, Shalee shares four dangers of delayed obedience.
To learn more, read Shalee’s accompanying blog: “Quick to Obey on the Long Road of Obedience.”
08 Nov 2018
In my first blog post in this series, “Porn Addiction?”, I looked at three ways a disease model of addiction can be helpful in explaining habitual sexual sin patterns. The disease model highlights what it feels like not being able to stop, and the insanity that comes in a moment of temptation. It also rightly shows the need for a zero-tolerance policy on sin. These ideas are constructive as we consider how to patiently and lovingly walk alongside men and women who are caught up in years of addictive sexual behavior.
But the church needs to be aware that the fundamental anthropology of a disease model for a porn addiction falls far short of the way God describes humanity’s experience as his fallen image bearers.
Robert Weiss, an addiction specialist, said in a recent USA Today article, “We don’t look at alcoholics and drugs addicts and say, ‘You’re a bad person,’ we say, ‘You have a problem.’”
In the same article, Milton Magness, a sex addictions therapist said, “Most of the people I work with are people with very high morals, very responsible, leaders in their industries; many are even clergy or physicians. And they are involved in behaviors they do not want and repeat them, despite repeated attempts to stop.”
Both of these specialists are seeking to locate the problem of the struggler outside of the person’s will. A disease model sees sexual addiction as a medical problem, not a moral one. And I believe this is a genuine attempt to explain how someone’s life can look so good in some areas while being completely out of control in others.
But the Bible always locates sin in one place: the human heart. This doesn’t mean that environmental and physiological factors don’t play a role in addictions, but the Bible sees every external factor as the context for the desires, responses, and engagements of the heart. In other words, Scripture says the entire person—the body, mind, and heart—works together in all of our behaviors.
But the church must be careful to go beyond helping someone make the right choices; it must also grasp the compromised ability of someone in an addiction to make the right choices.
In 21st century America, we are all spiritually sick, but we desperately want to hear the words that we are not the problem. But Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(ESV)
The typical secular worldview is that we are good people, but there are external forces that trip us up, causing us to do wrong. The biblical worldview is that these external forces (upbringing, brain chemistry, trauma, to name just a few) do impact our behavior, but there is something more fundamental to who we are that causes our problems. We have a natural bent toward evil; we are fallen.
The problem is our sinful heart, and as I said in my last blog, “sin is enslaving,” and there is only one physician who can bring life out of what was once dead.
For the Christian, God has performed a heart transplant for those who trust in him. In Christ, we have died to sin and have been raised with him to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). But this definitive transfer from death to life does not mean we don’t still struggle with ongoing sinful desires and inclinations of the heart.
There are two pitfalls we must avoid when helping Christians work through issues of sexual addiction.
The first pitfall is to focus only on moral responsibility. The church has historically helped those with addictive struggles to make good moral choices, focusing on the will. But the church must be careful to go beyond helping someone make the right choices; it must also grasp the compromised ability of someone in an addiction to make the right choices.
But this is the other pitfall, an echo of Adam’s complaint to God: It’s not my fault; it’s this brain you gave me. The culture highlights only the context for the problem (the brain, trauma, family of origin issues, etc.) But the disease model does not account for the wickedness of our fallen hearts. While the addiction model seeks to place the blame on external factors, it misses the complexity of the human heart and its central role in behavior.
The battle against addiction is not won or lost when you are faced with severe temptation, it’s determined by a multitude of choices we make each and every day.
Landing in either of these pitfalls flattens our experience of being human.
So what is a realistic, compassionate, and practical way forward for new creations in Christ who are caught up in sexual addiction?
We must understand that our hearts are engaged in every moment of life. It often feels like a losing battle to addiction because we are only thinking about our hearts in the moment of severe temptation. But what actually matters the most is what is happening in our hearts when we’re not tempted. Despite what is commonly said, men are not thinking about sex every seven seconds.
For the believer, every single day there are moments of clarity and good godly desires that need to be nurtured. The battle against addiction is not won or lost when you are faced with severe temptation, it’s determined by a multitude of choices we make each and every day. These choices include laying aside every weight that hinders us (Hebrews 12:1), like getting rid of unfettered internet access. They also include the good choices to invest time in prayer, the Word, service, and intentional fellowship and accountability with members of Christ’s body.
The resistance to taking steps to fight sinful addictions is a matter of the heart. People’s hearts idolatrously want to maintain at all costs the comfort and pride that their isolated, unaccountable lifestyle provides. That unwillingness to humble oneself before God and others is often where repentance needs to start.
We do have a disease; it’s called sin.
Deliberate choices—daily decisions in advance of overwhelming temptation— to live humbly and intentionally lay the groundwork for ongoing repentance toward God and others. This submission to accountability and radical amputation of avoidable temptations frees a person to begin to examine what they are really living for. How have they rejected Christ as their source of life and satisfaction? What lies are they believing about God’s love for them and their responsibility in living for him? How have they turned other people into objects to be consumed instead of image bearers to be loved?
This kind of deep heart examination cannot happen when someone is isolated and in the throes of constant addictive behavior. The fog of addiction can be too thick to make real progress, which is why the Lord will often allow severe tragedy to enter a person’s life in order for a season of clarity to enter in. The question is, will they use those moments of clarity to humble themselves and seek the real help they need?
Yes, our brains need rewiring. Yes, the fog of addiction needs to be lifted. But all of this happens under the umbrella of heart repentance towards Christ. We do have a disease; it’s called sin. But Jesus, the Great Physician, did not come for the healthy; he came for those who are sick. And he came that they might have life in him and have it abundantly.
Mark shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: What Can Pastors Do When People Say They Feel Addicted to Porn? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Good friendships in the Body of Christ are vital and necessary. And those friendships should be rich and deep. But sometimes there’s a danger lurking there: when one or both friends look to each other for what only Jesus can give us, then relational idolatry happens. Listen to Ellen talk about how to get yourself out of that unhealthy friendship and move toward Christ.
There’s more to learn after this video! Read Ellen’s accompanying blog: Codependent Struggles in Women’s Friendships. You can also go to Ellen’s 3-part blog and video series on emotional affairs. Click here for “Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part I”.
For sexual strugglers, the holidays can be a perilous time of struggle and temptation. The holidays can be a pit of despair and sin for sexual strugglers. Watch as Dave discusses a hope-filled perspective on life that can lead to joy and hope during the holiday season. If you haven’t seen the first video in this series, click here.
Click here to read more on what Dave is saying on his blog: ‘Tis the Season for Temptation – Pt. 2
28 Dec 2017
In my last blog, we considered how the holidays pose a unique challenge for people seeking to live sexually faithful lives. Temptation: lots of temptation.
We all face temptations at the holidays (overeat on Sunday or Monday, perchance?). But for many, these are compounded by a drive toward sexual sin when faced with relational stress, frustration, anxiety, etc. How can we find hope when faced with so much pain in this broken world?
Do you have hope this holiday? I want you to, and I believe it’s possible. Not just by battling temptation, but by looking deeper into the struggles you face.
I want to consider how our holiday aches point to our ultimate hope.
My last blog mentioned that one challenge of Christmas is most of our families don’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting. But even for those with great family relationships, Christmas still brings an ache. (Which is another reason why there’s so much temptation around the holidays.) Our most upbeat Christmas carols (think “Joy to the World”) stir unsatisfied longings.
Why? “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). We sing “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground,” but here’s the crucial point: these things are all still happening. At the holidays, more than other times of the year, we long for relationships restored, wrongs to be righted, pain and suffering to be eradicated. In Advent services we listen misty-eyed to passages like Isaiah 11:1-9, hoping in the promises while living squarely in the “not yet” of a fallen world where violence, disease, and death still have the last word.
Lest this blog feed your post-holiday blues, I want to point you to the hope behind this ache, hope that started long ago.
The Jews eagerly awaited the Messiah to free them from foreign oppressors, bringing hope and healing to the world. God began that process in sending Jesus. But the work is far from finished. We’re now living in the middle of the story, what theologians refer to as the “already, not yet.” There’s more to come; specifically, Jesus will come again. But for now, we’re called to live by faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
People who love you aren’t content with vague answers when you’re clearly struggling – they want to know your heart. It’s a copout to treat God differently because “He already knows what I’m feeling.”
As you look toward the New Year, consider these implications of the holiday ache and hope:
First, the ache is a sign of life! This is so important. Just as the Spirit groans within us and all of creation groans as in childbirth waiting for the renewal of all things, your holiday ache is homesickness for your ultimate Home. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says if you experience a longing nothing in this world can satisfy, it must mean that you were created for another world. The hope of the gospel is that God is uniting all things in heaven and earth in Jesus so that – finally! – the dwelling of God will be visibly and tangibly with his people. This began with reconciling us through the cross, but the ultimate goal has cosmic proportions (consider Ephesians 1:7-10; Colossians 1:19-20; Revelation 21). Your ache evidences the Spirit within you, longing for the life to come.
Second, be honest about the current ache with God and others. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Realize it really matters that you talk to him about the things swirling inside you. Like any good friend, he cares! People who love you aren’t content with vague answers when you’re clearly struggling – they want to know your heart. It’s a copout to treat God differently because “He already knows what I’m feeling.”
Through our heart cries, we receive the Spirit’s comfort and learn the truth that he is the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Further, talk to others about the ache! Sexual sin is isolating – turning inward to find ways to medicate pain. Growth and healing will lead to deepening intimacy with others in the Body. Let people in!
Third, don’t forget the “already”! How is he calling you to have a part in making “his blessings flow as far as the curse is found” right now? We’re invited as his ambassadors to be active participants in ushering in his kingdom. How might your particular ache be an opportunity to act for his kingdom? Are there specific relationships where you need to pursue reconciliation? Difficult people for you to love for the sake of the Lover? Ways to show generosity, or help the poor? He invites us to not shrink back from a broken world, but participate in overturning the Curse by the power of the Spirit.
Finally, flip the ache on its head through thankfulness. God’s promises mean it won’t always be this way. Give him thanks that one Day every tear will be wiped away. Death will be emptied of power. In the wonderful words of John Donne, “Death, thou shalt die.” Like the rush of relief when waking from a nightmare, the aching of this world will only enhance the joy and glory of the life to come.
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
Watch Dave talk more about this on his accompanying video: How do I battle temptation during the holidays? Pt. 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
For sexual strugglers, the holidays can be a dangerous time. In a season that exults family and good times, struggles and loneliness can bear in painfully. The holidays can be a pit of despair and sin for sexual strugglers. But Dave White gives four steps to handle it successfully.
Click here to read more on what Dave is saying on his blog: ‘Tis the Season for Temptation.
21 Dec 2017
The holidays can be particularly challenging for people struggling with sexual temptation and sin. Why? Despite our best wishes for Christmas to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, it rarely does.
Sexual temptation is a powerful struggle in a season where there are disappointments and loss. There may be a bounty spread on the table, but relationships are often fraught with problems. Hidden behind forced smiles and meaningless chatter are past hurts and unreconciled issues, seemingly impossible to resolve. Perhaps you long to truly be known by family and friends, but they’re content with banal superficiality. Or there are empty seats that were filled in years past.
The holidays shine a light on aspects of life that feel deficient. During my “single again” years, holiday shopping meant wading through a mall of smiling, arm-in-arm couples. It seemed everyone was paired—except for me. This can be particularly painful for same-sex attracted believers, honoring Christ with a celibate life, but surrounded by same-sex couples (and jeered by the culture for denying themselves). One brother recently lamented the pain of celebrating with others, while very aware he’s not making memories with a family of his own.
Because sexual sin is often used for “false comfort” in the midst of stress, frustration, anxiety, etc., all these challenges means Christmas ‘tis the season for temptation.
Others struggle financially and, in a culture of rampant materialism where personal worth is determined by “stuff,” gift giving can be a painful pointer to your (supposed) inadequacy. Or a siren’s call to dive even deeper into debt.
Then there’s the reality that lust thrives off the “me-centered” vacation attitude. Not to mention the lure of so many other pleasures (food, drink, gifts) that, if used improperly don’t satisfy, leaving us craving more.
These compounding factors warn you to be on guard during the holidays! Because sexual sin is often used for “false comfort” in the midst of stress, frustration, anxiety, etc., all these challenges means Christmas ‘tis the season for temptation. A significant shift happens when you begin to understand the context of your temptation and sin and prepare ahead of time to face them in the Spirit and with the support of the Body.
There are four key things to do to get you successfully (and maybe joyfully) through what can be a painful holiday season.
First, prayerfully consider how the holidays have been difficult. Journal about causes of sadness in the past. In what ways do you wish your relationships were different? What do you feel is lacking? What changed circumstance, relationship, etc., do you believe would transform your life? How do your answers to these questions impact your view of yourself? Your understanding of God and his character?
Typically, we translate painful past or present experiences and relationships into evidence of God’s faithless abandonment or indifference to our plight. In what specific ways does your current situation cause you to doubt God’s goodness, love, or power?
Second, examine the lies you believe about God and yourself. Talk to him about them. Ask him to help you believe what is true. Record in your journal biblically accurate descriptions of God’s character to counter the lies. Ask believing friends to help you in this! According to Ephesians 6:17, the Bible is our offensive weapon against the enemy’s lies. He wants you to know the truth of Psalm 28:7, “…in him my heart trusts, and I am helped…” Further, ask God to glimpse his purposes for you in not changing the things you wish he would. How does he want to make you more like Jesus? How might he encourage others through your self-denial and obedience?
Third, because of the likelihood of increased temptation, you need greater support from the Body of Christ. What specific challenges will you face this holiday and how can others come alongside you? If you usually check in weekly with someone, it might make sense to report in at the end of each day you’re away (or your family’s in town). Consider sending a quick daily text/email to let others know what you’re experiencing, your level of temptation, the lies you’re fighting, and the truths you need to believe.
Will you be staying with relatives where there’s unprotected Wi-Fi? Commit to keeping your phone off their network and make sure your laptop/tablet has accountability software. (You have taken that important step, right?) If you’re traveling, are there dangers specific to that location? Being away from home can create the illusion of anonymity. Are there particular places that will be a danger either en route or once you arrive? If returning to your hometown, are there potentially dangerous “old flames”? Acknowledge these things beforehand and invite your friends to ask intrusive questions. As with all of life, we shouldn’t face the temptations of Christmas alone.
Finally, focus on him! Be intentional to draw near to him through Scripture and prayer. Meditate on the wonder of the incarnation. Fight to not lose perspective on the true meaning of Christmas. By his Spirit, he is still “God with us” and (in the words of John Newton) invites you to experience “Solid joys and lasting treasures; None but Zion’s children know”!
Watch Dave talk more about this on his accompanying video: How do I battle temptation during the holidays? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Walking away from an emotional affair is painful; it can feel like death. In fact, something does need to die: the unholy attachment between two people that never should have been. In my first two posts in this series, I shared how you can identify an emotional affair and how to take the first steps out of it. In this final post, I’ll share what healing looks like over the long haul for everyone involved.
After the confession of sin and the intentional breaking of all ties between the two people involved, the next step is both immediate and lifelong: what is Christ asking you to pursue and commit to so as to grow in relational, emotional and sexual integrity? Answering that question will be necessary to not just get through this pain, but to grow in and through it.
If you’re the single person
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests. You now know in what direction those desires led you, so here are some things to reflect upon—and to do—to move in Christ’s direction.
- Focus on God’s grace for brokenhearted sinners. Turning away from our sin hurts, and this will be excruciating. I don’t want to sugar-coat this. But, see this pain as one that heals, freeing you from the enslaving pain of secret sin and an unholy, obsessive relationship.
- Steep yourself in Scripture and learn again how God’s word brings deep comfort.
- Learn about a biblical view of God’s design for singles in regards to relationships, including friendships with both men and women.
- Press into a study of what wisdom looks like in dating relationships, and what godly marriage is.
What led you into the emotional affair was, most likely, a desire for something good. Longings for companionship, emotional intimacy, and being loved are good desires! These desires, however, always motivate us in a direction—towards Christ or away from him, towards godly love for others, or towards self-centered interests.
If you’re the married person
- Same for you, drink deeply of God’s mercy for you, a suffering sinner who is desperate for God’s comfort.
- Actively turn towards Christ and your spouse in new and selfless ways will be your most important step. God is now calling you to cultivate spiritual intimacy and friendship with your spouse and to bear patiently with him or her in their healing process. Marriage counseling will help you find and repair the fractured connections between you and your spouse, helping you grow forward into a relationship based on trust and true intimacy. Your character is formed through the promises you make and the commitments you keep.
- Continue to close all paths and doors that can connect you to this person. And I do mean all. God never said to manage sin; he said to kill it. He doesn’t say kick the sin out of the living room of your heart, but you can keep it in the back guest room. But if it is impossible to cut off all ties due to circumstances, then you must have rigorous accountability about your commitments.
- Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled. 
- Don’t do this alone: get help and accountability. This should involve a wise counselor and spiritual friends who will remind you that one thing that got you into the mess was not being honest with God and others.
- Accept that your obedience in doing all this will hurt. The pain of letting go and accepting these losses will sting for a long time, most likely. This is normal, brother or sister! Anticipate it, and ask God to give you faith to believe what is true, and resolve to walk forward into wholeness and integrity. It is worth it.
Be ruthlessly honest with yourself and track down what your heart most wanted in the emotional affair. You will find idols that have owned you (Jesus replacements) that need to be unearthed and dismantled.
If you’re the spouse who was betrayed
- How will you handle being sinned against in a traumatic and trust-crushing way? Will you turn towards the God of comfort, strength, and healing, or find comfort in sinful ways? As your spouse turns away from the sinful entanglement of the emotional affair, will you walk forward with your spouse into a new marriage built on forgiveness, honesty, and trust in Christ as your foundation? These are critical decisions you must make early on when your hurt is greatest. Only you can make these decisions, and through the Holy Spirit, you can be led into a new spacious place of healing and hope.
- You, too, will need accountability. Besides a marriage counselor for you and your spouse, find a friend or two to be totally honest with. It will feel embarrassing to admit that your spouse was unfaithful to you. This betrayal was intensely personal, and while the affair was birthed out of your spouse’s sinful heart, it’s natural to “wear it” like a garment of shame. Ask God to lead you to the helpers and friends he has for you, and pray that your heart will be ready to receive his provision!
Is there life after an emotional affair? Yes, friends, there is! But only through following Christ through your own “Garden of Gethsemane,” one day at a time. Saying to God, Your will be done Father, not mine, but your will be done, will be your daily prayer. God is strong enough to get you to the other side of this affair and the wreckage it has brought about. He is your healer, redeemer, and will always be faithful to his word. It may feel impossible at this moment, but he can bring beauty from the ashes, comfort to your heart, and give you an amazing chapter of grace in your life story.
 For some resources to learn more about this, listen to my workshop at the Gospel Coalition’s 2016 Women’s Conference here: Cultivating Emotional and Sexual Wholeness; and I recommend two excellent books by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (for married couples) and Sacred Search (for singles).