How to Overcome Sexual Sin

Imagine that a counselee or parishioner or spiritual friend came to you with the following story:

“I’m struggling. I’ve been married five times. Now I’m with another man. I feel like I just have to have a man. I’m desperate and empty without a man in my life.” 

If we were ministering in the '80s and influenced by the counseling climate of the day, we might diagnose this woman with a “co-dependency issue.” Ministering in today’s counseling environment, we might determine that she has an “addiction issue.” 

A Worship Disorder

Jesus determined that she had a worship issue. The woman, of course, is “the Samaritan woman” of John 4. 

Many people miss the connection between John 2:23-25, John 3, and John 4. The end of John 2 should be like a flashing neon light. “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” 

Jesus knows us universally and internally. He is the divine Soul Physician. He is the Creator and Designer of our soul. 

To illustrate this reality, John demonstrates Jesus’ perfect, in-depth understanding of human nature by comparing and contrasting two people who could not have been more different. Exhibit A: the male, Pharisee, religious leader, self-righteous, Jewish Nicodemus. Exhibit B: the female, irreligious, unrighteous, Samaritan woman. 

Jesus knows all about all of us. As our Creator, He knows that our core issue is a worship issue. That’s why, with the Samaritan woman, He doesn’t focus on her “co-dependency” or even her “sexual addiction” per se. Jesus focuses on her core spiritual thirst. 

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Not understanding Him, she focuses on physical water. Jesus again brings her gaze to her worshipping soul. 

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). 

Cisterns and Springs

Though she was unaware of it, Jesus’ words recall Jeremiah 2:13. “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.” 

We are longing beings. We are spiritual beings. We are worshipping beings. We are thirsty beings. Thirst was God’s idea. God created us for relationship with Him—to walk with Him in the cool of the day. 

God created us to long for Him. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Ps. 42:1-2). 

Longing and thirsts, in and of themselves, are not sinful—they are God-given. As Jeremiah reminds us, it is the relational direction we pursue that indicate whether we are handling our longings in a godly or ungodly way. 

The rest of Jeremiah 2, like John 4 and James 4:1-4, communicate a clear, consistent message: 

  • We can always trace physical adultery and sexual sin back to spiritual adultery and relational sin against God.
  • The sin in our relationships to one another is always caused by the sin in our heart—in our relationship to God. 

From Thirsts to Cisterns to Spring of Living Water

Jesus transitions from thirsts to cisterns, from God-created longings to godless choices about longings, when he asks the Samaritan woman to “Go, call your husband and come back” (John 4:16). 

Many Christian/biblical counselors today seem to emphasize either thirsts or cisterns, either longings or sinful idols. Jesus emphasized both. 

Some counselors shy away from sin and focus on longings. Other counselors fear that any discussion of thirsts and longings moves into “need theology”—that our ultimate problem is an “unmet need.” No. Our ultimate problem is sin. Still, our core longing is Christ. It is both/and: created to long, fallen with a nature that now digs broken cisterns. 

Jesus uses creational longings as the “way in,” as the avenue by which He helped this desperate woman find the living water she truly thirsted for. The end results was that she and others came to know him as “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). She experienced her longing (as created by God); she experienced her sin (in her fallenness); and she experienced her salvation (as a redeemed member of God’s family). 

Biblical Counseling

Jesus uses thirsts to expose cisterns and to direct people to the Spring of Living Water. Do we? 

As a pastor, counselor, or spiritual friend, if someone comes to us caught in the devil’s snare of “sexual sin,” what is our diagnosis and treatment plan? Do we compassionately see “sexual sinners” as worshipping, longing, and thirsting spiritual beings? Do we tenderly and wisely direct them to the Spring of Living Water—who will both forgive their sin and quench the deepest thirst of their God-designed soul? 

Come and Drink

If you’re reading this and you are struggling with “sexual sin” whether related to heterosexual lusts and/or behavior, or homosexual lusts and/or behavior, please realize that all sexual sin is ultimately a symptom of spiritual sin. Please realize that all sexual sin is a broken cistern that can hold no water. 

In Jeremiah’s day, a cistern trapped run-off water that had traveled down camel-dung-filled muddy “streets.” It then lay in clay cisterns, stagnant. Hardly worth drinking, worse yet, these cisterns frequently cracked leaving the thirsty soul parched. 

Your other option, in Jeremiah’s day, was to drink from clear, cool, fresh, pure bubbling spring water…flowing, thirst-quenching water from deep in the earth—water that never runs dry. 

Sexual sin is our choice to drink from a septic tank instead of from spring water. Sexual sin is our false, sinful belief that we can quench our God-shaped and God-sized thirst with man-shaped and man-sized alternatives. It is false worship. It is false hope. Trying to quench our spiritual thirst for Christ with sexual encounters with one another is futile and impure. 

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). Come and drink. 

Join the Conversation

How does the paradigm of “sexual sin as spiritual sin” (a “worship disorder”) alter your mindset about how we overcome sexual sin? 

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