Last week I mentioned David Powlison’s forthcoming book, Making All Things New. Today I want to highlight part of it that is quite helpful in thinking of the nuts and bolts of sexual sin, whether it be adultery, pornography, homosexuality, or lust (and so on). Below are various motives at work in sexual sin, which I’ve edited for length. These motives are helpful for those who are fighting lust and other sexual sins:
- Angry desires for revenge. Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger. I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries. They had a big fight, and the man angrily went out and hired a prostitute. In retaliatory anger, the women went out and seduced her husband’s best friend. The erotic pleasure wasn’t necessarily the driving force; anger was. Though it’s rarely that dramatic, anger frequently plays a role in immorality. A teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents. A man cruises down the internet after he and his wife exchange words….
- Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, or valued through romantic attention. Consider the situation of a lonely and unattractive teenage girl who doesn’t necessarily enjoy sex. Why does she sleep around? It’s not because she longs for erotic pleasure. She sleeps around in order to feed her consuming desire to have someone care for her romantically and pay attention to her. It makes her feel loved. She is enslaved by the desire to get attention and affirmation. This is an extreme case, perhaps, but many people become sexually active at a young age because they feel pressure to be acceptable, they don’t want to be rejected, and they desire attention. Sexual behavior can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual cravings.
- Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase. Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response. The flirt, the tease, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires. Deeper evil desires are at work than just sex – the thrill and rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another.
- Anxious desire for money to meet basic survival needs. Sex makes lots of money for lots of people. The desire for money is greater than the desire for sex in this case. One difficult example is the case of a single mother who was in desperate need of money. Her sleazy landlord offered her free rent in return for sexual favors. (Thankfully, this woman refused and her church family ended up helping her financially.)
- Distorted messianic desire to help another person. Sometimes people play the rescuer-savior and they sleep with someone because they feel sorry for that person’s loneliness, rejection, and abandonment. It is a sexual sin, but it is fueled by a warped desire to be helpful, admired, and to “save” a person.
- Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life. Sexual sin often serves as an escape valve for other problems. Consider a man who faces extreme pressures in the workplace. He and his team pull a few all nighters to get an important project done. They make it and he goes home completely exhausted. But he finds no relief in having the project done. So he revels in pornography and forgets his troubles. Lust is at work, but there’s more to it. He is looking for rest, and he sinfully finds it in erotic pleasure.
- Indifference, cynicism, ‘Who cares?’, ‘What’s the use?‘. A single student – a Christian – once confessed that she slept with a co-worker. She was working late and was tired after a long shift. She had no accountability that night and was somewhat attracted to her co-worker. He invited her over, and with a “what does it matter?” attitude, she accepted and sinned by sleeping with him. This is the sin of acedia – sloth, giving up, spiritual laziness, not caring, saying ‘whatever.”
There are, of course, other reasons why people fall into sexual sins. The point Powlison was making is that “sexual sin is symptomatic. It expresses that deeper war for the heart’s loyalty. We’ve looked at a handful of different ways the deeper war operates. There are other dynamics, too! But I hope this primes the pump so you learn to recognize more of what’s going on inside when red-letter sins make an appearance.”
The above-edited quotes are found in David Powlison, Making All Things New, p. 80-87.