How Can Leaders Help the Addicted Who Feel Hopeless?
A panel of counselors offers insights to church leaders about how to give meaningful help to people experiencing the hopelessness that often plagues those in habitual sexual sin.
Can a couple of you counselors share some of your personal testimonies about coming out of hopelessness?
Ken Larkin: I'd like to start by just saying that hopelessness is not necessarily a bad thing. It could be a tremendous catalyst for change—to bring someone to the end of himself and turn them to the Lord, who is the only one that can really help them and deliver them from this issue of sexual sin. And I found that was true in my own life. When I finally ran out of my own resources—when I finally became hopeless and realized I wasn't going to change through my own efforts alone—that's when I was willing to reach out for help. And that ultimately led me to come to the Pure Life Ministries Residential Program.
Ed Buch: I feel like in some measure I must be an expert on hopelessness, having gone through that period of my life when I was living under such an incredibly dark cloud. It was really the guilt of my sin, but I did not make that connection at the time at all. So I just thought that I had some kind of chemical imbalance or something else going on inside me that predisposed me to a dark outlook. It was the pessimistic, "glass-is-always-half-empty" thing, but it was much, much worse than that. It was to the point where I wanted to kill myself; I attempted twice to do that.
But even beyond those suicidal thoughts, all day every day I went around with a chant in the back of my mind, "Kill me; kill me; just let me die." In my mind, I was praying it to the Lord, but in reality I was probably just chanting it internally to myself. I did it laying on my bed at night as I was trying to fall asleep. It became such a natural part of my life that I quit trying to get rid of it. But when I came to the Residential Program back in 2004 and had been here for several weeks, one morning I just I woke up, sat on the edge of my bed, and said to myself, "I don't do that anymore. I don't chant like that. Those thoughts aren't there anymore. They're gone." And I really believe the Lord brought me into this heavily consecrated atmosphere and that this demonic voice couldn't coexist any longer. And I was delivered from it. But I've certainly been through a lot of hopelessness.
What are some things that you would say to a hopeless counselee, and what are some things you'd avoid saying to someone who's hopeless?
Ken Larkin: One obvious thing is to understand that the reason why they're hopeless is that they're focusing upon themselves. And as spiritual leaders, we really need to get people to focus upon the Lord and get them into the Word of God for themselves. We need to get them into the promises of God and get them to focus on the cross, what God has done for them, and the power of God to change their lives. There's tremendous hope in Jesus Christ, and there's no hope in their flesh of changing.
Jeremiah Eakin: One thing to avoid saying is, "Everything's going to be all right," or "you'll make it through this," or "things are going to get better." You don't know that. Lots of times, when you are dealing with these issues, things get worse. And those aren't true statements—to say that everything's just going to be are right. You have to equip someone to face reality, not just give them words that will make them feel better. Because once they get back to reality, those words will just fall away. And so, just as Ken said, we have to give them the truth.
Ed Buch: Hand in hand with what these guys are saying, I would just say that one of the most helpful things you can do for someone is identify their problem as sin. Because the world system has kind of given them lots of other descriptions for it, and we don't often use biblical terminology. For example, we don't talk about adultery, we talk about "affairs," "mistresses," and different terms for it. But if we stick to the biblical words and we call it sin, then the Bible has an answer for sin, and that's what we're really wanting to help people see. There is tremendous hope: "Oh, I have a sin problem, and Jesus is my answer; the blood of Jesus is my answer; the Holy Spirit gives me power to overcome sin." And that's where their hope is going to come from.
Let's look at two types of people: someone who's so helpless that they believe, "I can't change," and someone who is clearly trapped in habitual sexual sin but isn't very desperate yet. How would you deal with those two extremes?
Ed Buch: Well, let's talk about the person who says, "I can't stop," which is probably more commonly the guy who's coming to the attention of his pastor. He's the guy who's got this problem, but he feels like he's just enslaved to it. And he truly is, but he's saying over and over in his head, "I can't stop; I can't do anything about this." But the truth is, he can. What we constantly find is that it's a motivation problem, really, at the heart of it. For example, I've dealt with counselees who've said, "I can't stop self-gratification; I can't help it." And I'll say, "Well, what if I would pay you a million dollars to go 30 days without self-gratification? Could you do that?" "Oh, yeah; I could do that," they'll say.So we have a motivation problem, not an ability problem. And that's really what you're almost invariably coming up against, and trying to get them to see the riches of heaven and the life in God as worth it is key to overcoming that attitude of "I can't help it."
Ken Larkin: Also, to say, "I can't stop" is definitely not true, from a biblical standpoint. If Jesus Christ can't deliver someone from sin, we're all in trouble. He came to save us from our sins, and Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as such is common to man." It's natural for you to to be tempted. But he also goes on to say, "But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape that you may be able to bear it." So the Holy Spirit is at work in the believer's life; they have the promises of God; they have other believers; and they have different things to fall upon for support. But the bottom line is: there is power and there is deliverance from sin. And if they don't find they have that, then either they aren't availing themselves of what God has provided or maybe they have to realize they don't know the Lord and they don't have the Holy Spirit and they don't have the spiritual wherewithal to overcome their temptation—because they're not born again.
In contrast, someone else may come to you who has a legitimate issue of giving over habitually to sexual sin, but they may not see that it's a real big issue. So they're either not really willing to change or not hopeless or don't see it as a big deal. And definitely, as a pastor, it would be important to point out the seriousness of their sin. It's interesting: in many different places in scripture, especially in Paul's epistles, there's lists of categories of sin. And in three specific passages—one in Ephesians, one in Galatians, and one 1 Corinthians 6—Paul lists sexual sin in the forefront and says, "Don't be deceived; those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." So it is a really big deal from God standpoint. If you're going to call yourself a Christian, then "let those who name the name of Christ depart from iniquity," Paul says. And if they're living in habitual sin and calling themselves a Christian, it's a lot bigger issue than they probably think it is.
Ed Buch: I'm thinking of the letters in the Book of Revelation—the seven letters to the churches. And at least three of them mention sexual immorality in some form. And the call to all those churches is to repent. And so if you look at those letters as kind of a window into end-times events, sexual sin is going to be rampant. And God has a large problem with it; he is adamant that it needs to be addressed and that it needs to be addressed with repentance.
This excerpt is from our podcast episode, “How to Help People in Sexual Sin: A Roundtable for Leaders”, Episode #328.
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