Why Sex Addicts Often Struggle with Self-Righteousness
Pastor Steve Gallagher explains how the battles against sexual sin and spiritual pride often go hand-in-hand.
Pastor Steve, you wrote an article, “What Sex Addicts and Pharisees Have in Common” that described how sex addicts and Pharisees are similar. In the article, you said that Christians who struggle with sexual sin can tend to get trapped in "modern formalism" instead of a "vibrant life in God." How do we get these two things confused?
The predominant characteristic of Pharisees was that they were focused on outward things rather than the inward life. Jesus constantly focused on the heart—what's going on in a person's heart, what's the interchange between that person's inward life and God. God is a spirit-being. He's a person. He's not a set of rules and regulations. Yes, there is the law that we must keep in regard to our relationship with the Lord. But rules and regulations are not what Christianity is about. This Christian thing is all about our relationship with God. And when you are walking with the Lord, you are focused on him. You're in constant communion with him. He's real to you! That's so different than what I would say modern Pharasaism would be—which is just the American church thing: going to church, keeping some basic rules (we don't do this; we don't do that; we don't say those things; we're against these things); and just adapting yourself to a church culture. That is completely different from really walking with God and having a vibrant relationship with Him.
Speaking of the Pharisees, in Matthew 9:13, when Jesus confronted a group of Pharisees, he said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." What was his point to them?
Another one of the predominant characteristics of a Pharisee is that a Pharisee has a critical, judging spirit. And what they do is, they have their outward things they do—their own rules that they keep. And when other people don't keep those rules, their rules, then they judge them and they look down on them and they're critical of them. And Jesus said, "You weigh people down." And that's what he was talking about. He said, "You weigh them down with burdens, and they're too cumbersome—too heavy to bear." And that's not what Christianity is about. Christianity should be full of joy, and there should be life and liberty in it. But that's what the Pharisees did back then in their own way, and that's what Pharisees do today. When they're focused on certain outward laws and rules to keep, then they pick other people apart who don't keep those particular things that they deem as so important.
Back to sexual sin. In the article, you mention that one reason why sexual addicts become Pharisees is that they are deceived by their own efforts to hide their sin and pretend everything is OK. If you confronted a person who thought they were a "pretty good Christian" but only had a "small problem of sexual sin," what would you say to them?
I know that I would focus on the enormity of sin—the blackness of it, the evil nature of sin. And especially sexual sin...especially pornography, the pornography industry, all of it. It's black with Satan's touch. And I probably would come at it from that standpoint. So when you think about a Pharisee and a sexual addict...let's just look at these 2 people side by side. A Pharisee is walking in the flesh; he's not walking in the Spirit. And so everything he's doing is coming from a carnal mindset. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were "the blind leading the blind," and they were blinded by their own self-righteousness. And that's exactly what you're talking about: "I'm a pretty good guy." That's self-righteousness. That's different than the righteousness of God. A sex addict is deceived, because sin always deceives. Every time a person sins, whatever the kind of sin it is, it works deception into his soul and makes him increasingly more blind to the reality of his spiritual condition. So you have two different kinds of people that you would think have nothing in common...but what they have in common is that they're walking in the flesh and they're deceived by their own lifestyles and they are separating themselves from God.
You also mentioned "powerless religion" in the article as a common characteristic of Pharisees and sexual addicts. When someone realizes that their Christian life has not been powerful enough to produce victory over sexual sin, what can they do?
Let me take you to something that Paul said. Remember that Paul had once been Saul the Pharisee. He knew what it meant to be a Pharisee, because he was a "Pharisee of Pharisees"—those were his words. And he eventually came to the place in his life where the Lord was able to show him that in his weakness, God's power would be manifested. That was completely the opposite of what Saul the Pharisee had lived in! He was strong in himself—his ability to keep the law, his ability to do all these outward things, and his ability to look righteous to other people. He was strong in that way, and God had to break him and break him and break him...and get him to the place of such weakness as a person that God's power could come through his life. That's the difference between powerful Christianity and powerless Christianity. So, for a guy in sexual sin, it's the same kind of thing; he's strong in himself—his "self life," his carnal nature, is strong and vibrant and in control. And that's got to be broken. So it's through the process of God breaking us down and weakening us that his power can come in and set us free from the hold of any kind of sin.
This excerpt is from our podcast episode, “What Sex Addicts and Pharisees Have in Common", Episode #330.
Copyright © 2019 by Pure Life Ministries. Permission is granted to use, copy, distribute, or retransmit information or materials on this page, so long as proper acknowledgment is given to Pure Life Ministries as the source of the materials, and no modifications are made to such material.