Avoiding Sexual Sin, Part 1

Pitfalls and Protections for Christian Leaders

Sunday Evening Message

The above audio is part one of a two-part series. Both messages were preached from this manuscript.

Listen to part two of this series.


  • Gary Hart's withdrawal from the presidential campaign after what appeared to be sexual involvement with another woman besides his wife.
  • The subsequent comments by one of our congressman on national radio that this was picky because the reason the Gospel writers left out 30 years of Jesus' ministry was that he was doing all the same sorts of things we have done, and they had best be kept under cover!!
  • Jim Bakker's sexual involvement and blackmail and attempted justification of luxury and cavalier attitude to the seriousness of sin and the price of vindication.
  • The drunken-driving of a Bishop in Minnesota.
  • The divorces of two major evangelical writers on leadership and relationships.
  • Leadership article some years ago on a pastor's slavery to lust.

Ten Steps Toward Sexual Sin

1. Falling in love with the present world.

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:10)

Once Demas was a partner in the work (Colossians 4:14, "Luke the beloved Physician and Demas greet you"; cf.
Philemon 24).

But the world became too attractive and desirable for him, and he forsook his leadership role in the church, and decided to go and satisfy his desire for the world.

What is it about the world that leaders are tempted to love?

Jesus pointed out several things:

  • Acclaim and Prestige

    Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts. (Luke 20:46)

  • Riches and Pleasures

    . . .but as they go their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. (Luke 8:14)

Successful leadership generally exposes the leader more and more to the alluring forces of prestige and makes an array of worldly pleasures more and more accessible (because of travel, higher salary, wider circulation, etc.).

2. Loss of horror at offending the majesty of God's holiness through sin.

Nathan said to David, "You are the man. Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and delivered you out of the hand of Saul; and I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? . . . Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and taken the wife of Uriah." (2 Samuel 12:7–10)

Leaders are under so much pressure to make people happy (lest they lose their crowds) that they forsake the message of God's holiness and sin's horror, with the result that they gradually turn the gospel of grace into leniency and then license and then believe it themselves and act on it—"Grace will abound, so this one sin will not matter that much."

You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery." But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

In other words perfectly innocent and good things may need to be sacrificed for the sake of vigilance against sin. But this will not happen where a leader has lost his horror at offending the holiness of God through sin.

Examples: Should a Christian married man have lunch with a woman who works in his office? Should you watch television indiscriminately? Should you look at certain magazines?

3. A sense of immunity from accountability and authority.

I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first [i.e., who loves preeminence], does not acknowledge my authority. (3 John 9)

When you fall in love with the prestige and power of leadership, you gradually begin to secure your "gains" by developing a kind of immunity from accountability and authority.

Example: Billy Graham's long hours of listening to an expert on France; and his surrounding himself with a team of counselors and listening to them.

4. Succumbing to itching ears as love of truth evaporates.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)

Once the love of truth is weakened by the love for ears, integrity has no leg to stand on. Every manner of rationalization and compromise to meet the demands of the expanding audience takes over.

Examples: Omitting difficult doctrines; oversimplifying moral or social or theological issues; gravitating toward health, wealth, and prosperity teachings; dishonest procedures (counselors keep eyes open though he said "every eye would be shut").

Implications for personal sexual morality: a mentality of relativism and expediency begins to govern the mind. This weakens all firm moral resolve. The audience is to be massaged—its ears are to be itched—into approval to gratify the power and pleasure needs of the leader; and soon the same procedure governs sexual relations: anything is OK if you are satisfying her itch and yours.

Since scratching itching ears is a very warm and personal thing, it is easy for such leaders to contrast their approach with the "cold" concern for truth. And so immunity from doctrinal criticism is created with a heavy dose of relational antibodies. The language of love and forgiveness and acceptance abounds—but for those who have eyes to see, it is a camouflage to cover the abandonment of a love for truth.

The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9–10)

5. A vanishing attention to Scripture.

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)

It is the Scripture that reproves us when we are headed in the wrong direction; corrects and turns us in the right way; and then trains us how to stay there. It makes the leader complete and ready for every good work.

But in many leaders it begins to take a back seat to storytelling, and social analysis, and family discussions, and psychological diagnoses, and all kinds of things which in themselves are innocent, but which begin to usurp the priority of the inspired Word of God.

The Bible begins to get token reference, exposition recedes, biblical sounding slogans (like peace, justice, kingdom, mutuality, grace, acceptance, wholeness) begin to replace specific sentences, contextual considerations diminish, moral generalities begin to replace attention to grammatical detail, and soon the Bible in its pointed specificity is not the authority, but rather the ideas of man.

Effect on sexuality: The lusts of the flesh can much more easily exploit a fuzzy moral generality than it can a firm, precise, specific biblical prohibition. There is a hermeneutic that leads to adultery. Loose and sloppy handling of Scripture will lead to loose and sloppy living.

6. A growing disregard for the spiritual good of his followers.

The Lord will smite Israel, as a reed shaken in the water, and root Israel out of this good land . . . And he will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and which he made Israel to sin. (1 Kings 14:15–16)

This incentive not to sin diminishes as a disregard for the people takes over.

Right after saying that the scribes love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues, Jesus says, without even starting a new sentence,

" . . . who devour widows houses . . . "

And then he tells the story of the widow's mite. The point here is that the more we love the prestige of our leadership, the less we will love the people we lead. And the less we love them, the less we will care what becomes of them. And so the vigilance to guard ourselves from sin FOR THEIR SAKE will vanish, and sexual immorality will not seem as dreadful as it once did.

7. Disregard for the biblical mystery of marriage.

A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)

The mystery of marriage is that God created it to be a drama of Christ's relation to the church. How we treat our wives is a dramatic statement of how we think Christ should treat the church. How wives treat their husbands is a dramatic statement of how they think the church should treat Christ.

The deepest biblical meaning of marriage has to do with Christ and how he is portrayed to the world. Adultery is like casting Jesus Christ in the lead role of an X-rated movie. Therefore one long step toward adultery is to forget or disregard this biblical mystery of marriage.

8. Compartmentalizing of the leader's life.

In the NT the leader's home life is an essential part of his qualification for church leadership. In other words, the NT will not allow us to compartmentalize our life so that some parts of it are irrelevant to the issue of leadership.

Now an overseer should be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church? (1 Timothy 3:2, 4–5; cf. Titus 1:6)

Thus one stepping stone toward adultery is the compartmentalizing of life that says one sin in this area need not jeopardize my life in another area.

9. The sense of being above the necessity of suffering and self-denial.

Right after telling Timothy that as a leader he should "entrust [the truth] to faithful men who will be able to teach others also," he says,

Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. (2 Timothy 2:3–6)

Generally with successful leadership comes the possibility of avoiding suffering—there is more money, more people ready to do you favors, more expectation to go first class, more freedom to delegate grunt work, etc.

Very easily the mindset can emerge that it is indeed fitting for me not to suffer. Perhaps there is a high lifestyle appropriate for my position of prestige. Perhaps the perks of power are a good testimony to the goodness of God.

Gradually the leader begins to justify exorbitance of all kinds because he is doing his part for the war effort by being the public rallying point, and there is no need to live like a common soldier. He is so important in the church or the organization that he is above the ordinary demands of suffering and discipline.

10. Giving in to self-pity under the pressures and loneliness of leadership.

The stronger the impulse of self-pity, the more inclined we are to reward ourselves with unusual treats. The more we pity ourselves for how hard life is, the more easily we justify a little extra pleasure—even illicit sexual pleasure.

What goes on inside the head of a Christian leader when he is about to fall for the affection of another woman and commit adultery? I don't know. But perhaps something like this:

"Nobody else understands my pressures. Nobody else seems to feel for me in my loneliness the way she does. If any of them knew what I was going through in this leadership role, they would understand why I need this kind of embrace; I need this kind of 'unconditional acceptance.' I have borne enough of the burden of being everybody's spiritual example, I can't take it any more. And I don't care if they don't approve."

Self-pity is a crippling power. Here's how Paul handled it:

At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the word fully. (2 Timothy 4:16–17)

The Lord must be our portion or we will cave into self-pity and all the sin it brings.

Biblical Protection from These Pitfalls

1. Falling in love with the present world.

Think hard about the biblical warnings against love for the world in 1 John 2:15 and 17,

If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him . . . The world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.

And in James 4:4,

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

And think hard about the infinitely superior taste of the clear mountain springs of God's approval and fellowship and beauty.

Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)

Whom have I in heaven but thee and there is nothing on earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever. (Psalm 73:25–26)

2. Loss of horror at offending the majesty of God's holiness through sin.

Meditate on the biblical truth that all our acts are acts toward God and not just toward man:

Against thee and thee only have I sinned! (Psalm 51:4)

. . . and that God is so high and holy and pure that he will not countenance the slightest sin, but hates it with omnipotent hatred:

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity. (Habakkuk 1:13)

The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord; but he loveth him that followeth after righteousness. (Proverbs 15:9)

The Lord trieth the righteous, but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. (Psalm 11:5)

. . . and that the holiness of God is the most valuable treasure in the universe and the very deepest of delights to those whose way is pure:

Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. (Psalm 29:2)

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:19)

3. A sense of immunity from accountability and authority.

Submit yourself to a council of biblically minded, spiritually wise advisers.

Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)

4. Succumbing to itching ears as love of truth evaporates.

Cultivate a love for truth, even in its smallest details, and turn a deaf ear to the desires of men to have their ears scratched with vague moralisms that massage them in their sin.

He who is faithful in very little will be faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in very little is dishonest also in much. (Luke 16:10)

Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. (Mark 12:14)

5. A vanishing attention to Scripture.

Give yourself untiringly to the study, meditation, and memorization of Holy Scripture.

Strive to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

On his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee. (Psalm 119:11)

6. A growing disregard for the spiritual good of his followers.

Labor in prayer and caring to stir up your heart to love all your people.

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)

7. Disregard for the biblical mystery of marriage.

Remind yourself repeatedly that your marriage is a living drama of Christ's relationship to the church. Let your thoughts about your wife rise from the ordinary to the extraordinary by faith in the truth of Ephesians 5:32.

This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church.

8. Compartmentalizing of the leader's life.

View everything—absolutely everything—as woven together by its relationship to the value of the glory of God.

Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Colossians 3:17)

9. The sense of being above the necessity of suffering and self-denial.

Never forget the promise: "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). And never forget that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). And develop a biblical theology of futility and suffering, especially from Romans 8:17–30.

Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

10. Giving in to self-pity under the pressures and loneliness of leadership.

Embrace the essence of Christian Hedonism—that no one who suffers the loss of any earthly blessing in the service of Christ will fail to be repaid 100-fold now ("The Lord stood by me!"—2 Timothy 4:17) with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10:29–30). Self-pity is unbelief.