by Jonathan Daugherty
I'm going to do something an author really isn't supposed to do when titling an article with a question. I'm going to give you the answer right up front (and keep my fingers crossed that you will still read the rest of the article).
Is purity for everyone?
I have been working in full-time sexual purity ministry since 2003. In that amount of time I have heard the stories of thousands of individuals struggling with sexually addictive thoughts and behaviors. There are an unbelievable number of people carrying terrible shame and secrets of trauma and abuse that is truly unfathomable. Many shed tears. Some have memory loss and debilitating emotional problems. All have felt afraid, angry, lost, alone, weary, frustrated, hopeless and myriad other emotions. We offer help to all these people, yet only a few ever embrace a new life of purity.
There are many reasons (mostly excuses) why so many people carrying so much pain never find lasting freedom and peace from their addictive lifestyle. The most common reason is because they remain fixated on their circumstance, convincing themselves that in order for them to live a life of purity, their situation must change. Maybe their spouse is threatening a divorce or a boss is dangling a pink slip in front of their nose. Whatever the case, those who don't ultimately experience long-lasting freedom have found a reason (however fickle and false) to return to the dungeon of lust and self-centeredness. (keep in mind, this is a generality based on thousands of cases; there are always exceptions...)
But are these the reasons why I say "no" to the question, "Is purity for everyone?" Not really. The reasons above (namely, believing circumstantial change, rather than personal change, will bring about a life of purity) are only one side of the coin of why purity isn't for everyone. The other side, I believe, is a much more basic, spiritual reason of why purity isn't for everyone. Purity is only possible for those in right relationship with God.
Recovery programs that only focus on correcting and managing behaviors are not understanding the true essence of purity. True purity is a condition of the heart, the inside of a person, not merely how a person chooses to use their body. To deny the reality of a spiritual need in sexual addiction recovery is to miss the point entirely. A person is pure when they are pure all the way through. How then does one achieve this sort of purity? Only from God.
God uses a particular word to describe his own attribute of purity: holiness. God is holy, perfect and pure in every aspect of his being. God created mankind in his image, breathing into Adam something of the essence of himself. Therefore, Adam and Eve were holy; pure and perfect in their original design. Then (you know the story) sin entered the world through their disobedience, and spiritually Adam and Eve (and the rest of humanity to follow) were stained, broken, impure. Man's pride marred God's holy creation.
Thankfully, God didn't abandon his creation. He made a way for humanity to be restored, to be made new in spirit. He sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty we deserved for our pride and sinfulness, thus erasing our debt and exchanging it for his life in us. And the only requirement of us to receive this indescribable gift is faith, simply trusting in Jesus. In that moment of faith, God restores our spirit to his original design for us. He breathes life anew into our darkened spirit and the holiness of God pours in. In this new state, we are now able to understand and even partake in a whole new life of purity, true purity that is based on God's character and holiness, not our own.
So, do behavior modification techniques have any value in sexual addiction recovery? Of course they do. We each have a will, even if we have no relationship with God. But no person can experience the fullness of true purity apart from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And, ironically, even those of us who do have a relationship with God still have a choice: fully trust God and embrace his life-transforming grace or trust in our own intellect and effort to attempt to do what only God can do through us.
Purity, therefore, is only for those who 1) Know God through faith in Jesus and 2) Lay down their pride and let God have his way in revealing His holiness (i.e. purity) through them.
Final question: Is a life of purity for you?