My heart has broken over and over recently as Christian leaders from around the country have acknowledged sexual sin (see the related news articles in this edition and in the May edition). These sins have profoundly devastating consequences for marriages, for all involved in the relationships, and for the witness of the church. No Christian makes it a goal in life to violate their marriage vows and wound everyone around them, but I am grieved by how often disciples of Jesus find themselves going down this path.
Pastors above all think they would never violate their marriage vows. No one aspires to it, yet some of our best leaders are falling into this trap, with devastating consequences for all. The articles referenced above offer living proof: None of these men would ever have been suspected of sexual sin; these were extremely capable and highly respected leaders.
Thirty years ago, the late Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary conducted interviews with 246 conservative, evangelical pastors who had committed sexual sin. He found four common traits, still helpful for us today:
- Without exception, each man had lost the value and practice of daily spiritual disciplines.
- All of these leaders had no authentic accountability in their lives, no one who could confront them about the condition of their souls.
- Eighty percent of the men had invested significant time with the person, usually in counseling, long before the relationship turned sexual.
- All of them formerly believed this could “never happen to me.”
How can we maintain integrity in our lives and not fall prey to sexual sin? The prescription applies to every person, male or female, layperson or pastor. Here are four ways to persevere in faithfulness to Christ and flee sexual sin:
- 1 Corinthians 10:12: “If you think you stand, take heed lest you fall.” While we may not think it possible, the desires of the flesh can overtake any of us if we are not prepared. Moments of weakness come when we think we are capable of resisting temptation on our own. We must have absolute dependence upon God’s grace to walk with Him in every moment.
- Be careful to put boundaries on relationships with people of the opposite sex. You can and should have meaningful relationships, but you must establish clear boundaries. Beware of deeply personal conversations with the opposite sex; make sure to defer this kind of dialogue to your spouse or some other trusted source. Limit time with persons of the opposite sex to conversations with others present.
- Invite accountability in your life. Pastors are in particular jeopardy here, because too often pastors are lone rangers. They are not sure if they can trust their church leaders to be accountability partners, and they are suspicious of other pastors. The bottom line: If no one can speak frankly to you about sexual sin, you are a prime candidate to fall prey to it.
- Spiritual disciplines are an essential means to living in the strength and power of Christ. Howard Hendricks found that 100 percent of pastors who fell to sexual sin had ceased practicing daily spiritual disciplines. This is a huge wake-up call to all of us. Pastor, if you only read the Bible to prepare a sermon, then neither you nor your sermon are well prepared. If you love God, you will seek Him daily (Jeremiah 29:12-13). Dr. Hendricks’ study should prove beyond any question how critical this is. If you are listening to God’s voice and seek Him daily, you can faithfully live the Christian life.
First Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that we can have victory over these temptations because “God provides a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Your daily fellowship with God makes this possible. Run to Him, lean into His grace, abandon every ambition to Him, and glorify Him in all you do.
— Marshall Blalock is pastor of Charleston First Baptist Church and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.