Emails with Matthew, a Sexaholic

Below is an email exchange I was a part of with Matthew, who is a part Sexaholics Anonymous.

Please see the blog post, Emailing a Sexaholic, and Emailing a Sexaholic–Part 2 for more informtion about these emails.

Here is the Initial message via the website Overoming-Lust.com:

From:  Matthew

On Sun, Mar 10, 2013 at 1:12 PM, Matthew wrote:

Site: Overcoming Lust (http://www.overcoming-lust.com)

Messages: I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on Sexaholics Anonymous, where the sobriety definition includes: \”no sex with self or partners other than the spouse\”, and \”progressive victory over lust.\”

In my experience, 12 step recovery programs are ultimately about the transformation of the inner person, not simply about the outward appearance. Reading your article that talks about \’recovery\’ programs suggests to me that the workshop/convention you went to either a) did a very poor job of communication what recovery programs are about or b) you missed the point.

Jim Vander Spek < > wrote:

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for your comments. I am interested in knowing more about what SA.  How do they define “lust.” Do you have some material of theirs or a similar group that speaks to that?

The Christian workshop cited in my article did not even use the right language and they are not alone. My goal in writing about this topic is to teach victory and offer hope by focusing on the lust issue.

The attached is an excerpt from my book, which speaks to this as well.

What is your story? Are you experiencing victory? I pray that you are.

In Him,

jvs

Matthew wrote:

Jim,

Thanks for sending that over. I appreciate you writing on the subject and am glad to see you trying to address it. A bit about my story first, then I’ll get to SA and “lust,” and how I think you might be misunderstanding the ‘secular’ approach (that really isn’t secular) to lust.

I’m 24 years old. I discovered masturbation by accident when I was in 7th grade, home alone and bored. It felt good, and though I had a sense that I was eating forbidden fruit, I did it again. And again. And again. Then I found out that looking at images of women made the high I experienced stronger, so I began seeking those out as well.

The most basic definition of addiction is, doing something specific again and again, even though you don’t want to do it. That was me: I was raised in a Christian home, and the inward guilt was unbearable, and yet I continued.

In 8th grade, I joined a small group at church, and it helped some. We talked about the Bible, how it told us to stay away from lust, and talked about how we should be warriors against lust. I was able to go maybe a week or two without masturbating, but the more I fought – the more lust fought back. I always, in the end lost.
Fast forward to college. I moved to New York City for school, and lost my small group way back at home in Oregon. Without any accountability, my habit (at this point, clearly addiction), began to get uglier. The pornography I consumed from time to time became darker – more twisted and violent. I fought hard, but always lost. By my senior year, I had to masturbate in the morning to feel like getting up. Then at night I had to masturbate, sometimes twice, just to go to sleep. I was getting closer to trying to contact real people to have sex with, and though I didn’t want to do it, I felt myself sliding down the hill.

It is important here to ask, “why am I doing this?” Was I sliding down this hill just because I’m a man? The clear answer is no. I have friends who don’t have to masturbate and fantasize. They might do it every now and again, but they don’t do it to get up in the morning. They aren’t addicted, in a very clinical and scientific sense of the word.

About a week after I graduated, a friend of mine told me he had “gone a month without doing it.” I knew exactly what he meant, and I was blown away.

“How the hell did you do that?” I asked. He said he joined a twelve step group, and that, somehow, it was working. So I joined, and about two years later, and here I am, writing to you.

You asked about whether or not I am experiencing victory. Answering that is a multi-layered thing – of course victory isn’t just defined by behavior. But for a bit of perspective, in 2011, I couldn’t sleep or wake up without using lust and masturbation as a crutch. I just couldn’t handle living in reality with my feelings and insufficiencies.

In 2012, I was sober from masturbation for 364 of the 365 days of the year. For me, and for any other addict, this is truly a miracle. It is, in short, God doing for me what I could not do for myself.

Of course, victory isn’t just an external thing – being free from “acting out.” But being free from acting out can not be understated. Of course, to be free from masturbation, we also have to be free from lust, and so the 12 step program of SA includes victory over lust.

So how do we do this? Do we do this by going to meetings, cheering each other on, and vowing to stay away from looking at women and masturbating? If that is what SA is, it would be no different from the small group I was in as a highschooler. SA is deeper.

SA is about healing our relationship with God, ourselves, and others so that we do not need to act out in order to distract ourselves from reality. Thus, SA is ultimately not ‘secular,’ as you state in your attached essay. Sure, it isn’t explicitly “Christian,” but if you read the history, it was founded by Christians and is obviously based on Christian truth. And so it is that when I go to an SA meeting to share how I’m doing, I’m sitting in the same room as Jews, Muslims, agnostics, and others, and we are all searching for a relationship with God – a God who is ultimately the Christian God.

And that is my disagreement: SA is not about behavior modification. It is ultimately about the purification of ourselves, to bring our will into alignment with God. That’s why if you read the steps, you won’t find “step four: we ran from lust wherever we saw it” or other strategies. You find acknowledging and taking responsibility for our actions (sins) in step 1, 2, and 3. Then you find “changing our behavior and loving others” in steps 4-7. Then in the later steps you have “making our wrongs right,” then in step 11, maintaining conscious contact with God, then in step 12, “carrying the solution to those who need it” – in less blatant terms, the Gospel!

Thus is it that all of these people with different backgrounds are finding a real relationship with God, and they are giving their lives over to Him, one step at a time.

Today, I’m not just 128 days sober. I’m also working the steps and finding that the root of my addiction is my own character flaws – the ways that I turn away from God and people. I’m selfish, angry, resentful, and self-pitying. And yet through this program, through a relationship with God, I can begin to change who I am, and be more free from lust, and more importantly, in a deeper relationship with God.

Jim Vander Spek < > wrote:

Hi Matthew,

Thank you so much for this. I never dived into the whole SA position. The article in wikipedia is great and supports all of the points that you made.

I am going to read more. I will certainly not speak poorly of SA and have not done this. I read the white book definition of lust and will try to digest it. How do you think it compares to the definition that I have in my article called, Understanding Lust http://www.overcoming-lust.com/articles/understanding-lust/ ?

Thank you also for your testimony. It is of a type that needs to be shared more widely among Christians. I stand by my criticism of how christian counselors are handling this issue. Maybe they need to get into the SA material.

This came at a good time, as I am writing a blog post for covenanteyes.com about christian counselors and it will reflect what I am learning.

“May the Lord, Himself, sanctify you completely.”

jvs

Matthew wrote:

Jim,

I think your article lays out a fair case for what lust is. And I understand your frustration with Christian counselors. I’m a living testimony of how so many Christians fail to understand what lust is, or more importantly how to deal with it. “Thought suppression” is a losing game, and it is the predominant way that dealing with lust is talked about.

In my experience, too much of the discussion focuses on why we should be pure – for our wives, our relationships, so we can be righteous, etc. They don’t tend to focus on the most important reason to be pure: for ourselves. Lust is addictive and destructive, and by its very nature it tends to override all concerns for living a moral life, being a ‘soldier for Christ,’ etc. The greatest victory I’ve seen in my friends has been the result of realizing that lust will ultimately kill us – if not bodily in some cases, then certainly spiritually over the long term.

Send that covenanteyes article over when you are finished – I’d love to read it!

Jim Vander Spek <> wrote:

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for your valuable input. I am glad that the definition of lust that I have been using is in sync with what SA is teaching.

Do you have time to consider another question? Would you or SA agree with the definition of “victory over lust” that I have come to? I describe it on page 45 of my book and in chapter 9. Here is a pdf of the book: (deleted). You can read the entire book online or download it.

May God bless you and give you victory.

In Him,

jvs

Matthew wrote::  

Jim,

Glad to be of service. As far as “victory over lust goes” – that is, in different words, the exact definition of victory as defined by SA.  SA isn’t about perfect behavior, it is about “progressive victory over lust,” also worded as progressive victory over the compulsion that brought us into SA.

I share your frustration with the state of Christian counseling on lust. It is seen by so many as the ‘unbeatable’ sin, and most of the guys in my life just gave up after highschool, just like I did in College.  We’re taught that lust is evil, that we have to fight it, to be “soldiers for Christ,” but in the end we are totally ill-equipped to deal with lust, so we fight and fight and fight, and lose and lose and lose. What choice do we have but to give up and just accept it as a sin that we will always “struggle” with, but never beat?

This is only part of a larger wave of the sexual revolution that is influencing Christian circles. My old mentor actually called me up the other day after 5 or 6 years and apologized to me for teaching that masturbation is a sin. “As far as I can tell,” he said, “there isn’t any explicit evidence in the Bible against it.”

The person who needs explicit Biblical evidence to know that masturbation is sinful is still wearing his Christian diapers. But unfortunately, prevailing cultural attitudes towards sexuality affect the way that Christians today are interpreting scripture. So what seemed obvious to Christians for the past 2000 years with regards to sexual ethics is now calmly pushed aside because “I just can’t see where the Bible says no.”

This is exactly what happened with the contraception debate, it is exactly what will happen in the gay marriage/gay clergy debate. In the 1900 years before the 1920s, the truth that contraception is a grave and dangerous moral sin was obvious to all of Christendom, whether you were Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Evangelical, etc, etc.  Yet in just 80 years we have lost so much of our moral wisdom that we now take for granted that “of course there is no evidence against contraception – why would we ever do without it?”  The contraception issue doesn’t seem controversial to us – but to the tens of billions of Christians before us, we would be heretics!

Sad, isn’t it? It’s one of the reasons I would recommend reading Catholic teaching on human sexuality. Catholics have had the blessing of a very strong tradition of deep and reasonable sexual ethics/theology, based largely on scripture and natural law. I’d suggest Humanae Vitae as a good place to start.

Ultimately, this fight will be won by a return to reading the Bible through the lens of natural law, not as a book of law that must be obeyed word for word. When we lose our moral common sense, we also lose our ability to adequately interpret scripture, which is why so many Christians today read scripture and can’t understand why they can’t watch porn, masturbate, marry the same sex, etc, etc.

Best,
Matthew

 

Jim Vander Spek     <>wrote  
                                                                       
to Matthew

Thanks again for your valuable input.  I am with you.  I wish my Calvinist forefathers had stayed Catholics and solved the problems in that church rather than creating the rubble we inhabit.

More questions:  I believe that victory over lust can only come from a deeper walk with God.  I lay out the means to this in chs. 7-8 of my book.  Does SA offer other approaches?  Are there some there that they would disagree with?

In Him,

jvs

 

Matthew wrote:

Jim,

With respect to victory over lust only coming from a deeper walk with God, I wholeheartedly agree. Sexaholics Anonymous is based on the same premise, that our search for the magic lust hit that will save us is really a desperate search for God in all the wrong places. Thus when we begin to search for God, and when we inevitably find Him (“seek and ye shall find”), our addiction to lust (as a means of escaping an existence without God) begins to heal.

The main difference is, SA tends to bring people to a deeper walk with God through direct, positive, internal change rather through things like meditating on scripture, though meditation is an important part of the program as well. Many of us tried doing “religious things,” in my case, Bible studies, emotional worship and prayer, etc.  And many of us realize that though we were trying so hard, we were really trying to manage our addiction ourselves, through our own strategies and plans. In the end, we failed because we wouldn’t let God give us the victory. In the program, we learn that we don’t have to struggle against lust: we can offer it up to God and He will take care of it – every time, as long as we ask, and then surrender.

In one of the passages I read, you said that “My defense is to instantly recoil from them” (lustful thoughts). I get what you are saying here, and don’t think that it is a bad approach. But this is what I tried most of my life before SA – more willpower, more fighting, and ultimately more losing. SA has a whole section on “surrender”, which to the sexaholic is the most beautiful word in the whole world, for it means victory, and victory without the struggle that tormented us for so long.

Surrender means not fighting. When I surrender, I throw up my hands on the inside and say “God, I am powerless over lust. No amount of willpower will save me. You have to win for me.” And then I “let go”, and hand it over to God, and the temptation passes. Sometimes I surrender a thousand times in a day. Sometimes, I have days where I hardly feel the need to surrender at all, because I am living in surrender; surrender to God’s will for me, which is Holiness.

So all that to say, I would love to see a discussion of surrender in your book, and to have it contrasted with the will-powering that Christians are taught at church.  It was the biggest revelation of my life, and I apply surrender to everything from lust to fear to anger and anxiety. I can’t explain it, but it is different than the panicked strategies of desperate prayer and Bible reading that I employed before I ever experienced victory.

That being said, there is a remarkable similarity between your tools and the steps of the program.

Fleeing Temptation and Resisting the Very First Impulse      to Sin  – Step 1, 2, and 3

  • Reconciling Relationships – Steps 8 and 9
  • Uprooting All Spiritual Pride – Steps 4, 5, and 10
  • Continuing in Prayer – Step 11
  • Maintaining Transparency with Others Who Are Committed      to Help – meetings (this is called step 0), step 12
  • Properly Directing Our Thoughts – steps 6, 7, 10, and      11
  • Persisting in Godliness – Step 10, 11

Additionally, your quote here: “Therefore, we must each day and each moment how we will direct our thoughts.” is very reminiscent of SA’s focus on “one day at a time.” We don’t commit to beating lust every time for the rest of our lives – we would fall apart under the pressure. Instead, we commit a day at a time, or even an hour at a time, and after a while the time adds up to months or years, and we begin to see that God is “doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

So I’d say you’re onto something pretty good with your book. I’d love to see a discussion of surrender v willfulness in a later addition, only because to me that was the key to my entire recovery.

Best,
Matthew

 

Jim Vander Spek     <>wrote:  

Hi Matthew,

Wow, thanks for all this.

I will consider the surrender side of this issue.  Have you developed a biblical foundation for this?  My experience was more the “let go, let God” approach which did not work at all for me and is not supportable by Scripture.  Lust is a sin and even for a Christian, the solution is always confession, forgiveness, repentance.

In Him,

jvs

Matthew wrote:               

Jim,

With respect to a Biblical foundation, and your experience with the “let go, let God” approach, I humbly submit a few points:

Surrendering to God’s will is the core of sanctification – the lives and writings of the Saints repeatedly testify to this.  I would challenge you to tell me how surrendering our will to God’s is not Biblical!

  • With respect to “let go and let God,” I should point out that the principle of surrender is not purely internal.      Surrender is an internal admission that we are powerless over lust without  God, and is a simultaneous assent to doing what is necessary to be rid of the temptation – whether that is calling/texting a friend, exposing the temptation to the light, sharing at a meeting, or physically removing yourself from the tempting situation if that is possible.   “Let go and let God” by itself is a recipe for disaster, probably because  our “hearts are deceitful above all else” – this is why bringing      temptation to the light of another person is so important.  All of  that to say, I am suspicious that your version of “let go, let  God” and SA’s are two different things, considering SA’s version      produces truly miraculous results over and over again with different people.
  • As far as lust as a sin goes, this is true. I certainly don’t deny it, and neither does SA. The difference is that SA focuses on the addiction to lust as a real disease – for just like alcoholism, it is in fact a disease of the mind, body, and soul.  Of course, the temptation here (especially for outsiders to 12 step programs) is to think that the fact that we struggle with a disease somehow frees us from any      guilt, repentance, or responsibility.  A cursory glance at Alcoholics Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous demonstrates very clearly that our problems are of our own making, and the word      “sin” is used repeatedly.

Overall, I think the most important point to make with respect to the “Biblicalness” of SA is that God is not at the mercy of the Bible, because the power of the Bible is that it is not just words. The words in the Bible point to ultimate truths of our universe, that if applied by an ignorant atheist are just as true as if applied by a Christian. The Christian might have deep insights into the Truth at work, but it is in the physical doing of the surrendering and changing of the inner person that God manifests. That’s why as a Christian I am deeply excited and humbled by the SA meetings I attend: because I see people who know nothing of Christ taking up their Crosses and following Him without even knowing it.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Best,
Matthew

Jim Vander Spek <     > wrote:

Hi Matthew,

I think you are zeroing in on my concerns with the recovery movement.  The newest data does show that use of porn is physically addictive. However, I have real trouble of thinking of addiction to any sin as being a debilitating permanent sickness/condition.

I don’t read you saying that, but that is definitely the way people treat it.  In Christ we are not in an endless loop.  He came to set us free.

I will take time to absorb this and all your emails when I have time.

In Him,

jvs

Matthew wrote:
              

Jim,

Glad to see we’re zeroing in. In lieu of a longer theological response, I’ll just say a few things:

  • Addictive diseases are not permanently debilitating. We      can heal, and become whole.
  • Sexaholism, alcoholism, and every other addiction is      a permanent condition (barring a miracle). That is a fact. The neural      pathways of our brains are permanently damaged, which is why the most holy      Christian man who has been sober 30 years is still capable of experiencing      the temptation of craving, should he put himself in a dangerous      situation.
  • The doctrine of original sin has a good deal to say      about how the temptation to addictive sin remains within us. We are born      with a natural proclivity      toward sin that will only be      corrected in heaven. Though we can do much to bring our will into      alignment with God while on Earth, original sin means that the temptation      to sin will always remain, though leading a deliberate and Holy life can      make temptations small and feeble.  We can have victory      over taking the actions of sin – but there is little theological basis for      claiming that Christ meant for us to enter a temptation-less state while      here on earth. After all, our daily prayer ought to include “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Christ came to set us free from being slaves to sin. He claimed freedom from doing sinful things, and that freedom is available in recovery. Scripture does not claim that we ought to expect freedom from temptation on this side of heaven.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts – thanks for letting me voice mine!

Best,
Matthew

Jim Vander Spek < > wrote:

Hi Matthew,

Note the concerns below in blue as stated in my article.  I have real trouble with a Christian saying, “I am a sex addict” if he is overcoming lust.  Your thoughts on this?

Sinner versus addict

The first major difference is that the EMB book emphasizes the fact that allowing impure sexual thoughts to take hold in our minds is a grave sin. Such knowledge should motivate men to confess and repent, meaning to thoroughly remove lust from their lives. Fundamentally, the book calls on Christians to despise lust and to apply an achievable standard of purity. It also demonstrates how this purity can save and enrich troubled marriages.

The workshop, in contrast, stuck closely to our culture’s accepted wisdom. In fact, the leader, who continues to be the West Coast Program Director and main author and speaker for the workshop introduced himself with the classic twelve step introduction, “I am a sex addict.” He felt comfortable saying this despite the fact that he was a pastor and a noted writer on sexual purity issues. During one of the early sessions the sin issue and the need to confess and repent was clearly explained. However, this straightforward biblical teaching was not the central theme of the conference and was quickly abandoned along the way.

Instead of focusing on the sin of lust and how to eliminate it from our lives, the workshop message wrapped itself in therapeutic language. Recovery, relapse, and regression were just some of the key concepts that dominated. The bulk of the teaching dealt with inner conflicts, childhood experiences and emotional triggers that supposedly lie at the root of the problem. Dealing with our moods, past wounds and resentment was touted as essential in order to get a grip on our unhealthy behavior. The need to gain control of certain behaviors, such as viewing pornography and masturbation, emerged as the main focus instead of eliminating lust dwelling in the heart.

This wholesale surrender to muddled, secular theories about uncontrolled lust and the accompanying strong emphasis on outward behavior contrasted strikingly with the direct uncomplicated teaching found in the EMB book. For example, a fundamental insight presented in the EMB book is the distinction it lays down between “excellence” and “purity.” Excellence sounds good and lines up with what even the world would advocate for those seeking a high standard of behavior in the sexual realm. Those Christians achieving excellence would exhibit an ability to behave properly and to keep sexual sin under control in a way that almost anyone would find commendable.

Matthew wrote:    
 

Jim,

These few paragraphs make up the passage that initially bothered me, mainly because the paragraphs are riddled with oversimplifications of or misrepresentations of a 12 step group like Sexaholics Anonymous.

But I want to respond to your main point, the idea of a pastor calling himself a “sex addict.” I can understand why that would make any Christian feel uncomfortable – after all, shouldn’t a pastor be a spiritual leader in the church?  The trouble is, “I am a sex addict” has nothing to do with describing a current state of behavior, any more than someone saying, “Hi, I’m James and I’m an alcoholic” says anything about their current drinking habits. In fact, I have friends in AA, and even the guys who are 15 or 20 years sober still introduce themselves at meetings as “I’m an alcoholic.”  So this man saying, “Hi, I’m a sex addict” is more akin to saying “Hi, I am extremely tempted with lust, and it has been a problem in the past.”

If a pastor at an alcoholic convention said, “Hi, I’m James and I’m an alcoholic,” and you knew he had long-term sobriety, would that bother you? If so, why? I am increasingly convinced that a pastor who is willing to admit that he has a very real psychological dependency on something (sex, alcohol, etc) has a much better chance of actually having victory over lust in their lives than someone who denies that truth about themselves in order to be an example (Ted Haggard and a slew of others come to mind).

But back to the paragraphs you copied. I just want to address some of the statements, because with all due respect I think they are unfair.

“The need to gain control of certain behaviors, such as viewing pornography and masturbation, emerged as the main focus instead of eliminating lust dwelling in the heart.”   – this is not representative of SA, because sobriety is defined as “progressive victory over lust” on top of “no sex outside of marriage and no sex with self.” However I should point out that there are groups like SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) that allow members to define their own – I think those are serious problems. But many people figure out the problem and move to groups like SA.

I’d also point to your recent blog post, which lists these five ‘visions’ for overcoming lust:

1        Don’t confuse this vision with the false idea of seeking sinless perfection.  We will continue to sin.  In fact, the more we grow in godliness the more we are aware of weaknesses, deficiencies and sins.

2        Lust is not the same as having misdirected sexual desires and thoughts.  These will continue and are not sin.  The sin occurs when we harness such desires and thoughts to commit adultery in our hearts.

3        Allowing the sin of lust to become established within you is a serious, solvable problem.  Do not minimize it.  If you are overwhelmed by lust, you need to take immediate action.

4        This is a very practical and workable vision for every believer.  It is part and parcel of your life in Christ and the way you are expected to live when God dwells in you.

5        Don’t settle for a lesser vision—like quitting the use of porn.  Any vision that is merely directed at symptoms is unacceptable and falls short of what God intends for you.

All five points are standard understanding in Sexaholics Anonymous, thus, I’m not entirely sure what you are criticizing with twelve step recovery programs. They are based on the same vision, and they achieve it in almost exactly the same way. Then again, I don’t know what was said at this workshop you went to – there might have been some crazy people there.

Best,
Matthew

Jim   Vander Spek < > wrote   :          

Hi Matthew

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your thoughtful emails.  They are challenging my thinking.  In fact, the blog post I am writing for next week reflects your input.

I am deep into my tax season now, working way too many hours.  I will respond when my head is clearer.  However, keep writing.  Also, consider writing comments on my blog posts whenever it suits you.  You have much to offer that others need to hear.

May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way.”

In Him,

jvs

Jim Vander Spek <     > wrote:

Hi Matthew,

It has been a while since I have written to you.  I hope you are well.  Again, I appreciate your willingness to engage me on these issues.  You have given me a  new appreciation for SA

I am writing to address your second point, below.  Where I think we differ is on the question of whether sexaholism is a permanent condition.   I do not believe that it is permanent for a Christian who consistently recoils from lust and diligently follows God’s instructions for pure living.

You may be aware of the book by Struthers, Wired for Intimacy.  In the following blog post,  http://wiredforintimacy.blogspot.com/2010/01/late-night-on-kdka-message-of-hope.html#comment-form he writes, “When I see how the plasticity of the brain enables us to form new paths, new wiring, which can lead us to a mindset which looks away rather than leers, which celebrates rather than consumes I am filled with hope for those who are lost.”   I see that as supportive of my view and written by an expert in the neural pathways/pornography studies. I have not read his book yet but reviews seem to indicate that this is a point he emphasizes.

My experience supports this.  Having been a slave to lust (would this be what you call a sexaholic?) I find that my mind has been gradually renewed and does not respond to temptation as it once did.

Thoughts on this?

In Him,

Jvs

 

Matthew   wrote:                                                                           
to me

Hey Jim!

Thanks for writing over, I appreciate being a part of the conversation.

I still get the sense that we might be talking past each other a little bit on what it means to a sexaholic. I would agree on all counts that 1) we do not have to be a slave to lust, 2) we do not have to respond to temptation as we once did (we can heal).  It might help to clarify that SA is not a program of behavior modification, self-empowerment, or strategies. It is a program entirely reliant upon a change of heart to follow God’s will in all areas of life, because only when we give our will entirely to God are we able to let go of our fists which have clenched around lust.

Sexaholism is essentially having an allergy toward lust – in other words, when we take in lust, we want more of it, and we are powerless, on our own power, to stop. It is through total surrender to God’s will (for us to be righteousness) that we can stay sober minded and grow in righteousness over the years. It stands to reason then that the minute we trade in God’s will for our own, we become more vulnerable to lust. Thus SA doesn’t say that we are always at the mercy of an unbeatable foe, but that we can only stay righteous to the extent that we are trusting entirely in God for our salvation for lust.

That doesn’t sound so un-Christian, does it?

I’d even go a step further and say that any approach to lust that doesn’t address the underlying character defects that cause addiction to lust (or whatever you’d like to call it, propensity maybe) will ultimately only lead to behavior management. If we look at a propensity to lust as simply a problem with lust, we’ve missed the point entirely – we lust because we are trying to fill a need with something other than God. That need is a Connection with God, and that only happens if we surrender all of ourselves, not just lust, to God.

And perhaps that’s why I’d like to say that I don’t find that quote by Struthers to be particularly inspirational. I don’t want a path to righteousness based on a goal of “a mindset which looks away rather than leers.” Of course, every single day, I have to look away (especially in New York City). I did that just a few minutes ago when I was walking to work. But that doesn’t mean that the goal I’m working toward is just an ability to look away instead of lust. My goal is to view people as humans made in the image of God, because lust after all is just a distortion and objectification of people. So the point shouldn’t be to just “stop objectifying people,” because there is much more! Our goal should be to be so wholly united with God that we can be in the midst of a dark spiritual situation and look upon others as God does.
Perhaps this is where the story of the bishop preaching outside of a church and the prostitute takes some of its power. From The Lives of the Saints:

“The Patriarch of Antioch having assembled a council of bishops in that city, St. Nonnus, 1 one of the number, was commissioned to announce the word of God to the people. Accordingly he preached before the church of St. Julian martyr, in the presence of the other bishops. During the sermon, Pelagia passed that way richly adorned with jewels; and her beauty, heightened with all the elegance of dress, drew on her the attention of the whole assembly, except the bishops, who turned away their eyes from so scandalous an object; but Nonnus, looking earnestly at Pelagia, cries out in the middle of his discourse: “The Almighty in his infinite goodness will show mercy even to this woman, the work of his hands.” At these words, she stopped suddenly, and, joining the audience, was so touched with remorse for her criminal life, that she shed abundance of tears; and immediately after the sermon she addressed herself to Nonnus, imploring him to instruct her how to expiate her sins, and to prepare her for the grace of baptism.”

Here we see the greatest miracle of all, the seeing of another person as a person made by God. If we strive just to “look away” we miss the point, and ultimately end up treating other women simply as “people to look away from.” Again, this doesn’t mean I should go around staring at scantily clad women. But it does mean that in certain situations I should be prepared to look upon an immodest woman with God’s eyes – and that doesn’t happen with mere behavior modification.

Anyway, that’s my take on all of it. I still maintain that SA is a thoroughly Christian program, built solidly on the deepest and most fundamental truths of Christianity (even though it of course leaves room for others). Does that mean everyone should be in SA? Of course not – not everyone that struggles with lust is addicted (i.e. they can choose to stop). But we don’t prove God’s power by denying that lifelong addiction is real – we prove His power by observing that it is and then seeing Him miraculously care for the lives of those who entrust themselves to His protection.

Best,
Matthew

   Jim Vander Spek <     > wrote:
                
Hi Matthew

wow.  Well said.  I want to turn this into a blog post. i would need to shrink it to 500 works.  Maybe two blog post.  If you wan attribution, I would gladly give it.  I will also ask you to review this before posting.  Your reaction to this?

Matthew   wrote:

Jim,

Thanks for your feedback. Pelagia, btw, was later canonized as a saint of the Church.

A blog post or two sounds great. Use whatever you want. As far as attribution goes, just mention ‘a reader named Matthew.’

Looking forward to reading your posts.

Best,
Matthew