Lessons In Purity Training From A 4th Century Sex Addict – Part 1
Maybe one of the greatest purity manuals ever written was a classic from the 4th-century called Confessions, written by the one we know today as St. Augustine. He wrote the book less as a biography and more as a psalm of praise to God for delivering him from his life of sin. And one of the dark behaviors that haunted him before his conversion was a compulsion for sex.
He lived with a woman for nearly a decade in his twenties, and though they had a son together, he would not marry her. As Jesus drew ever nearer to capturing his heart, he knew that the Lord was asking him to lay down his lust for sex. The way he describes his captivity to these urges resonated with me as I battled my own demons.
From his conversion forwards, Augustine’s life completely changed. So much so that this former sex addict (as we might call him today) was able to embrace complete celibacy. The prodigious output of his life as a pastor, writer and theologian poured out from this transformation.
So what was it in the end that won the day for Augustine? It was the question burning inside of me. Why could he let go of his sexual lust and I – a professed Christian – couldn’t?
As I read, and re-read, Confessions, poring over my notes, and mulling over what I had underlined, a number of vivid principles emerged which became like buoys in storm-tossed waters to guide me safely into harbor. This week we’ll walk with Augustine as he offers us his insights into purity training.
Purity Training Must Begin In The Home
Augustine begins Confessions by reflecting on his childhood and bitterly laments the lack of moral guidance he received, both at school and at home.
During a break from his studies, Augustine is with his pagan father at the baths, who observes that his son is ‘growing toward manhood’. But rather than take his son underwing to prepare him for sexual adulthood, he merely boasted to his wife that grandchildren would soon be on the way.
His Christian mother Monica did slightly better. She pulled her son aside and warned him “not to commit fornication and especially not to commit adultery with another man’s wife”, fearing more for her son’s safety than his purity.
But Augustine, looking back as a 45-year-old bishop, wishes his parents had given him far more guidance during this time. His mother’s counsel was good, but insufficient.
How I wish that there had been someone at that time to put a measure on my disorder and to turn to good use the fleeting beauties of these new temptations and to put limits to their delights.
One of my hopes as a pastor and writer is to encourage the launching of “holy conversations” between husbands and wives, parents and children, and church leaders and parishioners about God’s good and holy gift of sex. The more talking, the better. Leave it to the professionals, or trust your school’s curriculum, or let your child ‘just figure it out’ is madness. Augustine would know.
I slipped from you and went astray, my God, in my youth, wandering too far from my upholder and my stay, and I became to myself a wasteland.
Surround Yourself With Good Friends
One thing that stands out in Confessions is that Augustine is always in the presence of friends. Though he enjoyed growing fame as a rhetorician, it was more than his soaring personality or popularity that drew others to him. Augustine had the intuition that he needed friends.
When the death of his closest friend sends him sinking into depression, it is other friends who lift him up. When he struggles to emerge from the fog of a cult group which he joined for several years, it is a friend who helps give him doctrinal clarity. When he cannot see how to break his addiction to sex, he seeks counsel from a wise and older believer. Naturally, on the day of his break-through and conversion, he is with friends.
If in your own struggle for purity you are convinced that you can do this on your own, just you and Jesus, you could not be more mistaken. Jesus loves you too much to allow you to do life solo, apart from community. He intentionally mediates his presence and power to us through others. “When two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them,” Jesus said (Matthew 18:20).
If Augustine had no qualms about this, neither should you. Your freedom is waiting in the presence of godly friends.
Ask Prayer Warriors To Intercede For You
Augustine describes his mother Monica as a woman of constant prayer and piety. She tried to enlist the help of a local pastor to go to Augustine and show him his need for Christ. But the pastor replied that her son was too full of himself, ‘not yet fit to be taught’. “Let him alone and keep praying,” the pastor counseled her.
Monica left Augustine alone, but not the bishop, whom she continued to pester, begging and weeping for him to reconsider. Exasperated, the bishop finally showed her the door once and for all, but added, “As you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish.”
In time, Monica would be venerated by the Catholic church for the example she set of a praying, faithful mother. (Here’s a fun-fact: Santa Monica is named after her).
In Augustine’s eyes, his mother was one of God’s mightiest tools in bringing him to faith, without whose intercession and intervention he would have been lost. If you have warriors of faith within your family or church, Augustine would encourage you to be open with them about your struggles, however painful or embarrassing it might seem.
Or if you have a family member or friend whom you know is struggling in this area, then follow Monica’s example, and you be the one to intercede for them regularly, and ask God to give you opportunities to minister to them.
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. In addition to this website, his blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”.