Lessons In Purity Training From A 4th Century Sex Addict – Part 2
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.
As I read, and re-read, Confessions, poring over my notes, a number of vivid principles emerged which helped me overcome my own struggles for purity. Here are a few more of these life-lessons.
Put Pleasure In Its Place
One of the hallmarks of the “last days” is that people will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4). How foolish, Augustine would argue.
First, because God is the creator of every pleasure we enjoy, so how dare we swap out pleasure for God in our lives?
This makes our craving for pleasure above God not only idolatrous, but worse yet, adulterous.
So the soul commits fornication when she turns away from you and tries to find outside you things which, unless she returns to you cannot be found in their true and pure state.
But our lust for pleasure is foolish for a second reason – because no pleasure can last.
This being the case, the only way a pleasure cannot be lost is to love it in God – by allowing it to pass through your hands, enjoying it in its time, then giving it back to God.
Wherever man’s soul turns, except toward you, it is fixed to sorrows, even if it fixes itself on things of beauty outside you and outside itself. These things of beauty would have no existence at all unless they were from you…Why then be perverse, my soul, and why follow your own flesh? Will you not rather turn and let your flesh follow you? If bodies please you, praise God for them and turn your love back from them to their Maker, lest you should displease him in being pleased by them…It is he whom we must love; he made all this and he is not far off.
These words of Augustine’s, when first I read them, slammed against my frozen heart like an ice barge, and it didn’t take long for cracks to appear. Sure, the pleasure of the sexual experience was among the most intensely satisfying of any pleasure. What of it? How foolish to make this the central core of one’s life, to the exclusion of friendship, love, conversation, and a thousand other life-enriching pursuits.
Know That If You Yield To Sexual Sin, Your Usefulness To God Will Be Limited
Stepping back from Confessions, there was a more sweeping observation to be made from Augustine’s life which was a powerful incentive for me to leave my sin behind.
Augustine would go on to write more than a hundred works in his career, ranging from classical sermons, to surgical attacks on various heresies, to magisterial theological treatises. The blessing this was to the church cannot be over-exaggerated.
But had his mind and heart never been cleansed of that fog of lust, it is doubtful that he ever would have made anywhere near such an impact on the wider Church. His sin would have dissipated his achievements and diminished his testimony, and we’d all be saying, “Augustine, who?”
Yet it’s not Augustine I’m thinking of right now. It’s you, my friend. It’s anyone who’s reading this, who finds themselves caught in any sort of sexual sin or struggle. It matters that this not have the last laugh over you.
We’re not saying that you’ll be the next Augustine. Or that sexual sin is standing between you and greatness. But it is standing between you and faithfulness. God will not judge you because you didn’t measure up to Augustine. He’ll judge you for not being you.
The Greatest Sin-Breaker Is A Heart Filled With The Love Of Christ
A few chapters after describing his conversion, Augustine offers this beautiful psalm of praise.
Late it was that I loved you, beauty so ancient and so new, late I have loved you! And look, you were within me and I was outside, and there I sought for you and in my ugliness I plunged into the beauties that you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. Those outer beauties kept me far from you, yet if they had not been in you, they would not have existed at all. You called, you cried out, you shattered my deafness. You flashed, you shone, you scattered my blindness.
As I read Augustine’s words back in the days I was lost in my sin, my first discovery was that I couldn’t even bring myself to honestly speak to God in the way he did. Oh, I could say the words, but they would ring flat. “Beauty so ancient and so new…bla, bla, bla.” Then it dawned on me. I had ‘lost my first love’ for Jesus (Rev.2:4).
It took reading Confessions to show me the true wound of my heart.
How though do you fix a love-deficit in your relationship with God? It wasn’t as if I could just flip a switch and love God more. Again, Augustine pointed out for me the path to walk.
Augustine would say, Reflect on the Gospel until your awe of God’s grace washes back in your heart .
But our Life came down to us and suffered our death and destroyed death by the abundance of his own life! And he thundered, calling us to return to him…Sons of men, how long will you be so slow and heavy of heart? Now that Life has come down to you, will you not raise yourselves up and live…burning with the fire of love?
An early reader of my 40-day devotional Train Yourself To Be Godly was impatient that I took an entire week to review the gospel story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. “Just get down to sharing purity principles!” he said.
But knowing the gospel – that Jesus lived to teach us how to live rightly, that he died to give us the power to live rightly, and that he rose to give us the reason to live rightly – is the greatest purity principle I can think of. “You were bought at a price, therefore honor God with your body,” Paul wrote (1 Cor.6:20). If that doesn’t move a person to pursue holiness, then nothing can. If that doesn’t fill a person’s heart with love for God, then nothing will.
Perhaps as you’re reading this right now, your heart is thumping wildly in your chest. Those tossing emotions and restless thoughts are God’s way of calling you home. Of calling you back to yourself. Of calling you back to life, by filling you with a new and holy love for the one who died for you.
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”.