At the time this post is written (February 2021), we are about two weeks post-release of the report on Ravi Zacharias’ sexual abuse. The revelation of new and heartbreaking information about what was going on in Ravi’s life has Christians reeling. I’ve personally talked with several people whose confidence has been seriously shaken. Ravi was a faith hero to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of believers, and to find out what he did has been devastating.
In my last post about Ravi, I talked about two opposite ends of a response spectrum. Both are misplaced and ought to be avoided. The first response said, “That could never be me.” The second said, “We’re all one step away from being him.” Twitter user @samueld_james wrote a series of succinct and powerful tweets about these responses, helping us understand “Statement 1 minimizes the heinousness of your sin. Statement 2 minimizes the heinousness of *his* sin.” The post I wrote encouraged us to avoid pride/arrogance, but also to avoid under-acknowledging the horrific impact of what Ravi did by suggesting a single slip could put any of us in his place.
Today I want to talk to a different group of people.
I want to talk with those for whom the news about Ravi has been a flint sparking new flames of shame and self-condemnation. To the enormous group of men and women whose sexual brokenness and sin have hurt themselves and others. To people who long to follow Christ and yet continue to struggle with unwanted sexual behavior. To people who read about Ravi and because you struggle sexually say, “I am just like him.” This post is for you. Here are a few things I want you to know.
1. You’re not the only one. (I’m just like you.)
I became a Christian at age 6. I grew up in a home and in a church where the Word of God was taught, and I memorized it. I went to a Christian high school, then got my ministry degree from a Bible college. I served in pastoral ministry for 15 years. And at the same time, from about the age of 11, I also struggled with hidden sexual sin & struggles that developed into an out-of-control addiction. For over 25 years I carried a secret that increasingly ate away at me, like David describes in Psalm 32:3. I know what it’s like to live with a secret that slowly suffocates. You’re not the only one.
I know what it’s like to try and reconcile my faith with my sexual brokenness. In my life it led to loud and unrelenting shame messages. “You’re a fake.” “You’re defective.” “You’re a pervert.” “You’re not really a Christian.”
I understand that these messages are probably shouting pretty loud in a lot of your ears right now. I also understand that they are not telling you the truth. Because the next thing I want you to know is…
2. Shame is a liar.
There’s a big difference between guilt and shame. One (guilt) is healthy and potentially very productive. The other (shame) is toxic and very destructive.
Guilt tells me when I’ve done something wrong. It’s the voice of truth and clarity, the distinction between right and wrong. Between living consistently or inconsistently with my identity as a child of God. Between experiencing my new and true nature (new, spiritual nature) or going back and acting like the person I’m not anymore (old, fleshly nature). Guilt is a wake-up call. It is an opportunity to stop running in the wrong direction and turn around. It’s an opportunity to move back toward the God who saved me and continually offers grace to forgive and heal me.
Shame is different. Shame tells me I’ve done wrong because I’m wrong. It’s the voice that tells me I’m not good enough, that I’m defective, and that I’m a disappointment to God and others. Shame tells me I’m unworthy of love. That I’m unworthy of compassion. That I’m unable to change and am doomed to keep failing over and over again, because failure is who I am. Shame is a call to give up and accept that my current state is as good as it gets.
But shame lies. There is not one person who has ever lived about whom those shame messages were true. No one is hopelessly defective. No one is unworthy of love. No one is beyond the possibility of change, hope, healing, or freedom. No matter who you are or where you stand in regard to a relationship with God, you have value. You have worth. You matter. And particularly for those who identify as Christ followers, there is a critical thing I want to invite you to understand and believe…
3. You are not what you do.
There is an enormous and important difference between behavior and identity. Shame tells us that our behavior is evidence of our identity. Shame says if we participate in sexual behavior that is a departure (another word would be perversion) from God’s design for sex, it must be because we are a pervert. And we agree with shame, because it makes a pretty good sounding argument.
But what I want you to understand, believer who struggles, is this: There is a difference between where you are and who you are. Thank you to John Lynch for his clarifying teaching on this point!
Where you are (behavior, current struggles) is troublesome, hurtful, unsustainable, and not representative of the identity of a believer in Christ. There’s a reason why you feel so terrible after you act out in sexually broken ways. There is a tension you feel, because you’re acting like the person you used to be (old nature) instead of the person you are (new nature).
Who you are (child of God, joint heir with Jesus) is set and unchangeable from the moment you first understood the gospel and believed. There’s a reason why you feel more peaceful when you behave in ways that are consistent with the Word of God and the fruit of the Spirit. There is integrity, a sense of all parts of you working together like they should.
You’re struggling because there is a gap between where you are and who you are. And that gap needs to be, and can be closed. You can’t keep on living with the gap…it will continue to decay and eat away at you. But I’m excited to share with you that you don’t have to stay where you are. The gap can be closed, because…
4. There is hope.
If you are in Christ, then you are included in the promised found in Titus 3:7, that tells us all who have been justified by God’s grace are heirs with the hope of eternal life. Christ followers are not doomed. In Romans 7 and 8, Paul tells us that although our struggle with sin continues, there is no possibility of condemnation for us because we are “in Christ Jesus.” My pastor Matt Mason reminded us (via a quote from John Bunyan in last Sunday’s sermon) that “It becomes thee, when you cannot perceive that God is within the reach of your arm, to believe that you are within the reach of his. For it is long and none knows how long.” Understanding that we have not gone too far for God to reach us can powerfully motivate us to pursue steps toward freedom we may not have thought possible before.
If you have not yet trusted in Christ, there is hope for you, too. The fact that you know your sexual struggles are hurtful, and that you want freedom from them, is extremely encouraging. You are someone who bears the image of almighty God, and who therefore is worthy of love. In fact, it was love that motivated Jesus Christ to come to earth and ultimately die on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin; then to rise from the dead, proving God’s power over sin and death. God’s offer for broken sinners is to come home to Him. To accept that there’s no way we can be good enough on our own. But that there is absolutely a way to be good enough when we identify with Christ. If you believe this, your identity will change. You’ll no longer be someone who is lost and hopeless, identified by your sin and struggles. You’ll now be a son or daughter of God, someone He sees as just as righteous as Jesus (because Jesus’ righteousness has been applied to you)! And now you’ll also be in a position to experience freedom that has eluded you up till now. To experience this moving forward, I want you to understand…
5. There is help.
Let me be clear. You need help. Even as you’re beginning to believe there could be hope for you, you’re never going to find that hope, or the freedom you’re looking for on your own. All of the things you’ve tried, like…
-Accountability (software, groups/partners)
-Trying to avoid tempting locations/situations
…don’t work to fix an addictive struggle, when you try to do them on your own, without anyone else knowing your struggle. And before you start to argue with me about the prayer thing, let me remind you that YES, God tells us that when we confess our sin to Him, He will forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1). But He also tells us that we are to confess our sins to one another (James 5). We were not meant to navigate this in isolation, although many wish they could.
If we are going to stop believing shame and its lies, we have to replace those messages with hope and truth. We get those messages when we open up to safe, trustworthy people who can help us carry our burdens with grace and acceptance. People who will do what the writer of Hebrews talked about in chapter 3, when he told believers to encourage one another daily, “so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”
But beyond the help we receive in the form of grace and acceptance, we also need help from people who really understand sexual struggles, particularly when we suspect our struggles to have become addictive. There’s more to recovery than the spiritual experience we have. That’s a huge part of it, but we also need to understand the impact your sexual brokenness has had on your brain and body. That requires connecting with counselors and support groups who know about sexual addiction and aren’t going to give oversimplified or spiritually shaming “solutions.”
There is help. And I want to offer it to you. If you want to pursue recovery from unwanted/addictive sexual struggles and don’t know where to start, reach out to Awaken. We can offer some first steps to help you know where and how to begin. We offer in-person and virtual resources, as well as the ability to help you find and connect to counselors/other resources in your area.
I said in the last post that I wish Ravi would have asked for help. If he would have, I believe he could have found freedom and forgiveness, even in the midst of the consequences for what he’d done. No matter what you’ve done or how scared you are to ask for help, I can promise you that if you don’t ask for help it will get worse, not better. And while no one can promise that there won’t be consequences for harmful sexual choices, you don’t have to walk through them alone. I hope you’ll be able to see that there are others like you who have felt the fear and shame you feel; that shame is a liar; that you are not what you do; that there really is hope things can change, and that if you’ll ask for it, there are people who can and want to help you.
As long as you’re breathing, it’s not too late to get help. All you have to do is ask.
Awaken is a Birmingham, AL based ministry walking with individuals, couples, and ministry leaders who have been impacted by sexual brokenness & addiction. Our goal is to help people experience hope, connection, and healing through the gospel and the recovery process. For info on how to join our meetings (in person or virtual), or on any of our other recovery resources, contact us by clicking HERE!