The Man of God and Sexual Sin
by John David Hicks
“Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4).
I had known Mark (not his real name) as a pastor for several years and was totally unaware that he was hooked on pornography, until a few weeks ago when the superintendent took his credentials because of adultery. How could Mark, a godly pastor, fall morally? It happened to King David, and it can happen to you! The Word of God gives us the remedy. For the cure, three questions must be answered:
1. Why is sex so strong a temptation?
2. What are the consequences of this sin?
3. How can you have a pure heart before God?
The Intensity of the Temptation
One of my favorite Bible characters is David, the shepherd boy who killed a lion and a bear when they threatened his flock. The singer who wrote so many beautiful psalms. The youth who wasn’t afraid of Goliath because he knew God was with him. The man, full of faith, who passionately sought God, and God said of him, “He is a man after My own heart.” A king chosen and called by God. And yet he committed adultery and then murder to cover up his sin. Why did he respond to his sex glands rather than to reason?
Unfortunately, as we all know, David was not the last man of God to succumb to this temptation. In our culture, the media bombard us with sexual messages and innuendoes. It’s difficult to find a TV drama without explicit scenes that depict an adulterous relationship. And in the commercials, sex sells. Much of contemporary music comes directly from the gutter. But the biggest problem for many is the Internet. According to the most recent research, 60 percent of all men who are online are involved with pornography.
Pornographic sites abound. Sometimes you happen upon them when you are innocently “surfing.” The tempting thing about it is that it happens in your own home—no one else need ever know what you’re doing. If you have access to the Internet, you probably have already been tempted; maybe you already have a secret life of lust. To lust over seductive images on a computer screen will lead to spiritual disaster.
Let’s take a closer look at David’s story in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 to learn some insights. The episode occurred when David was idle. His army was away fighting the enemy, but he stayed behind in Jerusalem. He had time on his hands. He should have been at war, leading his men in battle. Instead, he was walking on his roof. “The idle mind is the playground of the devil,” said Martin Luther.
From the roof, David saw a woman bathing. He was taken completely off guard. Bathsheba was beautiful and, at first, he told himself, he was just admiring her beauty. But the longer he looked, the more his sexual desire was aroused. He was blinded to the seriousness of “just looking.” Sexual sin begins in our thoughts. The longer the thoughts are harbored, the stronger the temptation becomes.
But who was this woman? David sent for some answers. “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Both men are listed among the 30 great warriors of David. Bathsheba was also the granddaughter of Ahithophel, one of David’s counselors. Later, Ahithophel gets his revenge. David could not have picked a worse person to flirt with than this woman.
The time to choose against sexual sin is the moment the passions arise. When you entertain lust, it’s hard to reject your passion. David’s lust started with just a look from the top of his palace, but the next step was predictable. He invited Bathsheba to his palace with a casual remark, to get better acquainted with the neighbors or to understand the problems of wives whose husbands were at war.
The mind ruled by lust has an endless ability for rationalization: I just enjoy being with her. How can my pleasure be wrong? God wants me to be happy, doesn’t He? Then Satan adds, “Go ahead and look. Nobody will know. It won’t hurt anybody.”
Lust excludes God from our thinking, and soon we pay no attention to God’s watchful eye and ignore Scripture. Because our actions are not seen, we think we can get away with it. Nothing is secret before God. “For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly” (Proverbs 5:21-23).
Then David “took herand he lay with her.” We don’t know the extent of Bathsheba’s cooperation, but passion ruled David’s heart and had to be satisfied regardless of the consequences. He thought no one would ever know; it would be their little secret.
But things didn’t go quite as David had planned. Soon Bathsheba sent him a message that she was pregnant. Her husband had been away—he was obviously not the father of the child. The punishment for adultery was stoning, and Bathsheba was not all that thrilled about ending up at the bottom of a rock pile.
What David thought he did in secret, God announced everywhere. To this day, everyone knows about David’s sin. Even if our actions are a secret and unknown to others, we can’t escape the judgment of God and the consequences of sin.
But wait—David has an idea. He ordered her husband home from the battle, ostensibly to get a report. He told Uriah to go home, enjoy the evening with his wife. But he refused to go. The next evening, David got him drunk, but he still stayed at the palace. At this point, David gave orders to General Joab to have Uriah killed in battle, leaving the way free for the king to take Bathsheba as his wife.
David thought that was the end of the problem. Of course it wasn’t. In our cover-up we are often more concerned with what people know than with what God knows. In the first place, more people knew what had happened than David realized. Nathan the prophet told David that his sin had given the enemies of the Lord cause to blaspheme. Secondly, of course, God knew what David had done. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
Several innocent men are killed along with Uriah. David didn’t dream he would end up being a multiple murderer. He did what most monarchs who have absolute power would do. If they wanted a woman, they took her, and if anyone got in the way, they killed him. This was the right of kings. But David was different. David was God’s king, chosen because he was a “man after God’s own heart.”
How could this have happened? Why would a good, godly man become a murderer? The sex drive is so intense that it can cut across all lines of reasoning. This passion will make a man cheat, steal, or kill, or make him throw away all his wealth, his talent, his family, and his future for a moment of pleasure. Arousing your passions can be like throwing a match into a can of gasoline.
Sexual sin promises satisfaction, but it can’t deliver. Instead lust leaves you with an unsatisfied, intense, unbridled sexual desire for more. Paul describes it “the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Ephesians 2:3). Where the heart is “darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:18-19).
The Scripture says a look can turn into lust and lust can turn into uncontrolled passion for more. When lust takes control, reality is lost and God is forgotten. When lust rules, passions blind resolve. The consequences of sin and the awareness of God disappear. With lust in charge, the craving desire cannot be denied. Enslavement and bondage follow. We choose the very thing that will condemn us and cause us grief, guilt, and sin.
We were created with the natural desire for intimacy. But Lust is a selfish desire to use someone for your pleasure and ends. It twists the desire for intimacy into believing that sexuality and fantasy will satisfy. It also warps our belief in God’s goodness and His ability to satisfy our needs. This is why your sex life is tied to your sanctification. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). It is your intimacy of holiness in your relationship with God and others that causes you to avoid sexual immorality.
Sex always has spiritual overtones. It is more than a physical act. Love is personal intimacy, focused on the person, not on itself. Lust is impersonal coldness, focused on its selfish desire. The joy of love is in giving and serving. Lust wants to take and use. When the relationship goes, love goes.
In spite of the power of your passions, God holds you fully responsible for your actions. God confronted David’s sin by sending Nathan the prophet with a parable. He told David the story of the poor shepherd who owned only one little lamb and the rich man who came and took it away. In anger David said, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over.” The king is strict about upholding the law when he thinks it doesn’t apply to him.
The Consequences of This Sin
David didn’t think of the consequences of his actions, but God did. We want to hide our sin, while God is trying to expose it so we will deal with it. God always deals with the reality of the situation, not with what we wish it would be. To his eternal credit, David also learned to look at the reality of the situation, and the beautiful psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, was the result.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (verses 2, 3, 10).
But even after David’s repentance, there were lasting consequences for his household (2 Samuel 12:11). God can forgive sin, but He does not remove the consequences of the sin. The results and the scars remain. In David’s case, the consequences were severe. There is some indication, however, that if David had not repented, God would have taken his life.
The consequences of sin are downhill: David’s reign never regained its former splendor. He thought he would get away with his sin and nobody would know. All because of lust. “God cannot be mocked!” Discipline for sexual sin may come in the form of: broken relationships; disease; a ruined reputation; persistent guilt and shame; an unwanted pregnancy. David brought shame and disgrace to himself, his family, his kingdom, and God.
The law required a fourfold retribution. David would be God’s example to the nation and to you! First, “The sword shall never depart from your house.” David will not die, but his four sons, the heirs to his throne, were all slain by the sword. Second, his whole household would be rotten to the core, full of rebellion. It affected the way he made decisions and disciplined his children. Third, his wives would be violated (by his own son Absalom) before his eyes and the nation. Fourth, the child that was born to Bathsheba as a result of David’s sin would die.
Paul warns us against deceiving ourselves, thinking that God will wink at our sin, or that we can find some loophole in God’s Word. There are three laws of sowing and reaping: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).
Rule 1: You reap what you sow. Sin always reproduces sin, more of the same, as well as new sins. The works of the flesh come in clusters and spawn disobedience. God often disciplines us by giving us more of what we want, which ultimately leads to slavery to our desires. A sure sign of repentance is when we are afraid to fall back into our old sins, lest God judge us with even greater slavery. David’s immoral life (having seven wives) led to greater immorality. What began with adultery ended with murder.
Rule 2: You reap in a different season. “Because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 LB). God is willing to wait for the wild oats to ripen before judgment. Yet, for some, God will wait until eternity before His full judgment falls. God’s patience is not an indication that the sinner is getting away with his wrong.
Rule 3: You reap more than you sow. David said to Nathan that the man who stole the sheep should pay fourfold. David paid even more dearly for his sin. Sin’s influence and its consequences are unpredictable. When you say, “If I had only known,” what you’re actually saying is, “If I had only believed God.” Every deliberate sin is a choice against the guidance and goodness of God. If you say, “I’ve learned to live with my guilt,” you’re actually saying, “I have learned to live in defiance of God.”
Having a Pure Heart Before God
When I entered basic training many years ago at Fort Ord, California, Chaplain Kenner, a Nazarene chaplain, addressed our army battalion of a thousand men on the subject of purity. He closed his message with the story of how hunters catch the ermine. The pelts of the ermine are used as the neck pieces for the most expensive fur coats. The furs are also part of the insignia of royal robes and important judicial officials around the world.
To catch an ermine, hunters take advantage of its basic nature. The ermine would rather die than to get its coat dirty. So hunters will find their den in a hollow log or under some tree roots and smear filth and garbage around the den. When the hounds chase the ermine to its den, the ermine will not go through the filth to the safety of its den. It would rather face the dogs and die than to soil itself.
Chaplain Kenner asked us soldiers to make that same commitment to purity. Avoid pornography, compromising situations, unacceptable closeness, and all situations that would soil your life.
David’s prayer for forgiveness in Psalm 51 gives us the steps to freedom:
1. CONFESSION GOES WITH REPENTANCE (verses 1-4). Be honest about your sexuality. Face the truth about the addiction to lust. If David sinned, so can you! Don’t deny, rationalize, or minimize your sin. This will only protect and perpetuate it. The more the demon of lust is fed, the stronger it becomes. With David’s lust came the ambition to cover up. A lying spirit travels with lust. But the man who will admit his situation and take responsibility for it will find God’s strength. Don’t make excuses and blame others.
David acknowledged his sins as transgressions. They were willful. He confessed that he was wrong and God was right for the purpose that God might be “justified when you speak, and blameless when you judge.” True repentance says, “You are right and I am wrong. Whatever You choose to do, You are right, God. You are just.” False repentance justifies me and I rationalize. When I justify myself, I am not asking God to forgive my sin; I am asking Him to excuse it. Nowhere in Scripture does God excuse sin. He only forgives confessed sin. Confess means “to say along with,” to agree with God that you did it.
The basic problem of sin is that you can’t forget it. You can still have remorse, guilt, and shame even with repentance. Guilt is not a feeling to unlearn, but is a God-given response to moral failure. God’s remedy is forgiveness through Christ’s atonement. “Have mercy on me, O God.” David here reminds himself of the compassionate attributes of God or he might not have come for pardon and cleansing. Why can’t you forget the sin? Because of shame. But when God cleanses you, He gives you the power to forgive yourself. You are cleansed and accepted.
Your part is to take immediate action and stop feeding your addiction: Destroy all pornographic materials. Avoid any source of temptation. Sever any relationships that encourage the addiction. Find a trusted counselor or friend to whom you can become accountable. James 5:16 tells us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Hold each other accountable. This can only be addressed in a loving Christian community. This is serious business and must be dealt with before your life is in ruins. Sensuality is a big barrier to a godly life. It robs you of your purity and holiness. It dismisses the Word of God as irrelevant and grieves the Holy Spirit. That’s why you must be honest and face it.
2. ACCEPT GOD’S DISCIPLINE (verse 6). Be mindful. “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” The battle is won or lost in your mind. Jesus said that “out of your heart” your conduct comes. You need the power of God to retrain your mind to think rightly. “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:6-7). As you see sin from God’s viewpoint, you will see that God is trying to protect you from what will destroy you.
“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1). Job’s covenant forbids a second look. You are not to play with temptation or willfully walk into the zone of temptation. Don’t give in to exploring for sexually explicit material. Run from it, like Joseph. He honored the word of the Lord when he said, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). He escaped with a pure heart, and God honored him.
Remember the “three second rule” to resist temptation the moment it comes up. You have three seconds to run from it to victory, or to entertain it and be defeated. To entertain temptation even for only a few moments weakens your resistance. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). David fell because he kept looking.
A sure way to tell whether a person is fully repentant is his attitude toward discipline. We don’t like our sin exposed, but if it is, we must accept it without complaint. Note the difference between David and Saul when they repented. Saul said, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people” (1 Samuel 15:30). In David’s repentance, there was no struggle to maintain his reputation or even his position as king.
A repentant man submits his reputation to God and trusts Him to do “whatever is best in His sight.” In the Old Testament, adultery and murder were sins for which there was no sacrifice. Both were punished by stoning. You cannot make restitution for these sins. David could weep forever, but Bathsheba’s purity would never be restored nor would Uriah be brought back to life. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). You must give the pain, hurts, shame, and restitution to God. Only God can heal the memories.
Jesus warned His disciples, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Mark 14:38). Develop a purity plan. Examine your sleep, eating, work, and entertainment habits to see if you are out of control (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Corinthians 9:27). Self-control affects every area of your life and helps you to resist temptation.
If you try to live a holy life in private, you will find that it cannot be done. You can’t have victory on your own. As members of the body of Christ, we are dependent on one another. When you are regularly held accountable for your moral life and asked hard questions, you grow in God’s grace. When a person who has walked with God for some time is still struggling, it’s usually because he is not accountable to a small group of fellow believers. These areas of failure could be overcome when we help one another and keep one another true to God. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. As you submit to an accountability small group, God will supply the help and give you the encouragement you need. Will you support your brothers and sisters that are struggling with purity? Will you become accountable yourself?
3. ACCEPT GOD’S CLEANSING AS WELL AS FORGIVENESS (verses 7-9). Be cleansed. It’s possible to be forgiven, yet feel polluted. “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (verse 2). Satan desires to make you feel foul, dirty, and beyond hope. He attacks your character, promoting self-hate. David needed forgiveness and cleansing. Forgiveness has to do with our legal standing in the sight of God. God forgives and pardons our sin through the cross, where Christ took our sin and punishment. Cleansing is what God does inside us, purifying our hearts, minds, and consciences by faith as we trust Him to do what He said He would do (1 John 1:9).
As a teenager, when I would sin, I would repent and ask God for forgiveness. Then I would make myself feel miserable for a day or so. Not until then would I accept God’s forgiveness. God forgave me right away, but feeling I did not deserve it, I made myself miserable until I felt I could accept it. If we say that God can forgive us but we can’t forgive ourselves, that is devilish pride. We are requiring more than God and have made ourselves judges with a right to withhold forgiveness.
“Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba” (2 Samuel 12:24). The loss of the child had broken David. It also brought love into his life for Bathsheba, a commitment to her. And she gave birth to another son, Solomon, “peaceful.” God said to give him a second name, Jedidiah, “beloved of Jehovah.” That is how thoroughly the Lord cleansed David from sin and chose to forget his sin. David didn’t have to be ashamed to come into God’s presence.
The issue is closed as far as God is concerned, but the consequences go on. The sins of the fathers were reaped on the children to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). The tragedy was what happened to Solomon. He followed in his father’s footsteps as king. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. “Peaceful” Solomon, the man who was “beloved of Jehovah,” died a tyrant and away from God.
The seeds were sown in Solomon by his father David, “a man after God’s own heart.” David was totally forgiven, cleansed, and restored. But the wild oats he had sown were going to produce wild oats. When you sow to the flesh, you will reap corruption. But if you sow to the Spirit, honoring God’s Word, you will reap the fruit of the Spirit and life everlasting. It was true of David 3,000 years ago, and it is true of us today.
4. ACCEPT GOD’S STANDARD (verse 12). “Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Be obedient. Obey the Holy Spirit. As an old man, David posed the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119:9). His conclusion: “By living according to your word.” Then he prayed, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Psalm 119:37). You will never be serious about parting with sexual sin until you know how much it grieves God. Nathan asked David, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord?” David probably didn’t think of it that way, but God did. God’s Word is not something you can take or leave; you are accountable.
In Deuteronomy 17, God warned kings about taking many wives. But David didn’t consult the Lord about his seven wives. Polygamy was a common practice in the ancient world, but not with God. Because everybody is doing it, it’s easy to pick up the values of the world. This made David an easy prey to lust. There are acceptable indulgences that give place to temptation and sin. Indiscriminate TV watching and vulgar entertainment give place to the devil.
Some Christians think they would be more victorious in their struggles if God would only give them the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s as if God is withholding Himself and His power until someday they are “spiritual” enough to receive it. Jesus says that is exactly backwards. God is more willing to give you the Holy Spirit and power than you are to receive it (Luke 11:13). God knows that you need the Holy Spirit now to war successfully against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
But how is the Holy Spirit’s power released? By obedient faith in God’s Word. God said He would give you the Holy Spirit and power, now trust Him and obey. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).
“A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (verse 17). David offered himself. “I have nothing to offer You except exactly what You want. You don’t want the blood of goats and sacrifices. You want me. So I give myself to You.” And David understood that God would accept that sacrifice.
Purity is not our trying to measure up to God’s standard or doing things rightly, but God’s presence in us. The secret, Paul says, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Jesus is “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Oswald Chambers said “blessed are the pure in heart” literally means “blessed are the God in heart”—in whom the nature of God is. Unless God can give us His nature and character, God’s call to holiness mocks and teases us. The purity God demands is impossible unless God purges our hearts from within.
Purity starts with a commitment to purity—that you will not be contaminated by the pollution of lust. You will not go near it, touch it, or look at it. The cleansing does not come from a man’s striving to be holy, but from God’s nature manifesting His likeness. He leads and provides the power, and you follow. This disciplined effort is God and you working together. Paul directs us to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). That requires regular obedience. There is a big difference between “training” yourself to live a godly life and “trying.” Sexual purity is more than just gritting your teeth and resolving to do better next time. Having “standards and convictions” will “training” you to be obedient and godly.
Be honest—face your sexual temptations. Be mindful of your thoughts and places you go. Be cleansed of your impurity. Be obedient to the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. The root cause of sexual sin is despising the word of the Lord. It’s easy to blame the world for the erotic desires that influence and corrupt us. But, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Prayer: Lord, You have said in Your Word that You have forgiven me, You love me, You delight in me, and You long for intimacy. Like David, I desire to be a man after Your own heart. I do not want to despise Your Word. Take my sex life and help me to “Watch and pray that I may not enter into temptation.” I desire to obey You. Strengthen me with Yourself to know You and experience You daily. I desire to be filled and satisfied with You, Lord. I trust Your faithfulness and Your love to keep me pure day by day. Amen.