by Jonathan Dodson
In an article entitled “When the Problem is Sexual Sin,” John F. Bettler breaks down the problem of sexual sin into three areas:
1) Objects of Lust
2) Relationship Lusts
3) Life-meaning Lusts
Arranging these sins into a pyramid (Lust Objects at the top and Life-meaning lusts at the bottom), Bettler makes the point that removing the lust object only deals with the tip of the triangle. Of course, the tip needs to be dealt with. Temptations should be removed: software installed on the computer, codes on the T.V. and so on; however, this is simply remedial, not redemptive.
In order to move beyond accountability and into grace-based victory over sexual sin, our heart issues must be exposed—our relationship lusts revealed. Sexual sin is frequently the result of unmet or over-met relationship desires. Thus, we must ask ourselves, “What is it that we are looking for in our relationships?” Do we want intimacy or safety, affirmation or space? Honest answers in this area will reveal how lust functions as a misdirected relational desire. It will help us understand some of the deeper issues and deviant beliefs that guide us into sexual sin. Once we honestly answer these questions, we can turn to asking the ‘Life-meaning Lusts’ questions. Bettler defines ife-meaning questions as: “What do we believe we must have in order for life to work, to be successful?” This will bring our idolatrous desires out into the light. It will show us the false promises we are believing . . . like “God owes me a spouse” or “I don’t need anybody.”
After answering these questions honestly, we can move into accountability, assess our relationships, and take action in cultivating proper belief and delight in God’s true and faithful promises (in order to redirect our desires toward our spouses, safety for our families, and intimacy with God himself). This will require repentance and the power of the Gospel: a message of hope focused on the Person of Christ, who dies our death and lives our life, offering us true acceptance and joy. Here is an outline to summarize Bettler’s advice:
1. What are the objects of lust?
a. Question: Where, when, how are the patterns of temptation affecting you?
b. Action: Accountability is needed for this level (1 Tim 2:22).
2. What are your relationship desires? Closeness, distance, safety, risk, in need of affirmation or space?
a. Question: What do you desire most from your spouse, parent, and friend(s)?
b. Action: Assess relationships—excess or deficiency?
3. What are your life and heart desires?
a. Question: What do you really want/desire out of life or from God?
b. Action: Act to redirect ungodly desires in order to cultivate trust, hope, and faith in God (1 Tim 4:7). Discover how God in Christ rebukes misplaced desires and satisfies our true longings, demonstrating his infinite worth.
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Jonathan Dodson is pastor of Austin City Life. Jonathan has written articles for Boundless Webzine, Acts 29, and The Journal of Biblical Counseling. He also recently wrote the free e-book, Fight Clubs. Jonathan lives in Austin with his wife and two children.