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Can Fathers in Sexual Sin Lead Their Children?

Last Updated: March 10, 2021

Luke Gilkerson
Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

This post has been updated as of September 2020.

King Solomon stands out as one of the premier sexual sinners of the Bible. He was richer than Warren Buffet, smarter than Albert Einstein, more spiritually influential than Billy Graham, and yet he had a harem bigger than Hugh Hefner’s.

Solomon’s women would be his downfall. As predicted, the more he multiplied his wives, the more his heart turned from God (Deuteronomy 17:17; 1 Kings 3:11). His taste for foreign women was insatiable. Worse yet, this was the legacy he left for his sons; his ruling sons also multiplied wives, and the lands they ruled fell even deeper into sin (1 Kings 12:28; 14:22; 2 Chronicles 11:21; 12:1,14).

What will be said of today’s generation of fathers, men whose digital harems are larger than anything Solomon experienced? How can a generation of dads entrenched in porn bring up their children well?

1. Allow your children to fuel your fight.

A father’s fight against pornography and lust is not just a fight for his own personal piety. He fights for the holiness of his children as well.

A father must keep the faces of his children in his mind’s eye as he fights against temptation. He must strive to be the kind of man he hope his son will become—not enslaved to his passions but using them to serve others. He must strive to look at women the way he wants his own daughter to be seen—not as an object to be used, but a person to be known and loved.

The psalmist reminds us that we worship a God of radical love and loyalty, a God whose kindness does not extend merely to those who fear Him, but also “to children’s children” (Psalm 103:17-18). To those who love Him and keep His commandments, He promises to show steadfast love “to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9; cf. 5:10).

To men surrounded by temptations, this provides an incentive to strive for obedience: God does not just bless a man for his faithfulness; He promises to bless that man’s family as well.

2. Be honest, but discerning, when sharing your sin.

All fathers should strive to be able to say to their children, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). But whether they can or not, a father must remember that there is only one person who is the standard for his children: Christ himself.

This frees a father to be honest with his children about his failures. Being transparent about sin—at age appropriate times—allows a man to model brokenness and repentance before his children. When fathers stop pretending they are “strong,” and instead demonstrate real sorrow over sin, this gives a child a vocabulary of repentance they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Related: Failure: The Making of a Mentor

Parents who talk to children about their sins should bear in mind, however, that the goals is not to have a child relive a parent’s sin—many details are better left unsaid. Instead, share the details that serve an instructive purpose, and always relish more in the grace of God than in the depths of sin.

3. Love their mother well.

Porn robs a man of his ability to be a truly devoted lover. If a father wants to step away from pornography in a way that will impact the next generation, he must also choose to love his wife well.

Porn trains men to believe that there are some kinds of women worthy to be lusted after and others are not. Some women are “porn-worthy” and some are not. A non-romantic marriage communicates the same thing to children. Surrounded by a world that screams that young is sexy, a world that rates women for the size, shape, and harmony of their body parts, children need to see a father who has eyes only for their mother.

Related: Straight Talk to Husbands Who Watch Porn

Fathers who steal kisses in the hallway, dance in the living room, leave love notes, buy flowers, and praise their wives at home send a message to their children. A man who pursues his wife shows his children what real beauty is (1 Peter 3:3-4; Proverbs 31:29-31).

4. Choose to be fathered yourself.

Finding freedom from habitual sins is often a long process. Many times we don’t know why we do the same destructive things over and over again. As the Proverbs say, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water”—often we cannot look deeply enough into the murky depths of our hearts to understand why we do what we do.

The proverb finishes with this promise: “but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). Many men are unable or unwilling to see in themselves the motives that drive their actions. These men need men of understanding—wise men to disciple them.

Perhaps this is why the whole book of Proverbs is penned as a father speaking to a son. The author knows the only way to avoid “the forbidden woman”—offline or online—is to have a spiritual father’s strong voice resounding in our ears. “My son, keep my words, and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:1-3).

Fathers entrenched in porn should find a spiritual leader who knows how to read the hearts of men, a man who can restore him in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).

Turning the Hearts of the Fathers

In my single days, I was heavily addicted to porn. I tried seemingly everything to stop: accountability groups, Bible memorization, long hours of prayer, reading every sexual addiction book I could get my hands on. Nothing would stick.

Then one day a man from my church asked to take me to breakfast. As I ate my Eggs Benedict, after some chit-chat, he looked at me intently and said, “Luke, I know you have a secret, something that’s gnawing at you, a problem that won’t go away. If you want, I’m willing to listen. What is it?” He had touched a nerve, and soon after I found myself trying to hold it together in the restaurant, confessing my porn struggles.

He invited me over to his home soon after and offered to pray for me. Skeptically, I said, “No offense. I’ve walked down a lot of isles of a lot of churches. I’ve asked for prayer about this more times than I can count. What’s going to make this any different?” I’ll never forget his reply to me:

I know you’ve had a lot of people pray for you about this issue, but the difference is: after I’m finished praying, I’m not going to leave you. I am going to stick by you and help you. I know you don’t even believe that freedom is possible, and that’s okay, because I’m going to believe it for you until you do.

And he lived up to that promise. We met often, and one by one, he dismantled my false beliefs and knocked down my pretenses. He saw past the porn and got to the heart of the matter, the motives, and the desires that were driving it all.

While the process of change was still a long road, that moment was the turning point for me. I would say it was a “monument” moment, but it was better than that. It was a new beginning, a new place to plant my feet. Like William Faulkner said, “A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ‘This is where I was when I moved again.’”

It is foretold that before the great and awesome Day of the Lord, in His mercy, God will send the prophet Elijah to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). God desires to unite fathers with their children so much He sends His fiercest, most uncompromising messengers to turn our hearts.

If you are entrenched in sexual sin, find a godly man to lead you. Find an older man in your church who dares to go head-to-head with the idols in your heart (1 Kings 18:20-40), a man who can laugh at the devil because he knows he is powerless (1 Kings 18:27), a man who believes in the healing power of prayer and confession (James 5:16-18). Learn from a man like this, so you can turn away from pornography and be able to lead the next generation in holiness.

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  • Comments on: Can Fathers in Sexual Sin Lead Their Children?
    1. Esther Bautista on

      That is an excellent article well said. Thank you for that comment on Solomon. Many pastors can’t explain the multiple wives thing. I always had a problem with it. It bothered me because God is consistent in His word. And I wouldn’t want to be one of those women! I am a one man women who wants a one woman man!

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Thanks, Esther. While polygamy wasn’t outright condemned in the Old Testament, there are some strong warnings against the multiplication of wives. Many examples of polygamy (Solomon being a prime example) are positioned in the Scriptures as warnings to those who seek our multiple wives. While I wouldn’t call polygamy a sin in the sense that it violates an express command of God, I would call it unwise. It is ironic that a man whose wisdom surpassed any of his contemporaries, a man who taught about the lure of sexual temptation, would be ensnared by so many women himself.

      • Matt on

        You have to remember that there are times, though FEW – but times nonetheless where God DID allow a man to have more then 1 wife. Moses and Abraham are two of these times. The BIG difference? God COMMANDED it whereas Solomon was NOT allowed/commanded.

        Another point: God commends not to kill, yet many times entire cities (Sodom, Gomorrah, Jerusalem) were destroyed. God would tell his prophet to leave the city and shortly thereafter it was destroyed.

        See the difference? He calls ALL the shots; not man.

        I’m not arguing, just pointing out a fact that I find interesting.

      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Yes, polygamy is tolerated in various times and places, and there are no direct commands in the Bible to avoid it (except possibly for elders and deacons in the New Testament). The Bible does seem to point to the idea that polygamy is unwise, and that theme can be seen in many Bible books.

    2. Scott St. Onge on

      Excellent message, Luke. I especially like your recollection of your “Eggs Benedict” turning point meeting. Ah, the power of one man stepping out to help!

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Thanks, Scott. It was a day to remember. Big moment for me.

    3. Trish on

      Thank you for this article, and for being so open and honest about your past struggles. My husband had a secret porn addiction for years, starting as a teenager, and it ended only when I actually discovered it in 2011, and everything was brought out into the open. He has been free of porn for over 2 years now and he is a far different man than who he was then. But it brought a lot of grief and pain to our marriage and our home. I have often worried about the effects this has had on our sons, particularly our oldest 2 who were old enough to understand what had happened. I pray that all of our boys will stay away from porn and sexual immorality and not fall into the vicious cycle of sin that ensnared my husband for so many years. I know there are people out there who view porn as ‘harmless’…but they are so very mislead and mistaken.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Hi Trish,

        I think the cycle can be broken, for sure. He can use his experiences as a great example of how God transforms hearts, teaching your children about the dangers of pornography. God is much, much bigger than your husband’s past.

    4. David Canfield on

      Thank you, Luke, for all the great articles that you’ve been sending my way. Your Covenant Eyes service is a key component of the mentoring program I’ve extablished at our church.

      Isn’t it ironic that the very man that exhorted his son to “be satisfied with the wife of his youth” (Prov. 5:18) would have multiplied wives so prolifically! Yet, one reason we know Scripture is true is that God never saw fit to whitewash the sins of its heroes, such as Abraham, Moses, David or Solomon.

      Although I agree that there is no explicit proscription against polygamy in Scripture, there are many passages that forbid it implicitly (e.g. Mt. 19:5, quoting Gen. 2:24 or, in a specific reference to kings, who would be in a position of power to acquire many wives, Deut. 17:17).

      In Christ,
      David

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        I love that Scripture doesn’t fudge the details on Solomon’s life (or anyone’s life, for that matter).

        You are correct about the polygamy thing. There is a paradigm in Scripture of one woman to one man (Adam and Eve being the first paradigm, Christ and the church being the ultimate paradigm). While God did not outright condemn polygamy (hence the prevalence of it among patriarchs, kinds, and judges), there is plenty in the Bible that deems it unwise. Polygamous marriages are legitimate marriages, however. By that I mean if I have multiple wives and am then converted to Christ, I am not called to kick all my wives (except the first one) to the curb. I’m to love and serve all of them as Christ loves the church: I have made a vow to all of them. But since the Bible deems polygamy unwise, it is right and good for the church to counsel against it and to position men who are “husband of one wife” as the primary leaders and examples of the flock.

    5. Regi M Jose on

      Encouraging, eye opening, hope-giving article. I have no doubt your testimony can encourage many! Keep up the good work brother! May God use you mightily to free many who fight with secret sins!

      Regi

      Reply
    6. Cody Glover on

      Great words Luke! I agree whole heartedly and allthough Im not a father or even husband yet, you have given me a pretty clear picture of the kind I want to be.
      God bless your work!

      In Christ,
      Cody

      Reply
    7. Jason George on

      Luke,

      May be your best blog yet. I so appreciate your honesty and transparency and commitment to the Word.

      J

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        How kind, Jason. Thanks for the encouragement.

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