Counting the Cost of Sexual Immorality

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has joined a long line of leaders, both secular and Christian, who have committed adultery.

Someone suggested, in light of this, that I post about fleeing and resisting sexual temptation. First, consider this from God's Word:

Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:25-29).

Notice that both men and women are held accountable for adultery. It is never an excuse that someone tried to seduce you, but you should always be on your guard against seduction, including the media seduction that lures us toward impurity.

I vividly remember meeting with a man who had been a leader in a Christian organization until he committed immorality. I asked him, "What could have been done to prevent this?" He paused only for a moment, then said with haunting pain and precision, "If only I had really known, really thought through and weighed what it would cost me and my family and my Lord, I honestly believe I would never have done it."

About twenty-five years ago, while pastors at Good Shepherd Community Church, my friend Alan Hlavka and I both developed lists of all the specific consequences we could think of that would result from our immorality as pastors. The lists were devastating, and to us they spoke more powerfully than any sermon or article on the subject.

Periodically, especially when travelling or when in a time of temptation or weakness, we read through our list. In a personal and tangible way it brings home God's inviolate law of choice and consequence. It cuts through the fog of rationalization and fills our hearts with the healthy, motivating fear of God. We find that when we begin to think unclearly, reviewing this list yanks us back to the reality of the law of the harvest and the need both to fear God and the consequences of sin.

man walking aloneAn edited version of our combined lists follows. I've included the actual names of my wife and daughters to emphasize the personal nature of this exercise. Where it involves my own lists of specific people's names, I've simply stated "list names" so you can insert the appropriate ones in your own life.

Some of these consequences would be unique to me, just as some of yours would be unique to you. I recommend that you use this as the basis for your own list, then include those other consequences that would be uniquely yours. The idea, of course, is not to focus on sin, but on the consequences of sin, thereby encouraging us to refocus on the Lord and take steps of wisdom and purity that can keep us from falling.

(While God can forgive and bring beauty out of ashes, that's a message to those who have already sinned...not to those who are contemplating sin! On the "front side" of sin we must not give assurances of forgiveness and restoration. We must put the focus where Scripture does—on the love of God and the fear of God, both of which should act in concert to motivate us to holy obedience.)

Personalized List of Anticipated Consequences of Immorality

  • Grieving my Lord; displeasing the One whose opinion most matters.
  • Dragging into the mud Christ's sacred reputation.
  • Loss of reward and commendation from God.
  • Having to one day look Jesus in the face at the judgment seat and give an account of why I did it. Forcing God to discipline me in various ways.
  • Following in the footsteps of men I know of whose immorality forfeited their ministry and caused me to shudder. List of these names:
  • Suffering of innocent people around me who would get hit by my shrapnel (a la Achan).
  • Untold hurt to Nanci, my best friend and loyal wife.
  • Loss of Nanci's respect and trust.
  • Hurt to and loss of credibility with my beloved daughters, Karina and Angela. ("Why listen to a man who betrayed Mom and us?")
  • If my blindness should continue or my family be unable to forgive, I could lose my wife and my children forever.
  • Shame to my family. (The cruel comments of others who would invariably find out.)
  • Shame to my church family.
  • Shame and hurt to my fellow pastors and elders. List of names:
  • Shame and hurt to my friends, and especially those I've led to Christ and discipled. List of names:
  • Guilt awfully hard to shake—even though God would forgive me, would I forgive myself?
  • Plaguing memories and flashbacks that could taint future intimacy with my wife.
  • Disqualifying myself after having preached to others.
  • Surrender of the things I am called to and love to do—teach and preach and write and minister to others. Forfeiting forever certain opportunities to serve God. Years of training and experience in ministry wasted for a long period of time, maybe permanently.
  • Being haunted by my sin as I look in the eyes of others, and having it all dredged up again wherever I go and whatever I do.
  • Undermining the hard work and prayers of others by saying to our community "this is a hypocrite—who can take seriously anything he and his church have said and done?"
  • Laughter, rejoicing and blasphemous smugness by those who disrespect God and the church (2 Samuel 12:14).
  • Bringing great pleasure to Satan, the Enemy of God.
  • Heaping judgment and endless problems on the person I would have committed adultery with.
  • Possible diseases (pain, constant reminder to me and my wife, possible infection of Nanci, or in the case of AIDS, even causing her death, as well as mine.)
  • Possible pregnancy, with its personal and financial implications.
  • Loss of self-respect, discrediting my own name, and invoking shame and lifelong embarrassment upon myself.

I’m older now, turned 55 a few days ago. My daughters are grown, with children of their own. But the list of consequences of immorality is larger than ever. I have two sons-in-law and four grandsons. Many people have read my books, so the circle of people I would be letting down has grown. (For resources on this subject, see my book The Purity Principle, and my booklet Sexual Temptation: Establishing Guardrails and Winning the Battle.)

It would still break my heart to let down my Lord Jesus and my wonderful wife. That’s why I'm more careful than ever to avoid the little compromises and indulgences that could lead to moral disaster.

If we would rehearse in advance the ugly and overwhelming consequences of immorality, we would be far more prone to avoid it.

(Related to this subject, John Piper recently wrote an important article about television and movies that helps explain why so many Christians are more vulnerable to immorality than ever.)

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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