“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.” ― Alexander Pope
According to the Houston-Chronicle, and the San Antonio Express-News, since 1998, about 380 Southern Baptist Church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. One of the many cases in the public record is that of Steven Livingston. In 2008, Steven Livingston, a church leader, became a convicted pedophile. Speaking in his own defense, Livingston said, “All I did was touch, and that was it. That is all I did.”
What makes the words of Livingston so chilling, and so appalling, is that he has yet to comprehend the depths of depravity of his heart, and the destructiveness to others of his actions. Scott Holden, Assistant District Attorney, Anderson County notes, “Childhood sex abuse is the absolute destruction of innocence.” Trust is also destroyed. “That’s the thing about sex offenders, they thrive on trust. It’s more common for these things to happen to someone close to home, family members, someone that you’re going to trust. They work their way into a position of trust so that they can take advantage.”
Across the centuries individuals continue to echo evil from the Garden of Eden for neither Eve, nor Adam acknowledged they had done wrong. Eve excused her behavior by saying that the fruit of the tree was pleasant to look at. Besides, the serpent beguiled her. She was a victim. Adam refused to honestly admit his transgression and shifted the blame to God who gave him the woman. He too was a victim. Livingston believes he is the victim of overzealous detectives and a judicial system that is unjust for “all that he did.”
Following the example of Adam and Eve, Steven Livingston and others echo the evil from the Garden of Eden. Trying to justify evil behavior is infuriating to listen to, and sad because individuals are left in state of personal corruption without hope of change.
If a person is to change, and be fundamentally and forever different, they must first admit their transgression with full mental comprehension of how vile and despicable their thoughts and actions are to a holy and righteous God. It is at this point that people draw back from the truth. They do not want to look fully into the dark abyss of their soul. People do not want to gaze on the self-destructive, and other destructive magnitude of their behavior. They want others to affirm them, love them, support them, forgive, and move on.
If God is gracious, He will remove the natural heart of stone individuals possess by nature. If God is merciful He will remove the seared conscience people acquire by repetitive sin, and give to His people a sensitive heart. A sensitive heart is a heart that will rejoice in the beauty of holiness, but be repulsed by the presence of sin in self. A God given heart of flesh will experience shame, guilt, and depression upon the discovery of sin. “I had rather pass through seven years of the most wearisome pain, and the most languishing sickness, than I would ever again pass through the terrible discovery of the evil of sin” (Autobiography 1:80).
The practical problem is that many religious people do not pass through the terrible discovery of the evil of sin, which is why there are false conversions, personal addictions, and shallow sanctification in Christendom. The emphasis of modern ministry is to quickly and repetitively tell people about the grace and mercy of God which is deeper than depravity. And that is true. Spurgeon believed, and we must believe it as well, that God is the God of new beginnings by way of the new birth. No sin is greater than God’s grace. No conscience is too stained that God cannot wash it whiter than snow. “Print every word of that in diamonds,” said Spurgeon when preaching on Jeremiah 31:34, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (MTP 57:362).
But first, God must bring His people through the dark night of the soul, with sorrow over sin based on a full comprehension of what they have done against Divine majesty, against themselves, and against others.
As long as there are echoes from the Garden of Eden, “all I did”, thereby minimizing a wrong deed, the sweetness of God’s grace and forgiveness will never be fully appreciated, and the sin cycles of lust, anger, jealousy, vindictiveness, pettiness, greed, and pride will continue.
For the Christian who wants to be free from addictive sin that bring sorrow, shame, anger, and depression, ask God for a heart of flesh. Then, consciously think through how each inappropriate thought and action is going to hurt self, and others, —even if done in secret—and God, whose presence cannot be hidden from. In this way, addictive behavior can be arrested and brought to the Cross where the blood of Jesus can cleanse from all sin. “If seven times a day we offend him and repent, does he forgive? Ay, that he does. This is to be unfeignedly believed, and I do believe it: I believe that, often as I transgress, God is more ready to forgive me than I am ready to offend, though, alas, I am all too ready to transgress. Hast thou right thoughts of God, dear hearer? If so, then thou knowest that he is a tender father, willing to wipe the tear of penitence away, and press his offending child to his bosom, and kiss him with the kisses of his forgiving love.” (“Increased Faith the Strength of Peace, Principles”; Sermon 1318, MTP 22:573).