Have you ever been caught? Most of us have. Maybe you’ve been caught doing something you are ashamed of like looking at porn or masturbating—or sexual behaviors with even greater consequences like having an affair or an anonymous encounter. Getting caught in such activities brings serious consequences: a broken marriage, loss of a ministry position, or even arrest. Even our most “minor indiscretions” can damage relationships and cause an almost irreparable loss of trust.
For a long time, I thought exposure was the worst thing that could happen to me and that the key to avoiding consequences was to not get caught. This way of thinking drove me deeper into hiding and forced me to great lengths rationalizing behaviors and justifying deception. For example, I believed that since God “concealed matters” (see Proverbs 25:2), it was okay for me to do the same. In order to protect my wife, it might be His will for me to conceal the fact that I had been looking at porn. I would tell the truth–eventually. For now, what she didn’t know would not hurt her. I would wait until a better time, when she was stronger, when we didn’t have so much pressure in our lives. Then I would tell the truth. It was my own selfish, perverted form of “progressive revelation.” What a crock! In spite of my best efforts to conceal (actually deceive), the truth always came out. And our relationship always suffered, most of the time more over the dishonesty than the sexual activity.
A couple weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that my sobriety cannot be solid as long as it is based solely on consequences. In other words, if I only abstain from red-light behaviors because I’m afraid of getting caught and having to face the resulting emotional upheaval in our marriage, am I really staying sober? I asked myself, “If you knew there was absolutely no chance of getting caught, would you stay sober or would you act out?” To be honest, I knew that the answer would be that I would act out, no holds barred, on the most extreme fantasy. In essence, I had externalized my conscience. My wife (and the accountability partners actually reading my Covenant Eyes reports) were the keepers of my sobriety; they were my external conscience, like Jiminy Cricket was to Pinocchio. No, it didn’t work any better for me than it did for the little wooden boy. The siren song from Pleasure Island is just too strong.
I have to stay sober regardless of the consequences (or lack thereof) for acting out. I have to own my own conscience and realize that God is always there whether I am conscious of His presence or not. He not only sees my acting out, He knows my every lustful thought. My sobriety cannot be based solely on the possibility of getting caught. There are internal and spiritual consequences for my thoughts and behaviors even if no one but God ever knows what I have done.
I shared these observations with my wife and she found it encouraging that I was now attempting to base my sobriety on something other than her ability to catch me doing something I shouldn’t be doing. I think she was kind of relieved to not have to play the part of Jiminy Cricket any more. My conscience is back where it belongs—in my own head. In that place, it’s closer to where the lust happens and it’s not far from where the Holy Spirit convicts my heart. As I yield to God’s presence more and more, I find myself growing more sensitive to the internal consequences of lust and acting out. Like Pinocchio, honesty with myself (and within myself) allows me to feel like a true son of the Father who created me for His glory.