Augustine and Sexual Sin

The classics have so much to teach us.  They are so labeled because they have transcended time as quality literature, and have intellectually and often spirtually shaped generations upon generations.  It is unfortunate that in our age of “novelolatry” (the worship of that which is new), such classics are set aside.  The Confessions of St. Augustine are the musings of a man who came to himself through a work of grace in his heart.  It is essentially Augustine’s spiritual autobiography.  While Augustine was a man who shaped the theology of the Church, he is also a man who struggled greatly with sexual sin.   Therefore, we can learn much from Augustine’s great mind, but also from his struggle as a man “in the clutches of sex.”   In this way, he still speaks to so many of us Christian men who strive to live sexually pure lives in a sex saturated culture.  From his writings we discover sexual sin and its life dominating nature, its power, and its deception.* 

Sexual Sin as Life Dominating:

For my will had been perverted and had manufactured lust; the more I gave in to lust, the more it developed in to a habit, and when I failed to check the habit it became a necessity.  These were all the links in the chain that had me enslaved (Confessions, Book 8, Chapter 5)

Sexual Sin and Its Power:

You had me under conviction so that I could give no reply except a lazy and drowsy, ‘Yes, Lord, yes, I’ll get to it right away, just don’t bother me for a little while.’  But ‘right away’ didn’t happen right away; and ‘a little while’ turned out to be a very long while.  In my inmost self I delighted  the law of God, but I perceived that there was in my bodily members a different law fighting against the law that my reason approved and making me a prisoner under the law that was in my members, the law of sin (Confessions, Book 8, Chapter 5).

Sexual Sin and Its Deception:

But as an adolescent I prayed a pitiful prayer for a clean life saying, ‘Give me chastity and give me control over myself, but not yet.’  I was afraid you might answer me too quickly and straighten me out before I wa ready; for what I really wanted was not to be cured but to be fulfilled” (Confessions, Book 8, Chapter 7).

Interestingly, Augustine established what is now known as the Augustinian order of monks.  He gave his life to study, poverty, and celibacy—a reminder that sexual addiction is not a permanent, unbreakable fetter!   We can find freedom by God’s grace in this area.  One of his best known phrases presents us with how to obtain what our inner man yearns for: rest.  Let us give heed to Augustine’s famous words,

You have thrilled us by causing us to delight in your praise.  You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you (Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1).

Finally, our prayer may also be Augustine’s when he prayed

And in this way also Thou commandest us continence. Give what Thou enjoinest, and enjoin what Thou wilt. Thou knowest on this matter the groans of my heart, and the floods of mine eyes (Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 38, cited from The Confessions of St. Augustine, translated by Edward B. Pusey).


Two recommended works on dealing Biblically with sexual sin are:

Joshua Harris, Not Even A Hint (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003).

Randy Alcorn, The Purity Principle (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003). 

*All citations are taken from The Confessions of St. Augustine in Modern English, edited and abridged by Sherwood E. Wirt (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) unless otherwise noted.


2 thoughts on “Augustine and Sexual Sin

  1. Hi, I would like to use the quote you have from Augustine under “Sexual Sin as Life Dominating” Do you have the page number? I am in the process of writing a thesis so need the correct information for a footnote.

  2. I believe the page numbers vary by edition. If you find a copy you own and search the book and chapter I noted, you’ll find the page in the appropriate edition. Plus, I’m at Caribou Coffee right now and do not have access to my copy. 🙂 Sorry about the late reply.

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