Sexual Sin: My Story
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J. Garrett KellJ. Garrett Kell (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. He previously served as pastor of evangelism at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas; as pastor at Graham Bible Church in Graham, Texas; and on staff at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He and his wife, Carrie, have five children.
Author and pastor Garrett Kell knows well the crushing weight of sexual sin. His story crosses abject hopelessness and suffocating guilt, leading him to freedom at last.
Sexual Sin: My Story
Shelby: Today’s conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive, but important, subjects that might not be good for younger ears. So please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast. Now let’s jump into it.
Garrett: There’s no perfect people in this room; and that’s the kind of people that Jesus comes after. He didn’t come for the people that have it all together, but people who need him. And whether that’s because we’re the ones hiding sin, or we’re the ones who have been hurt by sin, everybody needs His grace. I’m just trusting that people, who are listening today, that everybody is going to become aware of the fact that Jesus can help them, no matter where they are—whether they’re the ones hiding sin or they’re the ones that have been sinned against—that Jesus is their help and hope.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So I would say hiding a secret in marriage or even in your life is probably the biggest agony that we carry.
Ann: Are you confessing something right now?!
Dave: Well, I don’t have a secret; but you know that I carried a secret in our marriage for quite a while.
Ann: Yes; interesting you say that, too, because—
Dave: You didn’t know I was going to go there; did you?
Ann: [Laughter] No; I had no idea, like, “Wait; are we confessing something?”
Dave: “Here we go!”—boom!
Ann: But I knew something was going on when you were holding onto that secret. I kept pressing into you, like, “What’s going on? Like I can tell something’s wrong.”
Dave: And I hated that you knew, because I had this struggle with pornography that I was carrying all by myself and you could feel it. You could feel it in our home.
Ann: Yes; I tell that we weren’t one—we were separate in some way—and I couldn’t figure out why.
Dave: And one of the best days of my life was the day I told you the struggle.
Ann: Oh! It was the worst day of mine.
Ann: I feel bad that I didn’t respond well; but I didn’t, at that time, because I was so shocked.
Dave: And we know is many men, and women, struggle with this struggle as well as others; but it’s a secret and nobody knows. Today, we’re going to talk about it.
Ann: I would go as far as saying it’s an epidemic in the church that we keep hiding.
Dave: Yes; we’ve got Garrett Kell with us today—a pastor who has also written about this—but also had a struggle with it. Garrett, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Garrett: It’s good to be here with both of you and everybody who’s listening.
Dave: I mean, you’re sitting over there smiling; what is the smile?
Garrett: Oh, I’ve loved hanging out with y’all. I love that there’s no perfect people in this room, and that’s the kind of people that Jesus comes after. He didn’t come for the people that have it all together but people who need Him. And whether that’s because we’re the ones hiding sin, or we’re the ones who’ve been hurt by sin, everybody needs His grace. I’m just trusting that people, who are listening today, that everybody is going to become aware of the fact that Jesus can help them no matter where they are—whether they are the ones that are hiding sin or they’re the ones who’ve been sinned against—that Jesus is their help and hope.
Dave: Yes; obviously, we’re going to talk about your book, Pure in Heart: Sexual Sin and the Promises of God. I want to get there, but your journey to Christ is an epic story; I thought, “Why not start there?”
Ann: Yes; there’s something about stories and hearing how Jesus woos us and wins us—it’s inspiring—I think our listeners will be inspired by this as well.
Dave: I don’t where you want to start, but go back to your college days and walk us into your story.
Garrett: Well, I mean, I grew up in a loving home. We went to church. It was kind of a moderate church, where God was kind of a safe conversation. My life is about sports and sinning and all the ways that parties provide the opportunity for. That was my life in high school and then, when I went off to college, it was very much the same.
I always did it in the name of fun and never thought that I was hurting people. But right before my junior year, there was a girlfriend and I, who/she got pregnant. She told me, and she told me it was mine. I remember she asked me/she said, “I want to know will you be with me?” I wasn’t ready to be married; and I was like, “No”; but I was like, “I’ve got some money; I’ll help us figure this out.” She decided and we decided that we were going to have an abortion. I was there through the whole thing. I remember that we both wept, and we didn’t know why.
I went back—we went our separate ways—I went back to school, and I just dove into the party scene. I lived with some people, who were into raving, a lot of drugs, all that stuff. I was just empty, trying to fill this hole in my heart.
I invited a buddy named Dave down to come for this party; it was going to be an epic Halloween party. He closed the door, and he sat on the bed; and he looked at me and he goes, “I don’t do this anymore.” I’m like, “Okay.” He said, “I love Jesus now. I came here to tell you that Jesus loves you too. I know this is probably going to be a hard weekend, but I wanted you to know that.” I was like, “Okay.” I was like, “Well, more for me then.” [Laughter] I kind of blew him off; went back out.
He was sitting on the couch; and our buddies were like, “Hey, what’s up with the dude on the couch?” He looked out of place. I was like, “Oh, he became a Christian.” We’re all like, “Oh, poor guy”; because we’re thinking we’ve got everything.
Garrett: But he—throughout the weekend—I saw he had what I was chasing. I was still empty; but he had peace, a peace that wasn’t found in anything other than this Jesus that he talked about. I kind of mocked him/made fun of him. I even have an email that I sent to him. If you look up “The Stand that Saved My Soul,” the whole thing is there—the email is there—it’s really interesting.
Garrett: Yes; but it haunted me. A couple of weeks later, I was in the middle of another rave party. I was doing drugs; and all of a sudden, I felt a lot of darkness. I became very aware that there was evil around me and evil in me, and it spooked me. I went back to my room; closed the door—
Dave: Had you ever had that kind of sense before?—
Dave: —like the darkness thing?
Garrett: No; for me, the darkness used to be—I thought it was giving me life—it was fun; it was where I was finding my joy, my peace—all of that; right?—which now, of course, I see as an idol. Like that is what the Lord is supposed to provide, but it was a counterfeit. Satan always deals in counterfeits.
I went back; I saw my Bible; it was peeking out from underneath the bed. My parents had given it to me. I used to hide it under my bed, because it would cramp my style; but that day it was sticking out. I sat down and I played Bible roulette, where I just sat down, opened the Bible randomly—but we know there’s no such thing as random luck or chance—God, in His providence, made it open to the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 18 in the New Living Translation says: “The one who sins is the one who dies. A father will not be judged for the son’s sins, nor will the son be judged for the father’s sins; but each person will be judged according to what they have done. Do you think I delight in the death of the wicked? No, but that they would turn and live says the Lord.” That freaked me out.
Ann: Yes; I bet it did!
Garrett: I closed the Bible; and I was like, “Okay, what else You got?” I opened it up to the New Testament—which I didn’t know what that meant—I just opened it up and started reading. I was in the book of Romans and came to Romans, Chapter 2,
verse 4. Again, the New Living Translation says: “Don’t you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Or don’t you care? Can’t you see how patient in giving you time to turn from your sin? But no; you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath when God will judge all people according to my gospel.”
It was right then that, in God’s mercy, He showed me that He and I were not cool. I felt really guilty. I started confessing all my sins to my sister; and she’s like, “You’re in trouble; you need some help.” [Laughter] All of a sudden, I went sober—I was on a drug, where you don’t get sober—it’s like something that lasts for hours. All of a sudden, just in the middle of it, I went completely sober.
I thought, “I need to call Dave.” I called that buddy that had come down to the party. He came up to my house at 2 in the morning, carried his Bible; and he had tears streaming down his face. He said, “Do you know what I was doing when you called me?” I said “No.” He said, “I was doing the same thing that I’ve been doing every single night since that night I left Virginia Tech. I was on my knees, praying for you to believe in Jesus.”
God heard his prayers, and I’m the last person who should be a Christian. But for some reason, Jesus wanted me, even though I didn’t want Him. He sought me, and He saved me; and I’ve been following Him, imperfectly, ever since. It’s been a sweet journey. God’s done a lot of good things. There’s been a lot of really wonderful things—I’ve seen God save people—He saved my sister; He saved my mom and my dad after that; He saved other people in my life.
Ann: Well, you ended up this passion to tell all of your friends about Jesus.
Garrett: Yes; I became keenly aware that: “Oh, my goodness, all these friends that I used to invite into sin—because I was the orchestrator; I used to throw all these parties, because I wanted everybody to come in and have a good time—but now, I’m aware I was leading people to hell. And now, I have a responsibility—I’ve found the way—it’s like those beggars in the stories of the Kings, where they find some bread; and they’re eating it. They realize: “Wait, everybody else is back, starving”; and I had to go tell.
I went back and started trying to share the gospel with everybody, in any way that I could think of. I mean, I nailed verses about hell to a drug dealer’s door; freaked him out. [Laughter] I went back and told my pastor—a guy named Owen Womack—he’s a good godly man. I told him: “Here’s what I want to do; how about”—because I used to throw these keggers at my house—I was like, “I want to throw a party; and about an hour into it, I’m going to get on the keg, turn on the lights, and tell everybody about Jesus.” [Laughter] He’s like—
Ann: It’s like a Billy Graham crusade. [Laughter]
Garrett: Well, it was—I’m not sure Billy would have done it that way, but I think it’s the same kind of spirit; right?—I mean, like, “We’ve got people who’ve got to know.”
He’s like, “I appreciate your zeal.” [Laughter] He goes, “But how about you just use the church here, and you can use it for whatever you want.” So we made it known that we were going to have this thing—we called it Christ Night—and we’re going to have this deal at this church. Word got out that I was throwing a party at a church, and everybody thought it was going to be a big joke.
Ann: Okay, that’s what I wondered; because a lot of people ended up coming. Why do you think they came?—and a lot of it was God.
Garrett: Yes; I think God was working in a unique way. There’s been a couple of other people—there was a guy named Gary, who had been a cocaine dealer who got saved; my buddy Dave had gotten saved; there was another guy, who had gotten saved——the Lord was working uniquely in our town at this time.
Then when I got saved—like one of my old buddies/he’s now a pastor of a church—he was at a football practice, and he was very much not walking with the Lord. He was bragging about all these things he had done/all this sin he had done over the weekend. The FCA leader, who was there, looked over to him and said, “Was that before or after the FCA meeting?”—because he used to go to that. He said, “Wow!”—like that convicted him. Then they’re like, “Yes.” He started talking about God; and he said “Hey, did you hear Garrett Kell became a Christian?” He’s like—he started laughing—he said, “Listen, I know I’m not a Christian; but I know that guy’s not a Christian.” [Laughter]
I was like the last guy in our town that you would have thought that would ever follow Jesus. So when word got out that I’m going to be throwing a party at a church, all these people came. In God’s mercy, there were teachers there, and friends, and all these kinds of people; and a lot of people heard the gospel. It was a remarkable couple of months, where—
Ann: —and you gave an altar call.
Garrett: I did; we gave an altar call. Like two thirds of the people in the room came down—and again, not all of them stayed and persevered in faith—but today, there’s people, who are pastors, missionaries. There’s some people—I heard a testimony the other day from somebody; they asked them how they became a Christian. They said, when they were five, their parents went to this thing called Christ Night. They both got convicted of their sin, and turned from it, and trusted in Jesus, and were born again, and came home; and ever since, their family has been trying to follow Jesus together. That’s all in spite of me. There’s nothing in that—nobody struts into the service of the King, right?—I mean, the Lord mercifully allowed me to be a part of that; and I’m so thankful.
Dave: What a great story of God saving one man—but through one man—and this is legacy, in generational kingdom impact, is what happens when one person says, “I’m all in.”
I mean, you don’t know this about me; but when I gave my life to Christ, I—we’re so similar in terms of I was just a party animal—I was known on the college campus as the quarterback but [also] as the guy at all the parties with—I was the first guy at the kegger/the whole thing. I actually was mentored, when I became a freshman, by the senior quarterback; he said, “You’re going to replace me as the starter, so I want you to learn this.” “What?” “We lead on the field; we lead in the bar.” I was like, “What’s that mean?” He goes, “Dude, we’re the first ones; we get drunk the most. We lead both places; that’s how you do it.”
Garrett: That’s discipleship, just the other way; you know?
Dave: Yes, exactly; it was a terrible discipleship.
But bottom line—when I came to Christ—the guy who mentored me/now, he’s a follower of Christ. And by the way, he said, “God’s called me. I have this athletic ministry on the campus.” I looked at him, when I met him, like, “No he didn’t; there’s no way,”—he wasn’t an athlete—and again, I’m not judging; but I was like, “No athlete is going to respond to you.”
He had this incredible ministry—but what he said—because I said to Bill, “Man, now that I’m a Christian, I’m going to go in the locker room, and I’m going to put up this big Jesus banner, and I’m going to share the gospel.” He looked at me and goes, “Eh, that’s probably not the best way to do it.” “Well, you got a better idea?”
You know what we did? He said, “I’ve got a magazine; it’s called the Athlete’s in Action® magazine. It has testimonies of pro athletes in it. How about I get you a hundred of these? You give them to all the guys on the team. Then we’ll try and set up an appointment with them after, to say, ‘What did you think of the magazine?’” I go, “Okay.”
So listen to this—we did it—and I think nobody’s going to meet with us. We set up an appointment to say, “Let’s talk about the magazine.” The last two pages of the magazine were the gospel. We’d sit down and go, “Hey, what did you think of the magazine?” “Oh, it was pretty cool.” “Did you read the last two pages?” “Nope”; nobody ever read the last two pages. “Can we walk you through it?” We saw 25 guys come to Christ,—
Garrett: Praise God.
Dave: —in two weeks, out of 100.
Ann: Here’s what I want to say, too, is that—you guys, I listen to this, and even my own zeal when I first gave my life to Christ, I thought: “How have I not heard about this?! And how are we not announcing this from the rooftops?!— like: ‘We need Jesus,’ and ‘He is the answer to life, and to peace, and to joy,’ and ‘People are going to hell.” That’s why I was so fired up about this.
What happens?—you know, why don’t we have, sometimes, that same zeal and this hunger to let our friends know about Jesus?
Garrett: I think there’s the Lord uses youthful zeal. Then there’s also times when, after you—so I don’t know that my zeal has changed—it’s just hopefully matured some. [Laughter] There’s—some of my zeal—there’s certainly times my zeal ebbs and flows.
Ann: We all do.
Garrett: That’s part of walking with the Lord; right? But I wouldn’t want us to feel unnecessarily guilty if the way we’re following the Lord changes a little bit.
Ann: —or shamed.
Garrett: because that’s—you know, the Lord uses all kinds of things—that’s why I love having young zealous people around that helps to fan some flame. We want to correct some—because I did some crazy stuff—I’m sure some of my sermons would need to be deleted off the internet if some of those old ones that I did—[Laughter]—they just weren’t—even the first three years of preaching at the church I ended up pastoring in Texas, I had them delete the first three years off; just because: “You know, let’s just pretend that didn’t happen.” [Laughter] The Lord worked in the midst of the mess; but “Let’s start over.”
Ann: It’s so true.
Dave: But there is something about the zeal of a new believer—
Garrett: Yes; it’s sweet; it’s sweet.
Dave: —that is contagious. Sometimes, you can get into a rut as the more mature longer believer; and you’re like, “What happened to that in me?” It stoked something. Even our kids have done that in us, as parents, which has been really beautiful.
Dave: Here’s the question we want to get into, because I don’t know if you’ve had this experience; but I sort of thought, when I came to Christ: “Now, my sin life is done; I won’t struggle.” We struggle; one of the struggles we talked about already/earlier was pornography.
You wrote a book about it, and you open the book with your struggle. So let’s talk about that a little bit; what happened?
Ann: Well, and let’s add, too, that you’re married. You’ve been married how many years, Garrett?
Garrett: I’ve been married for 14 years.
Ann: And you have six kids.
Garrett: Six of them, yes.
Ann: So you’re busy.
Garrett: Yes; my wife is extra busy.
Dave: You’re just glad to be here right now. [Laughter]
Garrett: My wife always calls these kinds of trips: “You’re going on vacation.” [Laughter] She is doing all the hard work at home.
Ann: Because oldest is 13 and your youngest is 3 months; so yes, she’s doing a lot right now.
Garrett: Yes, she is. But yes, as you said, when you become a Christian—I know, for me initially, there was: “I want nothing to do with sin,” and I turned from it—but then, it was amazing how quickly it would creep back in. I was stunned a little bit; I didn’t know. Because I didn’t get into a church right away—it was me and the Bible and just a couple of Christian friends that I was meeting here and there—so I became very confused and riddled with shame and guilt when I would continue to fall back into sins and all kinds of stuff.
But I think that you’re right that, when you become a Christian, there’s still temptations that abound. We still have our sinful flesh. We’ve got to learn: “Okay, what does it mean then, as Christians, to walk, now with the Holy Spirit?”—yes—“But how do we walk, where we’re still going to be struggling?” and “We’ve got to find ways to fight against it.”
Dave: Yes; so talk about that. I mean, you open your book—which is a powerful book about purity in heart and, especially, as we already said, toward sexual sin—but you had a secret, sort of like I did, that you battle.
Garrett: Yes; I still remember the first time that I saw pornography. I was at a friend’s house; I was in fifth grade. He said, “Hey, why don’t you come in here? I want to show you what I found.” He had found some pornography his dad had hidden. I can still, if I tried to bring up the image in my mind, I could still see that wrinkled page in the sunlight and what was on it. It awakened in me something that day—this corrupted curiosity; sexual curiosity—we’re wired for it. We’re sexual beings—God made us—sex is not a wicked thing. It’s a wonderful thing that God gave this gift to a husband and wife, so it’s a good thing; but sin gets ahold of it, and twists it, and distorts it, and perverts it. That was my whole life as a nonbeliever.
Then, as I became a Christian, I still had those struggles. What became more prominent was the struggle of pornography. It felt safer, in one sense, because I wasn’t sinning with someone that I could see in regards to like flesh and blood. I remember I was—I had been a believer for about three years—I was sitting in a Bible study; I had just started seminary. I remember sitting there, thinking, “I guess I’m just always going to be like this. So I’ve got to figure out: ‘How do I be a Christian and walk with this guilt?’” I didn’t feel like I could talk about it, because I didn’t know anybody else that was struggling with this.
We were in a church. It was healthy in the sense that it preached the Bible—it had a high view of Jesus; it was evangelistic—it was service-oriented toward the community and all those good things; but there wasn’t the kind of culture in the church, where it was normal and expected to confess sins. So I created this façade, where I would basically wear a mask; and I would say, “Hey, you know, I’m struggling a little bit; pray for me”; and that’s what confessions looked like. I just took that into seminary and into, really, parts of serving as an evangelist and pastor at the church that I was at.
Then we planted a church out from there, and I ended up pastoring there for seven-and-a-half years. The first three years that I was there, I had a secret struggle with pornography. I wasn’t married; I was a single pastor at that time. I was in an unplanned place—out in the middle of nowhere west Texas; in an unplanned pace—I wanted to be married; I wasn’t. I didn’t know what to do with all of the stresses and pressures and the ministry was being blessed, like the church was growing. We met in a store front. We went from 13—we started with 13—we always said we had one more than Jesus started with, so we were in good shape—went from 13 to 30, to 60, to 90, to fire-code-violating 120. “We couldn’t invite the fire marshal,” was the joke; because we would get in trouble.
Then we bought a roller-skating rink. They called us “the holy rollers,” and we met there; and it filled up too. God just was blessing; but the whole time, I was struggling. What I mean by that is I had a pattern of every two weeks or a month where I would—oftentimes, on a stressful day—I would escape to pornography. Sometimes, it would be for two minutes; sometimes it would be for two hours. Then I would delete my search history; and I would call a friend, and be like, “Hey, I just want to let you know I’m feeling a little tempted; would you pray for me?” “Yes; sure.” “Hey, things are better; I’m good now.” But like I was never honest. I was confessing my sins to all kinds of different people—so I had 12 or 15 different friends—and nobody had like a pulse of how I was actually doing.
So this whole time, I am getting up in front of people, telling them about Jesus, teaching His Word—God is blessing—but all the while, my conscience is haunted. That does weird things to you.
Dave: Yes, and here’s the thing—I think what you just described—so many are living that life. They may not be a pastor or be up preaching—it’s the same life—there’s a secret they may—
Garrett: —you’re a husband/a wife.
Dave: —like you said—“Hey, I’m struggling a little bit”; but it’s like they are afraid to go to the reality of the darkness that’s really gripped them. I’ve been there; you’ve been there. I’m guessing listeners are there.
Ann: I think a lot of women, too—because there’s an extra amount of shame—because they’re a woman, and that feels even more weird.
Dave: Here’s the amazing thing—we don’t have time to get to the answer—so we’re going to leave you right where you’re hanging and say: “If you’re that guy or that gal, don’t miss the next part of this; because we’ve been there, but there’s a way out,”—right, Garrett?
Ann: —“and there’s hope.”
Garrett: “Jesus provides a way; He says, ‘Come unto Me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’” So if you’re feeling the shame and the guilt, and you’re weary in hiding, I want you to know: “Jesus is the answer; come to Him.”
Shelby: Sexual sin is something that so many people are trapped in today. They try to buckle down with self-discipline, and it doesn’t work. One of the things I loved about this conversation is that Garrett Kell—who’s authored the book, Pure in Heart—he doesn’t claim in his book that you need to come to him for all the answers. What he does, instead, is come alongside you in this book as a kind and thoughtful, wise, older brother, who’s not immune to the struggles with sexual purity himself. That’s what I love about this: he talks about it frankly and gives us hope in the process.
As Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking with him today, I’ve been so encouraged to hear that, once again, he’s not pointing us to a program for solutions. He’s pointing us to the gospel; he’s pointing us to Jesus Himself. As I said, Garrett has written a book called Pure in Heart; and it's available in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can find it on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, and you can order a copy of Garrett’s book there.
And while you’re there, this week, when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife, we want to send you a copy of Sharon Jaynes’s book, When You Like Your Story . The subtitle of it is What If Worst Chapters Could Become Your Greatest Victories? So when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife, we will send you a copy, as a way of saying, “Thank you for your donation,” of Sharon Jaynes’ book, When You Don’t Like Your Story. You can order it at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, if you wanted to hear more about this topic specifically, Garrett Kell had a chance to sit down with Ray Ortlund and have a frank conversation about sexual sin and our struggles with it. That’s available on our FamilyLife app. You can download that anywhere you get your apps, or you could go to FamilyLifeToday.com and subscribe to the podcast feed to get that episode there.
Now, if this content today as we’ve been talking about sexual sin, or any of our FamilyLife programs have been helpful for you, we’d love for you to share today’s podcast with a friend or a family member. And wherever you get your podcasts, it could really advance the work that we’re doing at FamilyLife if you’ll scroll down and rate and review us.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann are going to be talking more, again, with Garrett Kell about being transparent with our sin/being honest about what’s going on in our lives. That’s coming up tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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