My sophomore year in high school, I was approached by a number of people who told me that no matter what I wanted, whether it was drugs or pornography, I could have it whenever I wanted. At this time, I was a youth leader not only at church but also at my high school leading a bible study. Even though I became a believer when I was four and started to sense God’s call to pastoral ministry as early as age six, I was still very immature in my faith at this time and not very knowledgeable about Christianity. As time wore on, I became very depressed as I witnessed the painful divorce of my parents, and I caved into pornography. It was a slow slide into pornography for me, but once it began, it was incredibly addictive. While no one knew of my struggle in high school, I hid in shame as I regularly watched pornography and lived a double life. It was not until my freshmen year in college, when I was asked to be on staff at a church, that I confessed my sin of pornography to the pastor. He responded by saying that I should step down immediately from all leadership responsibilities.
While this event transpired over ten years ago, I have often reflected on how God has led me by the Spirit in the process of progressive sanctification and on what He has taught me. This reflection leads me to write this article on what purity looks like in the home, in the church,
in the workplace, and on the internet. As we go through this topic, I want you to understand that I am not just giving you steps on how to move past this on your own, but rather grounding everything I am saying in the Word of God. I believe the only way to overcome an addiction to pornography is to recognize that it is idolatry, and as such, needs to be repented of. Once you have repented of this addiction, you need to recalibrate your heart and mind with the gospel by reading, studying, and meditating on the Word of God both individually and corporately.
As we move through this very frank discussion, understand that I do so not because I have arrived at complete purity in any way, but rather I write on this topic because, I am deeply burdened for the men and women of all generations in and outside the Church. With that as a background, let’s now focus on understanding how the holiness of God relates to purity.
Dr. R.C. Sproul in his classic book The Holiness of God states the importance of purity is because Christians are called saints. He explains, “The saints of Scripture were called saints not because they were already pure but because they were people who were set apart and called to purity. The word holy has the same two meanings when applied to people as it has when it is applied to God. We recall that when the word holy is used to describe God, it not only calls attention to that sense in which he is different or apart from us, but it also calls attention to His absolute purity. But we are not God; we are not transcendent; we are certainly not pure.”[i] Dr. Sproul further elaborates on holiness noting, “True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world. What we are after ultimately is to be conformed to the image of Christ.”[ii]
The Bible promotes purity in five ways: (1) it purifies (1 Peter 2:1; John 17:17). (2) It gets to the source of the problem (Hebrews 4:12-13); (3) it is our source of equipping (2 Timothy 3:16-17); (4) it promotes approval (2 Timothy 2:15); (5) it illuminates the way (Psalms 119:105). There are five common myths about pornography: (1) people think, it’s just harmless fun. (“I’m not hurting anyone.”); (2) it only affects me; (3) I can control it; (4) Prayer will rid me of it. (“Breaking free is God’s responsibility, not mine.”); (5) I will never again be clean enough to be used by God.
Undergirding my points about purity in the home, in the church and the workplace are six biblically based points that are grounded in the fact Christians have been set apart by a holy God, and are to reflect the holiness of God in the world (1 Peter 1:13-25).
(1) Whether you are single or married, go public with your desire to grow in the grace of God. For many years, I lived in shame and guilt because rather than coming into the Light and having my sin exposed, I purposefully kept it hidden. Pornography fosters a lifestyle of secrets and deception. The process of restoration begins with full disclosure. If you are struggling with an addiction to pornography, you must see it as a sin and admit your love affair with this idolatrous behavior. To minimize this behavior is to embrace several of the myths about porn, namely that it is harmless, that it only affects you, and that you can control it. The problem as Dr. Bryan Chapell rightly describes it, is a “misunderstanding of how God continues to view us after we have received the grace that justifies us.”[iii]
(2) Going public involves confession to God and family members. The Lord will forgive and cleanse you of all sin and unrighteousness (1 John 1:9-10). Confessing your sin to family members and friends is important for you to have a source of encouragement and accountability. Going public also means telling several other godly Christians such as your pastor who can come alongside of you to serve as an accountability partner.
(3) Become proactive in addressing this issue in your life. Pornography is an insidious disease that spreads when we are quiet about it. Being quiet about your sin will not help you overcome its hold. If you want to be freed from pornography, it will require hard work by the grace of God. Become proactive by intentionally seeking out others and installing software such as Covenant Eyes on your phone, laptop, or other devices you use to access the internet. Realize that such protection is to help you protect your own heart, but in order to deal with the heart issues underlying this issue, you need to see your sin for what it is—cosmic treason against an infinitely holy God. Only by seeing your sin in this way can you look to the Savior and find Him to be utterly sufficient to forgive you for your sin. You may overcome an addiction to pornography, but if you do not see the horror of your sin you will never look to the Savior and find Him to be utterly sufficient to forgive you and wash away your sin. In other words, if you do not look to Jesus for forgiveness, you will look to yourself or other things to fill the void of your addiction to pornography. Covenant Eyes and other software are great tools for filtering out pornographic images on your internet devices; however, the only absolute solution to the heart issue of lust is the gospel. If what I am saying here describes you, than you need to be in the Word of God, in prayer, and in fellowship in a local church. If the addiction is severe, I recommend seeking assistance from a professional Christian counselor for additional help beyond that provided by the local church.
(4) Run to Jesus. The apostle Paul implores the believers in Corinth to “flee immorality” and Timothy to flee youthful desires (1 Cor. 6:18 and 2 Tim 6:18). This advice runs contrary to the common belief that maturity is associated with being able to resist greater sexual temptation in one’s own power. Paul suggests that mature people know when to run. No person subjected to pornography remains unaffected. Run to Jesus!
(5) Get serious about living the Bible. The Apostle Peter asserts that a person who is actively adding goodness (moral excellence), knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to their life will “never fall” (2 Peter 1:5-11). The person addicted to pornography has quit adding these qualities to their life.
(6) God expects us to be involved in the pursuit of purity. The Apostle Paul stresses this point in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. We have the choice of being a “vessel” for either noble or ignoble purposes. Impurity is only a permanent state and pattern when we choose for it to be so. The process of moving from one state to the other involves obedience to the truth. When we begin obeying the truth, we engage the power of the Holy Spirit to give us success. Over time and with a lot of hard work, prayer, and accountability, those struggling with porn can become pure again. When you discover what pleases God, you will flee from immorality. If you are single, the way you view women will change as you are freed from sexual immorality. If you are married, you will begin to learn to find your spouse as your standard for beauty. Whether you are single or married, as you are freed from sexual immorality, you will begin by the grace of God to conform to the biblical design God has established for your own good so that you can grow in His grace to be an agent of His grace to a watching world. Dr. Bryan Chappell’s comments are helpful in this regard: “God looks at us though we were as holy as his own Son, and treats us lovingly despite our many perfections.”[iv]
The Holiness and Forgiveness of God
What does purity look like in the home, in the Church, in the workplace, and on the internet? It looks like the principles above grounded in the reality that our holiness is not so much a matter of what we achieve as it is the grace our God provides. Grace is God’s willingness to look at us from the perspective that sees His holy Son in our place. God sees our faults and frailties reflected in the mirrors of our lives. Still, He chooses to look at those who trust in His mercy through the lens that features the holiness of His own child rather than our filthy rags. As a consequence He loves and treasures us as much as if we had never sinned.
As we grow in our understanding, of the holiness of God, we will in turn grow in the grace of God by casting aside sexual immorality, along with its filthiness. We will also commit to turning our eyes to Jesus, the One who sees all, knows all, and under whose gaze everyone lives under. It is only through this lens that you will be able to be pure. Whatever we do, say, and set our eyes upon must be that which glorifies God. We must come to understand that the God whose gaze we live under sees all and knows all, and this fundamentally changes the way we approach porn by causing us to see it as a violation of His holiness. In turn, this changes our response towards this sin from one of living in deception to that of a commitment to living in the light of God’s love. Such a shift in direction will result in being honest about our struggles, repenting of our impurity, and committing, by the grace of God, to be men and women of integrity who have like Job made a “covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1) to not look on anything that would distract us from the face of Christ. It is only when we are truly satisfied in Jesus that we will turn away from sin, instead, focusing our gaze on Jesus. May we be as Joseph was with Potiphar in Genesis 39:6-23 and be men of godly integrity. It is only then that we will see pornography as an abomination to God, whereupon, we will flee from it by committing our lives to the kind of scrutiny that they are already under now as we live under the gaze of our Sovereign God.