By Jesse Jost
I struggle with lust. I have found myself doing things that if I knew others were watching me, I would nearly die of shame. I know what it is like to feel that I am no longer in control, shocked at where I am headed. When I hear of another Christian leader falling prey to sexual scandal, I cannot judge them; I can only shudder at our mutual frailty. I have been terrified to look back and find that I was under some kind of spell, hungry for something that I normally would abhor.
Fighting when you don’t want to win
In most battles, the combatants want to win. What makes the battle against temptation so difficult is that when the battle is the fiercest, you no longer want to win. Fighting for a victory that you want to lose takes more willpower than most of us have. So I fall. Then I prayerfully knock off the dust and get up and keep fighting. Why? Is the battle for purity really that important?
In the middle of the struggle, our hideous enemy uses some kind of potent chemical warfare that causes us to forget the reasons this fight is important. I want to record why I fight for holiness. But first, I want to clarify what this purity struggle isn’t.
WHAT TRUE PURITY IS NOT…
A desire for control
I do not fight for purity because I want to deny women their freedom in dress or rob them of sexual fulfillment. I read something today by a woman who argued that purity culture leads to rape culture. Don’t ask me to reiterate her argument because I didn’t understand it. Purity is not about power or subjugation. Subjugation and oppression are not caused by the purity message but by the tendency toward selfish gratification that lies in every human heart. The purity message is a call to curb our selfish urges for the benefit of others.
A message of Shame
The purity message is accused of causing men and women to feel that their sexuality and desires are something to be ashamed of. Shame is not caused by purity, but by impurity. Satan puts us under a spell where we are gripped by a powerful desire for illicit sexual gratification. Then if gratification is experienced outside of God’s design for sex, Satan suddenly switches sides and begins condemning us. Shame is caused when we are made aware of God’s holiness and that we have broken His moral law, but at the same time the message of His grace and forgiveness is hidden from us.
The degradation of sex or the body
To warn against the misuse of sex is not to classify sex or our sexual desires as dirty. God created sex and gave us our sexual desires. Sex can be holy and awe inspiring. However, the misuse of a good thing can turn it into an ugly thing. Human strength can be beautiful when a man is carrying a small child to safety, or repairing the roof of a widow. But that same strength can do great damage if it not kept in the service of what is right. There is nothing beautiful about cheating, rape, or molestation. Not all expressions of sex are beautiful, but sex enjoyed within God’s designed context can be one of the most beautiful and pleasurable experiences known to man (and woman!). The purpose of sex is to help cement the lifelong commitment of one man and one woman in marriage. God is pretty straight forward about this. Married sex is beautiful but all sex outside of marriage will receive God’s consequences. (Hebrews 13:4)
WHY PURITY MATTERS…
When I indulge in sinful pursuits, I feel shame and want to hide my actions. I am afraid to look Heidi too deeply in the eyes for fear that she will see. I become split and slowly die inside. It doesn’t matter how large the sin is that makes this state so terrifying, but rather the knowledge that my secrecy is a step down the same path that has destroyed so many other godly men. The frightening thing is that while my outside remains as polished as ever, I am losing my spiritual vitality. We recently watched a film of a man who was leading a double life and hiding an affair from his woman. The movie made me squirm. Not because I am hiding an affair, but because there are moments from my past that I would rather Heidi not see and I hate that. I long to be completely whole, with nothing to hide. Only in openness can I be free. What satisfies me more than any sexual urge is the relational intimacy I have with Heidi when I know I have nothing to hide.
I love my wife more than any earthly thing. My love for my kids follows a close second. There are many young people bashing purity culture right now and proclaiming how delicious sexual freedom is. I have had people criticize me for preaching purity and accuse me of oppressing women. But all I can think about is how devastated my precious wife would be if I were to explore my sexual freedom with other women. The pain she would feel is not because she had the misfortune of growing up in purity culture, but because true sex is a promise to be exclusive in one’s love life. Cheating hurts no matter what culture you are from! I have vowed to be faithful to her. She is more precious to me than life. My strongest desire is to protect her. To become a sex slave to any other passion would crush her.
A desire to see God
The most important reason to pursue purity is stated by Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). God is more beautiful and satisfying than any earthly pleasure. But the need for purity goes deeper than simply “God is more pleasurable than sexual immorality.” Purity is not about maximizing pleasure units. That idea is a twisting of the truth that sets people up for disillusionment, both for the couple that waited for marriage only to discover that pure sex can be painful and awkward, and for the young promiscuous woman who finds incredible pleasure in her multiple boyfriends.
The need for purity is rooted in the fact that we were created by God and belong to Him. We will all stand before him someday and give an account of what we did with this gift of life. When we rebel and scoff at the purity message, we are rebelling against the authority of God. My only authority in proclaiming the importance of purity is that I sincerely believe I am only repeating the commands of Christ. If I am proclaiming a message that goes beyond what God asks of us, then I am preaching a message of straw.
A ruthless commitment
The battle for purity is of great strategic importance. When we are failing in our sexual struggles, we are becoming isolated from God and our fellow man. The shame of impurity drives us away from grace and the empowering we so desperately need. Jesus said that it is better for you to pluck out your eye or cut off your right hand than to fall away from God (Matthew 18:8-9). Love your wife and kids more than the comfort of concealed sin. Love your God more than your destructive habits. Take note of situations you are failing in and begin ruthlessly putting in safeguards.
A message of hope
I know what it is like to feel the sudden stab of guilt. My weakness is my curiosity and the thrill of the search. I become a raging fire and feel led around by the nose. Sometimes I regain control before I come across anything damaging, but other times, to my horror, I find what I am looking for. I quickly look away but it is enough for Satan to throw off his tantalizing disguise and begin tormenting me. I feel full of shame and worthless. I don’t like failing and I hate the weakling that I am revealed to be. I feel discouraged and powerless, like my prayer of repentance is hollow and ineffective. The power of sin is great. Let any man who feels beyond the reach of sexual temptation be on guard. All who were slain by immorality were strong men. (Proverbs 7:26)
But the power of Christ is greater. The same power that breathed fresh life in to Jesus’ lifeless body is available to you. (Romans 8:10-11) We have a heavenly Father who wants to see us free and whole. He is rooting for us to succeed and his power is available to us. But we need to confess our faults and our need for him. (1 John 1:9, James 5:16)
Every single sin, every lustful thought, glance, or action was forgiven at the cross! You can be made brand new as if you have never sinned! But we can only experience this gift of forgiveness when we are transparent and honest. When we hide our sin, it is because we want to be loved and admired because of the track record of our own actions. We may secretly feel that, yes, the prostitute and the porn addict have received grace and forgiveness, but we don’t need that much grace. We won those battles on our own.
Let me tell you that if you feel pride about your purity or your accomplishments, you have not been in God’s presence. We want to be forgiven by God but our pride takes pleasure in the fact that we have not sinned to the same degree as those whom we have judged. Deep down it makes us feel good when we hear about another scandal or the statistics of who is addicted to what. It is soothing relief to the nagging guilt we feel about our “little sins.” At least I am not like that guy! But that same pride is the reason we will start hiding our sins and begin the slow fade deeper and deeper into the clutches of sin.
As I was thinking about this article, my pride was afraid that as you read my confessions, you would assume worse of me than I really am. “Yes, you struggle,” pride says, “but there are lines you haven’t crossed and people need to know that.” But I have seen how black my heart is, and how easily I fall under Satan’s spell. But for the grace of God, I am Ted Bundy or Ted Haggard. I can say with Spurgeon that the only reason I have not fallen further is because the grace of God has prevented opportunity and my moments of weakness from intersecting.
It is humbling to glory in the finished work of Christ. It means I can no longer boast in my accomplishments or take pride that there are areas where I have not fallen. Yet when I embrace the forgiveness of Christ and claim it as my own, then I am completely free. I have nothing to hide. The joy of being completely free is indescribable!
I pray that as you read these words, the Spirit of conviction will burn bright and you will find the strength to be honest about your failings and find the peace and joy that comes with the freedom of being whole and transparent. God is not heaping shame on you for your habitual failures. He paid the highest price so that you could be forever free of the fear and guilt. Humble yourself and walk away from the terrible burden of dragging a false front around. Those who have been forgiven much, receive the benefit of a heart filled with love. Embrace the cross and go free!