This article is intended to explain various biblical principles and methods by which we may seek and guard sexual purity as we live before God. These are compiled under two basic headings: practical theology and practical purity.
A. Practical Theology
The Scriptures tell us that God wants His people to remain pure. Paul wrote, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Eph. 5:3). From this we understand that not a whiff of impurity is to be traced to the Christian. We also need to keep in mind that the Lord does not require from us things that we are unable to do. He gives us His Spirit to motivate and help us fight the temptations that we are surrounded with. What follows are basic biblical guidelines where sexual sin has occurred.
Repent. First things first, before anything else, we need to own up to our sin before God and perhaps others who are directly affected by our sin. This must be done by admitting the wrong, taking ownership of it, expressing genuine remorse and a desire to turn away from evil (Acts 2:38).
Confess. Taking ownership of wrongdoing requires a verbal outpouring to the offended God and stop making excuses for yourself. Sin is not a disease, nor ought we to lay the blame anywhere else except at our own doorstep. A good place to start confession is by learning Psalm 51 and making it your own. Reading it daily for a month or so is one way to impress upon ourselves the dishonor we have brought on our God and ourselves.
Pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Ask God to give you His Spirit, to guide and direct your way, and to make you strong when temptation comes. God’s Spirit will convict you that His forgiveness is not automatic as we so often wish to think of it. Rather, it is very costly—Christ died so you could be forgiven. The Spirit will help us live out of the Word if we ask (Eph. 1:17).
Submit. Real change requires abandonment of pride, selfishness, and arrogance and having it replaced with the ability to change. Our will is powerless without God. You absolutely need Him, and you need to remember that you are where you are (in sin) because you thought you could do without him. Submission will often include making yourself vulnerable and open to the assistance of godly advisors (James 5:16).
Resist. The Christian life requires us to develop the spirit of a fighter who is determined to win what he has set his sights on (1Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; Heb. 12:1).
Change. By the grace of God we may expect to experience positive change in our lives that comes from living obediently before God. Over time temptations can subside and become easier to conquer as we gain the confidence we may receive from God’s Spirit working in us (Ps. 34:14).
Fighting the Good Fight
When Christians undertake to fight against and overcome sin in their lives, they will meet with much resistance. They should expect a fight from the devil, the world, and their own selves.
The world. The world hates nonconformists who belong to Jesus Christ. You can fully expect ridicule, enticement, and hostility to be your lot, directed at you from both outside as well as inside church. You may be labeled a “prude” or a “puritan” (that’s not all bad!) and be regarded as a legalist who takes God’s Word too seriously. From the world you can expect the unexpected. Remember that they will never give up.
The devil. Often Christians do not take the devil and his dominion seriously enough. We deal with real spiritual forces of which we have a poor understanding. Satan is a real and powerful spiritual being, and we are engaged in a real life-and-death battle, which we can only win as soldiers of Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:12).
The flesh. Our sinful self will try to lead us astray in any number of ways:
Our weakness: The unwillingness to mount an offense and fight
Our ignorance: The unwillingness we have to learn ways in which to combat our sin and become educated concerning the world we live in
Our procrastination: The unwillingness to deal with our condition promptly
Our laziness: The unwillingness to expend the energy required
Our reduced zeal: The unwillingness to maintain a high level of devotion
Our self-indulgence: The unwillingness to say no to self
Our hypocrisy: The unwillingness to admit we have a problem
Do you recognize the following: “that they may . . . manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion”? This line comes from the prayer in the form for baptism of infants.1 It, or something like it, was prayed over most of us at the time of our baptism. The church did not pray it in vain. Rather, she trusts that God will answer and give His power by His Spirit. Not only that, but the Lord and His church fully expect from us that we will take up the challenge and fight valiantly the battle to which we are called.
B. Practical Purity
Followers of Jesus Christ take the Word of God seriously and seek to be mastered by the Author and Finisher of our faith. They will by definition be nonconformists who are at odds with the world around them, which seeks to seduce them away from Christ. To be Christ-like is to be hated. Many Christians need to grow up and shed their naïveté. They must have a strategy for the life-and-death combat they are engaged in. Proverbs 20:18 teaches “Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance.”
For purity to be a reality in their life, their strategy may be shaped as follows:
Surround yourself with good counselors (Prov. 15:22). Encouragement, wisdom, and assistance are necessary ingredients to the implementation and long-term outcome of most important life changes.
Be prepared. You need to be vigilant and ready for the confrontation when it strikes. Know what you are dealing with. Do not be surprised when you are ambushed by temptation. By staying close to God’s Word, living an active prayer life, and guarding your heart, your attention is directed godward and away from the world.
Be transparent. Sinful desires can be held in check through a process of accountability, first to God, and also through open and honest communication with a spouse, family member, or friend. Knowing that others care deeply and are prepared to hold you to account prevents many urges from seeing the light of day. Supporting one another keeps us from falling.
Know your weakness. Understanding ourselves spiritually as fallen creatures keeps us humble before God. Understanding that we have many biological processes that make us who we are also helps us to understand what is going on inside of us. For instance, in addition to hormones that can make us crazy, we have a reticular activating system (RAS), a part of our brain that processes what we should notice. It makes choices as to what we recognize, what motivates us, and what arouses us. In short, it determines what gets our attention. The RAS helps a pregnant woman notice another woman with a similar condition from one hundred yards away across a busy mall. If the RAS has been trained from a young age to scout out and observe members of the opposite sex, it will take much time and patience to retrain.
Have a strategy. It should go without saying, but avoidance of situations where temptations lurk is key to a successful strategy. Strangely, this piece of the puzzle seems often to be missing. Inappropriate movies have ratings, yet these are ignored. Computers are more often than not left unguarded for children and others to view any kind of depravity at the touch of a button. Paul commands Christians to flee from immorality (1 Cor. 6:18). Running in the opposite direction is a wise course of action and should not be confused with cowardice. Just saying no is an extremely difficult expression but very necessary. Saying yes to godly activities distracts us from the ungodly and grows us in grace and sanctification.
Set a zero-tolerance standard. The bar of Christian behavior must be set according to the Word of God, both for ourselves and for the broader community of believers. Standards and expectations concerning inappropriate entertainment can be set by parents, elders, and others in authority. Where these standards are violated, some form of discipline can be applied as needed. Many forms of dress, where cleavage or curves are on display, do nothing to help those engaged in the purity battle. Members of both sexes may need to learn more concerning modesty in church, in school, and at the workplace.
Personal and group study. Becoming educated concerning God’s Word and matters of purity requires time, commitment, and a willingness to learn. When it comes to this aspect of our lives, we have many good intentions; yet these are not often realized. A Bible study at the beginning of the year may be well attended, but by the end of the season only the die-hards are left. Similarly, one can buy all kinds of books concerning the subject of purity, but one actually has to read them to benefit from them. A list of helpful materials follows at the end of this article.
Software protection. Two basic types of computer software are available to control inappropriate material. Each has both advantages and disadvantages and needs to be assessed on the basis of individual needs.
Filtering software does what the name suggests; it filters inappropriate websites and only allows the user to access what is considered safe. Especially for families with small children, this is a practical option. The software operates as a watchdog of sorts. Filtering can at times be too restrictive, as the software will likely prevent websites with news items or other mature themes.
Accountability software does not prevent access to any site. It is programmed to send a report to the parents or another supervisor concerning the sites visited by the computer device on which it is installed. Generally, the awareness that someone is, as it were, looking over your shoulder prevents the temptation of just checking for a minute an unsuitable site in a moment of boredom. Knowing that someone is watching sufficiently prevents most straying into sinful territory.
Both filtering and accountability software are commonly available and are affordably priced. Families and congregations may even wish to check out group pricing, thereby increasing availability while keeping costs low.
The writer of Proverbs tells us to: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (16:3). As Christians, we must recognize that for the first time in history an open sewer has been installed in the middle our homes which threatens to pull in many of the unwary. With God’s help, becoming knowledgeable, and using the wisdom we have been given, we have what we need to remain pure and undefiled by the world. “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Ps. 1:6).
1. Blue Psalter Hymnal, p. 125.
To the grandfathers (in particular) and others who think this is not their problem, those who may be saying something like, “This doesn’t affect me; I don’t have a computer anyway,” or, “These are just a young man’s problem; I’m too old to be bothered with this; it’s a waste of time,” let me say respectfully (but forcefully) that you need to know that the majority around you struggles with issues of purity. Perhaps this is a subject you are squeamish to speak about, or you think that if you ignore it long enough it will go away.
However, you need to know that you are threatened by this epidemic and so is your family.
You are not dead. You are not immune. This issue is all around you; perhaps you are caught in it yourself. You are not above this. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body does. You have a responsibility to your God, your church, and your household. These are your sons and daughters and grandchildren who are affected. This problem faces you whether you like it, want it, or will admit it. And that means you have to deal with it; ignoring it will not make it go away.
You can be informed. All you have to do is ask. Information has never been easier to find than today. You can be vigilant; you can set your radar up and watch for the attack of evil against your family, seek to prevent it, and take it on as an old, grizzled, tough soldier of the cross.
You have seen this stuff in your life somewhere. You know—and you know the dangers and the problems. You know how it offends the Lord. You have seen the broken marriages; maybe you even have one yourself. You have seen the dysfunctional lives; maybe you have one of those too. You know. At the very least you can stand with the younger men in your family and community.
There are many things you can do. Sitting and watching on the sidelines is not an option.
You can be informed; you add to your knowledge and to your wisdom. If you can read this, you are not too old to learn something new.
You can set a zero-tolerance policy for your family and for yourself. You can help to set the standard with your loved ones.
You can be a mentor to your children and grandchildren if they trust you.
You can be a monitor, an accountability partner through accountability software.
You can be an encourager and a coach.
You can be an investor. Buy the software for your family; bankroll whatever it takes.
You can be an elder to them, teaching them the ways of the Lord concerning purity.
You can be a protector.
You can be one who prays (most importantly).
In other words, you can be what God calls you to be: a grandfather.
Rev. Hank Van der Woerd is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB.