Sex, purity, and chastity are topics that make us blush despite the fact that the world slams Christians on every side with impurity and unchastity. Quite literally, we walk in a minefield of sexual impurity – Paul even said we’d have to “go out of the world” avoid sexually immoral people (1 Cor 5.9-10). How does a Christian deal with it? What are we to do?
Joshua Harris wrote a great book to help us – male and female. In Sex Is Not The Problem, Lust Is (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2003), Harris discusses the details of lust and purity according to Scripture. This book is not just a fluffy little self-help book: it is theological and practical. Let me explain.
Harris first of all notes that our standard of purity, according to Scripture, is not even a hint. That is, little bite-size pieces of impurity are not OK, though we may have to fight with them (p. 24-25).
He then notes that sex is OK, that it is a good gift of God to be enjoyed with deep pleasure in a marriage relationship, but sin (lust) has ruined it for so many. He notes how lust comes from our heart, which is essentially idolatry and covetousness (p. 38-39).
Next, Harris makes the essential distinction between law and gospel. “Law can never bring about deep, long lasting change,” but the gospel is “the life-transforming truth that someone has already ‘taken the punishement’ for God’s people” (p. 48-49). In fact, battling impurity with law makes a person get stuck in the prison of legalism! Harris pleads with readers, “Please don’t base your battle against lust on legalism. It never works. You’ll either become hopelessly disillusioned at your failure, or if you succeed, you’ll become puffed up with self-righteous pride. Your legalism might appear to produce results for a while, but ultimately it will work against your pursuit of holiness” (p. 50).
In line with the law/gospel distinction, Harris clearly sets forth the difference/distinction between justification and sanctification: the former is a one-time verdict of God that a person is righteous in Christ by sins wiped away and Jesus’ righteousness credited to the one who believes. Sanctification is the process of growing more like Christ, in holiness, which is a life-long process (p. 51). The process, he notes, of sanctification is the result of justification; “Nothing we do in our pursuit of holiness adds to our justification” (p. 52).
After setting forth a gospel driven approach to fighting sexual impurity, Harris does discuss the details of lust and fighting it biblically. He does get “deep” in the discussion of details, but not in a way that makes the reader’s imagination move away from Scripture.
This book also has a study guide, which I have not yet seen. However, I highly recommend this book; it is an excellent example of the gospel-centered fight for purity in an impure world.