Sexual Purity and Our Eyes

While it’s not my favorite book on the topic, Everyman’s Battle is a helpful resource in the fight for sexual purity.  One section I was recently discussing with a friend is especially helpful: training our eyes to avoid impure images and scenes.  Arterburn and Stoeker call it “bouncing” and “starving” the eyes.  What does this mean?  Here’s a summary of their discussion.

Bouncing the eyes is “training your eyes to ‘bounce’ away from sights of pretty women and sensual images.  This is difficult because most men are in the habit of not bouncing the eyes!  “To combat it, you need to build a reflex action by training your eyes to immediately bounce away from the sexual, like the jerk of your hand away from a hot stove.”  The authors say this must be an immediate bounce – not after 10 or 20 seconds!

How do we train our eyes to bounce?  By learning what our greatest weaknesses are in this area (e.g. lingerie advertisements, female joggers in provocative clothing, billboards, TV shows, etc.).  Some of these things we may need to completely avoid (e.g. movies with sex scenes and sexual images, Facebook pages, or websites with impure ads); others images we may just need to learn how to turn away from (e.g. a billboard on the way to work, or magazines in the checkout aisle).

Starving the eyes means eliminating the times we are gratified by sexual images.  Typically men are sexually gratified by images; if we remove those images (by either avoiding them or bouncing our eyes), we starve the impure lust.  For example, if you remove the sketchy movies from your life, or that TV show that shows too much skin, it will help you focus your desires for intimacy on your wife.  The authors talk about cutting out images from our life – and doing it “cold turkey” – which usually has very good results.  Here’s how one author put it:

“Those days [of going cold turkey] revealed to me just how much I’d been stealing from [my wife] by watching sensuous R-rated movies and inspecting the lingerie catalogs.  These things provide far more sexual gratification than we might expect, although Satan would have you think otherwise.”

Men, as you follow Christ and aim for sexual purity, it is a matter of the heart, of course, but it is also a matter of the eyes (Job 31:1)!  If you struggle in this area, I’d recommend grabbing this book (a used copy is under $7.00 on Amazon!) and using it to help you in your walk with the Lord: Everyman’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker.  (The above quotes and notes were taken from chapters 11-12).

(As a side, I wrote this post in such a way that it will hopefully not get caught by those web filters we probably should be using!)

shane lems
hammond, wi

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The Fuel and Effects of Immodesty

In Kent Hughes’ excellent book, Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to A Godly Life, he talks about sexual purity and the Christian life (among other things).  One chapter is called “Modesty.”  In this chapter he explains what fuels immodesty and the effects of immodesty.  This is helpful to consider since we live in culture where sexual perversion is becoming the norm.

First, what fuels immodesty?

1) “The fashion industry.  Early on, Calvin Klein led the way in promoting a drugged-out cocaine chic as pale, skinny adolescent men and women posed in jeans (some with flies unzipped) in various postures of strung-out languor.  … It’s particularly hard for young women to find clothing that is stylish and not degrading.  Even sizing has become pernicious – so that what is now labeled ‘large’ is equivalent to what was once ‘small.’”

2) “The Body Industry.  If anything trumps the fashion industry in promoting immodesty, it’s the body industry.  The body business lives on the promotion of the myth that you cannot be happy without the body you desire, and you can have the body you want through diet and exercise. …So today high school and college students are in the midst of an epidemic of anorexia and other sorts of modesty-related disorders.”

3) “The Beauty Industry.  Immodesty is fueled by an inordinate emphasis on the body and on the myth that you can’t be happy in less than a perfect body….  This culturally induced delusion and frustration is further fueled by the fashion industry’s peddling of fashions for skinny models who epitomize the ideal.  …The beauty industry feeds on these insecurities, selling implants, liposuction, plastic surgeries, collagen injections, drugs, and every kind of lipstick, eye shadow, shampoo, dye, emollient, cream, soap, cleanser, enhancer, perfume, conditioner, and exfoliant that the commercial mind can imagine.”

4) “The Sin Industry.  …Our own sin’s industriousness in dragging us down into immodesty.  At the heart of our sin is self-love.  We are naturally lovers of self rather than lovers of God. …Pride fuels immodesty.”

Secondly, Hughes notes the effects of immodesty: it demystifies (it diminishes the beautiful mystery of sexuality), it devalues (it reduces people to objects), it breeds shallowness (it makes people look only upon the surface), it temps (it makes people lust), and it confuses (it leaves people confused about sex and the human body).

This is just a brief summary of a longer discussion.  I highly recommend this book – specifically this chapter.  Near the end of the chapter, Hughes writes this (and I’ll end with it):

“Modesty is the entire church’s responsibility.  We together must create a culture in which modesty flourishes.  There must be a place where women [and men – spl] are safe and accepted for who they are rather than for what they look like. …It must be a place where all learn to clothe themselves with the character of Christ.”

 R. Kent Hughes: Set Apart (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003).

shane lems

The Purity of the Church (Bavinck)

In 1888, Bavinck lectured to the students of the theological school in Kampen – the title was “The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church.”  You can find it on the internet in places and in the Calvin Theological Journal 27/2 (1992).  It is classic Bavinck: gospel centered, humble, and “churchly.”  I like what he says on the purity of the church (he closes the lecture with this).

  …The one universal Christian church comes to more or less purity of expression in individual churches, in the same way the one universal Christian truth comes to more or less pure expression in the various confessions of faith.  There is no universal Christianity present above the confessional divisions but only in them. No one church, no matter how pure, is identical with the universal church. In the same way no confession, no matter how refined by the Word of God, is identical with the whole of Christian truth. Each sect that considers its own circle as the only church of Christ and makes exclusive claims to truth will wither and die like a branch severed from its vine.  The one, holy, universal church that is presently an object of faith, will not come into being until the body of Christ reaches full maturity. Only then will the church achieve the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, and only then will she know as she is known.” 
 It seems to me that Bavinck is certainly implying ecclesiological humility; he may also be hinting that churches who call themselves “most pure” have (what we would call) an over-realized eschatology.  I remember (in Reformed Dogmatics) how he dinged the Anabaptists for this type of thing in their quest for a totally pure church.
 
 Perhaps we can apply 1 Peter 5.5 to ecclesiology: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (ESV).

 shane lems 

sunnyside wa

Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)

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.

shane lems

sunnyside wa