The Forgotten Book for Sexual Purity
Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org
Conquering sexual sin, especially the sin of indulging in pornography, takes more than internet filters and accountability reports. Good tools are priceless, even indispensable. Accountability software proved invaluable in my own battle for purity. We need good tools, just as a soldier needs good weapons. But tools and weapons are inadequate on their own.
And we know they’re inadequate, because our sexual sin isn’t something somewhere out on the internet, waiting for us to fall into its trap. “Out of the heart,” Jesus says, “come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19–20). Pornography, as wicked and murderous as it is, isn’t ultimately to blame for our failures. Illicitness around us taps into illicitness inside us. The whole vile industry would suffocate without our own iniquity.
The sobering reality about pornography is that our sin emerges not in front of us, but from within us. The images and videos awaken and encourage the suicidal hungers already there. That means we can download any software, apply any filter, discard any device or screen, and still not break free. We need something bigger and more powerful than software.
More than anything, we need God — his saving power, through the cross, to forgive and cancel our sin (Colossians 2:13–14), his renewing Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17), his grace and wisdom (1 Corinthians 10:13), his people to fight with us weekly, daily, hourly if necessary (Hebrews 3:13). While acknowledging this, though, many of us may have missed a mountain of help, an ocean of strength, a river of perspective and guidance, a field of superior pleasure, a forgotten well of purity. We may have misplaced an old and proven book on how to be free.
The Lost Book
God himself opens that book for us when he confronts Job and leads him to repentance. The suffering Job experienced was not a judgment against his sin (Job 1:8), but Job did sin by contending with God (Job 31:35), arguing with God over how he had been treated (Job 13:3). Every sin, especially sexual sin, can be defined as contending with God. Different sins contend differently, but all challenge the wisdom, power, and worth of the Almighty. To indulge in temptation is to defy God, to disregard his commands, to dare him to judge our sin. To sin is to say that God did not mean what he said, and that he won’t do what he promised.
So, if you were Job’s friend, and listened to him argue with God, how might you lead him to confession, repentance, and renewed purity? God does something surprising (which is also surprisingly relevant thousands of years later). God confronts Job with creation, walking with him through the wonder and wisdom of all that he has made. T.M. Moore writes,
God himself was able to lead Job to humility and repentance by a tour de force of the creation. . . . The majesty, beauty, power, and intimate care of God revealed in things he has made, and daily sustains, brings Job to his knees and turns him from sliding into sin to pursuing holiness before the Lord. (Consider the Lilies, 74, 82)
What kept Job from sliding further into sin? Getting outside and seeing, really seeing, the glory in what God has made. Maybe the lost book on sexual purity in our day is the book God has been writing from the very beginning, the book of continents and constellations, of winds and waves, of lions, ravens, and reptiles — the book of “his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). Maybe we would finally conquer sexual temptation if we uncovered the purifying power of creation.
The Tour de Force
Someone may have already counseled you to flee the scene when sexual temptation strikes — close the computer, put away your phone, leave the house, take a walk. It’s good advice. And it’s made better when we don’t just flee from sin, but flee to something. What if we took a walk and deliberately looked for something, anything, God has made? That’s what God does for Job.
The Lord begins, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). Even the ground under our feet can remind us that he is God. Then he wades into the seas, reminiscing about the boundaries he built around them saying, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11). Shores exist not because oceans run out of water, but because God drew a line in the sand. How could we contend with a God like this?
Then the Lord describes where he stores his avalanches of snow and hail, each flake and stone kept for the day he has appointed (Job 38:22–23). And then he runs his divine fingers through the channels that deliver the spring rains (Job 38:25), and stops to admire the clouds he scattered across the sky (Job 38:9), remembering the fearsome precision of his lightning (Job 38:25). Then he climbed even higher, to retrace the stars he hung, constellations he himself mapped, connecting each blazing dot (Job 38:31–33). How could we disregard the breathtaking power and wisdom of a God like this?
Then the Lord embarks on a wilderness safari, narrating creatures that roam the earth, and soar through the sky, and dive in the deepest waters. He begins with the lion’s pride, reminding Job who feeds every animal on the food chain, from top to bottom (Job 38:39–40). He flies with ravens, and climbs with mountain goats (Job 38:41–39:4). He dwells on the ostrich (of all creatures!), every ounce of her strangeness filled with his purpose (Job 39:13–18). He rides horses into battle, and hunts with hawks and eagles (Job 39:19–30). Then he goes where few dare to trod, hiking to find the biggest, most dangerous predators of the forest (Job 40:15) and diving amidst the most terrifying sea creatures (Job 41:1). How could we sin against a God like this?
Along the way, the Lord reminds Job of one of the more overlooked weapons in the fight against temptation:
which I made as I made you;
he eats grass like an ox. (Job 40:15)
Lest we get lost in the breadth and length and height and depth of all creation, God reminds us of the most intimate window we have into his wisdom and power: his creation of us. Even if you don’t have quick access to oceans or forests, lions or constellations, you have full and unfiltered access to you.
He formed us, fearfully and wonderfully, in an unlit world (Psalm 139:13–14). Our features were not fit together in an assembly line, but woven together with artistic care (Psalm 139:15). Our stories are not unfolding accidentally, but every day was known, planned, written down before we took our first breath (Psalm 139:16). How could we, made by God in his own image, exchange him for a few illicit images on a screen?
Job’s Response and Ours
So, what did Job say after his long, wild walk with God? Did he repent and turn away from sin? “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth’” (Job 40:3–4). Wonder gave way to humility. Majesty quieted all his arguments. The universe dispelled the enticement of sin.
Creation humbles us by reminding us just how small, fragile, and powerless we are (“I am of small account”), but also by reminding us just how big and powerful our God really is. Job continues,
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . .
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2, 5–6).
If God can roll out the earth like carpet in our living room, what can’t he do? If God could carve out the Pacific Ocean, deciding where it would rise and fall and stop, can we really question his wisdom and power? If God can feed and keep lions and whales, bears and squids, hawks and even ostriches, could he not satisfy our souls forever? If God can count and name every star anywhere in the universe, will he not notice every time we secretly sin? And if he makes, sustains, and rules it all in perfect holiness and purity, will he not judge, with almighty wrath and justice, everyone who contends with him?
In light of all of the evidence in creation, all of this living, breathing, flying, growing, running, blooming, swimming, thundering evidence for God, how could we wander, again, down the dark alleys of pornography?
Enemies of Lust
In the summer of 1990, John Piper preached a series of two sermons on this often neglected ministry of God, “Do You See the Joy of God in the Sun?” In the second message on Psalm 19, he narrows in on lust.
“Do you know why there are no windows on adult bookstores?” he asks, “Or do you know why there are no windows on certain kinds of nightclubs in the city? I suppose your answer would be, ‘Well, because they don’t want people looking in and getting a free sight.’ That is not the only reason. You know why? Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky. You know why? The sky is the enemy of lust. I just ask you to think back on your struggles. The sky is a great power against lust. Pure, lovely, wholesome, powerful, large-hearted things cannot abide the soul of a sexual fantasy at the same time.”
Piper continues, “I developed strategies over the years that have proved very effective. And one way of fighting was simply to get out of the dark places — get out of the lonely rooms. Get out of the boxed-in places. Get out of the places where it is just small — me and my mind and my imagination, what I can do with it — and get to where I am just surrounded by color and beauty and bigness and loveliness. . . . There is something about bigness, something about beauty that helps battle against the puny, small, cruddy use of the mind to fantasize about sexual things.”
This kind of pleasure-seeking is the opposite of indulging in pornography, which is passive, lazy, unimaginative, self-consumed. Instead of letting Satan drag you back into smallness, fight temptation with bigness, with walks and runs, with long drives and nature documentaries, with skies and fields and parks, with more and more glimpses of God.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.