The Pure Pursuit
As you think about the items that fill your to-do list, where does “pursue purity” fall in your rank of priorities? I suspect that while we all desire to pursue purity, many of us probably aren’t sure exactly what that should look like! It’s a priority in principle, but often not in practice. How can we correct this? What does it look like to pursue purity?
When we find ourselves fighting some indwelling sin, we often assume that we need to find some secret weapon to help us in our fight. This is certainly true in cases of sexual sin, such as the sins of pornography. We can feel like our struggle is so unique (or so severe) that we need some sort of special spiritual key that can unlock the chains which bind us to our sin. As we’ll discuss in a moment, different sins can call for different strategies, but at root every struggle with sin stems from the same problems and will require the same solutions. So before we go questing for spiritual silver bullets, we must first go back to the basics.
No indwelling sin will ever be uprooted until certain basic spiritual practices are in place. Are you regularly participating in Lord’s Day worship? Do you listen to and meditate on the preaching of the word? Are you rightly receiving the sacraments? Are you spending time in God’s word throughout the week? Do you talk about spiritual things with other believers? Do you spend time in private prayer? None of us have achieved perfection in all of these areas, but if we can’t answer “yes” (even if in some limited and imperfect way) to these questions, then we are not in a position to really fight against indwelling sin or succeed in our pursuit of purity. These spiritual disciplines are basic to our Christian obedience and essential to our Christian growth. Without them, any other measure we put in place in the fight against sin will be insufficient.
When we make use of these ordinary means we have set ourselves up for success in our fight against sin. The Spirit promises to work through the simple elements of Word (both preached and read/meditate on), water, bread, and wine as we seek His grace through prayer. Sometimes, however, we may need to use additional means in our pursuit of purity.
Pornography in particular is a sin which calls for certain safeguards. What should the Christian man or woman do to fight against this pernicious indwelling sin? In addition to diligently using the ordinary means listed above, what strategies or tactics can the Christian deploy to guard against this particular sin? Several suggestions come to mind:
- Don’t fight alone: Lust lives in the dark and thrives in isolation. If you are to kill it, then your first step must be to “turn on the lights” to expose this sin. That can be easier said than done, because turning on the lights also leaves us feeling exposed as well! This is where “wise vulnerability” comes into play. Not every sin needs to be confessed to another Christian and even where confession is necessary there should still be great discernment exercised in who one chooses to confide in. You should find someone you trust (your pastors and elders would be a good place to start, or perhaps you could approach a Sunday school teacher or small group leader) but you must open up to someone who can come alongside you in your fight against this sin.
- Don’t trust yourself: Don’t put all the weight of obedience on your own resolve and self-control. If you’ve ever found yourself caught in a cycle of sin, then you’ll know how important this point is. Often sin follows a well-worn path in our hearts. It starts small and subtle and then grabs hold as we let our guard down. Sin gives way to shame as we feel the guilt of our disobedience. Our usual response then is to retreat to the shadows by avoiding interaction with God and/or others (often by dulling ourselves with mindless entertainment or scrolling). Then we feel repentance and remorse so we resolve not to fall again. Sin may wait for a season (giving us a day or a week to feel that we have our struggle “under control”) only to spring back out of the shadows when we least expect it.
How do we break this loop? Jesus spoke of the danger of this situation quite strongly in Matthew 5:30 when he told us to cut off our hands if they caused us to sin. Christ’s point is clear: sin is serious – so take it seriously! This might mean that you get rid of your smartphone. It will almost certainly mean installing accountability software such as Covenant Eyes, Accountable2You, and/or Truple. While we want to pursue godly self-control, this is a virtue which must be developed over years. Put protections in place which make obedience easy and disobedience difficult. You’ll need to work out other safeguards and protections in conversation with your accountability partner, but be willing to take radical steps to deal with sin.
- Don’t give Satan a foothold: One final word – when it comes to fighting sin, shoot first and ask questions later. People don’t commit adultery or sexual abuse out of nowhere. It is always the wicked fruit of earlier (and seemingly less serious) sins. To avoid inappropriate relationships, first avoid inappropriate images. To avoid inappropriate images, first avoid inappropriate thoughts. To avoid inappropriate thoughts, first avoid inappropriate desires. Take things right back to the core of your heart and fight for purity in your inmost being. As soon as you see the slightest temptation appear, run to the cross. Call a friend. Open your Bible. Fall to your knees in prayer. Fight the good fight.
Ultimately, the only thing that is strong enough to displace your desire for your indwelling sin is a greater desire. A desire for communion with God and for intimacy with Christ. So as you make diligent use of the ordinary means (which are required of all Christians) and as you use wisdom and discernment to put extra means in place (which are sometimes needed with particular sins/struggles), keep Christ at the center. When you succeed in resisting sin, give all praise to God! When you fail, find your solace in His Son.
“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9
Ben Franks is a licentiate in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is currently serving as a pastoral intern at Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church in Purcellville, VA.
Podcast: "Pornography: A Perpetual Pastoral Problem" (with Tim Challies)
"An Impending Danger" by Derrick Brite
"Deadly Sins in a Digital Age: Lust" by Brad Littlejohn
"Other People's Pornography" by Jeremy Walker
Persistent Prayer by Guy Richard
Growing in Grace, ed. by Joel Beeke
 We could talk about any sin here but in light of the overwhelming perversion of our culture sexually, we’ll focus on the example of the sexual sin of pornography.