Maintaining Moral Purity
About twenty years ago, I read a story called “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” The story begins:
One evening I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. What an entrance He made! It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. Something happened at the very center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire on the hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness, and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will.
In the joy of this new relationship I said to Jesus Christ, “Lord, I want this heart of mine to be yours. I want to have you settle down here and be perfectly at home. Everything I have belongs to you. Let me show you around.”
As the story continues, Jesus is taken on a tour of the man’s heart. The first room they come to is the study – the room of the mind. Listen to what happened as Jesus looked around in the man’s mind:
Some books were there that His eyes were too pure to behold. On the table were a few magazines that a Christian had no business reading. As for the pictures on the walls – the imaginations and thoughts of the mind – some of these were shameful.
Red-faced, I turned to Him and said, “Master, I know that this room needs to be cleaned up and made over. Will you help me make it what it ought to be?”
We’re on Day 15 of the 50-Day Adventure. We’re asking, “What would change in our lives if Jesus was physically present with us?” This past week, we had some friends and family over to our house. I’m always concerned to clean up before they arrive, because I don’t want them to think I’m a pig. If you invited Jesus over to your house – if you took Jesus on a tour of your mind – what would you have to clean up?
If you’re like most people, you struggle in your thought life. There’s a reason for this. I used to think that the area in my life that controlled me the most was my emotions. Most people think that they’re driven by feelings. They’re not. You can be an extremely emotional person, but your emotions aren’t driving you. Your mind is. The Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do” (Proverbs 4:23). The thoughts that you think in your heart – affect everything that you do. Jesus said in Mark 7:
It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God. (Mark 7:20-23)
What Jesus was saying is this: it’s no small matter what exists in your mind, because what exists in your mind will eventually work its way out in your actions. It will affect everything that you do. Satan knows that if he can win the battle in your mind, he has you beat.
The Bible teaches us that if we want to be different, we don’t need to change the way we feel. We don’t have to change the way we act. We need to change the way we think. Romans 12:2 says, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” That’s the way that you become a different person. You let God change your thought life.
Most followers of Jesus Christ want to maintain a pure thought life. I haven’t met a person yet who has said, “I want to fill my mind full of filth. I want to live a life of moral decay.” But the reality is that many followers of Jesus Christ are living that way. You may struggle in many different areas in your thought life, but it’s not by accident. It’s a strategic area. Satan knows that if he can control your mind, despite your best intentions, he has you beat. That’s why your mind is such a battlefield.
I used to think that once you became a Christian, the battle to control your thought life would be over. Wrong! I used to think that once you reached a certain level of spiritual maturity, the temptations would stop. Wrong! I used to think that once you reach a certain age, the battles in your thought life would be over. I have it on good authority from some people older than me – that’s wrong too. The battle in your thought life is going to be one that lasts your whole life through.
The Bible is clear that you need to honor God in your thought life. 1 Peter 1:13 tells us, “Think clearly and exercise self-control.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3,7 says, “God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin…God has called us to be holy, not to live impure lives.” God wants you to live a life of moral purity. We’re going to look at how you can do that today.
But before we look at how to do this, we need to acknowledge that it’s harder than ever to life a life of moral purity, especially in your thought life. In a world that’s excessively concerned with purity in some areas of life – when it comes to food and water – we’ve never been less concerned with having pure minds. It used to be that you had to go to a so-called “adult” bookstore to get pornography. That’s a misnomer if ever. Today it’s all piped into your home, everyday. There’s cable TV, radio, talk shoes, 900-phone lines that you can call for sexual talk. There is now even the Internet that comes into your home. There’s content on television shows during prime time that are completely lacking in moral value. We are bombarded. We happen to be in a very sex-saturated society. You can’t go to a magazine stand or a video store without being bombarded with images that threaten our thought lives. We’re called to live PG lives, but we’re living in an X-rated world.
The bad news is that a lot of believers are losing the battle. The March 5, 2001 issue of Christianity Today reported that 33 percent of pastors and 36 percent of people in church have visited sexually explicit web sites. The problem is not just a male one: women are getting hooked on x-rated chats and even on images. Women account for 10% of the calls to Focus on the Family’s pastoral care line on the subject of sexual addiction. It’s estimated that pornographic sites on the Internet made over two billion dollars in 1999, more than online book sales and online travel bookings. There are twice as many subscribers to pornography services than there are subscribers to Sports Illustrated. And that’s just one medium. There’s the theatre, books, magazines, videos, and cable television. All of this comes with a heavy price tag, one that you can’t afford to pay.
As I read these statistics, I ask, “Is that possible in today’s world? Is it even possible to live in a world where I’m bombarded constantly by billboards and media in this sex saturated society to maintain a pure mind?”
Yes, it is. How do I know? If you’ve ever gone ocean fishing and caught an ocean fish and prepared it, that fish has lived its entire life in salt water. It grows up in a culture where ever moment of its life, it’s surrounded by brine – water that’s so salty you can’t drink it yourself or you’ll get sick. Yet when you catch a bass or fish that’s lived its entire life in the ocean and you bring it home and prepare it for a meal, before you eat it, you have to put salt on it.
The same God that can take a fish and keep it in an environment of salt its entire life and yet not be affected by it, can keep you in a polluted world and keep your mind pure. How does that happen? Not through isolation – by removing yourself from the world, to dress differently and live in a commune apart from everyone else. Not through imitation – just acting like the world does. God wants you to remain mentally pure through insulation – through some specific actions that you can take to insulate yourself impurity.
How can this happen? Today we’re going to look at what the Bible says. God gives us four actions to take to attain purity. What will it take to maintain moral purity?
1. I MUST ADOPT GOD’S STANDARD
The first action that you must take is that you must adopt God’s standard. The biggest question that you will have to answer today is, “What’s going to be my standard of authority? On what am I going to base my life? Am I going to make a commitment to God’s Word as my standard for living? Or am I just going to make up my own standard?”
You really only have two options when it comes to setting your standard. You can let the world set the standard for you. You can follow the crowds and do what they do. But the Bible teaches that if you do this, you’re headed for trouble. 1 John 2:15 says, “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you.” When we follow our culture, the Bible says that you’re following a system that’s under the grip of the devil. Would you agree that the prevailing culture in our society will not make you a better person? In 1939, the world was scandalized by one mild expletive in the film Gone with the Wind. The average number of expletives in the five movies released this week in the theatres was 53. Our society is not becoming purer. If you let the world set your standard, you’re headed down the wrong track. You’re going to destroy your life by following the wrong standard.
The other option you have is that you could let God set the standard for your life. Letting God set the standard means that you realize that God knows better than you do. Psalm 119:9 says, “How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word and following its rules.” Can I see how many people here like rules? Nobody likes rules. But the Bible says, “His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 NIV). God never once gave a command for no reason. He never gave one single command to make your life harder. If I’m going to remain morally pure, I need to commit to God’s standards for my thought life. I must realize that God has given us commands for a reason.
The problem is that sin is fun. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that sin isn’t fun. They’re lying. If sin weren’t fun, nobody would sin. There’s a kick to sin, but there’s also a kickback. Genesis 4:6 says, “Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it.” The reason that God gives standards in the Bible is because God wants to prevent sin from attacking and destroying you. God wants you to experience life in all its fullness. God’s standards exist not to make you miserable, but so you can experience life the way that it was designed to be experienced.
I’ve found that one way to accept God’s standards is to think through the cost of not following God’s standards. Think past the initial thrill of disobeying God’s standards and getting your own way. Think through the cost to yourself, your family, your future. Sin always promises more than it delivers. The kickback is always bigger than the kick. Proverbs 6:32 says, “The man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys his own soul.” Hebrews 13:4 says, “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.”
How does this apply to your thought life? You need to say, “I’m not going to let the world tell me what’s okay and what isn’t okay. I’m not going to follow the world’s standards in terms of what I watch and think about. I’m going to follow God’s standards. I’ll listen to him even when the world says it’s okay to do otherwise. I’m going to let God set the standard for what I think about.” That’s the first action it will take to maintain moral purity. I must adopt God’s standards.
The second step to maintaining moral purity is this:
2. I MUST ABANDON HARMFUL MATERIAL
Every temptation begins in the mind. What you feed your mind is just as important as what you feed your body. Proverbs 15:14 says, “A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash.” That was written thousands of years before television. Could you live on a diet of coke and Twinkies? No. The moral equivalent of Twinkies is found in television, the movies, and much of the material we consume. There’s little nutritional value there. The reason many of us struggle in our thought life is because we’re feeding our minds on trash.
The average person will spend more time watching TV than doing any single thing else except sleeping and working. You will amass about twelve and a half years of solid TV viewing. The TV is on in the average home more than seven and a half hours a day. By the time a child finishes high school, he will have spent 18,000 hours with the TV and only 12,000 hours at school. The average adult man watches 28 hours a week. The average adult woman watches 33 hours a week. A typical teenager watches about five hours of TV a day and in one year they will have been exposed to 14,000 plus sexual encounters on television.
TV Guide reports that over the course of the year, prime time TV depicts 14,313 incidences of sex, 23,000 uses of profanity. Ninety-one percent of all sex portrayed on TV is sex outside of marriage.
I call that brain washing. That has absolutely no correlation to reality. On television, you’re taught through exposure that the only good sex is outside of marriage. You rarely see married couples going to bed together and enjoying it. It’s almost always either outside of marriage in an extramarital affair or prior to marriage between singles. That’s just not reality. Somebody’s obviously got an agenda if 91% of all sex on TV is shown outside of what God says it should be reserved for. What’s wrong with this picture? Television rarely shows the negative consequences of the actions it depicts. You’re in for trouble if you don’t abandon watching the harmful material that comes into your house through the television.
Occasionally, I come across someone who says that all the media they watch doesn’t affect them. If the media didn’t affect you, advertisers wouldn’t have paid $2 million dollars to show a 30-second commercial. You remember slogans of commercials that haven’t run in decades. “Where’s the…beef?” “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz…” “You deserve a…break today.” What you feed your mind will remain there for years to come.
It’s amazing to me what we allow ourselves to watch, and what we let our children watch. It’s amazing to me that we rent videos and watch movies and shows that fill our minds with some of the vilest material. The problem with television and media and a lot of things like this is that it lowers your resistance to understanding what’s right and what’s wrong. Psalm 119:37 says, “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word.” Psalm 101:3 says, “I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar.”
I’m not going to give you a list of what you should be watching and shouldn’t be watching. But if you’re going to maintain your moral purity, you need to pay close attention to what you see. You need to be careful what you let into your mind. Once again, Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.”
What should you do with offensive material? How far should you go in cutting it off? Jesus said in Matthew 5:
So if your eye-even if it is your good eye-causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand-even if it is your stronger hand-causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Jesus wasn’t talking about disfiguring yourself. Jesus was telling us to take drastic action to get rid of anything that causes us to sin. Can I paraphrase what Jesus said? “It’s better to throw away your computer – even if it’s a Pentium 4 – than to destroy your marriage using Internet porn. It’s better to cancel the cable and sell your TV than to feed your mind with impure material. Be prepared to take drastic action. If you want to maintain your moral purity, you must abandon harmful material.
What can you feed your mind instead? Philippians 4:8 says, “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Whenever you are tempted to sin, you are trying to fill a legitimate need with an illegitimate substitute. It’s an attempt to fill a legitimate need with a quick substitute that will feel good for the moment, but have devastating results. The answer isn’t to resist the need. The answer is to fill that need the way that God intended.
If you’re married, one of the best ways that you can maintain your moral purity is to have a good marriage relationship. Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Live happily with the woman you love.” God wants you to enjoy your spouse. Proverbs 5 says, “Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth…Why be captivated, my son, with an immoral woman?” (Proverbs 5:18-20) Somebody has said that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. It isn’t necessarily greener on your side of the fence either. It’s greener where you water it. Water and nourish your marriage. In April, we’re going to begin a series on how to build a strong marriage and a strong family. One of the best ways to maintain moral purity is to build a good marriage relationship.
What will it take to remain morally pure? I must adopt God’s standards. I must abandon harmful material. The third action that I need to take to maintain moral purity:
3. I MUST ANTICIPATE TEMPTATION
When temptation comes, be ready. Be prepared. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says, “We are very familiar with [Satan’s] evil schemes.” One thing that you can say about Satan is that he is remarkably consistent. Satan doesn’t really vary his technique very much. God wants us to understand how he operates, and he hasn’t changed his methods very much. It’s very easy to understand how temptation works.
Temptation is never just a one-time act. It’s a process. If you’re going to beat temptation, you need to figure out when you’re most vulnerable and put safeguards in place to protect you. In your journal, there are some pages you can use to identify a self-destructive pattern. You can chart your behavior and ask, every day, how Jesus would rate you in saying no to that pattern. After a while, you may notice when you’re most vulnerable. It may be when you’re alone, or when you’re tired, or when you’re around certain people. You need to anticipate when you’re tempted, and take preventative steps to avoid being put in that temptation. Set up an accountability partner. Avoid certain situations. Block out the adult channels when you’re traveling for business. Develop a plan to deal with those times that you’re weak. Matthew 26:41 says, “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you.”
One more action that we can take to remain morally pure:
4. I MUST ACCEPT CHRIST’S FORGIVENESS
Some of you come today with tremendous guilt. You don’t need anyone to tell you that you’re wrong. You know you’re wrong. Your conscience is bothering you. You know that you’ve failed God and yourself, and you’re getting ready to leave today beating yourself up for your failures. You need to follow this last action. You need to accept Christ’s forgiveness.
God’s standard has never changed. Premarital sex is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Living together without getting married is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Adultery, having an affair, being unfaithful to somebody you’re married to is unacceptable to God. It always has been and it always will be. Homosexuality is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Pornography is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Every one of those things brings a judgment.
If you have been guilty of one or all of these things I’ve just mentioned you’ve come to the right place. This is what we are all about. We are a place for healing, for forgiveness, for restoration. God says, “I want to give you a chance to come clean and start over and make the rest of your life the best part of your life.” God can do that.
What is the pathway back to purity?
REPENT. Repent means “to change your mind”. That’s all repent means. It means I change my mind and say, “You were right God. It was wrong. It’s sin.” I don’t rationalize it. I don’t excuse it. I don’t say everybody’s doing it. I say, “It was wrong.”
RECEIVE FORGIVENESS. God says, “I’m waiting. I’m waiting to forgive and to cleanse and to restore. I want to release you from the shame and the regrets and the hidden hurts and the pain and all that stuff you are carrying.” The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”
REFOCUS AND REPLACE. You make a commitment to live morally pure by God’s standard from this day forward for the rest of your life.
REQUEST HELP DAILY. Jesus taught us to pray, “Don’t let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). Ask God to deliver you from temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.”
Would you receive the gift of forgiveness – of a clean slate today?
I want to pray with those who have been struggling in this area. Would you pray, “Father, you know all about me. And I thank you that you love me and I ask you to forgive me. Clean out my life and give me a fresh start today.”
“Today, dear Lord, I want to make a commitment to adopt your standard. Regardless of what anybody else says, or what the rest of the world does, I want to live according to your Word. Today, I commit to abandoning harmful material. I won’t indiscriminately allow movies and magazines and shows that teach perversion or promote promiscuity into my mind. Help me to not feed on trash but to feed on truth. Help me to monitor my media intake and keep me from paying attention to what’s worthless. Today, I ask for your help in anticipating temptation. And I accept your forgiveness because Jesus died for my sins and rose again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”