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March 06, 2010

The Purity Principle: Chapters 5 and 6

The Purity Principle is this: Purity is always smart; impurity is always stupid.

Does God really argue for sexual purity on the basis that it’s the smart choice, while impurity is stupid? Judge for yourself:

Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife? For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly. (Proverbs 5:20-23)

Why avoid adultery? Because God will see it and He will bring judgment. But even before judgment day “the cords of his sin hold him fast.” The adulterer will be ensnared; he will die. He’s the primary victim of his foolishness. In contrast, the man who remains pure can “rejoice” and “be captivated” by his wife’s love, enjoying their sexual union (Proverbs 5:18-19).

In the next chapter God asks, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29)

Haunting words: no one who touches her will go unpunished.

Proverbs also depicts the man who is seduced into adultery as “an ox going to the slaughter,” and like a deer or bird being killed by a hunter (Proverbs 7:21-27).

A believer recovering from sexual addiction (which requires repentance from sexual sin) told me, “Addicts always think they can get away with it. You won’t change until you realize you can’t.”

I can never get away with sexual immorality. God wants me to remember that...for my sake.

The Battle’s in Your Mind

Brad was a seminary student preparing for ministry. One night he argued with his wife. Upset, he drove to Starbucks to think things through. Soon Brad was engrossed in conversation with a young woman. A few hours later he was in bed with her.

Brad came to me, ashamed and distressed. “How can I tell my wife?” he asked. “Will she ever forgive me? It was so sudden—there was no warning. It came out of the clear blue sky!”

Or did it?

Brad had worked nonstop to put himself through seminary. He’d come to subtly resent his wife, seeing her and the children as obstacles to his goal of entering the ministry. He no longer dated her or communicated on a deep level.

He’d been looking and lusting at the magazine racks. He’d watched raunchy movies when his wife was gone. All of this culminated in the horrible episode that “happened without warning.”

The truth is, sexual sin never comes out of the blue. It is the predictable result of natural processes. Relationships are neglected and a mind is granted exposure to impurity.

Today’s thoughts are the stuff of which tomorrow’s character is made. Temptation may come suddenly, but sin doesn’t. Neither does moral and spiritual fiber. Both result from a process, over which we do have control.

We are what we think. We forge our sexual morality through an ongoing series of choices and actions, including tiny indulgences and miniscule compromises. The eye lingers here...the mind loiters there. Like a photographic plate accumulating light to form an image, our mind accumulates the light we expose it to, godly or ungodly.

The battle is in our minds.

Setting Boundaries

To protect our purity we need to set mental boundaries.

On a scale of one to ten, adultery or pornography addiction might be a ten, at the top of a ladder. But the question is, what were the bottom rungs of that ladder—the ones, twos, and threes? When we identify those, disaster prevention can take place.

Of course, prevention’s not always easy—but it’s a lot easier than the alternative: misery.

Disaster prevention happens in small but significant ways. For years I didn’t permit myself to go in a particular doorway to our local supermarket because of a magazine rack. Later, my mental discipline became strong enough that I could keep my eyes away. But until then I honored my boundary. It was inconvenient, but a small price to pay to guard my purity.

We have a television, but we don’t have cable. Not because we believe it’s wrong, but because we don’t want more temptation in our home.

I’m not telling you what you have to do. Boundaries will vary from person to person. A boundary may be not standing in a checkout line where certain magazines are displayed. Or not driving in a certain part of town. Or never going on a business trip alone. Or not watching a particular actor or listening to a particular musician.

Boundaries keep temptation from getting a foothold. They are based on the premise that our sexual purity cannot be strengthened if we keep doing what we’ve always done! We must change our habits. We are sentries charged with protecting something immensely strategic.

Our Commander says:

“Above all else, guard your heart [mind, inner being], for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“Above all else” means it should be at the very top of our daily duty sheet. It is of the utmost importance that we protect our inmost being from new sources of temptation. We must not provide ammunition for our enemy to use against us. We must force our sin natures not to draw from old input (which fades as time goes on). Meanwhile, we make sure new input is pure and Christ-honoring.

Of course, your flesh will demand that you give it new fuel. “Feed me,” it will cry. But you refuse, praying this: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your Word” (Psalm 119:37). You become part of the answer to your prayer by turning your eyes away. (Consider writing out this verse and posting it on your television.)

We are not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). We’re to deny lust and put it to death when it tries to get a grip on us (Colossians 3:5). We’re to affirm that we are new creations in Christ, covered with His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21).

Your sanctified mind, fed on God’s Word, nourished by His Spirit, polices your thought life. It says yes to what pleases Christ and no to what doesn’t.

Filling Your Mind with Pure Thoughts

Just for a moment, I’d like you to carefully follow my instruction. Ready? Okay...don’t think about snakes. Don’t—I repeat, do not—think about big slimy snakes, slithering up from your bathtub drain at night and crawling into your bed.

You heard me. Don’t think about snakes.

Have I kept you from thinking about snakes? No, I’ve encouraged you to think about them.

Now, I want you to envision your favorite dessert. Perhaps it’s your mother’s Dutch apple pie, or chocolate chip cookies with a tall frosty glass of milk, or Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, or a Butterfinger Blizzard. Just think about that mouth-watering treat.

What’s happened in the last few moments? You’d forgotten all about those slithering snakes...until I mentioned them again.

“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). When the wrong thoughts come we correct them, replacing them with God’s truth. In time, evil thoughts aren’t as much at home in us, and become easier to evict.

While other urges exist for our physical maintenance, sex does not (1 Corinthians 6:12-13). We will die without food and water. We will not die without sex. No matter how strong the desire, sex is never an emergency, never a necessity. A friend told me, “No body has ever exploded due to toxic sperm buildup.”

As we learn to stop feeding lust, and say no to its demands, we begin to master it. In time its demands become less pressing, more manageable.

A Covenant With Your Eyes

Job says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1). Job made a commitment to guard his heart by guarding his eyes. The verses that follow spell out the terrible consequences should he not live by this covenant of purity (Job 31:2-12).

A covenant is an agreement between God and man. In this case we make a sacred commitment to God—and to our families and comrades. The agreement is to not look at-and to immediately turn away from—whatever pulls us toward lust.

Have you made a contract with your eyes, to not look where they shouldn’t?

Are you practicing this purity covenant when you walk across campus? When you work out? When you drive? When you select television shows? When you’re at church?

Have you announced your covenant to others? Have you asked them to pray for you and hold you accountable to it? Have you restated your covenant before God?

If not, why not do it now?

Parable of the Doughnuts

Imagine someone whose weakness is eating doughnuts. His doctor says, “No more doughnuts.” He vows to God, “No more doughnuts.” He promises his family, “No more doughnuts.” He calls the church and gets on the prayer chain. He even goes to a doughnut deliverance ministry to have the demon of doughnut desire cast out of him.

Here’s a guy who means business, right?

But then what does he do? Well, if he’s like a lot of us, he goes right on reading about doughnuts, listening to doughnut music, and watching television programs about making doughnuts. He spends his time with other doughnut lovers talking about doughnuts, joking about doughnuts at the office, where he often glances at the doughnut calendars on the wall. He looks through the newspaper for doughnut coupons and subscribes to Doughnut Desires, with its glossy, color photos.

It’s not long before he’s driving to work the long way that “just happens” to go by a doughnut shop. He rolls down the window and inhales. Pretty soon he’s buying the morning paper from the rack right outside the doughnut shop. He’s lingering just long enough to check out doughnuts through the window.

Then he remembers he has to make a phone call, and hey, what do you know, the doughnut shop has a pay phone. And since he’s there anyway, why not have a cup of coffee?

Now, remember, this man has no intention of breaking his vow and eating doughnuts. But the totally predictable and inevitable result is—what? That he will give in and eat doughnuts!

And can’t you just hear his sad lament? “What went wrong? I prayed! I asked others to pray. I asked God for deliverance. Why try? I give up. You do your best and look what happens!”

The First and Most Basic Strategy

If we learn nothing else from the parable of the doughnuts, we should learn that sincere intentions, and even prayers, are not enough. To have victory over temptation we must have clear goals and sound strategies, and we must diligently carry them out.

What’s our first line of defense against impurity?

“Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

When it comes to sexual temptation, it pays to be a coward. He who hesitates (and rationalizes) is lost. He who runs, lives.
Scripture puts it emphatically:

“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way” (Proverbs 4:14-15).
Joseph demonstrated this with Potiphar’s wife:

And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her...She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (Genesis 39:10, 12)

Joseph not only refused to go to bed with her but to “even be with her.” When she finally pushed herself on him he didn’t stay. He ran.

Don’t stay and try to “resist” temptation when you can run from it.

Anticipate and Prevent Sexual Temptations

Those whose jobs involve travel get lots of sexual temptation. Home, family, and community provide natural restraints that are left behind. Anonymity, loneliness, and leisure time often spell catastrophe.

I know godly men and women who travel frequently, yet consistently have moral victory. But many others have long track records of failure. They need to stop traveling, even if it means finding another job that pays less.

At a men’s conference I once asked those who travel to stand and share what they’d found helpful in resisting sexual temptation. One man told us that for a long time he’d watched immoral movies in hotel rooms. After years of this, he finally decided to do something.

“Whenever I check into a hotel I ask them to remove the television from my room. Invariably they look at me like I’m crazy. ‘But sir, you don’t have to turn it on.’ Since I’m a paying customer I politely insist, and I’ve never once been refused. Immorality is no longer just a button push away. This is how I’ve said ‘I’m serious about this, Lord.’ I’ve done this for a year, and it’s my key to victory. Everything’s changed.”

This man discovered a great principle: It’s always easier to avoid temptation than to resist temptation we’ve already exposed ourselves to.

In moments of strength, make decisions that will prevent temptation in moments of weakness.

Cultivate Your Inner Life

There’s a danger that a book like The Purity Principle can appear to be behavior modification. I’m well aware that simple guidelines and the “just try harder” exhortation aren’t enough to subdue the flesh, break the grip of lust, or minimize the power of deeply ingrained habits. There is no “easy little formula.”

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of drawing on the indwelling power of the risen Christ. Self-reformation is not enough.

Yet Scripture commands us to do and not do certain things that are within our power. And often, in doing these things, our hearts change. So we should take wise steps, knowing that they are necessary but not sufficient. Ultimately, the battle for purity is won or lost in quietness, on our knees with God and in collaboration with our fellow soldiers.

Busyness wears down our ability to hear the promptings of God’s Spirit, His Word, and His people. Fatigue makes us oblivious to what’s really happening. Healthy self-examination reveals to us our “triggers”—the situations that tempt us. We then take these to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to avoid them.

Time with God is the fountain from which holiness flows...and joy, and delight.

Memorize and Quote Scripture

Jesus quoted Scripture to answer Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:2-11).

When the attacks on your purity come, be ready to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). This requires you to memorize Scripture:

“I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).

The Purity Principle—and even this article—contains many Scripture passages. Pick out several that really speak to you. Write them out, carry them with you, post them prominently. When you’re tempted, talk back to the devil. The Bible gives you the words to say. Have them ready.

Pray and Don’t Give Up

Jesus taught His disciples, we should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1).

We are often brought to our knees after losing a battle. But we need to fall to our knees before the battle begins.

Too often we declare a truce with sin. We tolerate unrighteousness and let it claim more territory in our lives, and in our homes.

Jesus says “Don’t give up! Pray for God’s help.” Some readers will be suspicious of this because they’ve heard “Just read the Bible and pray, and that will solve everything.” No, it won’t solve everything, but nothing will be solved without it. Jesus knew what He was talking about. So did James.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Would God tell you to abstain from impurity if that were impossible?

Many men have been defeated so long they think victory is impossible. They’ve given up. That guarantees they’ll go right on losing. But God calls us and empowers us to be “overcomers” (Revelation 3:5)—those who experience victory over sin.

An overcoming friend told me, “People never change until it hurts them less to change than to stay the same.” Many Christian men—most of whom had to become desperate first—are in sexual addiction recovery groups that have been great instruments of change in their lives. (Like everything else, these groups should be measured by their faithfulness to revealed truth. Some are biblically oriented and some are not.) Tens of thousands of people are living proof that victory over sexual temptation is possible. And frankly, we need to hear their stories in our churches, to glorify God and bring this message of hope.

Draw upon your supernatural resources in Christ (2 Peter 1:3-4).

For the grace of God that brings salvation...teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12).

This is about the great themes of Scripture, redemption and grace. Our sexual struggles should remind us of our need for grace and empowerment—and make us long for our ultimate redemption (Romans 7:7-25).

If a lifetime of purity seems inconceivable to you, commit yourself in 24-hour increments. Do you want freedom from the actions and obsessions of lust? Get help. Be wise. Avoid temptation. Go to Christ. Experience His sufficiency. Draw on His power.

And when the first 24 hours are over, and you’ve tasted of the Lord and seen He is good (Psalm 34:8), commit to the next 24 hours. Depend on Him one day at a time.

Never underestimate Christ. Sin is not more powerful than God. Don’t imagine there can’t be victory until we get to heaven. God says otherwise. We’re not to wait for victory. We’re to live in it (1 John 5:4).

A Final Question

Are you ready to commit—or recommit—yourself to a life of sexual purity? Now’s the time. Nothing’s more fleeting than the moment of conviction.

God made a universe in which righteousness is always rewarded, and unrighteousness is always punished.

Purity is always smart; impurity is always stupid.

The Purity Principle“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10).

Live in such a way as to hear your Lord say to you one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

When we hear Him say those incredible words, we will know that any sacrifice we made was nothing compared to the joy that will forever be ours. (And that joy, by the way, starts now.)


The Purity Principle includes practical guidelines to protect purity, for singles, for married couples, and for parents who wish to train their children in purity. These include controlling the television and internet, and offering alternatives for how to spend our time. It also includes confession, repentance and developing biblical accountability that doesn’t just admit sin, but prevents it.

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