In a place where I used to work few years back, there was a seller of DVDs who came by weekly to sell his wares to some of my colleagues. On one occasion, he brought along some “blue films”. I was with a senior colleague in our staff common room. He asked if I would be interested? Before I could reply, my colleague chipped in “This one ibe Osofo o!” (meaning, FYI, this man is a pastor!)–to which the DVD seller retorted “I get many Osofos wey dey buy this kind film constant!” (literally, no big deal, I do supply these kinds of CDs to many pastor clients on a regular basis!). I was too saddened to say anything. There was no need to; for this salesman had first-hand incriminating evidence to support his claim that many men of the cloth indulged pornography covertly–or perhaps overtly.
The warning signs that many professing Christians have compromised their stance on sexual purity have been staring us in the face for a while. A youth pastor is arrested for child pornography. Elsewhere, another pastor is charged with secretly recording female congregants using the Church restroom. A worship leader is also caught with hundreds of thousands of pornographic images and videos on his laptop. These are few of the damaging headlines from 2017 alone. In 2014, an online article chronicled 25 shocking incidences of sexual crimes involving pastors of protestant churches in the month of May alone, details of which are too gory to re-tell. Paul’s words in Eph. 4:17-20 and 5:3-7 are a sharp rebuke to our fallen standards as a Church.
So, how did we fall so low? What is to blame for the deplorable state of morality in the Christian Church? On my part, I believe that a departure from faithful gospel preaching in most of our pulpits largely accounts for the type of Christianity that is evident today. The Gospel teaching is that God’s grace saves sinners from the doldrums of sin, and produces in them fruits of righteousness in keeping with their new nature which is fashioned after the image of Him who created it (Col. 3:9-10, Eph. 2:10). Simply, the gospel produces saints out of sinners. It produces a people who are zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14). When we look at ourselves in the mirror of the gospel daily, we see the sin that nailed our Saviour to the cross for what it really is, and the gospel spurs us on to hate that sin and the sinful life we previously lived. In response to a genuine conversion by the gospel, believers strive with Paul to put the body of sin to death daily through the energy of Christ which so powerfully works in them (Col. 1:29). As Bruce Ware puts it, when we imbibe the gospel effectively, it first penetrates our minds, travels from our minds to our hearts, and to our hands and finally to our habitat. The effects of preaching the gospel to ourselves daily is that our belief systems and thought processes; our emotions and affections; how we work and live and our environment is impacted by our good works produced by the grace of God in us. A departure from a due emphasis on the gospel from our pulpits conversely produces Christians who are malnourished in the diet that spurs their growth and maturity in the Lord. It is the faithful word of the gospel that sanctifies. Thus, our Lord prayed, sanctify them by Your word, (for) Your Word is truth (Jn. 17:17). The Word shapes our thoughts and hence our affections, as we meditate on things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).
Much as faithful gospel preaching as the corporate responsibility of the church is a priority, the individual is also called upon by the gospel to actively apply its teaching to their lives. How ridiculous we will be if we looked in a mirror in the morning in preparation to go out, and realised a smear of toothpaste on the cheek, but didn’t do anything about it? James says we should not be hearers only, thereby deceiving ourselves, but we should be doers also (Jas. 1:22-25). Jesus calls us blessed if we hear the Word of God and do it (Luk. 11:28)! David would admonish the young man who wishes to keep his way pure to guard his ways according to God’s Word (Psa. 119:9, 11). When David advises on purity, we will do well to heed, as he speaks from experience! So, we have an active part to play as well in our sanctification; namely obeying God’s word and doing it!
Now let’s bring this home to the issue of sexual purity. How can we keep ourselves free from sexual impurity? I’m sure we can list so many biblical ways to do this, beginning with taking our Word intake seriously as already mentioned above. But in practical terms, what are some steps we could take to achieve this? Here, I believe, Job models for us a practical way godly people discipline themselves for the purpose of sexual purity. We turn our Bibles to Job 31:1-12. This is how Job opens that chapter:
“I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high?”
The words of Job in what the editors of the ESV Bible call his ‘final appeal’ are very instructive. Job’s friends in the previous chapters summarily dismissed his sufferings as punishment from God for his wrongdoing. “God doesn’t punish the guiltless”, seemed to be their final verdict. Job in response, refuted their accusations and recounted how he had walked with integrity before God. Job recounts how he had taken a radical approach to sin, and consciously disciplined himself to obey God with a united heart and mind. In this chapter, he reveals how he wrestled decisively with sexual sins. We can glean at least three things from Job as we seek to defy the allure of sexual impurity.
1. A Covenant with the Eye
Job alludes to the fact that he had forbidden his eyes to look with lust at a virgin. He says he had bound himself thus with a covenant. Virgin here connotes an unmarried lady in the historical-cultural context. In v9, he expounds on what he means by this covenant. “If my heart has been enticed toward a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbour’s door,” he says. To Job, entertaining lustful thoughts was not a light thing to be toyed with. It called for drastic action. He vows that if he goes after any woman other than his wife, may another man do same to him! If he went against his word in this regard, let him sow and another reap, he says! (v8). In Ps. 119:106 we see David similarly swearing on oath to keep God’s righteous rules. Too many Christians today romanticise with sin. We take sin too lightly. We easily give in to the least temptation and turn around and blame the devil. Biblical examples like Job’s teach us that we have what it takes to say no to lust. Jesus similarly taught such brutal radicalism against sin when he said that if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out—for it is better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to enter hell fire with both (Mk. 9:47)! Jesus is not literally calling for us to start mutilating the flesh like the worshippers of Baal, rather he is metaphorically calling for a decisive approach in dealing with sin. Like Paul, we need to prayerfully discipline our body and keep it under control (1Cor. 9:27). We are well able to, with the right motivation and the right mind set–God’s grace enabling.
2. A Conscious Awareness of God’s Abiding Presence
Job alludes to what theologians refer to as Coram Deo, to live each moment as in the presence of God, under His authority, to the praise of His glory! He says in v2 that the reason he will not give in to lustful desires is because God above looks, and rewards his actions. He is conscious of God’s presence at all times. If we lived with this consciousness, we will not do in the presence of God what we would not do in the presence of men. Because he walks daily as in God’s presence, Job has nothing to hide. He declares that God sees his ways and numbers all his steps (v4). He boldly exclaims God as his judge in faithfully esteeming the integrity with which he has kept his bond to not follow his eyes into sexual sin (vv. 6-7). This is a model of Christian integrity for contemporary Christians. A Christian who lives as in God’s presence has nothing to hide. He walks in the light so it will be seen that his deeds are godly and God-glorifying (Jn. 3:19-21).
3. Being Convicted About the Damaging Effects of Sexual Immorality
Job in his discourse makes some pretty heavy statements. They may sound extreme, but they convey a truth about sexual immorality which is echoed in several places in the Bible. He says, giving in to sexual sins (from lusting after a virgin to actually going in to them (v9)) is a fire that would consume as far as Abaddon, and burn down all his increase/profit. No doubt, many respectable men in society have lost their jobs, subjected themselves to public shame and ridicule, and brought untold griefs upon their families and loved ones by their sexual acts of indiscrimination. Some corporate men have suffered legal indictment for viewing or downloading pornographic materials on their official computers. The shame and reproach and the pain can be unbearable. Compare this with the wise man’s warnings in Prov. 6:24-33.
If you are struggling with pornography or lust or any other sexual sin, don’t despair, you can overcome it! If you set Christ before you as a motivation, you can discipline yourself to say no to lust. You are not a slave to lust, but to righteousness. Covenant like Job to discipline your eyes and your heart with God’s help to never give in to lust another day. God’s grace is available to you. Use it and fight!