Our culture is on a rampage to promote sin and destroy goodness—the great irony is it doesn’t realize it’s hacking off the very branch its ladder is leaning on. Without God and His goodness, life wouldn’t even be—nothing would exist. Every good and beautiful and true thing would be mere perversion, illusion, and vanity. But in our human arrogance, all of us wake up every morning and cut off our noses despite our faces because we—so we tell ourselves by the way we act—are god. We care more about our pleasure than His, and we force Him to submit to us as we gorge ourselves on His good gifts.
This is life after the fall. And if you are a Christian, this is your story…but not the whole thing. Christ has purchased our Redemption so that we see this happening. We see evil as evil, as enemy, and we fight it. But overcoming sin is often talked about in vague terms because we are afraid to be honest about it, even with ourselves. We’d rather sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s not there, hoping it doesn’t come back to bite us later.
But we need to have this conversation, desperately. We need to know How and Why we overcome; we need to understand Redemption and how it works so that we can have the confidence to jerk the rug up and cleanse the floor—fully, truly, holistically.
What I want to show is this process of Redemption in the concrete example of nurturing purity and conquering sexual sin. If I can explain this one, I think it will serve as a template for every other sin and temptation.
Our Porn-ified Culture: Satan’s Devices
America has been called a “pornographic society” because it is the most sexualized culture. Europe and England have 10x the public nudity but 100x less sex. Americans worship sex, so it’s a great place to start looking at what it takes to reverse the curse and apply redemption to ourselves, being sexual creatures.
I think the cause of a sin like this lies buried in our worldview. Therefore, to conquer it, we have to see how it works, how Satan perverts goodness, and what that really means for us humans fighting for perfection.
A theologian once said that Satan’s best tool is unmeaning. Satan can’t win out in the open, so he obscures meaning with darkness in order to manipulate us, because in the light, we’d always choose God. God’s Universe is perfectly rational, like Him, and we humans are created in His image, as rational creatures. Because of the fall, our minds are broken and darkened, but when He gives us light, we see the meaning of things, how things really are definitionally, and we can’t be lied to. So Satan’s mission is to confuse us, hide the truth, and dance around playing silly word-games.
It just so happens, the playing of silly word-games is exactly what defines the American worldview. We don’t know what important words mean anymore, and we act like no one can know what they mean. If they mean something different for everyone they can’t mean anything to anyone. So deep, profound words like love, purity, courage, honor, goodness, beauty, etc., all, in the final analysis, don’t really mean anything. And yet these words stand for real things eternally significant, objectively real and infinitely valuable.
Novelist William Faulkner used his Nobel Prize speech to talk about this very word-game problem. He said we’ve lost these, the “eternal verities [truths] of the human spirit,” the truths so basic and normative for living you can’t live without relying on them. But we’ve lost them, and we’ve lost what makes life worth living.
Faulkner was pointing to World War 2 as the explanation for that loss. He said:
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
That fear of death made mankind more animal than human (as all war does), and that caused him to lose grip on the very clarity and poignancy he needed to understand himself and the world around him. Faulkner’s solution:
He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
So Satan is using everything he can (in this case, war) to shroud the Truth and promote his deception, and it all impacts us greatly. Even the way we use our words can change the way we think and navigate Reality. Who knew World War 2 (and grammar) impacts our lives like this?
But it goes further than World War 2. We have to try to go back through the mess of Western history and see where Satan flicked the first domino to get a feel for how to fight well now. Because in the moment, it seems we are up against an impossibly powerful enemy, but if you trace the dominos back to the original, there’s always just one. When you find that one, you can conquer it with God’s Truth in one swoop.
For modern man, it all began with Evolution. The god of evolution is progress, and its gospel is relativism. The hope of humanity lies in the progress of “the human experiment,” which, for us post-postmodern people, is supposedly coming to a final climax in a dystopian end-of-the-world scenario. We humans are outdated, about to be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence. This fetish with progress makes us biased to think new things are better than old things. It feeds the newness bias inherent in humans so that the “eternal truths” are worthless—exactly because they are eternal. Meanwhile, relativism comes from behind and undermines even the concept of an eternal truth so that it takes a leap of faith just to believe such things even exist. To the modern man, that’s just wishful thinking.
Without absolutes our definitions crumble. And as they crumble, our newness bias reshapes them to suit our present needs. We recreate our own definitions for those eternal truths, just like a cook who decides to recreate his own measurements for a recipe. Without objective measurements, the cake will never turn out, and neither will our lives. In the same way, we as a culture have redefined everything to be as we want it to be. Love isn’t love; it’s lust. Courage isn’t courage; it’s self-exaltation. And the greatest irony of all is that in our haste to please ourselves we’ve almost lost the ability to be pleased.
And so we, as a culture, allow the perversions of our fallenness to ruin us from the inside out.
There’s another factor at play in the secular Western society besides relativism and the newness bias: materialism. We focus on what we see, and only what we see, and that leaves us living in a 2D world, cut off from the third dimension of Reality where God, absolutes, and the magic of His sovereign omnipotence lives. We worship at the altar of science and realism at the expense of all the things that lay outside the visual world, things like, well, definitions.
So we’ve thrown out the baby of the eternal verities of the created order with the bathwater of “old” definitions, and replaced them with the newest things going, represented in the slogan: “Whatever feels best for you, do it.”
Let’s look at this in the concrete example of sexual immorality.
The Example of Purity
Purity is the go-to church small-group talk, especially for men. It is, to my mind, the single greatest struggle for us Westerners. But it’s not that way everywhere. Studies have shown that tribal people, the ones who walk around largely naked, don’t care about sex all that much. It’s a part of life, but it’s a small part. They can’t understand our infatuation. And yet it has devastating power over us.
Most church people will never admit to using porn or indulging in any other sexual impurities, and yet it’s all around us. A while back, The Pew Research Center tried to find a control group for their study on the effects of porn on the college-age male brain, and they couldn’t find one single college male who would claim he’d been sexually pure for 6 months. Not one. This affliction is devouring our people, and it’s not a light affliction. What this says about our culture is devastating.
It’s devastating for us as a whole and us as individuals. Most people who are trapped in a pattern of sexual sin feel hopeless, because on our own, it is hopeless. Without Christ, it is literally impossible to be healed from lust, because without Christ, we have nothing better to live for than ourselves and our personal pleasures. We can discipline ourselves to be better, to stay away from the cheap stuff, but we can’t be HEALED. We can only do what we see is best for us, and when the pain outweighs the pleasure, we give in.
Redemption: What Does it Mean to Be Healed?
Being healed from sin is like being vaccinated to it; it’s about being cured of its charms so that it looks to you like what it really is: a cheap perversion. But I don’t hear this much from Evangelicals. I think the church has messed up here in one of two ways: we either act like sin is, by nature, fun and attractive, and therefore the only way it can be defeated is by raw discipline and sheer willpower, or we act like sin is a spiritual mis-fire which requires God-the-mechanic to come do His thing under our hoods and make our engines run smoothly again. We either think it’s about external restraint, or internal (mystical) intervention. But it’s both, and even more than both.
To explain, let me give my favorite analogy for parenting, because the same principle applies. When raising children, preparing them for the fiery world around them, parents have two options: wrap them in asbestos over and over until they are fire-proof, or, refine the metal of their hearts to be pure gold, impervious to the flames of the world. Ultimately, you want your children to be unstained by sin, so you can either wrap them up, or make them immune. The first option doesn’t make them any less attracted to the world—it just avoids the problem with no more reasoning than “because I said so” which never gets you very far. The second option answers their questions and grows their taste for God and perfection so they aren’t tempted by the perversion of sin. Both options are wise depending on personality-type, etc., but one thing is for sure: neither is enough on its own.
Now this is the point: Redemption is also about inner attraction, not just external action. It doesn’t glorify God that you can flex your muscles and overcome sin—that glorifies yourself. It glorifies God when a miracle happens in your heart so that you see His beauty so overwhelmingly more satisfying than the perversion in the world around you. God is glorified when the temptations get easier to see through and you become dissatisfied with the cheap perversion and increasingly more satisfied with His intention.
The principle is the same for purity (and for any sin). You can “conquer” your temptations by gritting your teeth and getting through them, or you can change the way you see them so that they aren’t attractive to you anymore. You can take the light of God and shine it on them and expose all their blemishes and repulsive lies. You can call their bluff. And you can live in the sweet rest of God as you “fight” evil, because it’s not you that’s doing the fighting, it’s the Light of the Truth of God, exposing the foolish deceptions of the darkness. You’re just the one watching and acting on it.
But this Redemption is very hard work.
The Redefining Power of Redemption
Redemption is about changing the way you see the world and the way you make sense of it. If you are failing in an area, then—don’t be fooled—your actions prove that you truly see the perversion as better than the original. You have to admit that, and then start changing the way you see it. This is called discipleship, and the goal of discipleship is to grow you closer to Christ in every area of your life, not in some nebulous “Christ-like” way, but in practical, mundane ways. Point by point. Event by event. Topic by topic. Word by word.
We all struggle with sin because we are still fallen. But some struggle more than others because they haven’t fought to attain this redemption. Failing sexually can only happen when you truly believe that your sexuality as meant for your pleasure. It can only happen when you accept a definition that is a perversion. When you see sex for what God intended it to be, then that entire narrative of Love and self-sacrifice woos you into a Romance that leaves you deeply dissatisfied with anything less.
The same goes for every other virtue. Virtues aren’t actions, they are results. The fruits of the Spirit flow out of a heart obsessed with the glory of the REAL THING. Obsessed with Christ, objectively True Truths, the beauty and glory only He in His infinite perfection can provide. But in order to rework our brains and our narratives about life, in order to reformat our expectations, we need one more essential characteristic.
Courage, the Foundation of All Virtues
C. S. Lewis once said that courage is the father of all virtues because without it, you can’t fight hard enough for the others. But we don’t have the proper definition of courage either. Courage isn’t about protecting life, it’s about a strong desire to live taking the readiness to die. It’s seeking life with a firm indifference to it. It’s about loving life so much you’re willing to give it up. So with love. It’s about a strong desire to feel satisfied taking the readiness to be dissatisfied. You love it so much you’re willing to give it up. Because ultimately it’s so much BIGGER than you, and you feel it, and it drives you to feel dissatisfied when you make it all about yourself.
The culture has indoctrinated us to believe that pleasing ourselves is the only way we can be pleased. That is cowardice. And cowardice is a ferocious hold on your pleasure that manifests as an unwillingness to give, to love, to wonder, marvel, or magnify. Cowardice, and the self-centeredness of lacking courage, dehumanizes you and shrinks your soul.
Lust bends your desire in on yourself and sucks your soul dry of virtues and dignity, while Love spills over into courage, chivalry, dignity, and honor. Our culture tells us love is about lust, about getting what you want, the way you want, when you want it, but Love is about giving all of that up for someone else. And when that happens, your heart grows fat and expands into an image of God’s Love. Then, lust can’t satisfy. Lust can’t truly tempt.
You are what you worship, and you worship what you spend your most time on. If you are using a relationship, a hobby, or anything so much it begins to define you, it will. It will shrink your heart and soul to be a mirror image of what you desire. If your pleasure is at the top of that list, you are sharing your worship of God with yourself, and God begins to look a lot like yourself, because to you, they are one and the same. And when that happens, you’re back hacking your nose off despite your face—and that’s no way to live.
The only way to replace the passion for lust is to focus on something greater. Most Christian books say, Focus on Christ, He is greater. And He is. Amen. But what about Christ? That He died for your sins? That leads to empty legalism. As in, Jesus died for me, so now I can’t have fun. No, you have to focus on the pure form of what you’re experiencing in its reverse, perverted form. You desire the perversion, and the only thing that will kill that is the real thing.
At the end of the day, purity and holiness come down to courage because the only way to achieve Christ-likeness is to have the guts to listen to yourself whine until eventually you stop.
How to Get Free
We often talk about freedom from sin, but we don’t understand freedom itself. Freedom isn’t about being able to do whatever you want to do, it’s about being able to choose the right thing to do. We humans aren’t free and never will be. We are created, sustained by a Being whose attributes define us, even when we deny Him. We are fallen, broken by an evil curse that, instead of picking sides and warring against God, has invaded Life itself and perverted everything that is good, even our hearts. We are small-minded, and we only choose things that we can see with our limited visions. We are biased, full of presuppositions. (We really think our pleasure is worth more than God’s, because we keep sinning.)
Freedom isn’t the ability to indulge in the perversion: that’s slavery, having an awl driven through your ear and a brand stamped on your chest and a chain around your neck, tying you to evil. And that slavery is a bottomless pit. But neither is freedom the ability to step back from the perversion into whatever else you want. Freedom, in the true sense, is slavery to God. Because as you obey Him feverishly, holistically, you live Life as it was designed to be lived. And that design is what the perversion can’t even begin to compete with. Freedom is grabbing the chain around your neck and tying it to God’s caravan as He moves through history.
And when you see His perfection, and you experience the pleasure of His virtues running through you, overpowering evil and perversion, how can you not fight the good fight of the faith and discipline yourself for godliness?
The Sweetness of Redemption
Impurity of every kind ruins the soul of a person just like postmodernism ruins the soul of our culture. Sexual sin reformats your brain, your emotions, and your psyche to be bent inward, while postmodernism reformats our society to only listen to itself for definitions and universal truths. Being healed from sin starts with finding the Truth about it, with shoving new definitions into your head and purifying your mind of the perversions. God has given us every new definition we need in The Bible, and it’s our job to overcome those perversion with the purity of His perfections.
Finding healing from your sin isn’t just about hunkering down and trying harder, it’s about becoming a different person. It’s about being honest with yourself, identifying the sin as a perversion, and then replacing it with the pure form as handed down to us from God. Once we have that, all we need is the courage to follow Him, even when His will leads us into difficulty. The truly free life isn’t one where we are enslaved to our passions, “free” to self-identify as man, woman, or animal, it’s the life where we are enslaved to the one who made us and knows exactly what we need.