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It is no secret that we live in a sex-saturated culture. It’s all around us. It’s impossible to escape, though we know it must be fought. There are two basic ways that professing Christians tend to respond to this culture.

One the one hand, some wish to accommodate it. They downplay the seriousness of sexual sin. Some go as far as to openly approve what God condemns. Ordinarily this approach is taken because sexual desire is “natural” and we should not oppose “the way God made us.” “It is natural for young men and women to experience sexual desire and we dare not oppose it.” “God made me with a sexual attraction to the same sex and you must allow me to live as God made me.” In this way of thinking, humans are little more than passive victims of desire.

On the other hand, some strongly condemn it. It is certainly right to condemn what God condemns, but too often the condemnation is approached in an unhelpful way. The condemnation, either explicitly or implicitly, places the blame on others. The solution to sexual desire becomes modesty in dress or following a strict set of rules, and, when sexual sin happens, it was because of lack of accountability or because she dressed too provocatively.

When Jesus addressed the matter of lust, he exhorted his hearers to look within. “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The problem is not the way God made you or the way she dressed; the problem is your intent. The problem is a heart problem.

Certainly, guardrails can be helpful. Jesus, in fact, suggested some rather radical guardrails. If your eye causes your heart to stumble, remove the eye. If your hand causes your heart to stumble, remove the hand. Still, at root, the problem is not the eye or the hand but the heart.

If you struggle with lust, by all means install accountability software and ask a friend to hold you accountable. Remove any form of private access you have to the Internet. Put other disciplines in place in those moments of temptation to help you resist. These are good and helpful guardrails, but if you fail to deal with the heart, you will find yourself falling time and again into the same sins.

Heath Lambert has written a helpful book on fighting pornography titled Finally Free, in which he argues that the fight for sexual purity must be attended by God’s grace if it will be effective. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is the only sure way to help the Christian overcome the lustful intents of his or her heart.

A question arises at this point: Why is it so important to deal with something that is happening in my heart? Is it not enough to pursue external purity? Why the focus on the heart? Why does Jesus consider sexual purity as important as that? I am not hurting anyone in the privacy of my own room or head or heart, am I?

At heart, the question is, why is sexual purity such a big deal? The answer is not, “Because the Bible says so.” The answer is, “Because God is pure.” Sexual impurity in the heart fails to emulate Christ, which is what Christians are called to do. Since we are created in God’s image, sexual impurity in the heart says something about God that is not true. And when we do something that is against God’s character, and therefore against the way he created us to be, we not only dishonour him but damage ourselves.

As you reflect on these verses, therefore, ask God to reveal the intent of your heart. Stop blaming others. Stop blaming the world in which we live. Live as Christ calls you to live and pray for the strength to honour him with your intents and your actions.