This text, as you know, is immensely important for the role it plays in any serious Christian’s understanding of his or her Christian life. It describes the internal struggle with sin that is the dark side of every Christian’s experience – wanting to be and do better and so often failing – and the frustrating mystery of that struggle (being a Christian, a new creation in which all things are new, indwelt by the Spirit of God, desiring holiness for every proper reason, but nevertheless so often failing to realize one’s spiritual potential or, for that matter, even to do what one really wants to do). There is something inside of us – Paul calls it the “sin that dwells within me” – evil desires that frustrate us at every turn.
There have been those, offended by the very idea that Christ’s presence in a Christian’s life would not produce a more consistent and complete victory over sin and temptation, who have argued – sometimes quite passionately – that Paul here cannot be speaking about himself as a Christian. He must be speaking of himself when still an unbeliever or, as is sometimes said, as a believer who has not yet grasped the secret of triumphant Christian living. But, without descending into the details of the argument, there can be, should be little doubt that Paul is describing his own Christian experience – he is, after all, writing throughout in the first person singular! – in this case writing as a man who has been a follower of Christ for thirty years. 1) He wrote the entire section in the present tense, after having described his pre-Christian life in the past tense (vv. 7-13). There is no recognized linguistic idiom in the Greek of that day that would account for the change of tense from past to present in such a case if, in fact, Paul were still talking about his past. 2) Second, Paul says things about himself and his desires and commitments that in this same letter he says are not and cannot be the desires and commitments of an unbeliever. For example he says that he “delights in the law of God,” but just a few verses later in 8:5-8, he says that the unbeliever does not have such a delight or such a desire to obey! 3) Third, at the end of the section he makes clear that the condition he has described is the condition of a man who has already embraced Christ’s salvation, has even thanked God for it, but finds himself in this divided mind nevertheless. He says in the next chapter that the only true solution to the Christian’s trouble with his body of death is what he calls “the redemption of our bodies,” a deliverance that occurs at and because of the resurrection of the body at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. 4) Fourth, he describes the Christian’s struggle with sin in a similar way in Galatians 5, a text that no one takes to be the description of an unbeliever or a believer who hasn’t yet figured out the Christian life. There too he describes the Christian life as the experience of the flesh warring against the Spirit. 5) Fifth, the finest Christians through the ages have uniformly found their own personal experience as Christians perfectly described in these verses. So take it for a certainty that Paul wrote these verses in the present tense because he was describing his state of mind and the condition of his life as he sat there in Ephesus writing his letter to the Romans, in the early 60’s, years after he had become a follower and a servant of the Lord.
This is the Christian’s fate and burden. He now knows the law of God and its demands. He knows how righteous, how right and proper those demands are. He agrees with the law; he wants to keep it. But he finds that there is within him still a love of sin and a spiritual weakness that makes the living of a godly life a terrible struggle. His life, to be sure, is marked by much success – after all, as a servant and soldier of Jesus Christ and as a good and holy man Paul was no slouch! – but it is as well marked by far too much failure. As a Christian he can never come to terms with that failure, he cannot simply accept it as normal and go on, uncaring of his moral failures. He knows the Lord, he loves the Lord, he knows what is right, his heart is inclined to love righteousness, to hate sin and to be ashamed of himself when he sins, and he wants desperately to be a faithful follower of Jesus in heart, speech, and behavior. To know the good and not to do it is a recipe for misery – O wretched man that I am! – and that misery is a significant dimension of every real Christian’s experience. Always has been; always will be until Christ’s work is finally complete in us. What this means, then, is that it is entirely typical of the experience of a true Christian that he or she should from time to time cry out in frustration, even near despair, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”
But, there is something more to be said here. While Paul speaks in generalities – that is, he doesn’t tell us precisely in what ways he did what he didn’t want to do and in what particular ways the sin that was within him undid his desire to live a holy life – Christians, as they read this passage and I’m sure it was so of Paul as he wrote this passage, almost invariably think not in generalities but about some particular sin that has got its foot on their neck. And for men, very often it is sexual sin, the thoughts and actions of a sexual nature that any Christian man knows are not honoring to God. This is the source of the wretchedness in their lives. Frankly, I would be very surprised if Paul weren’t thinking about the sexual dimension of his life as he penned these words. I don’t say that sexual desire is the only source or invariably the source of a Christian man’s despair over his life, of course. Some men have terrible trouble with anger, or with drink, or with money, or with the tongue, and so on. But for most men, I think, and probably for virtually all men some of the time, Christian men reading Paul here think he must be talking about sexual sin. And, since Paul was a man, he probably was. Most biblical commentators have been and are men and most of them have thought he was talking about sinful sexual desires and behaviors or at least sex was on his mind as primus inter pares (first among equal) among the sins that bedevil our lives.
Now, before we begin, a word. I am obviously enough going to be talking about sex. I have taken care to consider my words and in a number of cases have altered what I first wrote and, in certain cases, altered them again so as to make what follows appropriate for all who are listening. On the other hand, the Bible itself is quite explicit about the sexual dimension of life. What is more the problem we are confronting in our day is not one that can be honestly faced by beating around the bush. So, concentrating on this subject as we will, you will hear tonight some things you would not normally hear in a sermon in a Christian church, but, I very much hope, nothing that you will not think germane, necessary to say, and said in an appropriate way.
Tonight we begin a short three-sermon series intended to introduce a new development in our ministry and fellowship here at Faith Presbyterian Church. This new effort was the result of several of our older, experienced men approaching the elders with their concern that not enough was being done to address the challenge of pornography in the life of Christian men in our time. No one doubts that pornography nowadays poses a serious threat to the Christian manhood of the American church. Pornography has always existed; we know that. But never has it existed as it exists today. Pornography, which not so many years ago, was difficult to obtain, is now ubiquitous and accessible at the push of a button. Anyone who thought that the opportunity to watch naked women performing sex acts whenever one wishes was not going to pose a terrible temptation to men knows nothing of either the human heart or the devil’s wiles.
For many men in our culture, of course, pornography is now simply another feature of the American man’s erotic life, a happy development for men for whom sexual titillation and pleasure is an unmitigated good. What is the problem, they ask? Why should I not enjoy myself? And American men in immense numbers are taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by easily accessible pornography. But the mainstreaming of pornography has hardly been without sinister consequences. In the first place it has destroyed countless marriages because – however accepted pornography may have become in American society, however little our moral philosophers nowadays permit us to any longer consider it a sin – most wives, no matter how modern they are, are deeply offended and troubled by a husband who spends his time watching other women performing intimate acts. In a fascinating article several years ago in First Things, Mary Eberstadt, who has researched and written on this subject a great deal, commenting on the growing number of professional women who are giving up not only on their own marriages but on marriage altogether, observed that in most every case these women admitted that their marriages had become increasingly less sexual and romantic and, therefore, since they were making money themselves there was less and less reason to remain loyal to an institution that seemed to them to require a great deal of work for precious little satisfaction or fulfillment. What Eberstadt noted, something that none of these women had made an issue of, was that their husbands regularly entertained themselves with pornography. Their progressive ethics forbade these women to condemn their husbands for doing so, but, said Eberstadt, it is hardly surprising that the joy goes out of marriage for a woman whose husband is cheating on her every day. Good grief, even Dr. Phil knows that. He wrote on his blog about the sexlessness of too many modern American marriages:
“[Pornography] is a perverse and ridiculous intrusion into your relationship. It is an insult, it is disloyal, and it is cheating…. You need to tell your partner that viewing pornography is absolutely, unequivocally unacceptable in your relationship.” [Mary Eberstadt, “What Does Woman Want: The War Between the Sexless,” First Things (October 2009) 25]
The women themselves couldn’t say that. Moral absolutes do not exist for them, feminism denies any fundamental difference between men and women, self-fulfillment is now the ultimate good and all of that that leaves them helpless before the power of pornography to ruin intimacy with their husbands who, obviously, would rather watch other women having sex than have a vital and vitalizing sexual relationship with their own wives.
In the second place, we can speak of the transformation, or perhaps better the disintegration of American manhood, especially as manhood is defined by its particular view of and posture toward women. There is now a cottage industry of books and articles describing America’s debilitated manhood, increasingly characterized by selfishness, triviality, and irresponsibility. Pornography, after all, is simply more entertainment, more distraction, the sexual form of the video game or, for that matter, the football game. As if the American man were not entertaining himself enough already!
In the third place, we could talk about the Viagra revolution, the sudden popularity of so-called ED drugs. It is hardly a secret – indeed, it is a subject often discussed in the psychological and psychiatric literature – that frequent use of internet pornography is a substantial cause of the perceived need on the part of men for such drugs. “Porn-induced sexual dysfunction” has been talked about for several years now in the literature and it is a fact now widely accepted, everywhere but at the advertising agencies hired by the drug companies to sell their ED pharmaceuticals. As any wise person should have expected, there is a direct connection between the frequent use of internet pornography and increasing difficulty managing a normal sexual life with one’s wife. This is true even in the case of otherwise healthy young men.
We think of these drugs as intended for older men, suffering a declining libido as the result of age. That is surely the impression the television ads are intended to convey. But these drugs are now being very widely used by younger men who should have no difficulty fulfilling, as the Apostle Paul put it, their wife’s conjugal rights (1 Cor. 7:3). It is now understood that the use of pornography weakens the libido because it numbs the brain’s normal response to stimulation. That is the male brain actually becomes neuro-chemically dependent on porn. It is an addiction in the technical sense: the body craves porn. And, as with other addictions, a man becomes desensitized to other pleasures. As a culture we are typically very serious about the threat of addiction, whether to tobacco, or alcohol, or drugs, and we make a great deal of the physical and psychological damage addiction does. But no one seems to be concerned about addiction to pornography! It is also thought that that the influence of pornography in some cases may be more psychological than chemical. That is, men, even young men, become so accustomed to idealized and fantasized images of women that they are not aroused as otherwise they would be by real women in real situations. There are other explanations and perhaps all of them are true in general and some more true in the case of specific individuals. For example, it is thought by researchers that young men are made by their own exposure to pornographic sex to feel insecure about their own abilities and, for that reason, they want a drug to make them more like the men they see on the screen.
Up to this point we have been talking about American men in general. But it is important to know that the serious and destructive personal problems pornography creates are universal; they are hardly peculiar to Christian men. But for Christian men the problems are first and foremost other things altogether. Every Christian man knows only too well that the use of pornography does not honor God; it is a form of promiscuity or adultery. It is precisely the sin the Lord Jesus condemned in his Sermon on the Mount when he warned that sexual sins can be committed in the mind without any actual sexual contact with a woman. He knows that pornography is nothing less than an idol, an object of devotion that displaces Jesus Christ in the loyalty and the affections of his heart. He knows that the practice is unmanly, that it is disrespectful of women, that he would never want any woman he loved to be involved in the products of which he has now made himself a consumer, and that it renders him a hypocrite, one who professes loyalty to Christ but dishonors him in practice. Finally, it heightens his sense of failure in the Christian life and raises the question over and over again whether he is a Christian at all, a question he does not want to be asking as a Christian man.
It was for these reasons that a number of our men in the congregation, young and old, have been hard at work for some months now developing a new ministry designed to support our men in the pursuit of sexual purity. It will be a ministry that highlights the problem and shares the burden of it among us all, keeps the goal of chastity, loyalty to Christ, and the nature of Christian manhood in the front of our minds, and provides practical help and encouragement, accountability, instruction, and spiritual and theological grounding for the pursuit of holiness in this area of life. The particular part of the ministry that this short series of sermons is intended to introduce is a once-a-month Sunday school class for all the men of the congregation from middle-school age to senior citizenship, a class that will begin on the last Sunday morning of this month. You will, of course, hear more about all of this in the days to come.
Now returning to our subject, let me begin by making an honest admission. We are taking these steps, creating a new ministry for our men, because this area of biblical holiness – sexual purity – is a particular challenge for men. I think we all know this. We certainly should. But it needs to be said because we live in a culture that doesn’t say it and won’t say it. To admit that men have a far greater problem with illicit sexual desire than women do is highly controversial and politically incorrect. To say such a thing suggests that there is a fundamental difference between men and women, a difference that strikes at the core of a person’s existence, the sort of difference that feminism demands that we deny exists. We live in a time when a person saying something perfectly obvious risks being visited with social opprobrium. But not so in the church of God! Here we deal with the truth and with a number of truths that no one else wants to talk about or even admit. And one such truth is that men and women are in fact profoundly different from one another in ways that bear mightily on the way they live their lives.
This is and must be a ministry to our men. We hope it will make a very important and happy contribution to the lives of our women, but it is a ministry to our men. Why? Certainly not because we don’t think sexual temptation is a problem for women; it surely is. Certainly not because we don’t think there are useful to things to say about sexual temptation and sexual fidelity of equal value to both men and women. Genesis 39, for example, introduces us to a woman who had desires for sensual pleasure sufficiently powerful to risk her marriage, perhaps even her life for them. Even sexual addiction exists among women, but on a smaller scale, much smaller. And the attraction of pornography is so much less for women than for men that the simple fact is that if pornographers somehow were to be ordered to sell their product only to women, the industry would collapse overnight. Perhaps we all know and understand this. But it is a point so fundamental that I want to emphasize it as we begin. Men need to appreciate this fact about themselves and so do women. Men and women are profoundly different in certain respects that bear directly on this problem of male sexual purity and fidelity. In fact, it is not too much to say that in sexual matters men and women, to a great extent, live in different worlds!
Consider, for example, prostitution; commonly called “the world’s oldest profession.” There have always been and are today prostitutes in every culture in the world. It is an immensely lucrative business everywhere. But it is a business that serves a clientele that is exclusively male. The number of women who purchase the services of a prostitute is vanishingly small, so small as to justify the conclusion that prostitution exists to serve an exclusively male market. Prostitutes are either women – almost all prostitutes – or are homosexual men, but they are providing their services to male customers. That is astonishing in one sense. Why should such an artifact of human culture be so sex-specific? But the reason is easy enough to find. Male sexual desire is so superficial and so psychologically uncomplicated that a man can have a satisfying sexual encounter with a woman he does not know and does not want to know, with a woman he does not respect, indeed with a woman he knows probably despises him and would never do for him what she does were he not paying her money. He knows he’s taking advantage of her desperation and he doesn’t care. That is the nature and the power of male sexual desire and the prostitute and the pimp understand that very well. It is the foundation of their enterprise. You never see women in pick-up trucks cruising an airport strip hoping to pick up a male prostitute. Why? Because women are not like that, would not and could not have a satisfying sexual encounter under such circumstances. The proof is in the pudding: men use prostitutes – women do not – all over the world and it has been so for thousands of years.
Or consider this. If you’ve been to Nordstrom at the mall and enter the store from the mall you will see on your right the shoe section, a quarter of the first floor, and probably two-thirds of that space is devoted to women’s shoes. To the left are accessories, exclusively products for women. Men do not regularly accessorize! In the back right of the main floor you will find perfume and cosmetics. In the back left you will find men’s clothing. If you go upstairs to the second floor, a floor as large as the first, most all of the space is devoted to women’s fashion. In other words, the men get one eighth of Nordstrom’s floor space. Open discrimination! But surely that is a fact of retail life of which there are countless examples. J.C. Penney devotes the entire first floor to women’s clothing and women get a chunk of the second floor as well and J.C. Penney also sells a great deal of children’s clothing. There too women get far and away the most attention. There is at the mall a Victoria’s Secret. But there is no Prince Albert’s secret. There are a number of boutiques that specialize in women’s clothing, but none that specialize in men’s. Why? Why this concentration on female fashion? Why this heartless indifference to us poor men who feel marginalized when we go to the mall?
Well, surely the answer is obvious. Women get looked at in a way men do not. Women’s appearance is socially, culturally, and personally much more important than men’s. This is a truth that can be illustrated in any culture at any time and in any number of ways. When in the 1960s women wished to express their solidarity with the sexual revolution they burned their bras. Can you think of any item of clothing a man could burn that would make any political or social statement? The miniskirt was an icon of a world-changing social revolution. Men now don’t tuck in their shirts; who cares? The changes in male fashion from time to time – widening the tie, thinning the tie, widening the lapel, shrinking the lapel – necessary only in order to sell men new clothes – simply make guys look either dumber than they already are (think the 1970s) or perhaps a bit more sophisticated than they actually are (think the 1940s and 50s).
The fact that women get looked at is a feature and a result of their sexual distinction from men, of men’s desire for them and attraction to them, and of their place in the sexual dance of human life. God made them to be attractive to men in this way and men have been made to find them attractive and so the adornment of their appearance has always been a feature of human life. Who can possibly deny this, painful as may be the undue pressure it puts on girls and women and unwelcome as it may be as the cause of no end of trouble for men. On the other hand, it is as well, as we all know, the foundation of some of the greatest joys and pleasures that human life affords! But surely it matters that only men with homosexual tendencies – a small minority of porn users – look at pornography for the naked men! It is the women, their appearance, the form of their bodies that attract men like moths to the light. The Bible knows this. Not only does it draw attention to the form and beauty of a number of women mentioned in its pages, but it refers – and in some cases positively – to the adornment of female appearance with clothing, accessories and cosmetics, a feature of ancient near eastern life as surely as it is a feature of our life today. But it is precisely such intractable realities of human life, illustrated in the prostitution business and in the women’s fashion business, that explain the peculiar attraction of pornography for men and so the temptation it poses for Christian men. And so they explain why we are devising a ministry for our men with the purpose of aiding them in seeking holiness in the fear and the love of God.
Let me give you some examples of the place of sexual temptation in a Christian man’s experience of the spiritual warfare and of the terrible struggle that is required to practice chastity in thought and behavior, both for the education of our women and the encouragement of our men. Let me begin with Thomas Boston, the 18th century Scottish pastor and theologian, author of one of the greatest books of spiritual theology in Christian History, Human Nature in its Fourfold State. Lest you not appreciate Boston’s stature as a Christian man, as a Christian thinker, as a preacher, and as a master of the Christian life, it was John Duncan, 19th century Scottish Presbyterianism’s Rabbi Duncan, who once said that he would like to sit at the feet of Jonathan Edwards to find out what true godliness is and then at the feet of Thomas Boston to learn how to get it. [Just A Talker, 176]
Near the end of his life Boston worked over his diaries to construct a Memoir intended for the use of his children. After his death it was thought too valuable to keep private and it was published, and it is without question one of the great autobiographies of Christian history. It is not an easy read on account of the older Scots vocabulary and the 18th century prose and I suppose has been chiefly interesting to ministers, as the life Boston describes is the life of a Christian minister. But it is a masterpiece and a treasure trove of insight into a Christian’s walk with God. On a number of occasions throughout the Memoir – when I first read it I noticed this right away and then began keeping track of all the occasions – Boston mentions his besetting sin, a sin that more than any other was the bane of his existence. Often as he mentions it he never identifies it, but most readers of his Memoir, being men, assume that he was talking about sinful sexual desires and behavior.
Near the end of his life Boston embarked on an end-of-life self-examination. Godly men in those days were nothing if they were not serious! He took out of the drawer and read over again the various covenants he had made with God at points of crisis in his life and renewed his commitment to each one. After reading the Larger Catechism on the duties required by the Ten Commandments, he reviewed his life in his mind and at length sought thoroughly and sincerely to confess his sins to God. He went over the gospel part by part, his own sin, Christ’s cross and righteousness, his confidence in Christ’s work to deliver him from sin and death, and so on. He formally expressed his agreement with every point of doctrine, every fact of redemptive history and then, in prayer, embraced the Lord Jesus as his Savior once again. But then comes this extraordinary piece of spiritual reasoning. Listen carefully and learn. Remember, Boston was writing as an old man, near his death.
“Lastly, as to that particular matter which it has pleased my God to make the special continued trial of the most part of my life, which has been the most exquisite to me, and has often threatened to baffle all my evidences for heaven, as being the one thing lacking; I can say, 1. I sincerely desire to be as a weaned child in it, to get above it, to quit it to the Lord, and to take Christ in its room and stead; 2. I have sometimes got above it, from spiritual principles, motives, and ends; 3. Whereas it has often got the mastery over me, and held me down, like a giant on a little child, or a mountain on a worm, I am heartily ashamed thereof before the Lord. And that is one of the main things which have made the course of my past life so notably loathsome unto me, upon the review I have been making of it. And thus it hath contributed to empty me, to shake me out of myself, and to drive me unto Christ; 4. Notwithstanding all my unbecoming quarrelling with my Lord upon that head, I would lie against my own soul, if I should deny, that I would rather have a cross of his choosing for me, than a crown of my own choosing for myself. … 5. And lastly, I love God in Christ above it, being content to quit it for him, though I cannot hinder the old man to reclaim; and could be satisfied in the enjoyment of God without it, but by no means with it without him…” [Works, vol. XII, 399]
True enough, Boston does not explicitly identify his besetting sin as sexual temptation. But he speaks of it in just the way that men speak of that dimension of their lives. Indeed, the fact that it was sexual sin and not, for example, temper (a besetting sin that Calvin confessed on his deathbed), is what accounts for its not being identified. He was too ashamed to speak of it by name. If it had been something else – drink or temper or money – it could not have been kept a secret in a small Scottish village! Coming from Thomas Boston such an admission is a powerful testimony to the gravity of the problem that Christian men face today. One obvious conclusion to draw from this remarkable piece of spiritual theology, of biblical reasoning about a man’s life-long struggle with sin, is that, like it or not, it is very likely to be a life-long struggle for a Christian man. If a man of the spiritual maturity and quality of Thomas Boston, if a hero of the Christian life as that life is understood in the one of the most spiritually serious and demanding of Christian traditions, the Reformed tradition, if such a man struggled all his life, well who are we to imagine that we will escape the battle?
But another conclusion that any thoughtful Christian man is going to draw from Thomas Boston’s experience is that a temptation so powerful, so relentless, so resistant to even the holiest and purest aspirations of the Christian heart, must be attacked with might and main, with every weapon at our disposal, so that we can, at the very least, say about our lives what Boston could say about his when the battle was all over. We are not Thomas Boston. We need all the help we can get. Hence this new ministry.
Now let’s jump some centuries forward to the 1940s and the autobiographical recollections of J.I. Packer. You find this story in several of his writings – it left its mark on him and his understanding of the Christian life – and you may remember having read it or heard it. He was a brand new Christian, a student at Oxford University during the war years. And the Christianity into which he was enfolded at the Oxford Christian Union was heavily influenced by the Victorious Life or Higher Life or Keswick teaching concerning sanctification. The keynote of such teaching was the promise that a Christian could obtain a life of almost complete victory over sin. Such victory came not through the faithful employment of the means of grace, not through one’s effort to work out his or her salvation, not through faithful obedience and earnest and regular repentance, but through what was variously called “total consecration,” or “surrender” to Christ, or “yielding” to him. The motto often used to describe this approach to spiritual victory was “let go and let God.” The point was that we must get out of the way and let God give us the victory. For the advocates of this approach, the approach of classic Christian spirituality – active energetic obedience, a long, hard-working obedience in the same direction, with constant prayer that sought God’s help – was considered a form of legalism, of works righteousness, and dismissed as futile self-effort instead of the power of faith in God.
The problem with this approach – beside the fact that it is very hard to find such teaching anywhere in the Bible – is that it doesn’t work. And it was this discovery that set Packer on the road to historic Reformed and Puritan theology that was to become the lodestone of his life. He describes it this way.
“He longed for the state of sustained victory over sin which the Keswick preachers described and extolled, and in which Christians would be able to avoid failure and be enabled to achieve things which were otherwise beyond them. Yet he found that his attempts at ‘total consecration’ seemed to leave him exactly where he was before – ‘an immature and churned-up young man, painfully aware of himself, battling his daily way, as adolescents do, through manifold urges and surges of discontent and frustration.’ Somehow, he felt, ‘it all seemed a long way from the victorious, power-packed life which spirit-filled Christians were supposed to enjoy.’” [McGrath, J.I. Packer: A Biography, 23-24]
Any man reading that account of the young Packer’s “manifold urges and surges” knows full well that part of Packer’s struggle, a large part of it, was sexual temptation and the difficulty he faced getting beyond and above it. Once again we have the testimony of a man we greatly admire, not only a Christian authority but a godly man admitting where the rubber had met the road in his life, where he found his loyalty to Christ repeatedly and most severely tested. And if we had any doubt about that, here comes John Wenham’s autobiography to lay any doubts to rest.
Wenham was at Oxford a few years before Packer, encountered the same teaching about sanctification and the Christian life and experienced the same frustration with it. Constant re-consecration did not solve his problem. He was earnest in his effort to do what he had been told to do, but nothing changed. But Wenham is not as guarded and does not speak as generally as Packer does. He entitled his chapter on his early struggles as a Christian university student, “Sanctification, Sex, and Separation.” And in a few candid and explicit pages he tells us what every male reader already knew was the problem he was facing.
“To many of us – it was certainly so to me – this talk of victory over sin came to mean particularly and concretely victory over masturbation [sinful sexual desire].” [Facing Hell, 52]
I gave you these examples, as we begin our consideration of this subject and as we introduce this new ministry, for several reasons.
- One, it is absolutely critical that Christian men know that they are not alone in this struggle. Sinful sexual desire and the practices that go with it have always been and are today every man’s struggle in one way or another, to one degree or another. From Paul to Jerome to Samuel Rutherford to J.I. Packer it has been so. Gentlemen, you need to remember that you are part of a great company and, in this struggle for sexual purity, a company of the greatest men in the history of the world! One simple goal of Genesis 39 will be constantly to remind us all that this is a struggle we share and share with every serious, earnest Christian man who lived before us and who lives today.
- That being so, this is a dimension of Christian holiness that, almost more than any other, needs to be thought about and carefully considered. This battle for purity has led to great discoveries and rediscoveries of biblical truth precisely because in their desperation it forced godly men to read and to think! We cannot expect to rein in desires so universal and so powerful without thought and intention. Hence the Genesis 39 ministry. There is a great deal to learn and to know about the grace of God, about the way of salvation, about the Christian life, about the spiritual warfare, and about Christian experience that bears directly, powerfully, helpfully on this dimension of a man’s life. This struggle ought to make theologians and spiritual experts of us all. That will be another goal of Genesis 39.
- Because this particular constellation of temptation and practice, and specifically the attraction and the use of pornography, is so shameful for Christian men it is almost invariably isolating. Men don’t talk about it; don’t want to talk about it, and so don’t admit it and don’t seek help for it, unless they are forced to, if they ever are. If neither Thomas Boston nor J.I. Packer spoke openly about their problem, it is no wonder that Christian men do not either, or, as is more often the case, don’t speak about it at all! What has made the problem so much worse for Christian boys and men is that they have had to deal with it by themselves and on their own. That is a recipe for failure. Again, Genesis 39 is an effort to overcome that isolation and that lonely sense of failure. We are going to be together in this and seek in many ways to help one another, to come along side one another, to face our temptations together.
- If it must be a life-long struggle, it needn’t be a life-long failure. That too is both the promise of Holy Scripture and the experience of godly men. There are steps to be taken, there are lessons to be learned, there are victories to be won, and there is peace to be found. We want all of us together to learn the truth that in Christ Christian men here too can be more than conquerors through him who loved us. Let’s poke the Devil in the eye with a stick! That too is the purpose of Genesis 39.
- And, finally, we live in world awash in pornography and sexual sin and a world coming apart as a result. Ours, for this reason among others, but supremely for this reason is a world of deep hurt and alienation and bitterness. Christian men have a rare opportunity to bear witness to the power of Christ in the world today by rising above the seaminess of the porn culture, to demonstrate a more noble manhood, and to prove in a way that will be obvious to people of our time – men and women alike – how blessed are the people whose God is the Lord. What a great thing for our women to be able to say to their unsaved friends: Christian men don’t use porn!
More on all of this next time. God bless you all.