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The Purity Challenge

with Joshua Harris | April 12, 2007

The battle we have with lust isn't a new one. Men and women have waged war with the flesh since mankind began. Today on the broadcast, family relations expert Dennis Rainey talks with pastor Josh Harris, author of Not Even a Hint, about the challenge of living pure in an impure world.

The battle we have with lust isn't a new one. Men and women have waged war with the flesh since mankind began. Today on the broadcast, family relations expert Dennis Rainey talks with pastor Josh Harris, author of Not Even a Hint, about the challenge of living pure in an impure world.

The Purity Challenge

With Joshua Harris
April 12, 2007
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Josh: I define lust as craving what God has said no to.  And there are so many different expressions of lust – that definition allows us to recognize, you know what?  Even if my temptations with lust look different than someone else, it's all about coveting what God has forbidden.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 12th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  So do you think there's a lust problem in your life?  And, if so, do you know what to do about it?  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  We're going to be talking about a subject over the next few days, Dennis, that is, I think, increasingly a challenge in our culture, because our culture keeps presenting us with opportunities for – well, opportunities for lust, and this is an ongoing battle, an ongoing struggle, in our culture today.

Dennis: It is perhaps one of the oldest battles known to mankind.  Our battle around the subject of lust goes all the way back to the Garden, and when hearts chose sin instead of being obedient to God.

 We have with us a real veteran of FamilyLife Today to help guide us through this.  Josh Harris joins us back again for another edition of FamilyLife Today.  Josh, welcome back.

Josh: Thank you so much.  It's good to be with you.

Dennis: It just seems like the other day you joined us talking about kissing dating goodbye.

Bob: You referred to him as "the young monk," do you remember that?

Dennis: I remember that.

Bob: Yes, uh-huh.

Dennis: He didn't – his monkhood didn't last long.

Bob: He turned in his robe a few years later.

Dennis: He kissed dating goodbye, kissed singlehood goodbye …

Bob: … and then kissed his wife, Shannon, hello the day that they got married.  And I don't know how many of our listeners know this, but Josh, who is probably best known for having written the book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," is the pastor of a church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  He's also written a number of books.  One is called "Boy Meets Girl."  He's written a book called "Stop Dating the Church," and then a book that's now called "Sex is not the Problem, Lust is."  That book was originally entitled "Not Even a Hint."

Dennis: And that, of course, comes out of Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 3, where Paul exhorts the church at Ephesus that there not even be a hint of immorality named among them.  The subject of lust is really one, Josh, that you dealt with personally, along with several friends.  In fact, it led you to a contract.

Josh: That's right.  I was at a camp and working with a group of guys there.  We became close, and at the end of our time at this camp, we decided that we were going to demonstrate to God just how serious we were for Him, and so we came up with a long list of rules and agreements that we were making for the next year. 

 And so we had things like we're going to go to church every Sunday, read our Bibles every day, fast once a week, wouldn't go to movies, wouldn't make out with a girl, we were just putting everything on there that just sounded really spiritual.  And one of the items on that list that had our particular attention is that there would be no sexual self-indulgence.

 And so we signed this, we gathered together in one of the guy's living room, and we placed our hands on the contract …

Dennis: Kind of a blood covenant of sorts, huh?

Josh: Oh, yeah, it was serious.  I mean, we didn't actually sign it in blood, but it was that kind of serious, and …

Bob: You were all single guys.

Josh: We were all single guys.

Dennis: How many guys were there?

Josh: I think there were about five or six guys, college age.  And, so, we were pumped up.  I mean, we looked at this, and we thought – I mean, I felt like heaven must be leaning in and just thinking, "Wow, what a group of men."

Dennis: What a bunch of saints.

Josh: That's right, God's men for this generation.  And that particular item that I mentioned was Number 10 on the list, and I went home just elated, ecstatic about this agreement, and about two weeks later, I broke rule Number 10.  And that was the beginning of a year for me of realizing how incapable I was in my own strength of changing in this area. 

 That's just one expression of lust.  Obviously, not everybody deals with that particular issue but, for me, it was the beginning of an introduction that, you know what?  My own rules, my own willpower, my own desire to be pure in and of my own power and kind of show God how great I could be just fell apart.

 And that was the beginning of a process of learning that to really change in the area of lust, I needed God's power at work. 

Dennis: I think when it comes to the subject of lust, there may be the assumption that we know what the definition of that is, but how would you define it?

Josh: I define lust as craving sexually what God has said no to.  And there are so many different expressions of lust, that definition allows us to recognize you know what?  Even if my temptations with lust look different than someone else, it's still the same lie, whether you're someone that deals with homosexual temptation or someone that's just tempted when you walk through the grocery store aisle, and those magazines are sitting there.

 It's all about wanting what God has said no to and instead of being content, we're looking for something else.

Bob: And we're in a culture today that is actively working to try to ignite our lust.

Josh: Absolutely, our economy, in so many ways, is built on exploiting this – stirring up desire so that it can sell its car, its Coke, its whatever it might be, and we have to be aware that those temptations are going to bombard us, but there's a greater satisfaction.

Bob: It's almost, though, like you have to – if you want to insulate yourself from the problem, you have to drop out of society, or you have to figure out how to be so armored up as you go in, so protected that you can make it through the battlefield without falling.

Josh: Well, I really believe that it starts with our hearts, and that's one of the things I didn't want to do and not even a hint, is just give a bunch of outward expressions of just change your behavior, because I've learned from experience that just trying to change your behavior, you know, snapping yourself with a rubber band, all these different kinds of things that we can do to just do the outward stuff, it doesn't really help us change.  It has to start with our hearts before God.

Dennis: So hold it, hold it, snapping yourself with a rubber band?

Josh: You haven't heard of guys doing this?  They wear a rubber band and every time they think a lustful thought, they snap themselves.  Here's another example – I got this letter from a guy, I mean, just passionate, I love his heart, but he and his friends there at school, they make this agreement that if one of them stumbles in the area of lust, looks at pornography or those kinds of things, the other guys will go without food for a day.

 And so, he's say, you know, we've built it up so that now there are dozens of guys that are depending on whether or not we …

Dennis: They're going to starve one another to death.

Josh: Exactly, boys, and I love the zeal there, I love the heart behind it, but what I've learned is, you know what?  It's not outward behavior, it's not the rules that we can come up with, it's not our contracts.  We need the power of the Gospel at work in our lives.  That's what ultimately leads to lasting change.

Dennis: I want you to share a letter you received from a young lady, not a man.  Now, you'd think the letter that you're about to read would be a letter from a young man who is struggling with lust, but this letter came from a young lady whose honesty – well, it got my attention.

Josh: Well, she wrote, and she was dealing with Internet pornography, and this is just a portion of what she communicated – "I don't know who I am anymore.  I am so scared.  I do what I know is wrong.  I have tried to stop, really, I have.  I have cried and sobbed at night.  I have prayed and kept journals.  I love God, but I cannot continue to ask for forgiveness over and over and over for the same things.  I know I need help, but I don't know how to get it.  I know that God has so much more planned for my life than this.  But this sin continues to conquer me."

Dennis: A lot of people feel conquered by lust.

Josh: Absolutely.

Dennis: That's what hit me by this, is we can feel like we are enslaved, that we're literally carrying around a ball and chain, a weight of shame, and yet you say we have the wrong standard, the wrong source, and the wrong motive for fighting this sin.

Josh: That's right.  I believe we have the wrong standards, and that we often set our standards at what we think we can accomplish ourselves, okay?  I think I cannot look at this and not watch this, and I set it as a goal that in my own human strength I think I can achieve.  And the result is that we trust in the wrong source of power, the source of power in our own willpower.

 And our motive is feel pure, our motive is to be the kind of person that we think God will be proud of, and it really just falls apart, because what happens is, if we trust in our own power, it ultimately fails, and then our motive just falls apart because we feel like, "Well, now I'm not pure, and I don't feel pure anymore."

 And so we lower our standards again and say, "Okay, I'll set it at a place where I think I can reach it," and I believe God wants us to do what seems like the exact opposite of what we should do – set our standards where He sets them, which is not even a hint.

 And, you know, even when I look at the title of the book myself, you know, I look at that, and I say, there's no way that I can do that.  And it drives me to the cross, it drives me to that reminder that I can only do this with the power of Christ working in me and the motive, the motive of grace.  Not the motive of earning, not the motive of I want to get my act together, and I won't do this again, God, so you'll be proud of me, but the motive of because Christ died for my sins, I can pursue holiness in the confidence of His love for me.

Dennis: And you can do that in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Josh: That's exactly right.

Bob: I heard you tell a story once about picking out a romantic comedy at a video store.

Josh: My wife and mother-in-law sent me out in search of a good movie, which is a …

Bob: … a daunting task.

Josh: A difficult task these days.  So I'm there and, sad to say, I was more focused on finding something new, finding something entertaining than I was wanting to really honor God, and so I – usually, I want to check a movie out on a Christian website and get a recommendation from another Christian before I watch something, and I came across this PG-13 romantic comedy, hadn't read anything about it, just trying to gauge from reading the back of it if it's any good.

Dennis: That's dangerous.

Josh: That's dangerous, exactly.  And so it says there's sexual innuendo, and I’m just thinking, "Well, you know, I'm an adult, I can handle this, this can't be that bad" – that kind of mindset.

 And I know that the Holy Spirit is saying, "Walk away, find something else, go back to the family section," exactly.  And I, to my shame, I ignored that, and I started walking to the register with this movie, and the thought comes into my mind, "I hope I don't see anyone from church."

 Now, when you have that kind of thought, anyone who is listening, if that thought pops into your mind, that's a warning sign something you're doing is not quite right.  Well, I just sort of made my way to the register, anyway, and handed my video to the checkout lady, and I'd never seen her in my life and, all of a sudden, she's looking at the screen, and she looks at me and says, "Are you the Josh Harris who wrote 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye?'"  I just wanted to melt into that floor.


 But it was a reminder for me of just you know what?  I need to be aware that God is watching me.  I shouldn't be preoccupied with will somebody see me from church.  I need to be able to, before God, say, "I believe this is something that will honor You as I watch it."

Bob: You give a great definition – it's actually John Piper's definition of lust in your book.  Share that with our listeners.

Josh: Yeah, John Piper says that lust is a sexual desire minus honor and holiness.  And so it's when we take that sexual desire, which, you know, sexual desire is a gift from God to us, but we take away any concern for what God thinks and any concern for what's best for another person.  And you see that. 

 You know, when a guy is flipping through a magazine that is exploiting women, he's not concerned about them.  So that equation is helpful for me that, yes, sex and sexual desire within marriage, even our sexual drives, they're not a mistake, it's not a curse for us, as Christians, but we need to keep the fear of God and love for our fellow humans in that equation to make sure it's pleasing to Him.

Dennis: Josh, one of the things that you talk about in your book is doing this personal inventory of identifying what trips your lust trigger.  And I thought this was really good, because not all of these apply to every person, but all of us can identify with one of these or more.

Josh: I encourage people to look at things like the time of day in which they are consistently struggling.  Is there a moment where you just feel tired and, boy, I want something to comfort me, whether that's at the end of the day or a certain time at work where you're tempted.  Be strategic – recognize "I need to be on guard in those moments."

 Tempting locations – go to the mall.  When you go to a certain friend's house or at the beach, wherever it might be, avoid certain places or only go when you know someone is going to be praying for you and asking you how you did in honoring God.

 Television, as we mentioned earlier, a huge area – what are you watching, what are you viewing?  Newspapers and magazines, you know, I came to a place where I realized you know what?  I can't flip through the style section of the newspaper without seeing some image, some little article or clip or something like that – I need to just avoid that section.  That's just for me, personally.  I'm not saying any Christian who looks at that part of the newspaper is sinning, but that was a place for me to fight back in a specific area.

 The music that you listen to, and I'm not even referencing music videos and the way artists can portray themselves, but the songs that we sing are going to either encourage us towards holiness or tear down our resolve. 

 Books that we read – a lot of classics, a lot of bestsellers today are filled with word pictures that just encourage an ungodly desire.

 And then the Internet, which is not a small area for a lot of people but one of those areas where I think we need to apply what Christ talked about – pulling out our eye, if need be.  You know, unplugging the Internet, unplugging the computer at your house, moving your computer out into a public area of your home.  Whatever you need to do to make sure that you are pleasing the Lord in the way you browse the Web.

Bob: Do you think there are some people who can – I'm thinking of the guys who are the Christians who go write Christian movie reviews and have to see the movies to write it.  Are there some people who can expose themselves to some of the things you've talked about without it fueling their lust, or are we fooling ourselves if we think that?

Josh: You know, I can't speak to their hearts and what they're facing.  I think that that is a very unique calling.  Obviously, God will give grace in those situations, but I think we misapply the concept of discernment so often, and I compare it to someone saying, you know what?  If you don't enjoy a calorie, it won't make you fat.

 In other words, if you just roll your eyes at it and say, "Oh, that's terrible.  Hollywood, can you believe it?"  That kind of thing and disapprove, that you're not affected by it, and I think we all need to evaluate you know what?  Those are seeds that are being planted even if I'm disapproving, and I need to guard my heart and my soul.

Bob: Dennis, it's important for all of us to remember that Jesus took this subject of lust very seriously and said, in fact, if you have committed lust, you have committed adultery.  In His mind, in His teaching, this is not a harmless sin, it's an offense to His holiness.

Dennis: And He recommended a radical word picture in response.  If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  I think the issue here is He's saying, "Go to the heart of the issue," and that is our hearts, and I think right now, after hearing us talk about this, we would be remiss if we didn't call both men and women to say, "So what?  Okay, you heard this.  So what?  What are you going to do about it?  Nothing?  Are you going to normalize sin?  Are you going to change any habits in the big things?  How about habits in the little things," like Josh was talking about?

 Because I agree with you, Josh, I think where the enemy gets us is not this giant leap into lust's arms.  Instead, I think where he gets us is in the little choices.  And so I just want to ask the listener, as a result of hearing what you've heard, the challenge of Paul – let there not even be a hint of sexual immorality be named among you.  What are you going to do differently as a result of hearing these words?

 And I would encourage you, if you're married, to tell your spouse what you're going to do – create a little accountability.  So my challenge to men and, for that matter, women, whether single or married and, by the way, the singles who are listening, the college students, the young single professionals listening to this broadcast, you need this, too.  None of us are exempt.  Find a friend to talk – a same-sex friend – to talk to and to share what you're going to do.

 What is your action point out of not letting there be even a hint of sexual immorality being named in your life?

Bob: Yeah, and I've got an action point for you – get a copy of Josh's book, which is called "Sex is not the Problem, Lust is," and you and your same-sex friend can go through that book together and I think as you do the Holy Spirit is going to work in your life to help you deal with the core issue on sexual sin, and that's the issue of lust.

 We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I want to encourage our listeners, you can go to our website at, click the red button that you'll see on the home page, and that will take you right to an area of the site where you can get more information about Josh's book.

 There is also information about other resources that are available from us at FamilyLife that deal with this subject, like Randy Alcorn's book, "The Purity Principle," that you wrote a note for that's on the back of his book, Josh, where it says, "This is a powerful little book."

 Again, we'd like to get copies of these books out to you.  Go to our website,, click the button that says "Go," the red button in the center of the home page, and that will get you to the area of the site where you can order copies of these books, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, if that's easier for you – 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 If you are interested in both of these books, we'll be happy to send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation on this subject with Josh Harris.  And let me mention, too, on our website, we have a recorded conversation with Josh – material that you're not going to be hearing on the radio because it deals with a subject that is a challenge for many people today; a subject that is related to the issue of lust, and a subject where there is some controversy.

 We did not feel it was appropriate for Christian radio to be discussing this particular subject, so we made the conversation available on our website at, and if you'd like to go there, again, click that red "Go" button, and you'll find the link to that conversation.  You can listen to it on, and I think you will find it challenging and profitable to listen to.  Once again, our website is  You can also call us at 1-800-FLTODAY. 

 Let me also encourage you, when you do get in touch with us, we're asking listeners to consider making a donation this month to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and I want to make sure you understand we believe that when it comes to the area of financial giving, your first priority ought to be to your local church.  We would not want to do anything to encourage you to divert funds from your local church to a ministry like ours.

 But if you are able to give above and beyond what you're currently giving to your local church to help support a ministry like ours, we would appreciate hearing from you.  We are listener-supported, so it's folks like you who make donations, who keep us on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country.

 This month we'd love to send you a thank you gift.  A book by Dr. Bill Bright called "The Joy of Trusting God."  It's a book that examines the attributes of God, and it comes both in book form and in audio book form.  In fact, the audio book is in the back of the book, so we'll be sending both out to you when you make a donation this month of any amount for the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

 All you have to do if you'd like to receive the book is to request a copy, and you can do that as you're filling out your donation form online.  You'll come to a keycode box, type the word "joy" in that box so that we'll know to send you a copy of "The Joy of Trusting God," or when you make a donation over the phone, simply request a copy of the book by Dr. Bill Bright, the book, "The Joy of Trusting God," and, again, we'll be happy to send it to you as our way of saying thanks for partnering with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

 Well, tomorrow Josh Harris is going to be back with us.  We're going to continue to examine the root issue when it comes to sexual sin – the issue of lust.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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