April 2009 Clay Meyer Pure and Simple David Cooper Fred Stoeker Jeff Terrell
Attention Parents: The content of this article is mature in nature. It is appropriate and Christ-centered, but we urge you to read it before or with your children.
Men, let's take a deep look inside our minds and hearts and ask ourselves this question: Am I living a pure life?
Sure, we tell people we are living pure lives, going to church, doing our quiet times and attending Bible studies. That has to be the model of purity, right?
But what if we asked ourselves a more pointed question — one focusing on an area that is so easy to hide: sexual purity.
We all know the stereotypes: The straight-laced, single Christian men who are just going with the flow, waiting for God to send along the right woman, and finding fulfillment in Him in the meantime. Then there are the married Christian men, and, well, they have it easy. They are married, so they have no issues with lust or sexual addiction. After all, they have their wives to go home to every night.
Those are the pictures of all Christian men. At least, that's what we think. It's the story we're sold from the time we hit puberty. But the problem is that it doesn't even come close to the truth.
According to Dr. David Cooper, senior pastor at Mount Paran Church in Atlanta and author of several books including For Better, Not Worse: Transforming Your Marriage from a Contract to a Covenant, sexuality is a God-created blessing.
"It is expressed in marriage for pleasure, intimacy and closeness in a relationship and for procreation," Cooper said. "Anything outside the boundaries of biblical sexuality is impure or improper and doesn't fulfill its God-intended purpose."
Dr. David Cooper
Men and women are sexual beings, created just as God saw fit. Read through Song of Songs and you will find that sex is a blessing from Him, not merely a source of temptation to be avoided.
Another author, Fred Stoeker, whose popular books Every Man's Battle and Every Young Man's Battle have been guiding resources for Christian men across the country, defines sexual purity in a similar way.
"Being sexually pure means that we are not to achieve or gain any sexual fulfillment or gratification from anybody or anything except our wives," he said. "If you are single, that pretty much means you have to wait for that until you are married. As we keep those things at bay, we're being pure in the eyes of God."
You can imagine the broad shoulders of all of us males slumping a little when taking inventory of the past thoughts and images that have entered our minds. The guilt associated with the past can be overwhelming.
Amid a sexually driven culture, the odds are stacked against purity. Given today's societal pressures, family dynamics and gratify-yourself-at-any-cost attitude, is such a holy, God-approved lifestyle even possible?
True, we are a sinful, fallen people, so we will never be perfect like Christ. But we must never stop battling to be obedient to His commands, even the ones that are difficult to carry out.
First Corinthians 6:18-20 (NIV) says to flee from sexual sin in order to be obedient to Christ and honor Him with your body: "…he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."
Talk about a battle: honoring the Lord with our flesh. Since it's not likely that Christ will miraculously make us sexually pure, — we'd learn nothing if He gave us the easy way out — we have to fight for it, and in the process, build our relationship with Him.
So, men, are we willing to put on our armor?
First, let's examine the battle. What exactly are we up against?
If this is a multiple-choice question, circle the one that says "all of the above." Never before has our world been so overwhelmed with sex in so many different capacities. Billboards, commercials, movies, TV shows and Web sites are overrun with images that facilitate lustful thoughts.
"One of the most significant shifts in the last generation is the availability of sexual images and content," said Dr. Jeff Terrell, marriage counselor and president of Richmont Graduate University in Atlanta. "Literally at the click of a button, anyone can access all manner of horrific sexual images. We do not yet know what the impact on sexual morals of this generation will be as a result of the incredible amount of material that is out there."
Dr. Jeff Terrell
Unfortunately this has become the norm. And rather than fighting against these unbiblical views of sex, we have just grafted them into our culture.
"Our world has taken marriage, love and sex and separated them, when all three used to belong together," Cooper said. "When you fall in love, you ultimately get married, and sex is for marriage. But, culture has taken those three words and built a wall between them. You can have love without marriage, or you can have sex without marriage."
According to Cooper, such actions are not without consequence, specifically because they violate God's standards. This culture without boundaries and morals will eventually turn into chaos unless men take a stand for Christ and what He teaches in His Word about controlling our sexuality. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 (NIV): "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable...")
The battle to take back our culture actually begins in adolescence.
As young men with hormones raging, we spend time in locker rooms discussing the latest "hot" girl and her attire for the day. As we grow older and more mature, so do our conversations. Whether we dish on the weekend's conquest or the pornography that someone saw on the Internet, we boys are not usually talking about ministry in the locker room.
"As we go through junior high and puberty we listen to our peers and watch movies and actually begin to see romantic relationships as having to look differently than the way God intended them to look," Stoeker said. "Today's youth are defining purity on their own. And, as a result, they are not passionately chasing after God because they are always stumbling along in these sensual ways and not really connecting with Him the way they can."
According to Stoeker, young men can develop that connection with God simply by taking a stand for Christ — by walking away from sexual situations or even explaining to their peers what it means to be sexually pure.
"Peers and society will try to emasculate you for living up to that standard, but ultimately it is Christ who defines your manhood."
"We know from the Bible that, when we stand up and obey God and do the hard things that He calls us to do, we are in a position to glorify Him," Stoeker said. "No matter which way we go, we will have a price to pay. In one case, we will be less than what God calls us to be. In the other, we will pay an earthly price of maybe missing out on certain friends. But obeying Him offers the benefit of being unified in Him so that we can be useful to Him in a broad way."
First Timothy 4:12 (NIV) challenges us when we are young to "set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."
In order for that to happen, young men must surround themselves with a core group of like-minded believers who can support them. Fathers and father-figures have a specific duty to talk to their children about the temptations of pornography and sexual sin and the issues that come with them. Dads must be there for children to open the lines of communication.
"I am convinced it is absolutely imperative that fathers or trusted father-figures get involved and be vulnerable about sexuality," Terrell said. "They should talk about the dangers of pornography and how it devalues women. It's an awkward conversation to have, but we need to have it so that our sons will come to us and talk about sexual issues."
The idea of a father-son dialogue is great, but what if the married man delivering that speech is struggling with sexual sin himself?
According to the stereotype, that shouldn't be the case, but sexual sin carries no bias. The temptation touches every man at some point in his life.
Once we get out of college, most of us start thinking about a career and marriage. For those who have made it to that point with virginity intact, it is presumably just a matter of time before the temptations of the single life are erased. But, according to Stoeker, we need to deal with any sexual issues or addictions before marriage. Temptation doesn't just disappear once wedding rings are exchanged.
"All of this stuff we deal with when we're single is still there, plus all the frustrations that can come with trying to have one man and one completely different woman come together," he said. "It surprises young men because they look forward to marriage. But at some point every man has to learn how to manage his sexuality and to own it."
Cooper has counseled married couples on issues related to sex, which, if left untreated, can cause problems in the relationship.
"Sexual issues in marriages are profound," he said. "Couples get discontented with each other, and they start these conversations with friends that eventually can lead into impure relationships. Or they stop having sex once they have kids, and, the next thing you know, they lose the romance. I think that opens the door for people to start getting discontented in marriage."
Fortunately, the Word of God offers instruction for married men: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy..." (Ephesians 5:25-26, NIV).
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According to Stoeker, in order to do this, we must control our thoughts.
"You must be 100 percent focused in a sensual direction on the only female in your life," he said. "She's the one you are looking at. She's the one you are thinking and dreaming about, and only her."
Pursuing sexual purity takes work. Battling, sacrificing and waiting make it seem like life will never be as joyful as it should be for us as followers of Christ. Maybe that's why so many of us men decide that it's easier to give into sexual temptation.
Check 'Em Out!
For more information on the topic of male sexual purity, we recommend you read Fred Stoeker's trilogy of books on the topic: Every Man's Battle, Every Young Man's Battle and Tactics. Also, watch for his newest book now on sale, Hero.
If you still need more resources, we also suggest the book, Everyone Is Not Doing It, by Mike Long (www.mikelong.com) and
the Web site xxxchurch.com.
Stoeker, whose new book Hero teaches young men to stay pure and be "heroes" for their future wives, reiterated the idea that we should look at the freedom-giving aspect of a sexually pure life rather than seeing it as a dull life full of restrictions.
"We often think purity is just keeping our hands clean until the marital cavalry comes, or that it is just God and everyone else just telling us to say 'no' in every situation," he said. "But purity is actually an extremely positive thing. It is a release of our destiny as Christian men. When we're able to own our sexuality, we're able to own our manhood, and we are able to make choices that honor God and honor the women around us. We can stand like knights in shining armor."
Yes, it is a challenge. Yes, it is counter-cultural. Yes, it involves sacrifice. But sexual purity is worth it. When we live out that purity, we are freed to love Christ and those around us in the purest of ways. We will be able to walk unashamed in the presence of God free from the guilt and condemnation that the enemy pours on us when we sin.
Romans 13:14 (NIV) says, "…clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature."
The choice is ours. It is our responsibility, our battle, to make wise choices and to live a pure life. Thankfully, we don't have to do it on our own. We fight in the power of the Holy Spirit that lives inside us — the same power that raised Christ from the dead.
So, let's ask ourselves one last question: Are we man enough to clothe ourselves in Christ, put on His armor and fight for purity? The choice is ours.
The 'Simple' Steps
Growing closer to Christ through prayer and the Word are the most important steps to leading a sexually pure life, but many times we walk right into society's trap. Here are practical ways all of us, young men and old, can resist temptation or avoid it all together. Keep this verse in mind as you read on. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).
OPEN DOOR POLICY: If possible, allow someone to be in the room while you are at the computer or watching TV to keep you from Web sites or shows that can cause you to stumble. If nobody can be in the room with you, keep a door to the room open.
BOUNCE YOUR EYES: In Matthew 5:28, Jesus admonishes men that even looking at a woman lustfully is considered adultery. One of Stoeker's recommended principles from Every Man's Battle is for men to "bounce their eyes" away from anything that causes impure thoughts. This action can be useful anywhere, from avoiding a sensual scene on TV to simply gazing at an unaware female. You always have the ability to flee from sin and turn or close your eyes.
OUTSIDE OF THAT STUFF, IT WAS GREAT: Building off the previous advice, you shouldn't give your eyes the opportunity to lead you into sin by watching movies or TV shows that may include questionable sexual scenes. This may seem drastic, but men are visually stimulated by even the slightest hint. Freeing the mind of such images will help in the long run.
THE MAN AMONG BOYS: Regardless of age or marital status, peer pressure never fades. Take a stand for your purity. If you are faced with a situation where friends are ogling over pornography or a female classmate or coworker, remove yourself from the situation, or even explain to them how Christ calls us to a higher standard.
TRUST ME: Ask a friend you trust to be an accountability partner who can help you in your areas of struggle. Make sure it is someone with whom you can be completely honest.
TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE: Second Corinthians 10:5 (NIV) directs us to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." The mind is a repository for every image or thought that crosses it. Catch and release the impure thoughts that make it into your mind.
GO AHEAD, CALLER: Open the lines of communication. This applies to every man, regardless of his situation.
Single men, discuss the dangers of pornography and sexual sin with your father, a trusted father-figure or a Christian brother.
Married men, whether you are discussing your feelings, sexual activity or temptations, be open and honest with your spouse. Future problems can be prevented by saying what you feel. If communication problems persist, seek professional counseling rather than letting the problems fester.
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: Married men, at some point you will have disagreements with your wife. Seek counsel in those situations from Christian brothers. Do not discuss your personal marriage-related issues with other women. That will develop into deeper emotional relationships and lead to more damage in your marriage. (For more biblical wisdom on marriage, read 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.)
GO IN PEACE, YOUR SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN: Yes, you may have past sexual sins. Whether they took place years ago, during your single days or even after marriage, it is never too late to ask God and those you have hurt for forgiveness. Through Christ, friendships and marriages can be healed.
SHE IS SOMEONE'S PRINCESS: Stoeker advises that, as men, we should treat every woman in our lives in such a way that they will only be better for knowing us. Females develop emotional attachments easier than men, so keep that in mind as you interact with them. Guard your heart and theirs by keeping the topics of discussion appropriate. And, as Stoeker added, "Concentrate on developing friendships with women from the neck up."
THIS IS NORMAL: Sex is all around us, and we are sexual beings. Recognizing this and coming to an understanding that men are not at fault because of this is important. As Christian men, we are called to a higher standard. Peers and society will try to emasculate you for living up to that standard, but ultimately it is Christ who defines your manhood.
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Photos courtesy of Fred Stoeker/Stoeker Group, Jeff Terrell, David Cooper.