By Dustin Brown
You just finished leading the Wednesday night youth Bible study when one of your 17-year-old students approaches you. He was convicted by your message and confesses through tears that he has been hooked on pornography for the past five years. He wants to change. How will you lead him? A couple of weeks go by, and you get a phone call from a frantic parent who just discovered their daughter, this time just a 13-year-old, has been engaging in sexting. The parents are desperate. How will you lead them? While most church-going teenagers know about the sin of sexual immorality, I am convinced that very few of them know how to change. Let’s face it: very few adults know how to change. The chairs in our youth groups are filled with teenagers ensnared to lust and pornography, and yet most, if not all, do not know how to break the pattern. The church is indebted to Randy Alcorn for his contribution in filling this gap with his book The Purity Principle. There are several principles he presents that help us turn from sexual sin to walk in purity.
At the Heart of it All
If we want to help teenagers be free of their sexual sin, we must help them understand the heart behind it. Sexual sin is fundamentally idolatry. Desiring any sexual encounter outside of marriage, whether it is the actual act, in the mind, or on the computer screen, is a desire for something other than and “better” than God. In that moment, we are essentially saying that we desire pleasure, power, acceptance, control, comfort, leisure, and the list goes on of things we desire more than God. We must help students understand the idols of their hearts. These idols must be repented of and replaced with a worship for the Lord and a desire for him above all else. We must choose to fight for a greater joy and love. The problem is not just our sexual behavior; it is our worshiping heart. Our desires need to change. Those bound by sexual sin have worshiped their way into it, and now they must worship their way out of it.
The battle of sexual sin begins in our minds, and Alcorn gives us helpful insight into how we can renew them. He reminds us, “Tomorrow’s character is made out of today’s thoughts…we become what we think” (41). We don’t just “fall into” sexual sin. No teenager innocently gets addicted to pornography. There is a progression that leads up to the sexual action, and that progression begins in the mind. We must guard our minds, quickly repent of any impure thoughts, and then replace those thoughts with what is pure. Again, the problem is not just with sexual action, it is with our thoughts. Teenagers in our youth groups must be taught how to renew their thoughts, which leads us to our next principle.
2 Timothy 2:22 charges us to “…Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (NASB). This verse has played an integral role in my own fight for purity, as it calls us to flee from impurity and pursue what is pure. Not only must we flee sexual immorality, but we must take radical measures to be replacing those things in our life with things that are pure. Romans 13:14 exhorts us to “make no provision for the flesh.” Alcorn uses the example of someone trying to stop eating donuts. If that person continues to drive by the donut shop everyday, thinks about donuts all day long, and watches commercials of donut restaurants, it is only a matter of time before they eat another donut. And yet, as funny as that sounds, this is exactly what we often do with sexual temptation. Spending the day fantasizing about lustful thoughts, putting ourselves in situations with other people that will lead us into sin, watching and listening to materials that fill our minds with impure thoughts, and continuing to give ourselves access to the very things which cause us to stumble, will indeed result in more sexual sin!
What are some radical measures we can take against sexual sin? It depends on what makes a person stumble, or what makes it easy for them to sin. There is nothing worse than sin, so whatever one has to give up in order to not sin, it’s worth it. Consider the consequences if you don’t. Make a list for yourself, and instruct students to do the same, of what would happen if you had premarital sex, continued to look at pornography, or had an affair. One of the things students do not usually understand is how their choices affect other people. They don’t think their sexual sin hurts people, but it does. Sin kills. When we sin sexually, it will damage relationships (first and foremost with God), it will damage our witness and any future ministry, and it will damage a future marriage. Therefore, get rid of what causes you to sin. Jesus teaches this in Matthew 5:27-30. Let’s apply his teaching to our context. If your smart phone causes you to look at pornography, then get rid of it. You, nor your students, need a smart phone. Some students may need to get rid of their computers. Yes, that is possible. Schools and public libraries offer free access to computers where homework can be done. If you do feel the need to have a computer in your home, sacrifice whatever money is needed to buy some type of internet filter software. These are just a few examples illustrating that we can truly get rid of what causes us to sin if we truly desire repentance. Do it, and teach your students to do it because it is worth it!
Jesus, the Purifier of our Souls
The Purity Principle is a gift to the church; it is a gift to us. Alcorn gives us principles that serve as guardrails against impurity in our lives. If you are ensnared by sexual sin, or if you minister to students who are, take heart. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV). Jesus can, will, and does purify us from all of our sexual stains. You, nor your students, are ever too far gone for Christ to reach, heal, and make new. If you are haunted by past decisions and regrets as some of your students will be, know and teach that Jesus’s righteousness on our behalf covers all of our sin. The principles discussed here point us to Christ, and as we implement them, we realize it is only by clinging to his grace and mercy that we can be transformed and changed. The principles Alcorn presents are given to us first by God in the Scripture, and it is through these principles that God works new life into our hearts. Change is possible for all of us, and that change comes from Jesus, the purifier of our souls.