Sexual Purity: What’s It Look Like?
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J. Garrett KellJ. Garrett Kell (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. He previously served as pastor of evangelism at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas; as pastor at Graham Bible Church in Graham, Texas; and on staff at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He and his wife, Carrie, have five children.
Is sexual purity all about willpower? Drawing from his experience, author Garrett Kell provides insight & long-term strategies for your pathway to freedom.
Sexual Purity: What’s It Look Like?
Shelby: Hi; Shelby Abbot here. Today’s conversation on FamilyLife Today covers some sensitive, but important, subjects that might not be good for younger ears; so please use discretion when listening to this next broadcast. Now, let’s jump into it.
Garrett: Some of you need to get a different job because of that person that you’re working with, who’s a temptation. Some of you need to get rid of the internet in your house, and you’re just going to be out of touch. Some of you need to stop watching the show that everybody thinks is so amazing—it’s got a great storyline—but it’s filled with smut.
Ask God to help you to see: “How is the sin getting in?” You’ve got to do whatever it takes to cut it out. I think you’ve got to set yourself up in such a way that it’s hard to sin; and that you have help that abounds, both from those who are closest to you and, ultimately, from your God.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: If you could think of one of the hardest things to figure out as a follower of Christ, of all the things we navigate as a Christ-follower, what first comes to your mind?
Ann: How to become like Christ.
Dave: Oh, yes; that would be it.
Ann: Okay, what would you say?
Dave: I mean, I was thinking, “temptation.”
Ann: Well, it’s kind of the same.
Dave: —which is similar.
Dave: But I was thinking one of the things that I underestimated, as I came to Christ, is I didn’t think I would be tempted as strongly as I was as an unbeliever/a non-believer. I knew I was tempted then. I thought—in Christ/the power of God in my life—that the temptations would be there, but not very strong. I was shocked to feel, sometimes, a burning in my soul for things that were sin; I thought it wouldn’t be that strong.
Ann: You thought it would go away.
Dave: I was shocked that it’s a war.
Ann: You know what mine was? Mine was that I would still struggle with identity issues—of thinking: “What’s wrong with me? I’m not good enough,” “I’m too damaged, because of sexual abuse; I’m not worthy,”—but I also had a sense of judgment toward you—this is terrible—especially because you’re a pastor; and I am judging you, based on: “How can you struggle like this?”
Dave: I felt the same thing. I think every follower of Christ knows what we’re talking about.
Dave: Sometimes, it’s unnamed or it’s secret; but we’ve all felt that burn/that desire to do something that’s against God’s will in our life. We’re, in some ways, shocked and, at the same time, we’re like, “How do I win this?”—right?
We’re sitting here with Garrett Kell, back with us today again, and talking about temptation/sexual temptation; but it’s any kind of temptation really.
Garrett, welcome back to FamilyLife.
Garrett: It’s good to be back; I’ve enjoyed these days.
Ann: I have too.
Dave: We’ve had a couple of great days, talking about your book, Pure in Heart: Sexual Sin and the Promises of God. You’re a pastor; you’ve been a pastor for how many years now?
Garrett: About 17 years of pastoral ministry: part of that in Texas and now, the past nine years, at Del Ray Baptist in Alexandria, [Virginia].
Dave: We talked for a couple of days about your struggle with pornography, and many of us have been there. Here’s the question: “How does a person win over any sin—whether sexual sin/pornography—you name it? How do we find victory?” And again, I want to get to the title of your book—Pure in Heart—“What does it mean to be pure in heart?”
Garrett: Let me give you an example of what it doesn’t look like first. When I was a new Christian—probably had been walking with the Lord for two years or so—we had a group of guys. It will be clear as we talk about this that sexual temptation is something that hits both men and women—this is not just a guys’ thing; right?—this is, as a pastor, I am keenly aware of that.
I was meeting with the guys; there was about ten of us. We called ourselves the Holy Club, or something like that; because we were trying to walk in holiness. What we would do is we would meet on Saturday mornings, and we would sit in a circle. In the middle of the circle was a big jug. It was that, if we had sinned that week someway—that we needed to walk up, confess what we had done, and put money in the jar—[Laughter]—then you go and you sit down.
Dave: Everybody had to be walking up to the jar.
Garrett: See; that’s the problem—it’s like, some weeks, you would walk up, and you would confess sin, put money in the jar and walk back, filled with shame—but then the next week, what happens if you walk in and you didn’t sin in that particular way? You get to self-righteously sit there, and say, “No; this week, I did wonderful.”
I use that illustration— and it’s a little risky—but the reason I use it is because, so often, that’s how purity is thought of: it’s thought of as a performance; it’s thought of as an end itself. I know not everybody was caught with that being an end of itself; but for me, there was so much weight on I wanted to look good in front of other people and I wanted to not have to confess, that I was on this constant roller coaster of shame and self-righteousness that was just unstable.
I think, when we look in the Scriptures, that’s not what purity is about. Jesus lays out a promise for us in Matthew, Chapter 5:8—it’s one of my favorite promises—it says:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God [emphasis added].” What we learn there about purity is that purity is not an end in itself—it’s not just not looking at pornography, or not committing adultery, or not giving into the urges of same-sex attraction, or not giving into whatever else it may be—those are good things to avoid, and God is glorified when we do it by faith—but they’re a means to an end. The end is to know God—it’s to see Him, to know Him, to enjoy Him—“Blessed are the pure in heart because you get to see God [Matthew 5:8, emphasis added],” both now in this life and in the life to come.
When I began to understand that, it was liberating—and it’s also strengthening—because 2 Corinthians 3:18 says that the way you grow as a Christian/the way we grow is with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord. We’re transformed from one degree of glory to the next. The way you grow from degree of glory to a degree of glory is by looking to Him and pursuing Him—and saying, “No,” to the promises of sin—because that’s what a temptation is. A temptation is simply a promise, like, “There’s some pleasure for you that’s going to come; but you’re going to have to not trust God, and you’re going to come over here for this thing,”—whatever it is. And it’s always immediate satisfaction; right?
But Jesus lays promises that: “No, you’ve got to fight fire with fire.” So when temptation comes, you’ve got to have another promise. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in my car. I rarely have social media on my phone—I’ve just learned it’s helpful for me to not—I typically don’t. I have my phone set up to where, if you put a gun to my head, I couldn’t pull up pornography. Like right now, if you did that with my phone, I just couldn’t.
That day, I had downloaded a social media app to post something. My wife has my code; so every time I’m like, “Honey, I need to download an app. I’m sorry you married a 13-year-old. Can you unlock my phone so I can download it?” I had neglected to turn it off; had it on there. I was sitting in my truck. I was just scrolling through, and somebody posted something that was sensual. I wasn’t hunting for it, but it came up on my feed. And in that moment, I feel the urge; I’m like, “Oh, my goodness.” I’m like, “There’s a part of me/my flesh, is like, ‘I’ll just take a look—it’s just one look—just see what: “Is that really what that was?” You know what I mean; it’s all of that.
In that moment, I’ve got to make a decision: “Is the promise of sin, which feels so true, better than the promise of God?” What I had to do in that moment is say, “‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ Lord, help me.” I blocked the person; deleted the app; text my wife—I said, “Hi, Honey, I just wanted to let you know, I was just on social media, and I saw something sensual. I didn’t stay there/didn’t linger; I blocked the person, and I deleted the app. I wanted you to know.”
Then I copied that and I texted it to my three other buddies—to Jason, to Chris and to Ben—to show them what I’d sent my wife; I just sent it to them. Because in that moment, what I know is that I am too weak to just fight this. If I just leave that app on there all day and go back—then after lunch, I’m a little tired; and a little/something’s gone wrong, and I feel a little entitled and a little self-pity—I’m going to be weaker against that. So I had to go grab a promise, ask God to help me to believe it, and then I had to get in the light with other people right away.
Learning to live like that takes time, but that’s the way to purity; it’s like, “I want my heart to be filled with Jesus.” The way we get there is by saying, “No,” to sin and “Yes,” to Him and doing that ten million times until we see Him face to face.
Ann: I’m thinking about the purity culture, because that was when we were raising our kids. I think what you’re saying is all it was—“Okay, here’s the goal,”—but we weren’t getting into: “This is who God is, and He’s well worth it,” and “This will be great.” It was more like: “Just meet the demands of ‘Just be pure.’”
Garrett: Yes, I totally agree. Certainly, there were some people, I’m sure, in the purity culture who—
Ann: —whose hearts were great.
Garrett: —whose hearts were right and all that. But the movement, as a whole, I think, was short-sighted.
Ann: We feel like that with our kids; like we’ve even apologized to them, like, “You guys, our hearts were right; but the way we brought it to you probably wasn’t great.”
Garrett: Because when the “Just not doing…” is the goal, we miss what it’s intended to lead us to, which is to see Jesus and to know Jesus; that’s actually where the strength comes from to keep fighting. Because the more that you walk with Him, He strengthens you in the same way that, when you give into sin, what do you want? You want a little more and then a little more, and it gets stronger—it’s like a beast that you feed—it gets stronger. The Spirit—when you cultivate seeing Christ—it strengthens you.
Dave: Yes, I was going to say—I know you’re a pastor and even a theologian—so talk about the theology of purity being something that is my identity in Christ as opposed to something I gain by performance.
Garrett: Yes; if I’m not a Christian, I am in sin of sin; I love sin. Before I was a Christian, I loved my sin. You don’t have to command people to sin because it’s enjoyable; that’s why they go do it; right? That was my identity; my identity was wrapped up: “I’m this,” or “…that.”
When you become a Christian, a couple of things happen. First of all, the Spirit gives you eyes to see Jesus now, not just as dying and rising from the dead, but dying for you and rising for you. It becomes personal. You are given eyes to see; you are united with Him. Now, you are given a new standing—it is called justification—we’re justified. We’re declared righteous before Him, and we are position-ally pure before God: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus [Romans 8:1].” You are His child; you’re forgiven.
Now, the Spirit, who lives in us, now produces the life of Christ in us. He is transforming us day by day, step by step, decision by decision to make us look more like Jesus practically. Position-ally, we’re holy; and we are being made more holy—sanctification is the word—we are being made more like Jesus. That happens as—by faith, God is working in us, giving us strength—we obey Him.
So just like what happened that day in the [truck]—there was an act of obedience; it was by faith that I lean in, by grace, to a promise—I look to Jesus, and He makes us more like Him. Me performing correctly is not what gives me a right standing with God. My identity is that now I am in Christ/of Christ. I’ve died to sin; it’s like: “Sin no more,”—you don’t have to do what you used to do, because you’re not who you used to be. You’re dead to that old person—Romans 6 says—you died with Christ and now you are alive in Christ; and there’s new life, and there’s new power.
I think it’s one of the lies that I didn’t believe for a long time. I remember thinking, “I have to keep doing this; I’m never really going to be free.” I just believed that lie. It took some really hard days, and some true honesty and real accountability to stop drinking in the well of sin, to be able to be able to begin to walk in the light. It’s not an overnight thing—there’s no switch; there’s no pill; there’s no shot that you can get and like, “Oh, wait; look, I’ve arrived,”—it’s a process.
Ann: Talk about your marriage: “What did this look like? It sounds like you and your wife are super open; you have accountability with her—she knows all of you—so what does that look like for her in this journey with the two of you?”
Garrett: Yes, this is where I would say, “Every couple’s different so what my wife and I do may not be the best for everybody.” But I think there’s some principles we need too.
Garrett: A Christian husband’s primary job is to help his wife to heaven. And a Christian wife’s primary job is to help her husband to heaven. You want to help each other to look to Jesus together. That’s why we got married; we want to follow Jesus together.
Part of that is we want to help each other to fight sin. So she knows my temptations; she knows my struggles; she knows my patterns. And we just sat down and had a conversation about this to where I use Covenant Eyes, which is a reporting thing that kind of keeps track of everything that you look at on the internet. One report goes to one of our fellow pastors and another one goes to my wife, which is a huge deterrent. It’s not the only thing you need, but it’s hugely helpful; she gets that.
And if I’m feeling tempted, I will often just be like, “Will you just pray for me?” Now, she also knows that I’m going to be more explicit and very detailed in my confessions to my other brothers in ways that I don’t think she wants to hear about or needs to hear about necessarily—unless it crosses a particular threshold—and those brothers would be like, “I think you need to reach out to Carrie; you need to talk to her about this”; we’ve all kind of agreed on what those thresholds are. For her, she wants to have a general pulse on how I’m doing, and she wants to be able to pray for me and encourage me. That’s been hugely helpful.
With these guys, I’m very transparent; we’ve learned to be very honest in our confessions. And one of the things we’ve learned to do—so even as you heard in that example—we try to confess our temptations. Not that temptation is a sin; being tempted is not a sin—Jesus was tempted; He wasn’t in sin—but when I’m tempted, there’s something I want to sin, which Jesus didn’t struggle with. I’ve found. if you get that into the light right away, it helps; because otherwise, if you leave something there, it just kind of lingers. Over a while, it starts looking a little better; and it starts getting a little stronger. That’s why you’ve got to kill it and get it in the light right away.
We try and cultivate that relationship. Now, there have been times when I did look at a thing/I compromised on what I looked at in the internet; and I sinned. And those are the hardest conversations. I know you guys [Dave and Ann] have been public about your own struggle with that, and I hurt her.
Dave: Yes, and here’s one of the questions about that for you—and also for our listeners, probably wondering—“Okay, how about trust?” When your husband is confessing, or your wife’s confessing sin—and maybe it’s been a month; or maybe it’s been a day—but there’s a sin again—or maybe the same struggle, whether it’s porn or whatever—you start to lose trust, like, “Wow, you’re not—I’m glad you’re telling me—but you’re not winning.”
Ann: That’s what I was going to say, Dave. I’ve talked to so many wives especially—because I’m talking to wives a lot—that are so discouraged, like, “He’s not winning. This has been going on for five years. I’m tired of his promises; I’m tired of him saying, ‘You know, I’m going to win this time.’” What do you say to them?
Garrett: I’m going to have a word for the husbands, and I’m going to have a word for the wives.
Garrett: First thing for the wives:
“Remember that Jesus is near and that you are rightly being grieved. It is wrong for your husband to sin against you in this way, so you don’t need to feel ashamed that it hurt you; it makes sense that it hurt you. Now I think, ‘In your anger,’—Ephesians would say—‘do not sin [Ephesians 4:26]’; so don’t retaliate evil for evil. I think you want to pray and plead that God would:
- A.) Help you to trust Him to believe that your husband’s struggle with this sin is not about you; it’s about his problem with Jesus. He looks at porn, not because you’re dissatisfying; but because he’s dissatisfied with Jesus. It’s his fault. I think ask God to help you believe that that’s true.
- [B.] Ask God to help you to grieve appropriately. It is right for you to grieve that he’s hurt you. But it’s even more important to ask God to help you to learn to be grieved that he’s hurt God. We, oftentimes, are so horizontal in this conversation that we forget that the one that we chiefly sinned against is God. Pray that your heart would be broken for his relationship with God, which I think will, over time, produce some compassion, which is necessary—not a compassion in the sense of pity, like, ‘Oh, it’s okay,’—but like, ‘Oh, I want his heart to be free; so he can know Jesus as he should.’
- [C.] Then I think you want to help make sure that he’s in the light. If he’s just doing this, but not telling anybody, at some point, you need to tell him, ‘I’m going to need to go to talk to the pastor, because I need help.’ That’s the most loving thing, sometimes, you can do is to go and say, ‘My husband needs help. Please call him out.’”
There’s a lot more there, and I’d be happy to talk about it.
Ann: Yes, that’s good though.
Garrett: For the husbands:
“Brothers, what I would say is what you’ve got to remember is your sin always affects others, and you’ve got to understand that you are hurting your wife. You are tempting her to think that she’s not enough.
- “You’ve got to know that all of those women, or men, or whatever it is that you are looking at on the internet, they’re lying to you. They don’t want you; they’re paid to act like they want you, but they don’t want you. What your heart is really looking for is Jesus. I forget who made the quote; but somebody said one time that: ‘When a young man goes to the brothel, what he’s really looking for is God.’ What you’re really looking for is God. God’s the only One who can give you the affirmation that your soul is seeking; so you’ve got to know that, chiefly, this is an issue with you and the Lord.
- “Secondly, you’ve got to look at your wife and see: ‘That’s an image-bearer; and as she weeps, you’re supposed to see that’s how Jesus weeps. You’re grieving Him; you’re sinning against God. Feel the weight of that. Now, you could feel it and just feel ashamed and think, “I just can’t move.” This is where the gospel comes for you. The good news is that Jesus can meet you in the midst of your mess and His arm is not too short to save. But you are too weak, brother; you are too weak to do it by yourself. You’ve got to reach out: go to a trusted friend, who’s godly; go to your pastor/whomever it may be; if you are a pastor, call a fellow pastor and come into the light.
What I mean by come into the light is not like, ‘Hey, I’m kind of struggling.’ I mean tell the whole truth. Jesus said, ‘Cut off your hand; pluck out your eye [Matthew 5:29-30].’ You’ve got to do whatever it takes to make getting to sin impossible: so whatever that looks like for you.”
Dave: Explain that because I don’t want a listener, going, “Oh, I’m going to gouge out my eye right now.”
Garrett: Yes, He’s literally using a metaphor to teach you how drastic this is.
Garrett: Some of you need to get a different job, because of that person that you’re working with, who’s a temptation. Some of you need to get rid of the internet in your house, and you’re just going to be out of touch. Some of you need to stop watching the show that everybody thinks is so amazing—it’s got a great storyline—but it’s filled with smut.
Ask God to help you to see: “How is the sin getting in?”; and you’ve got to do whatever it takes to cut it out. I think you’ve got to set yourself up in such a way that it’s hard to sin and that you have help that abounds, both from those who are closest to you and, ultimately, from your God.
That’s where, again, we just want to say: “It’s God’s providence/His wise arranging of things that you’ve tuned in at just this time to hear that there is help; and He has come to set you free. There’s a way out, and Jesus will help you.”
Listen, husbands and wives, if you feel like it’s so fractured—because you’ve sinned against one another—I want you to know: “He can heal it. It won’t be easy; it may be a long road. Trust does get rebuilt.” Husbands or wives, if you’ve sinned against one another, and you’re like, “Well, I haven’t looked at anything in two months,”—and there’s still hurt—realize that you’ve sinned against them, and it’s going to take time to rebuild. But you keep loving, keep seeking Jesus, and He will help you.
Dave: Man, that is a great word.
I know, when I was growing up, to try and find porn was—you couldn’t find it; you had to go to a store and buy it, so you didn’t—unless you stumbled upon it, you didn’t. Today, as you just said, it’s in our pocket—it’s so accessible—so we have to, like you said, set up the barbed wire.
Man, you modeled it so well—the brothers that you have in your life—by the way, everything you said about a man struggling could be to the woman or the wife struggling.
Garrett: Oh, yes.
Dave: It’s the same thing; it’s: “Just apply it to yourself,” if you’re a wife.
Garrett: I felt like I wanted a resource that I could hand to any man or woman—anybody, who’s married or unmarried; somebody, who’s struggling with same-sex attraction or whatever it may be; or somebody, who’s not struggling and wants to help somebody—“Here’s a resource, that will meet you where you are, that will show you: ‘Jesus is the answer,’ and what that means practically to be able to be set free.”
Dave: Yes, that’s great. I would say, “Go to FamilyLife.com. If we can help you, we are here to help you.”
Ann: Thank you.
Garrett: Thank you, guys. God bless you.
Shelby: Man, when I think about his topic, there are just so many people who wrestle with this kind of stuff, myself included. The conversation today has been gospel-centered gold, really. It’s been helpful, practical, and encouraging because it shines the spotlight on Jesus; Jesus is the solution. Garrett Kell, along with Dave and Ann Wilson, have really highlighted that. We need the goodness and grace of Jesus in order to overcome sexual sin; and when we fail—not if, but when we fail—God extends to us grace and calls us into something more profound.
If you want to find a copy of Garrett Kell’s book, Pure in Heart, you could head to our FamilyLife Resource Center at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy; or you could give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to order a copy of Garrett’s book, Pure in Heart.
While you’re there, all this week, when you make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we want to say, “Thank you”; and by doing that, we want to send you a copy of Sharon Jaynes’s book, When You Don’t Like Your Story. Her question really is/this over-arching question is: “What if your worst chapters could become your greatest victories?” As we’ve been talking about sexual sin today, there’s some pretty bad defeats there/some bad chapters in our lives. This book helps us to discover that God can turn those things around, not only helping us to see victory, but also bringing glory to His name and drawing people to Himself. Again, that’s our gift to you when you make a donation of any amount, all this week, at FamilyLifeToday.com; we’ll send you a copy of Sharon Jaynes’s book, When You Don’t Like Your Story.
If this content today, or any of our FamilyLife programs have been helpful for you, we’d love for you to share today’s podcast with a family member or a friend. Wherever you get your podcasts, it could really advance the gospel effort of what we’re doing at FamilyLife if you’d scroll down and rate and review us.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be talking with Sharon Jaynes, the author of the book that we’ve been offering as a thank-you gift to you when you make a donation to FamilyLife. She’s written a book called When You Don’t Like Your Story: What If Your Worst Chapters Could Become Your Greatest Victories? That’s coming up tomorrow; we hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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