I’m preparing for a short topical series during which I’ll be preaching on gender issues, including dating/courtship, marriage, lust, cultivating a “family” mindset toward brothers and sisters in Christ, and parenting in a sensual world. As part of my preparation, I took a couple hours today to reread Joshua Harris’ little book, Not Even a Hint, which has now been republished under the title Sex Isn’t the Problem (Lust Is). I read the book with profit almost 3 years ago, and today I was again helped by it, both as a pastor preparing to preach and as a sinner desiring to grow in grace and fight my own flesh more effectively.
I commend the book to you. Among the book’s strengths is the fact that Josh deals with lust with a careful balance of unblushing honesty (dealing with such real-life issues as pornography and masturbation) and loving discretion. In other words, the book doesn’t dodge the hard issues, but neither does it tantalize the reader and feed the very passions it’s intended to help fight. Another strength is that the book is extremely practical (addressing such things as entertainment, accountability, the need for local church involvement, and the importance of cultivating satisfying fellowship with God) without promising an extra-biblical “silver bullet” to deal with lust once and for all.
I do have one question as I reflect on the book, and it’s one that really relates to the matter of sanctification in general, not just lust. Josh begins the book by warning against any plan for purity that relies on mere willpower. He gives several examples of failed strategies that depend on the flesh, including his own vows, contracts, and efforts. He rightly warns against solutions that omit the gospel:
“Willpower won’t work. Only the power of the cross can break the power of sin that keeps us on its treadmill.” (p. 25, NEAH)
I agree with him on this point. On the other hand, he also promotes common-sense helps like recognizing particularly tempting times, avoiding tempting places (like the video store), setting up accountability relationships, leaving the TV off in a hotel room, etc. I agree with him on this point, too. But it seems like the two points could easily contradict each other—in practice, if not in principle. So, how does one set up helpful guidelines to “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14) without allowing those very guidelines to morph into “confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3-4)? How does one depend on Christ’s work to defeat the flesh even as he works to kill it himself? In one sense, I think I know the answer. I’ve often referred to the cooperation of God’s work and my own—the synergism of sanctification—as “diligent dependence.” But describing the balance with a pat answer and actually avoiding passivity on the one hand and legalism on the other are two different things. Hmm.
While you’re thinking on that, if you have other books or sermons which you believe would be a help to me as I prepare for and preach this series, I’d appreciate your recommendations!
I’ll close with a quotation which I think is pure gold:
“I don’t think we should make overcoming lust our primary preoccupation—we need to make the gospel and God’s glory our focus. We need to give ourselves to knowing Him, worshiping Him, and meeting with Him every day. The result will be the weakening of lust and a growing passion for godliness.” (p. 169-70, NEAH)
Give this book a read, both for your own sake and for those who hear you.