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This may sound strange, but we can learn a lot about the nature of sexual sin from G-rated films. Ever seen the classic film Pinocchio? There is one particular scene that vividly captures the enslaving power of sin. Pinocchio and his mischievous friend Lampwick are lured away by the Coachman. He’s that evil figure who deceitfully rounds up little boys to enjoy Pleasure Island, the place where one’s every desire becomes a reality. Anything goes. Pinocchio and Lampwick can get into a fight, if they’re feeling feisty. They can destroy a home, if they’re feeling naughty. They can even indulge themselves in smelly cigars, frothy beers, and plenty of bar games, though they’re underage. The more they sin, the more they seem to feel like “real adults.” But things suddenly take a turn for the worse. What started off as immensely liberating soon becomes miserably enslaving, and Pinocchio witnesses the oppressive nature of sin firsthand.

After taking a drink of his beer, Lampwick suddenly grows donkey ears. Pinocchio looks at his beer and slowly puts it down. Then, when Lampwick makes a billiards shot, a donkey tail tears through the back of his pants. Pinocchio looks with disgust at his cigar and quickly throws it away. Lampwick ultimately turns into a donkey and starts hee-hawing, kicking, and bawling in desperation for his “mama.” He, along with many other bad boys-turned-donkeys, are locked up in crates by dark figures to be shipped and sold to salt mines and circuses. What the Coachman said earlier comes true: “Give a bad boy enough rope, and he’ll soon make a jackass of himself.” To put it differently, with enough unsupervised liberty, bad boys (and girls) are sure to make sinful fools of themselves.

Isn’t this true? This scene from Pinocchio makes me think of a student’s first semester at college. It seems so liberating at first. Mom and Dad are no longer around. All of your friends are back at home. You haven’t settled on a church yet, and there’s certainly no one around who will “force” you to attend. No one knows your history or religious background. And you’re surrounded by strangers who, more than likely, didn’t have the same Christian upbringing that you did. As you move into your dorm room, you realize that there aren’t separate dormitories for guys and girls. You’ve never lived in such close quarters with the opposite sex before. Then night falls, and the parties begin. Your roommate asks if you’ll join him in a night of full-fledged debauchery. He assures you that frothy beers, smelly cigars, and bar games are only the beginning. After all, those are G-rated activities. You’re at Pleasure Island University now, where all your desires, whether R-rated, TV-MA, or worse, can become realities. Pornography is more accessible than cable TV. One-night stands are all too common. Temptation to give in to sexual sin is literally everywhere. And all around you are real-life Lampwicks who have been given “enough rope” to do whatever their hearts desire. Believing they’re free, they prove to be enslaved by their actions. And though they haven’t realized it yet, they’re turning into donkeys.

This is the moment of truth for you. What will you do? How will you fight against unceasing temptation? Remember all those verses you memorized out of love for Christ? “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2); “I have made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1); “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Ps. 119:9); “Flee youthful passions” (2 Tim. 2:22); “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). Will you obey Christ in this sin-ridden context? Or, will you foolishly decide to accept your roommate’s invitation and inevitably become a donkey yourself?

Sexual promiscuity is ubiquitous, and sexual purity has become a lost art. Even so, the Scriptures are clear: sexual immorality is a sin against God.

Sadly, the majority of Christians who attend college (whether secular or professing Christian) do the latter. They willingly submit themselves to the enslaving power of sexual sin. It may start off in front of your computer or smartphone, but it usually never ends there. Given the right context, given “enough rope,” your sinful desires will take you down paths you never imagined traveling. That’s the sad reality of sexual sin. If you give it an inch, it takes you ten miles. It is an unrelenting force whose power increases with every battle you choose to lose, and it frequently results in sexually immoral activity.

Let’s face it: sexual promiscuity is ubiquitous, and sexual purity has become a lost art. It saddens me to think of how many Christians who leave their hometowns for the first time to attend college fall prey to egregious forms of sexual sin. It’s so depressingly prevalent. Even so, the Scriptures are clear: sexual immorality is a sin against God (Ps. 51:4), is a sin against others (1 Thess. 4:3–7), and has eternal consequences (Matt. 5:27–30). Assuming you believe that to be true and that you long to pursue purity, the most crucial question becomes: How should I pursue sexual purity in a world gone sexually awry?

The Pursuit of Sexual Purity

Lampwick isn’t the only one who gives in to temptation. Pinocchio does as well. He, too, grows donkey ears and a tail, with his dream of becoming a real boy vanishing before his eyes. But just before he turns into a total donkey, his loyal friend and conscience, Jiminy Cricket, comes to the rescue. He quickly shows Pinocchio the “only” way out, up a steep set of craggy rocks and to a tall cliff with water far below. At the top, Pinocchio turns to look at Jiminy as if to say, “I can’t do this!” Jiminy reads his mind and forthrightly says, “You gotta jump!” Pinocchio wastes no time. Not once does he look back at the Eight Ball bar where sin prevailed; not once does he reminisce on the fleeting joys of Pleasure Island. He immediately jumps to escape the enslaving consequences of “fun.”

You may think Pinocchio’s escape from sin’s grasp serves as a good example of fighting sin, but I actually think it’s a good example of what not to do (at least, first and foremost). You see, too many Christians focus on external actions. They know sexual sin is wrong. They’ve given in, but they know they shouldn’t have. So, they do the hard work of climbing up really steep craggy rocks to avoid the trappings of sin yet again, seeking to be the best Christian they can possibly be. Contrary to what you may have been taught, that’s actually the worst starting point for believers. It produces moralistic Christians, and moralistic Christianity is not biblical Christianity. Moralistic Christians are those who trust in self rather than God, who draw from their own strength rather than the help of the Spirit, who think they can overcome the oppressive power of sin through mere human actions. They think sexual purity is attainable if you just get an accountability program on your smartphone and computer, or if you live with a Christian roommate, or if you verbally confess to a friend every sinful thought that enters your mind, or if you vow never to be alone with your girlfriend or boyfriend, or if you literally run from sexual temptation as Joseph did. Then, and only then, will you be freed from the sharp talons of sexual sin.

We need a greater love for our triune God to expel a lesser love for sexual sin. We need to be reminded of God’s love for us in Christ through Word and sacrament in church, through the Word preached and the Word seen.

That’s not necessarily true. There are ways around accountability programs. Not every Christian roommate will live a Christian life. Your own desire to sin will prevent you from confessing your sinful thoughts and actions. There will likely be moments when you’ll be alone with your boyfriend or girlfriend. And if you run away from Potiphar’s wife, as Joseph did, you’ll likely run into a Jezebel. We can’t, first and foremost, focus on external actions. Human actions are indeed necessary and beneficial, and we certainly need to be obedient to God externally. But that can’t be our fundamental starting point.

We need to be obedient to God internally. We need to love Him with all of our heart and soul and mind, as well as our strength (Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). But we need to begin with our affections. After all, the act of giving in to sexual sin is a result of misplaced desires. When we’re lonely, depressed, tired, or bored, we desire things that we think will satisfy and comfort us or who will simply provide a few hours of escape. The core of the problem is not our actions per se. It’s our affections. As long as we tolerate our love for sexual sin, we can’t expect to serve Christ above all. To borrow the title of Thomas Chalmers’ famous sermon, we need “the expulsive power of a new affection.” We need a greater love for our triune God to expel a lesser love for sexual sin. We need to be reminded of God’s love for us in Christ through Word and sacrament in church, through the Word preached and the Word seen. We need to taste and see the beauty of Christ in the gospel daily, as He shines forth as our Lord, Prophet, Priest, King, and Friend. We need to open up the blinds of our hearts and allow the light of the gospel to generate religious affections through His Word. The more we know and experience God’s love for us in Christ, the more we’ll desire to live our lives coram Deo, before His face.

First Things First

Only after we deal with our affections can we move from internal to external action. Only after our affections are rightly placed on the most satisfying and deserving object of our love can we then pursue sexual purity in a more godly and effective manner. Christians who focus solely on externals will quickly grow tired of resisting sin. After all, why are they resisting? To be good Christians? Because it’s the right thing to do? That kind of reasoning doesn’t have the power to sustain a Christian in what will be a lifelong battle. We can’t just know what to do; we have to know it and desire it.

Of course, focusing on our affections will not by itself secure victory in our battle against sexual sin and temptation. But it will certainly chart a more effective course in the pursuit of sexual purity, as long as we humbly depend on God to give what He commands. He not only commands us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) but also gives us the strength to flee. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).

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