Within every man lies a human heart, deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). It is your responsibility each day to solicit God’s aid in circumcising that heart—and to daily submit to God so He will create in you a new, clean heart (Psalm 51:10).
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with ALL thy heart,” Christ says (Matthew 22:37). This is His command. You shall hold nothing back.
What is the state of your heart? Where is it divided? Where are there shadows? What are your areas of weakness?
A godly man is the genuine article. He lives with singleness of heart, striving diligently to think with integrity and to live in harmony with how he speaks. Singleness and purity of heart means mastery of your mind. It is a heart uncluttered with the things of the world, uncomplicated by the lusts of the flesh. To achieve such a state takes real diligence and effort, and it can only be truly achieved by yielding to God.
King David kept that first and great commandment perhaps better than any human except Jesus Christ. His psalms enable us to scrutinize the most intimate details of his relationship with God and to emulate them.
“O God, thou art my God, I yearn for thee, body and soul, I thirst, I long for thee, like a land without water, weary, dry. … Thy love is more than life to me …” (Psalm 63:1, 3; Moffatt). How did David achieve such an unnatural craving, such heartfelt, Christ-like sincerity in his innermost being?
Such love is shed abroad in a human heart by the Holy Spirit, which is a gift from God (Romans 5:5). Once we receive that Spirit upon repentance and baptism, we maintain its flow and influence in our lives by submitting wholly to God, moment by moment. This requires training your heart—with diligence, vigor and violence.
David trained his heart like a great general trains a soldier, demanding constant exercise to run it in its proper course. That is the only way to train something so unruly as a human heart.
Go After Your Weaknesses
To be a godly man, you must go after your weaknesses and be serious about it. Ask God for help to bury the old man (see Romans 6). We must be continually, actively casting off corruption and putting on God’s righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
“Our problems always try to come back,” Gerald Flurry writes in How to Be an Overcomer. “God instructs us to destroy that old man so completely that he doesn’t have the will to come back! If you deal with a problem lightly and return to your business, it will come right back. You will be dealing with the same problems year after year!” He encourages us to fight our problems systematically.
Mastering your problems requires contending in battle (2 Timothy 2:3-5). Ask God for strength in this fight. He wants you to seek Him for help. In His hand is power and might, and He can provide real strength (1 Chronicles 29:12). If you face your struggles with God, you will emerge a stronger man on the other side.
Perhaps you are well aware of some areas you need to change to achieve real purity of heart. After all, Satan has marshaled his best efforts to shape society in such a way as to destroy men, and many of his weapons are quite obvious.
“What is your greatest enemy? How much do you think about that?” Mr. Flurry asks. He then gives this list, worth contemplating: “Is it laziness? Or lust? Resistance to government? Discouragement? Do you have to battle selfishness? Or an inferiority complex? How about intellectual vanity? Or all of the above?” (ibid). Every one of these represents a problem that must be dealt with forcibly. And there are many more such sins and weaknesses, areas that need to change—many of which we cannot even recognize fully without God’s help.
The rest of this chapter focuses on one sin, not uncommon among men, and how to overcome it: the sin of pornography. Consider this instruction emblematic of the process of purifying the heart that must take place no matter what the sin may be.
Protect Your Mind
Our culture is saturated in sex. Highly sexualized images and messages are printed, displayed and broadcast incessantly through every form of mass communication. A lot of sexualized content isn’t even commonly called pornography. Many people have convinced themselves that there is nothing wrong with this—that it is harmless, even healthy.
Such thinking is deception. Jesus Christ plainly condemned our pornophilic culture. He called it adultery, a violation of God’s eternal spiritual law: “I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
With pervasive temptations, by no means is it easy to keep your mind free of lustful thoughts. The Apostle Paul actually called it a life-and-death struggle: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5; New International Version). The Apostle Peter also spoke of this struggle with sin as being a war: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
Does your attitude toward pornography match God’s?
Many who look at sexual images say they don’t feel guilty about it. Their conscience is either uneducated, or it has been seared (Jeremiah 6:15; Ephesians 4:17-19). They need to understand that pornography is sin. It is a major weapon the devil uses to destroy men in particular, as well as women, children and families. He has more tools today than ever with which to entrap people in sin.
Many others acknowledge that pornography is destructive and want to steer clear. For anyone who has any degree of contact with mass media—movies, Internet, television, magazines, newspapers, books—this requires genuine effort. Practically speaking, failing to battle means losing the battle. You must fight to protect your mind, body and spirit.
Sadly, many who are trying to avoid this sin are losing the battle. Pornography and the immoral sexual habits it causes can be powerfully addictive. And it can be much harder to overcome than some addictions. Generally pornography addicts don’t want to give it up, and although you can purge the elements from your bloodstream in a chemical addiction, you cannot purge the mental images you absorb from pornography.
Many are caught in the trap of pornography and want to be free of it. They can see the damage done to themselves and their families. They wish they had more self-control—but they feel unable to free themselves. They are living testimony of the truth stated in 2 Peter 2:19: “[W]hatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (Revised Standard Version).
Is this a problem you face?
The First Step
To break free from this sin, the obvious first step is to acknowledge that it is a problem.
You need God’s perspective on sin—whether lust or any other sin. God hates it passionately! (e.g. Proverbs 8:13). Sin is what claimed the life of His Son Jesus Christ, and sin is what causes all the misery and suffering that afflicts humankind. It is for sin that God will pour out His wrath on this world, and for which He commands His people to come out of this world! (e.g. Ephesians 5:5-7; Colossians 3:5-6; Revelation 18:4).
Because public sexuality is so pervasive, it is easy to compromise with. We must understand, however, just how damaging compromise is. One compromise can mean losing the battle!
The Bible makes a powerful comparison between sexual immorality and fire, or hot coals. Permitting yourself a “little” sexual lust is like carrying a “small amount” of fire close to your chest, or walking barefoot on red-hot embers: You will be burned and blistered every time (Proverbs 6:23-29).
The Bible contains a two-part definition of “[p]ure religion and undefiled before God and the Father.” It says a man practicing pure religion is “to keep himself unspotted [or unstained] from the world” (James 1:27). This is a true challenge in a world deeply stained with sexual impurity!
It is truly a rare man who will fight and strive, even against powerful personal temptation, for true purity.
Pure water contains no contaminants; you would not call a glass of water with a “little bit” of mud in it pure water. A pure sexual life includes nothing outside God’s commanded use of sex between a lawfully wedded husband and wife—a relationship God created to be fully satisfying and rewarding sexually.
Pornography is poison. A meal containing a “little bit” of cyanide is a toxic meal. Indulging lust to any degree is sin. Compromising with pornographic or lust-inducing material is essentially making the same choice Adam and Eve made in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—that is, a satanic mixture that appeals to the senses but leads to death (Genesis 2:17).
Mixing good and evil is ingrained in our thinking as a society. The entertainment industry, for example, is filled with artistic excellence mixed with moral depravity. In many cases, the material most lauded by critics and insiders is the most corrupt.
How much of society’s compromising mindset has affected you? Prayerfully confront assumptions and faults in your own thinking. How has pornography hurt or hindered you and those around you? Do you truly want to be rid of it? Are you willing to do whatever it takes? If not, why not? How can you overcome that resistance? Your assessment must be honest to be beneficial.
As Jesus Christ said, purity includes not just law-abiding actions, but also thoughts. As King David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). 2 Corinthians 10:5 enjoins, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivityevery thoughtto the obedience of Christ.”
What we look at certainly affects what we think about. To become pure, we must be vigilant gatekeepers for what goes into our minds. That means not rationalizing what we can “handle,” but rather being truthful with ourselves and with God, and seeking to keep ourselves and our families as far from unsuitable material as possible.
In determining acceptable media use, we cannot use societal standards. These are in constant flux, with a clear trend toward corruption. God’s unchanging law must be our only standard.
If you have a problem in this area, you must correct it. Make it your top priority in overcoming. Ask God for His forgiveness, pray for the gift of sincere repentance, and beseech Him for the help that only He can provide. Then do everything you can to show God how serious and determined you are to overcome. You want to be able to say, like the Apostle Paul in Acts 24:16, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men” (rsv).
No Provision for the Flesh
What if you do find yourself drawn toward sexual material?
The most important principle to live by in overcoming such temptations is to stay as far away from the problem as possible. Human nature wants to get as close to the problem as it can. That is a guaranteed path to failure, because, as Christ said, “[T]he spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
Shun entertainment with improper sexual content. Strictly avoid movies that contain nudity or lust-inducing sexuality. Before deciding to see a movie, check reviews from moral-based film critics; websites such as MovieGuide.org provide much better explanations of objectionable material than the only-vaguely trustworthy mpaa system used in the United States. Consider cutting out “R”- or even “pg-13”-rated movies altogether.
Romans 13:14 instructs us to “make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” The Living Bible translates this, “[D]on’t make plans to enjoy evil.” The New International Version reads, “[D]o not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” In other words, rid your life of all the temptations you can, and then burn your bridges.
If you have sexual material in your home, get rid of it. Toss out or destroy any indecent magazines, books or videos. If you need to have certain channels blocked from your tv service, do it. If you need to cancel your cable, do it. If you need to get rid of your video player or television, do it. If you need to purchase a content filter for your Internet connection, do it. If you need to change your Internet service provider to one that screens out pornography, do it. If you need to cancel your Internet service, do it. If you need to get rid of your computer, do it.
Get as far away as necessary, take whatever steps you need, to eliminate the temptation. Don’t debate it and find a way to reason around it. Christ advocated radical measures where necessary to preserve your spiritual health and well-being. After explaining that simply looking lustfully can constitute adultery, He said, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
Are you willing to get radical—to figuratively pull out your eye?
Have a Battle Plan
Purity requires a battle plan. Examine your life for things you may need to change about your lifestyle. Look for patterns of failure. Think ahead about situations you know will pose a temptation. Know where you are weak and take action in advance to avoid those situations where possible, and remove destructive options where necessary. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12).
Perhaps you get into trouble when you have too much idle time. If so, plan your free time. Stay active. Make sure you’re getting regular, vigorous physical exercise. Rather than using those idle moments in the wrong activities, force yourself to get up and go for a run or shoot some basketball. Keep your mind active as well, so it won’t have an opportunity to wander into places it shouldn’t. Overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
At times temptation will still arise—or, in a moment of weakness, you may seek out something you should not. When things begin to go off track, resort to emergency procedures.
Understand: It is not a sin to have a tempting thought. The “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), Satan the devil, has filled society with influences and temptations, as well as pervasive spiritual broadcasts of attitudes, impulses and feelings, that can enter our minds and thoughts. It is not necessarily a sin to have a tempting thought—the sin is allowing yourself to dwell on that temptation.
This is why it is important to become skilled at directing your thoughts—to build the habit of immediately stopping a sinful line of thinking the moment you recognize it. This is realistically the best—and perhaps only—moment you can make a genuine choice to block it. Once you’ve tossed it around mentally a few times, it can be virtually impossible to then get rid of it before it leads to a sinful act. As James wrote, “[E]very man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. [Notice—‘every man’! You are not alone!] Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15).
At the first moment of temptation, you must break that thought before it takes root. Imagine a big red “NO” being written across your mind. Recall a scripture that you have memorized specifically to recite to yourself when temptation hits. Pinch your cheek. Whistle. Get out your Bible and read a random passage. Go to a private spot and pray. Have something specific to do in order to flee that temptation. Do whatever it takes.
If you find yourself mulling over plans about how you may see a certain website or movie or go to a certain place, expunge those thoughts immediately and force yourself to think on something else. The longer you let wrong thoughts linger, the harder they are to evict and the likelier they are to lead to action.
When you are alone in a place where people don’t know you, it may be easy to take advantage of your anonymity and convince yourself that no one will know if you succumb to lust—but of course, you will know—and so will God. God sees what you are doing, and you are accountable to Him.Fear God enough to actually depart from evil! (Proverbs 14:27; 16:6).
What do you do if you fail?
If you succumb and you look at pornography, stop immediately. This sin is bad—but it compounds when you continue to sin and violate your conscience, carrying on with the wrongful act even after recognizing it as wrong. In such a situation, the moment you realize you are off track, stand up and walk away, throw the magazine down, turn off the computer—do whatever you must to stopwithout delay.
The biblical command is simple: Flee fornication (1 Corinthians 6:18).
That’s right. Don’t wrestle in your mind. Don’t try to be calm and collected. Flee. Physically run—get away from the source of temptation. Immediately change the channel, turn off the tv, walk out of the theater. Often in our battle for purity in the world, if we just get out of the physical environment, the temptation will diminish or disappear.
If you have failed, you must learn from the situation so you don’t repeat it. Trace the lead-up to your decision to view the pornography. Try to discern how you got into it in the first place. Then take the necessary measures to deny yourself that option the next time around.
Eliminating lustful options for yourself is liberating. It may be difficult for a moment, but you will experience tremendous peace of mind when you are no longer tossing back and forth, wrestling with your own thoughts, over some temptation that is still within your reach.
These strategies can help in purifying your heart from any sin or temptation you face. These are tangible, physical means of eliminating or at least minimizing the temptations presented by this world and our own minds. It is worth every effort to keep yourself clean. Every time you give in to temptation and indulge in sin, you hurt yourself and break down your character. Every time you take the high ground and avoid it, you strengthen your character and spare yourself and your loved ones real pain.
The trouble is, some people have deep-rooted addictions that cannot be solved by such methods. They suffer the effects of childhood trauma, deep emotional emptiness or simple entrenched habit. Some have tried countless times to free themselves from the deadly grip of sin and always stumble and again become ensnared.
The truth is, true freedom from sin cannot come from the “flesh.” So often, the spiritis willing—but the flesh is too weak to produce lasting change!
But change can come.
The Bible is filled with promises of spiritual help in overcoming such obstacles!
Read this guarantee in Psalm 119:9-11: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Christ Himself supported this fact in John 8:32: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truthshall make you free.”
The Apostle Paul gave similar counsel: “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). If you find yourself going after youthful lusts, flee those things—and run to the righteous things. Put in the good to get rid of the bad.
Follow righteousness. Absorb yourself in the law of God—in the Word. Follow faith. Trust that God will deliver you from those temptations. Follow charity. Stop thinking selfishly—and start thinking about the God you are to be serving with all your heart. Throw yourself into building your relationships with others with a pure heart. Follow peace. Flee those lusts, so you can be at peace with God, and with yourself, having a clean conscience.
Train Your Heart
Actively setting your mind on the things of God is exactly the training that an unruly human heart demands. It is how David achieved such success in it: He trained his thoughts on God—as he was drifting into sleep, when he woke in the deep night, as he rose in the early morning—always on God (e.g. Psalm 63:5-8). He prayed three times a day: evening, morning and noon (Psalm 55:17). He praised God several times a day (e.g. Psalm 119:164). He set his heart on God—over and over—throughout his waking hours. He committed God’s words to memory and recalled them in his meditation and his times of need. No man is too busy to emulate him. David knew that, as occupied as he was with the affairs of state, a failure to take time to commune with God would guarantee that those physical matters would swamp his heart! To love God with all his heart demanded never allowing that to happen.
David trained himself to keep God at the center of his life, so the love of God that comes only from the Spirit shed abroad in our hearts could flow (Romans 5:5). As long as he maintained this focus, then his thinking, his interests, his passions—what was in his heart—was the same as what was in God’s heart. That’s not to say he never went off track. But he worked to discipline his mind, control his thoughts, bridle his emotions. That is loving God with all your heart.
Notice too this ironclad promise in James 4:7-8: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”
These are promises God makes to His begotten children—those in whom, upon His calling them and their responding in repentance, He has imparted a measure of His Holy Spirit. He then fulfills these promises through the power of that Spirit. This awesome spiritual power is not available to any but those whom He has called and to whom He has given it upon their repentance.
Perhaps God is convicting you and calling you to repentance—a complete turnaround from a life of sin to a life of overcoming, using the power of His Spirit. God wants all people to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), but at this point He is calling only a very few to do so. If you believe you may be one of them, request immediately a free copy of our potent and convicting booklet How to Be an Overcomer, by Gerald Flurry. It could be the first step toward truly training your heart and achieving the true purity God wants in your life!
“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). This is a beautiful promise. We desperately need that strength of heart that only God can supply.
David’s heart was deceitful and desperately wicked, like yours. But he set a powerful example of allowing God to convert that heart. David truly circumcised his heart. He sought God’s help in training and disciplining his thoughts, feelings, affections, emotions, passions—and directing all those to serve God. By doing so, he enabled God to create a clean heart in him—a heart after God’s own. And he loved God with the whole of it.
Follow that example, and attain your full stature as a man—a man after God’s own heart.