In these past weeks the emphasis in our seminary chapel has been on sexual purity. In particular, the focus has been on overcoming pornography. We all know now that the internet has moved porn to the number one counseling issue in churches today, and we would be very naive to think that seminary students or even pastors and professors are somehow excluded from this temptation. To raise this issue to our students and to offer genuine gospel help was a wise and timely-relevant decision indeed.

So it has me thinking. How shall we win this battle for the mind? Here are some basic thoughts, stated only in brief.

To begin, we should be careful lest our concentration on the evils and harmful consequences of porn — or any sin, for that matter — should backfire and result only in more of that sin. We must face our sin, of course, in order to deal with it. But we must never approach the matter as a legalist, as though success lies in our own hands — as though by the mere act of our will-power is sufficient and as though somehow by tightening up our wills by so much information we will emerge stronger against the temptation. Simply put, too much attention given to any sin will likely result only in a mind giving more attention to that sin!

Yet this is an important step. We should have a sober recognition of the evil and the harmful effects of porn. We should recognize that it is a degrading and unrealistic distortion of reality, that it is sin, that it is shameful, that it is enslaving, that it erodes character, that it disrupts the worship and service of God, and that it is destructive — to family and relationships as well as to the individual himself. All this is a necessary part of killing this sin. And we would do well to have a realistic understanding of the wreckage and pain porn has left behind. Its track-record of ruined lives, ruined marriages, ruined homes, broken relationships, destroyed testimony, and hurting churches should all give us sober warning.

So again, yes, we should understand well the evils and harm of porn. We must understand it clearly and recognize it for the harmful evil that it is. We want to remember that this sin, whatever it may offer, is both sinful and contrary to our own best interest.

But remaining on this level will likely bring little success. Thinking as Christians we should move on quickly from here to solutions and remedies and resources we have in Christ.

First and foremost we want to be reminded that in the gospel God promises both justification and transformation, that God promises in Christ not only rescue from condemnation but salvation from sin also. Nor in this rescue has he merely left us to our own resources. In Christ he has provided every enablement for overcoming sin. Everywhere the New Testament writers remind us of this. All the imperatives rest on the gospel indicatives — the commands are all solidly grounded in divine provision. Doctrines such as definitive sanctification, our vital and experimental (experiential) union with Christ, the bountiful new covenant out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, and the “leading” of the Spirit in overcoming sin (Rom. 8:13-14) all remind us that salvation in Christ entails a supernatural, God-given, moral transformation, the freedom to live unto God, and a real enablement to mortify sin.

That is to say, we cannot allow ourselves to think that we are helpless or that success is somehow out of reach. We have every right to think — indeed, we are responsible to think — that the gospel promise of moral transformation is ours to realize. And so while temptation to sin in this life always entails struggle, it is not a struggle in which we are left to ourselves or in which there is no expectation of success. It is a struggle that, relying on divine provision, anticipates success. Thinking like a Christian we do not feel out-gunned in this battle, but “strong in the Lord” (Eph. 6:10ff) our struggle against sin is borne up and driven by a sense of divine enablement and anticipation of success — imperfect success in this life, yes, but success nonetheless, a success that keeps in view always the final prize of complete Christlikeness (1John 3:2; cf. 1Thes.5:23-24).

All this is massively important. It would be difficult to overstate its significance for us in the struggle. How we think — about sin, about ourselves, about God’s provision in Christ (both in terms of free justification and supernatural empowerment for service), about Christ, about the provisions of the Spirit, about the coming glory — deeply affects how and how well we “work out” our salvation (Phil. 2:12-13).

And if this is so, there is nothing more useful for us in the struggle against sin — whether porn or any other — than a regular refreshing of our hearts in a deepening understanding and appreciation of the gospel of Christ. The root-level sanctifying value of an increasing, gospel-informed grasp of the surpassing love of Christ (Eph. 4:14ff) can scarcely be overstated. Nothing else will so wash our hearts of our dirty tendencies to sin and replace them with affections for better things.

What we find as our hearts are regularly refreshed in the gospel is that we begin to value and treasure God with renewed passion, and our souls are inflamed by his glory. And as this gospel-informed awareness of divine love and provision increases, and as it enlivens our hearts and heightens our sense of his glory, what we find — surprisingly so, even, and yet increasingly — is that our darling sins gradually become rather ugly to us and even repulsive. Having come to taste of greater, deeper, and more rewarding joys — as we come to savor the knowledge of God in Christ — the old cherished sins just do not hold out the luster they did before. In comparison, they seem cheap and just are not so attractive, and we deplore the interference with these higher joys that they cause. We have not become perfect, of course. And the struggle is still there. And failures also. But with our souls increasingly awash in the good news of God’s mighty love in Christ we really do begin to experience and treasure the higher and more satisfying joys of knowing the Triune God. And we begin to sense that sin just doesn’t pay off very well. It in fact only derails us from that which is so much more satisfying, joyful, and fulfilling. And because of this our struggles against sin begin to take on an increasing sense of resolve, a resolve that lines up more closely to our deepest desires. Our affections are increasingly transformed, and we actually begin to see our sins as unsatisfying and repulsive. And in all this process we find ourselves “pressing on” — enabled by and strengthened in gospel truth and gospel provisions. And we find that God indeed delivers on his promise to change us and reshape us after the image of his Son.

Godliness is not attained by zaps. There is no switch to pull that brings us immediately to perfection — well, not on this side of the grave, that is. People often come to the pastor desperate for a quick fix. But no mere “decision” will do, and there is no formula that guarantees instant and perfect success here. However, by continuously filling our minds and deepening our understanding of and appreciation for what God has done for us in Christ, and living in conscious awareness of it all, and enjoying what Christ is to us and for us today, and refreshed in the hope of what awaits us, we really can and we really do experience the gospel miracle of heart and life transformation — to his glory and to our ever-deepening pleasure.

Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA, and is the executive editor of Books At a Glance. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary  and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.