Using Your Imagination to Fight Sexual Sin

Like most men with a healthy libido, I too struggle with my oft sin-tinged imagination (yes, even as a very happily married man with a great wife and five kids.) And while I can quickly recall the seventh commandment regarding adultery and know Jesus’ words, “that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28), sadly sometimes those texts (and similar passages) aren’t enough to curb the imagination.

But herein lies the problem. I’m not called to merely curb my lustful imagination. I’m called to kill it.

Or am I?

God doesn’t call us to kill our imaginations as much as redeem them.¹ Jesus didn’t come merely to redeem your soul from hell. Rather, he came to redeem all of you for himself. So how do you redeem lustful thoughts? Surely there’s no one right way, but here’s what I often do: I imagine.

I imagine that 30 years from now, my three sons and I are gathered together. One of them asks, “Dad, were you faithful to mom all these years?” Then I imagine what would happen if I weren’t faithful to her, looking into my sons’ eyes and shamefully telling them I wasn’t faithful. I imagine how this might affect their marriages, their fight with sexual sin, their raising their children in a hyper-sexualized culture.

But then I also imagine a very different answer. I imagine that I have been faithful to their mother all of these years, and I could look into my sons’ eyes, and without a shadow of doubt truthfully say, “Yes, I’ve been faithful to your mom all of these years. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, it’s hard. But, by God’s grace I’ve been faithful to her.”

Yes, by God’s grace. But also with no small amount of redeemed imagination.

¹I fully realize that killing sin, i.e. mortification, is not an option for the Christian. But I consider the above exercise as a form of mortification, not antithetical to it. I also realize that the relationship between thoughts, imagination and fantasy is often complicated, as well as how sin influences both. Bottom line: there are many ways to kill sin (negative) and foster sanctification (positive). This is just one of the many tools in my arsenal that has helped me over the years. Your situation may be very different from mine (i.e. female, married/single, no kids, etc.). The question before us all is the same: How might a redeemed imagination look given your context? 

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The Movie “Son of God” and the Second Commandment

Joel Osteen is plugging the upcoming movie Son of God, so it’s destined to be a blockbuster. I’ve yet to research the film for biblical, theological or historical accuracy, or its artistic merits, so I can’t provide reliable commentary. But Son of God will likely join Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ as a bona-fide Hollywood film about Jesus’ life and death.

The hoopla surrounding Son of God conjures a visit I made in 2004 to Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. just before The Passion’s release. I asked pastor Mark Dever if he planned on seeing the movie. Because Jesus was being depicted on the big screen in human form he replied no, in deference to obeying the second commandment, i.e. Exodus 20:4-6,

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

In addition, when J.I. Packer’s Knowing God was released as a 20th anniversary edition in 1993, along with a new Preface, Packer commented on chapter 4, “The Only True God,” where he unpacks what it means to adhere to the second commandment in contemporary society. He wrote,

…as soon as the images [of Jesus] are treated as representational rather than symbolic, they begin to corrupt the devotion they trigger. Since it is hard for us humans to avoid this pitfall, wisdom counsels once more that the better, safer way is to learn to do without them. Some risks aren’t worth taking” (p. 56).

The Heidelberg Catechism’s take on the second commandment:

Q & A 96

Q. What is God’s will for us in the second commandment?

A. That we in no way make any image of God, nor worship him in any other way than has been commanded in God’s Word.

Q & A 97

Q. May we then not make any image at all?

A. God can not and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Although creatures may be portrayed, yet God forbids making or having such images if one’s intention is to worship them or to serve God through them.

So should you see the movie? Consider the above counsel, pray about it, and draw your own conclusions. As for me, Osteen’s glowing endorsement of Son of God notwithstanding (or perhaps because of it?), and in spite of my cultural curiosity, I don’t plan on seeing the film.

Packer’s right: some risks aren’t worth taking.