“Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)”: A Brief Book Review


This past Sunday I preached a sermon on the topic of lust and found Joshua Harris’ book, Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World, VERY helpful in my preparations. At this point I would say it’s the best contemporary treatment of the topic (check out the table of contents at Amazon). Here are a few quotes and what I appreciated about this book.

Harris addresses a couple misconceptions in one part. He writes,

“When it comes to lust, the greatest misconception about women is that they only deal with lust on an emotional level. Over the years many Christian books. . .have emphasized that men struggle with physical desire and guarding their eyes, while women deal with their emotions. But if these generalizations aren’t qualified, people might get the impression that women never struggle with lust as raw physical desire, or that their struggle against lust is less real. This just isn’t accurate. “Women have sex drives too!” a woman named Katie wrote me. “Believe me, as a twenty-two-year-old virgin, I know.” . . .

Another misconception that he addresses is that all men are monsters compared to women. Harris asks:

“Is a guys’ lust, which is blatant and obvious worse than a girl’s lust, which is more refined and subtle? [One girl who wrote Joshua Harris, thought otherwise when she described her so-called “harmless” female expressions of lust] “In the past year or so, I have realized just how much my mind is trained to lust over guys’ looks. Guys can be just as much objects of lust as women. if I could count how many movies my friends and I have gone to see simply because there was some cute celebrity in it, I’d be ashamed at the number. And then there are TV shows and magazine covers. Our whole culture thinks it’s perfectly normal for girls to drool over hot guys–in fact, it encourages it. I spent three years in high school being a fanatic of a certain boy band member who will remain nameless. I went to countless concerts, screaming and running up, trying anything to get closer to the stage. If that’s not lusting, I don’t know what is. I was reducing a guy’s worth down to only how physically attractive he was.” It’s not helpful to think that a girl who lusts as she watches romantic comedy is less disobedient than a guy who thrills over an R-rated movie that contains nudity. Both are indulging in lust. My point is that none of us should feel safe because our expressions of lust are culturally acceptable or civilized. I’m not saying this to excuse any man’s sin or let anyone off the hook. The point is not that guys aren’t so bad. The point is that all lust is bad. Apart from God’s grace working in us and changing us, we’re all monsters. Regardless of how lust is expressed, it’s motivated by a sinful desire for the forbidden. Lust is always based on the same lie–that satisfaction will be found apart from God.” (emphasis mine)

That said, we do in general (not as a hard and fast rule) tend to struggle with lust in different ways as men and women. Harris points out:

  • “A man’s sexual desire is often more physical, while a woman’s desire is more often rooted in emotional longings.”
  • A man is generally wired to be the sexual initiator and is stimulated visually; a woman is generally wired to be the sexual responder and is stimulated by touch.
  • A man is created to pursue and finds even the pursuit stimulating; a woman is made to want to be pursued and finds even being pursued stimulated.”

So you see, we tend to struggle with lust in complementary ways which is why it’s such a struggle for us all. Harris points out how we can both help each other in this fight.

He points out how lust is never satisfied and is a dead end street: “There is no such thing as “all the way” with lust. Ultimately, lust doesn’t want sex. It wants the forbidden, and it’s willing to take you deeper and deeper into perversion if you’ll indulge its latest request.”

He points out that the reason we are so unsuccessful in this battle against lust is because we’ve had the wrong standard, the wrong motive and the wrong source of power. We often lower God’s standard of holiness when God’s standard is “not even a hint” (cf. Eph. 5:3). When we have the right standard it rightly drives us outside of ourselves to look to Christ our Savior and to press on with the right motive (gratitude). It also drives us to our knees in dependence upon the Holy Spirit and to fight this battle in the strength of the Lord.

He writes:

“I’ve learned that I can only fight lust in the confidence of my total forgiveness before God because of Jesus’ death for me. My guilt and shame, even self-inflicted punishment, can never cleanse me. Even my good works can’t buy my forgiveness. I need a Savior. I need grace. Author Jerry Bridges says it best: “Every day of our Christian experience should be a day of relating to God on the basis of His grace alone,” he writes. “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”

Another important thing he points out:

“If you ever expect to find victory over lust, you must believe with your whole heart that God is against your lust not because He is opposed to pleasure, but because He is so committed to it. In his book Future Grace, John Piper writes: We must fight fire with fire. The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone— even the terrible warnings of Jesus— we will fail. We must fight it with the massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.”

He also has a proper view of strategies in fighting against lust. As I said in my sermon strategies are important but we must always remember that they aren’t sacraments. They aren’t the means of grace. Strategies are how we live out the gospel in thankfulness and wisdom. A lot of contemporary books, sermons and conferences miss this today. I was thankful that Harris understands the proper place of strategies and keeps the Gospel and our union with Christ by the Spirit as central in this fight and holds out the superior satisfaction that we have in God through Christ.

So that’s what I really like about this book (and I still have to finish it!). But from what I have read so far it is definitely worth recommending for these reasons.


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