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Why redeeming our thoughts matters

Broken sexuality has been before our eyes continuously in the form of hashtags and headlines. It’s been a steady stream of repeated revelations of sex abuse scandals. For many, their deeds of darkness have finally been brought into the light (Eph. 5:11), and there has been appropriate public outcry over many of these revelations.

How do these dark deeds become actions in the first place, though? The answer is complex. One aspect that might be passed over because it’s often viewed as normal in our culture, is pornography. We’re a culture steeped in pornographic images, even if it’s soft porn found in mainstream films, TV shows, and books. Though there is not always a direct correlation between pornography and sexual abuse, there is possible a connection between the two that should be taken more seriously.

88.2 percent of porn scenes contain some form of physical aggression against women. That ought to leave us wondering if the normalization of abuse in pornography impacts how society understands sexuality and abuse.

Two Dutch filmmakers, Damayanti Dipayana and Camilla Borel-Rinkes, look for these connections in their video project, Be Frank. In this seven-minute film, they read aloud sexual scenarios and ask different men whether they think it sounds like a porn script or a #MeToo story. Many of the men can’t tell a difference. By the end of the film, it’s revealed that all the stories are porn scripts. Then, the last still clip shows this statistic: 88.2 percent of porn scenes contain some form of physical aggression against women. That ought to leave us wondering if the normalization of abuse in pornography  produces outcomes that negatively impact how society understands sexuality and the power dynamics that exist when sexuality is abused.

We know of at least one recent case where this proves true. The court proceedings and prosecution of Larry Nasaar have shown a man whose fantasy life most likely fueled his real life. His sordid case highlights the question: could our actions be out of control partly because our fantasies are out of control? The porn industry romanticizes and normalizes these types of idealized, and often illegal encounters, without us having to use much of our own imagination. Yet, there is no public outcry against the industry that promotes the fantasy and entertainment that leads to such atrocities.

Our broken hearts

The truth is, we could forever rid pornography from our lives and still have a problem, because pornography originates in our own hearts and minds (Matt. 5:28; 15:19). Imagination is a powerful gift from God that, when twisted by our sin, can produce darkness and sin. If we continue to walk the dangerous path of our fantasy life, it could blur our minds to such degree that it becomes reality.

A broken heart leads to broken sexuality. A heart that hungers for filthy perversions and exalts the fallen self at the expense of others is what creates the porn industry and keeps its customers. When this type of broken heart and sin goes unchecked, there is always a possibility that physical actions will follow.

Redeeming our fantasy lives

We minimize the importance that God puts on redeeming our thoughts and imagination. Jesus emphasized this importance in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:27-28). He knew the real issue was not just the outward displays of broken sexuality and sin, but the inner man. He raised the bar so we would look at what comes before our sinful actions: lustful intent. Though he raised the standard of the law, he also fulfilled the law. He ushered in the new covenant so that our broken hearts could be fixed, for this is the root of the problem that could never be changed in the ceremonies and rituals of the old covenant:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ez. 36:26-27).

Jesus cares about our inner thoughts so much that he uses violent hyperbole to describe how we should be handling them:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matt. 5:28-30).

What do we fantasize about? Do we take part in what our culture esteems, like Fifty Shades Freed? What types of fantasies are we elevating, promoting, condoning, and even secretly allowing in the privacy of our homes? Jesus wants to pinpoint them and sweep away the darkness of our hearts with his cleansing light. He wants to redeem our fantasies.

To redeem means “to buy back.” Once we’ve been purchased by the blood of Christ, we should continually seek to cast off our former ways. We are no longer darkened in our understanding and don’t have to be enslaved to impure thoughts (Eph. 4:17-19). Paul tells us to put off this old self and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:22-23). He says in Ephesians 4:24 to, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to walk in the light and put on this new self in Christ, but it’s also something we are responsible for as we learn obedience through knowledge of the truth and conviction of sin. Paul uses action words when he says to “put off” and “put on.” We must replace our impure thoughts with lovely thoughts. We must dwell on the good and not the profane. It’s easy to underestimate the power of our thoughts. What we choose to think about can determine our emotions and actions.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul exhorts the church with suggestions for what to think about: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

These are the types of thoughts we must put on, or dwell on. We can find many things in our world that are true, honorable, just, pure, excellent, and lovely. By dwelling on the beauty and goodness laid out for us in creation, the works of man’s hands, and the truth found in Scripture, we can invite light into our minds. We can more clearly see Christ. It’s his beauty and goodness that we must dwell on all the days of our lives. When we think of him and meditate on who he is, we will begin to see our thoughts—and actions—redeemed.

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