This is a good and timely topic. This is something that so many people struggle with. The impurity of thoughts is not just limited to things of a sexual nature either. It can be thoughts of rage, ungodly anger, jealousy, dishonesty, etc. How do we overcome?
When I first came to Christ, it seemed so easy to avoid sin. Not long ago, I confessed to my wife that I don't remember sinning for the first six or seven months after I came to Christ. I wasn't being facetious either. I understood then (as I do now) that we are born into sin. We have a sinful nature and sin even when we're unaware or ignorant of it. However, I felt no recollection of sin nor any condemnation at all.
I gave my all to the Lord at a summer camp. My life immediately changed. Everything seemed new -- and I knew that I was different. I saw things differently. It was as if I had metaphoric scales that fell from my eyes and my thinking. It almost felt like my body was new. I was truly born again.
I remember thinking as a lay in my bunk the night that I came to Christ. I kept thinking, "I know the Lord. I know the Creator of all things! He knows me." It was the most comforting of thoughts!
Yet, I was afraid that this mindset, feeling and change of heart would go away. I wept because I actually wanted to go to be with the Lord that night. When I awakened, I wept because I still felt that change.
When I returned home, those changes immediately became a part of my life.
I immediately stopped thinking with dishonesty. It wasn't that I was a compulsive liar or anything. However, I previously approached people -- including my parents and siblings -- with a mindset in which I felt that I was vastly more intelligent and perceptive than they. I was self-important. I hid all of this behind kind words. Everything had been an act. This was gone now. I now knew that I was nothing aside from belonging to Christ.
When I arrived home, I immediately began to remove anything that I thought might come between the relationship with the Lord. No one told me or asked me to do these things. I got rid of my video games, comic books (ripping them up), music, posters (most were movie posters that I was collecting), etc. I put my computer in the closet (only to be brought out for school).
Over the course of six or seven months, I sought the Lord ever so diligently. I remember walking down the halls of my school feeling like an alien. I knew that I didn't "belong."
Whereas my thoughts prior to this were focused on things like girls, friends, sports (I was on the basketball team), things that might make me look good (e.g., clothing, haircut, shoes, etc.), and what things might come in the future, I was now totally consumed with knowing the Lord and introducing him to others. This world was not my home.
I remember one incident in which a girl in one of my classes asked me about something that I had told her the year before. She had run for homecoming queen. I told her that I had hacked into the school computers and learned that she had come in third place (out of the many girls running). I had lied -- intent to make her feel better about losing.
After she knew that I came to the Lord, she asked me about it. I had completely forgotten about the incident. I confessed that I had lied. She immediately had a weird look. I think that she suspected that it might not have been true; however, she was surprised at how candid my confession was. I apologized to her. She didn't react negatively either. In fact, she simply looked puzzled.
Over the course of those six or seven months, I don't remember ever having lost that intensive hunger for knowing Christ and being clean before him. Please don't take this wrong, but I don't remember having actually sinned during that time. I am confident that I probably did things wrong at time, but I don't remember conscientiously doing so.
People treated me differently. My relationship with my parents, siblings and friends was different. Teachers treated me differently. Some people seemed "afraid" (either for me or in regards to me) -- as if they thought that I was in some sort of cult. It confused them because most of them knew that I was a smart guy who was not susceptible to coercion or, well, cults.
I walked faithfully with the Lord with a clean, clear conscience. It was a wonderful time!
Finally, there came a time when that "feeling" was gone. Nothing that I can think of happened to provoke or precipitate this. However, I remember struggling because I felt so "dry" inside.
Around that same time, I remember the first times that I felt like I began to struggle with sin. They weren't "major" sins (if people are inclined to rank them) either.
I struggled with an impure thought here or there. I became pompous when it came to my parents -- similar to how I felt "smarter" than them before but now that I was somehow more "spiritually insightful" compared with them. I struggled with thoughts about girls. I struggled with the temptation to lie to get out of trouble (and this was a real struggle because I knew that I was smart and I knew that I could more easily get away with lies).
This new ongoing struggle against sin felt like a heavy burden. It helped to diminish any sense of pomposity.
Still, I approached sin and those things that might precipitate sin somewhat differently. I saw them as things that were immediately dangerous. If you're walking along a road and you see a rattlesnake, you don't walk up to it. If you're walking along a road and see a dangerous and unstable cliff, you don't walk over to it. If you see a bear trap, you don't walk into it. If anything, you walk more carefully though the forest. That was how I saw sin and the lures of sin.
Isn't this how sin works?
Satan knows us well. There is a sinful nature in our flesh. Anything and everything will be used in the effort to lure us away from Christ. Those are earthly things in us that can corrupt that which is everlasting and spiritual.
The spiritual bear traps in our lives are unsuspecting. In fact, they are lures. They look like the things that please our flesh. They are there to offer us the things that we want to do that are not good and are contrary to God's desire for our lives. We must avoid sin in the same way a soldier might walk carefully through a mine field. God's grace leads us through it.
Consider this passage from Romans 7. I think that the more oft-quoted Romans chapter 8 can only be understood properly if we understand Romans chapter 7.
Romans 7:13-25 (NASB)
13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.
17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
I think that this is what Brother Zac is referencing in this message -- particularly in the last paragraph.
Keith Green wrote a song about this passage. It is entitled "Romans VII."