JOSH HARRIS: Not Even a Hint
In 1998, author Joshua Harris’ first book spurred the I Kissed Dating Goodbye phenomenon, taking over store
shelves as the Christian Booksellers Association’s top-selling nonfiction paperback. Numerous radio and television appearances followed, including Dateline NBC, USA Weekend and ABC’s Politically Incorrect.
In the fall of 1998 Joshua married Shannon. Shortly thereafter, the newlywed penned Boy Meets Girl, the I Kissed Dating Goodbye follow-up that chronicled Joshua and Shannon’s courtship and engagement.
Joshua serves as executive pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. He travels the country hosting regional New Attitude conferences for students and has just released his third book, Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust. Harris spoke recently with Amber Weigand-Buckley, editor of On Course magazine, about the inspiration behind his new book.
PE: What made you choose to write a book about lust?
HARRIS: At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was tired of being the guy who “kissed dating goodbye” (laughing). To be replaced by “the lust guy” — that’s got to be even worse. But that sentiment reflects how so many people feel about this subject: “I don’t want to read a book about it, talk about it, or deal with it because it’s embarrassing. It’s part of my life that I just want to take care of myself.”
PE: Does everybody struggle with lust? Nobody at church really acts like it.
HARRIS: Everybody struggles in differing degrees. Because of the incredible amount of sensuality saturating our entertainment and culture, it is a very common struggle, especially for men and increasingly for women. I had quite a few letters recently from girls who read the book and said, “There are ways in which my heart is craving what God has said ‘no’ to. Whether that’s through the music I listen to, fantasies, or the romantic comedies I watch — it might be really innocent in the eyes of the world, but that’s lust for me.”
PE: Craving what God says “no” to — does that tie into your definition of lust?
HARRIS: I wanted to give a definition that, first of all, was faithful to God’s Word, but also one that could apply to many different people so that people could understand the many different variations of lust. “Craving sexually what God has forbidden” is my definition of lust. And that encompasses so much, because that can be the man or woman who’s struggling with homosexual tendencies. That can be the guy who’s just struggling to guard his eyes when he’s out in public. That can be the girl who is flirting with the married man at the office. We all have to fight lust where we see it.
PE: So where is the line between thinking someone is attractive and actually lusting?
HARRIS: God created us with the ability to appreciate beauty, to be attracted to someone. I wanted to make it clear that the enemy is not sex or sexual desire. Lust isn’t noticing someone who is attractive or being attracted to someone. It’s what you do with that. For me, as a guy, it’s always a second look that indicates that I’m allowing my desires to take me where I don’t want to go.
There has to be a healthy distrust of the deceitfulness of our hearts. Romans 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (NKJV). We can’t feed those ungodly desires.
PE: Your whole approach avoids the “do’s and don’ts” philosophy. Why was that important?
HARRIS: Human rules, willpower and effort can never bring about real, lasting change. When it comes to sexual temptation there is a desire to make ourselves pure. But that has no roots in the awareness that only the cross of Jesus Christ cleanses us. I want to help people truly change. Root yourself in God’s grace. That has helped me grow.
PE: When you name your book Not Even a Hint, that almost seems impossible.
HARRIS: In our own strength, absolutely. Often, with lust, we set lower standards that we think we can meet. That is completely the opposite to the message of the gospel.
It’s only when we are aware of God’s standards that we view lust accurately — we need the gospel. Ephesians 5:3 says, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity” (NIV). We are weak and we need God’s strength working in us.
The “not even a hint” standard doesn’t mean we ever reach sinless perfection. It means that there’s no place that allows lust to exist in our lives without opposing it. It means we’re fighting it. We’re crying out for God’s strength and fleeing temptation.
PE: Sometimes women are seen as “lust triggers.” As a guy, what is your take on the excuse that “the girl made me think that way”?
HARRIS: That’s wrong. Guys need to take responsibility and acknowledge sin for what it is. James 1:14 says it’s our own deceitful desires that lead us astray. No one else can make us sin. We’re the ones who will answer before God. Guys must stop playing that card as an excuse.
But women also can focus on the fact that they can play a part. That doesn’t mean they can’t dress attractively or that they must cover themselves from head to foot. But both women and men should have hearts focused on loving and serving others.
PE: You say lust is not just a male or female problem — it’s a human problem. How did you glean the female perspective?
HARRIS: I got hundreds of e-mails from women. Many were saying, “Please write this for men and women.” Girls will say, “I feel like there’s something wrong with me because I struggle with this and no one ever talks about it.”
Girls do deal with this. They need to be able to talk about that with each other. It makes the struggle so much harder when you’re gripped by shame.
PE: There’s kind of a double standard in society when it comes to the issue of lust. If a male says, “That girl’s hot,” that’s just how they are. But if a female says that about a guy, there’s something wrong.
HARRIS: We have to scrap the cultural standards — even Christian cultural standards — and go back to God’s Word. God doesn’t provide a verse in the Bible that says, “Boys will be boys” or “It’s OK when you’re with the fellas.” Lust is lust.
I use that truth to encourage men and women who are struggling with homosexual temptation. The temptation that they are facing has some unique struggles, but it’s the same lie that other people face. There shouldn’t be a double standard that says heterosexual lust is somehow OK, whereas homosexual lust should make you hang your head and not expect God’s mercy. God’s Word is an across-the-board call to holiness.
PE: You talk a lot about accountability. Why is it so important?
HARRIS: God uses community and fellowship to help us to grow. Regardless of the area of sin, we need the strength and encouragement of others. But it’s even more important when it comes to lust because lust is an area that we’re prone to hide from other people. We keep it secret and we try to deal with it on our own. And that just increases the shame and vulnerability.
I have a chapter in the book called “Lone Rangers Are Dead Rangers.” If you’re going to try to ride off into the sunset as this strong Christian who can resist lust, you’re going to fall. Lust is defeated when believers are able to go to another trusted Christian of the same gender and open up this part of their lives.
PE: What is the church’s key to helping people find healing from lust?
HARRIS: There’s hope in the gospel. The gospel addresses sin and that’s what leads to the hope for change once sin is brought into the light and we accept responsibility for our own sinful desires. Isn’t it awesome that God has addressed these very problems? He has provided a solution — His Son. That’s what I need to hold tight to.
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