by John Ellis
Over at Relevant Magazine, Zack Carter wrote an article urging married Christians to consider not texting members of the opposite sex who are not their spouse. In the article, he writes, “Text messaging provides an opportunity for wandering hearts, hearts not fully committed to their spouses, to seek pleasure from someone other than their spouses when their relationship grass may be losing its color.” And, man, is that brother taking a beating online for that article.
The word “legalism” is liberally used by the horde of angry commenters. Zack Carter has been accused of being patriarchal, of course, of engaging in social repression, as well as a litany of pejoratives that I don’t want to print. Apparently, people take their freedom to text members of the opposite sex very seriously. Woe on anyone who dares meddle, even if that meddling is nothing more than an opinion piece with a recommendation based on true Biblical principles. People are aware that they are under no obligation to obey online writers, right?
The thing is, you do not necessarily have to agree with Zack Carter’s conclusion to appreciate and agree with the above quote. Later in this article, I’m going explain where I stand regarding Carter’s conclusion, but in the meantime, I want to interact with that quote, which is the meat of the article’s argument. And what rich, true, and God-honoring meat it is.
With his article, Zack Carter is rightfully acknowledging that most of us are prone to lust, and that when left unchecked, lust quickly and easily flames into a sinful fire ravaging holiness. Anyone who denies that is most likely lying because he or she doesn’t want to submit his or her sexuality to the sovereign holiness of God. Anyone, meaning Zack Carter in this instance, that challenges their desire for sinful autonomy regarding their sexuality is branded a pariah and an intolerant voice of legalism that needs to be shouted down with insults instead of engaging the actual arguments. Welcome to “dialogue” in the digital age.
The above quote drills even deeper and confronts specific people – those with “wandering hearts, hearts that are not fully committed to their spouses.” The thing is, as Carter astutely points out, all married people at one time or another have a heart that wanders and is not fully committed to their spouse. Once again, denying that either means that you’ve been married for about a day or that you’re lying for the sake of preserving your autonomy instead of submitting to the Lordship of Christ in all things. Furthermore, he is absolutely right in pointing out that text messaging someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse does provide an opportunity for sin. To deny that is nonsensical. Accepting the claim as true is not the same thing as claiming that texting will lead to immorality.
Accepting the validity of Carter’s claim, however, doesn’t require acceptance of his solution. For many men, taking their children to a public playground provides opportunities for lust. That truth doesn’t mean that fathers shouldn’t take their children to public playgrounds. It does mean that fathers should prayerfully take their children to public playgrounds. Taking it a step further, some fathers should probably consider not taking their children to public playgrounds until further growth in their sanctification has occurred. That requires being honest about sin and the continued presence of sinful idols in our heart. When Jesus said that “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out (Matthew 5:29),” he didn’t mean it literally, but he did mean something.
Jesus’ strongly worded admonishment in Matthew 5:29 is why I believe that Zack Carter’s conclusion is good, right, and a helpful corrective to American evangelicals who have become complacent as the world continues to flaunt their sexual rebellion before God. It is not legalism to be intentional in pursuing holiness and purity. Christians are commanded to pursue holiness, and if we’re being honest, most of us fail miserably at pursuing holiness, especially in reference to sexual purity.
Pursuing holiness in reference to purity doesn’t undermine the relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, it elevates those relationships to a place where God’s name is magnified. The bride of Christ is marred and disfigured when we allow sin into our midst. Thankfully, and, yes, if we are in Christ, God sees Jesus’ righteousness when He looks at us. But that does not excuse sin. If we are truly in Christ, we will pursue obedience as a joyful act of thanksgiving and praise to being adopted into the family of God. Guarding purity within our lives and our church families is an important way that we should be expressing our thankfulness for our salvation.
Frankly, the specious argument that Carter’s conclusion hinders healthy relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ makes me wonder what the individuals making the argument want to preserve. Married men have very little reason for having a casual relationship with a woman who is not their wife, apart from their wife. And by “very little reason,” I mean zero reason.
I do occasionally text women who aren’t my wife, almost always in the context of church business. But Zack Carter’s article has caused me to question the wisdom of my actions. The thing is, I don’t have to delve too deeply to conclude that Carter offers a helpful practical application based on solid Biblical arguments. And, it’s very easy to include my wife in those text messages; it costs me nothing. Refusing to do so because it’s my right, probably means that, at best, my rights are an idol. At worst, it could reveal that I’m not as far away from Carter’s worst case scenarios as I pretend.
Another objection that’s always tossed out by those who don’t want the words “holiness” and “purity” connected to sexuality is that standards like the one proposed by Zack Carter make women the problem. The argument states that men should stop blaming women for their lust. Well, I agree, men should not be blaming women for their lust.
Adhering to certain standards that are designed to help guard against lust should reflect that men are acknowledging their own weaknesses, their own sin. Of course, men have sinfully laid the blame for their lust at the feet of women, and tragically, until King Jesus returns, some men will continue to do so. However, when that happens, the men in question are not mortifying their flesh, to borrow language from John Owens; they’re excusing their sin, and, most likely, continuing to feed their lust.
Even if you personally believe that there is no problem with married people texting members of the opposite sex, I pray that you will at least recognize and honor the fact that a brother in Christ is concerned enough about the purity and holiness of the Church that he wrote an article that, on the whole, is edifying, filled with truth, and God-honoring. I also pray that his article will cause you to examine your own practices in order to make sure that you aren’t unwittingly providing opportunity to feed lust.
On a personal note, I want to commend Zack Carter for the humility and courage he exhibited by writing the article. No doubt, he anticipated the responses. And, if Relevant is like PJ Media, the website I write for, the angry horde has propelled Carter’s article to a view count that has scored him some bonus money. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to suffer the slings and arrows. I know that all too well. I pray that he is being encouraged by his church family and honored by them for his service to the American church, at large, and, more importantly, his service to our King.
Soli Deo Gloria
 This is where we need to prayerfully engage one another in honest questions and confessions. We all have blind spots, and another brother or sister in Christ can help us see where we’re vulnerable. Making personal decisions about how to “tear your eye out” should be commended, not mocked. A Christian who is genuinely attempting to pursue holiness should be honored, even if we don’t agree with the specific standard(s) implemented. On the flip side, we also have to be willing to exhibit grace and charity to brothers and sisters in Christ who have different standards than we do. Zack Carter’s article is gracious and charitable, and comfortably far away from legalism. He’s simply offering a way for us to “tear out our eye.”
 Women lust, too. But I’ve never heard anyone say that women should stop blaming men for their lust. I’m not saying that has never been said, I’m saying I’ve never heard it.
 Furthermore, Zack Carter has challenged me to consider being more pro-active in using the platforms God has given me to call other brothers in Christ to pursue purity and holiness. I have some personal standards that, by God’s grace, I’ve implemented in my own life to guard my heart. I haven’t written about them because, frankly, it’s embarrassing to detail struggles in a context that doesn’t allow for nuance. But maybe writing about my standards will embolden brothers and sisters in Christ in their own pursuit of holiness and purity.