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How Can I Distinguish Between Nudity in Art and Pornography?

The line between art and pornography is notoriously hard to define. In the Victorian era the sight of a woman’s knee was considered erotic, and one didn’t refer to the legs of a table in mixed company. Today in some Muslim societies women still have to cover their faces lest they incite male lust.

As much as we might wish to define our Christian responsibilities regarding things like clothing and art in stark black-and-white terms, we aren’t able to do so. The apostle Paul acknowledged this when he wrote:

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:12-17).

Christian liberty is the freedom from bondage to sin ( Romans 6:18-23 ; 1 Corinthians 15:56 ), the power of evil ( Colossians 1:13-14 ),and the law as a means for salvation ( Galatians 4:21-5:1 ) that results from voluntary submission to righteousness.

Once we understand the meaning of Christian liberty, it’s much easier to live with a peaceful heart. People who are bound to the law (like certain legalistic sects who follow a strict set of rules for clothing) live with constant dread of failure, little sense of personal self-control, and an exaggerated feeling of guilt.

Rather than living under the law and struggling to do the right things for the wrong reasons, Christian liberty calls upon Christians to become conscious of the specific things that draw them into sinful lust and then resist them. Excessive general rules — such as those defining any kind of nudity as pornography — remove personal freedom and the responsibility to develop one’s own Christian character.

Try this simple rule of thumb: Don’t be overly sensitive, but if something arouses you, put it away. Don’t look at it any longer. Don’t let things escalate ( Genesis 39:12 ; Ecclesiastes 7:26 ; Proverbs 5; 6:25-28 ; Matthew 5:30 ). The nude image of an attractive person will always evoke a degree of sexual longing in a person of the opposite sex, but good people learn how to sublimate their longings in loving and constructive ways.

Sexual arousal is a wonderful aspect of human experience that should be cultivated only when it is appropriate, that is, with our spouse under the right circumstances ( Proverbs 5:18-20 ). If we don’t carefully cultivate this gift of arousal, we’ll find that purity, freedom of relationship, and appropriate affection for others of the opposite sex will be progressively harder to achieve. Giving in to inappropriate (sinful) arousal always enslaves.

The cultivation of sexual purity and self-control involves struggle and occasional failure. Developing this kind of self-awareness requires faith that God will honor our efforts to resist sin. He will forgive us for our setbacks and failures on the basis of what His Son did for us at Calvary. He will also — through the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit — enable us to overcome our sinful inclinations and obsessions.

When we proceed with faith and determination, the end result will be more personal freedom and greater intimacy with others.

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