All genuine Christian men desire to be lust-free. To overcome lust, however, it is essential to understand what it is. To understand what it is, it often helps to consider what it is not. So let’s begin with that.
First, lust is not sexual desire. Sexual desire is God-given and thus pure. It is nothing to be ashamed of, any more than the desire for food is shameful. Allow me to elaborate.
I had no trouble with lust when I was a child. In my younger years I spent many summer days at a public swimming pool where there were hundreds of girls in bathing suits and bikinis. To me they were just other people. One summer, however, I noticed that something had changed! There were attractive girls everywhere! I bought a pair of dark sunglasses so that I could appear to be looking in one direction while I actually looked in another.
What happened? God changed me, just as He changes most everyone. I had God-given sexual desire. What God did was not evil, and what God gave me was not evil. (What I did with that desire, however, is another story.)
Keeping in mind that sexual desire is a physical desire from God, just like any other God-given physical desire, can be quite liberating to those who are heaping condemnation upon themselves for those desires. So let me say it again: There is nothing wrong with you if you have sexual desire. Jesus plainly stated that only to certain men is given the obviously rare gift of celibacy (see Matt. 19:10-12). For all the rest of us, as Paul wrote, “It is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9). God certainly understands sexual desire. It was His idea.
Because sexual desire is God-given, you can’t cast it out any more than you can cast out the demon of desiring food, the demon of wanting to sleep every night, or the demon of the desire to use the bathroom every so often. If you pray for God to take away sexual desire, you are wasting your time. The only way to be completely free of sexual desire is to castrate yourself (something actually done by a surprising number of Christ’s followers in the early centuries of Christianity, who literally applied Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:12). If you do that (and I’m not recommending it), you’ll not only be free of sexual desire, but lust will then no longer be a problem either.
And this helps us to better define lust. Although lust is not the same as sexual desire, its basis is sexual desire. But it is more than just that. It is the first step of undisciplined sexual desire. I’ll expound on that shortly.
It is also important to understand that sexual temptation is not the same as lust. Sexual temptation is a temptation like any other temptation, and to be tempted to sin is not a sin. Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted, but He never sinned (see Heb. 4:15). That proves that being tempted to sin is not a sin. That also tells us that Jesus was tempted to lust after women. And one cannot be tempted to lust without having some temporary thought that, if yielded to or entertained, would then become lust. Thus, Jesus must have experienced those temporary thoughts, but never yielded or dwelled on them.
Some might think that what I have just written borders on heresy, so let me state my point more persuasively. If Jesus was tempted in every way that we have been tempted (and He was), that means He was tempted, for example, to steal what did not belong to Him. It would not be possible for Him to be tempted to steal without experiencing a temporary idea to steal someone else’s property. But such a thought is only a temptation, and thus is not a sin. Had Jesus begun to entertain such a thought, however, not resisting it but embracing it, He would have been guilty of the sin of coveting.
In that regard, the sin of coveting is somewhat similar to the sin of lust. Coveting always precedes theft. Lust always precedes some act of sexual immorality. Both coveting and lust are more than just temporary thoughts or temptations. Rather, they are contemplative.
So if Jesus was tempted to lust, then there must have been times when thoughts entered His mind of some immoral nature that would have been wrong for Him to entertain and not resist. Any time that such thoughts entered His mind, Jesus resisted them and did not lust or sin in the process. Christian men should follow His example, and they should not condemn themselves for those times when they experience the same kind of tempting thoughts that Jesus experienced.
I’m making this point for a very important reason. I’ve observed that some Christian men who don’t recognize the difference between being tempted to lust and actually lusting are condemning themselves for sexual temptation, thinking it is lust. Their frustration often leads to other negative consequences. Some just give up in the battle, thinking that they can’t win. Others, so sincerely striving to gain the victory over what they think is lust (but is just the temptation to lust), exacerbate their problem by their striving. Ardently attempting not to lust fills their mind with even more temptation to lust, which they then interpret as lusting. The harder they try the more they fail, or so it seems to them. So they stop striving all together.
I believe it was Martin Luther who first said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” This saying beautifully illustrates the difference between the temptation to lust and the sin of yielding to lust. Again, lusting is not a temptation to dwell upon sexually immoral thoughts. Lusting is a willful decision to yield to temptation and dwell upon immoral thoughts.
Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Obviously, from what Jesus said, it is possible to look at a woman without lust for her. And, if lust is equivalent to committing adultery in one’s heart, then to lust is to dwell upon a sexual image of one to whom I am not married, mentally undressing her and thus imagining a sexual relationship with her.
Although it is not possible (generally speaking) to be free of sexual desire or sexual temptation, it is certainly possible for men who are in Christ to gain victory over lust. Victory results from a decision.
Solomon’s 700 Club
Something else that is important to acknowledge about sexual desire is that, at least in men, it is somewhat indiscriminate. That is, to the average man, many women are potentially sexually attractive. And God has given that kind of sexual desire to almost every adult man. There isn’t a man reading these words who, faced with a photo of attractive naked women, would not have a desire to look and keep looking at all of them. The classic example of the indiscriminate nature of male sexual desire is Solomon of biblical fame. What could have possessed him to desire seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (see 1 Kings 11:3)? Is there no limit? It is no wonder that so many good Christian men have wondered if they have a demon living in them!
Consider also King David, a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). When he committed adultery with Bathsheba, he already had seven wives (see 2 Sam. 3:2-5; 13-16). You would think that seven sexual partners would be enough for one man. Yet every man understands how David’s downfall was possible because he understands the indiscriminate nature of his own sexual desire.
Under the Law of Moses, kings of Israel were forbidden to “multiply wives for themselves” (see Deut. 17:14-17), and so it seems that in this David sinned. (Perhaps he convinced himself that he was adding, rather than multiplying wives.) Commenting on David’s folly, John Wesley wrote, “But all these [wives] did not preserve him from coveting his neighbour’s wife. Rather they inclined him to it: for men who have once broke the fence will wander carelessly.”
Wesley’s wise comment brings us back to the heart of understanding and overcoming lust. If you want to keep a wild horse on your property, you must fence it in. And that is the way to deal with sexual desire. It is like a wild horse. You must fence it in.
Outside the fence, everything is forbidden. And just outside the perimeter of the fence lust is lurking. If you keep sexual desire inside the fence, you will stay free of lust, and because every other sexual sin is preceded by lust, you will stay free of every other sexual sin as well. If, however, you allow sexual desire to jump the fence, which is analogous to yielding to lust, you are apt to feel pulled even further from the corral. So keep sexual desire inside the corral.
Keys to Maintaining Purity
Most men realize that their God-given sexual drive is stimulated by sexual imagery. Thus the wise Christian man will do all that he can to avoid immoral sexually-stimulating imagery. Of course, unless one becomes a hermit, avoiding it completely is impossible in our sex-saturated society. Enticement is everywhere. I have had African pastors who visit North America for the first time ask me how it is possible for Christian men to remain pure as they witness the continual parade of promiscuity. Some of those pastors wondered if a percentage of the women in the churches they visited were prostitutes, based on their dress. When grace is turned into licentiousness, as it has been in the American church, church services tragically become places where men stumble.
Imagine how much easier it would have been for Christian men in the days before printing presses, photography, film, TV and pervasive immodest dress. Those days are gone for good. Regardless, it is still true that avoiding temptation reduces the likelihood of sin. So stay as far as you possibly can from the fence, and keep yourself as close as you can to the middle of the corral. That means doing all you can to avoid immoral sexual imagery. You’ll be doing yourself a great favor.
It is also wise to attempt to anticipate where sexual imagery might pop up in order to make an advance decision to avoid it, because once we’re faced with it, many of us feel like we’re swimming against the tide—regardless of how much we love God. Consider David once again, who repeatedly proved his love for God. A second glance at Bathsheba, however, was all it took for him to find himself sucked into a whirlpool. So many good men have fallen because they were caught without a plan of escape or put themselves into a compromising situation.
It is my practice, for example, when I check into a hotel room alone, to make a vow to God that I will not turn on the TV as long as I am staying there, and I place the remote in a drawer. I know how easy it is to get sucked into the vortex while casually switching through channels. (And I’m not talking about watching pornographic hotel movies; I’m talking about what I might see on regular network television…the filth that many professing Christians allow every day to be poured into their living rooms.)
Understanding the male sex drive better than anyone (since it was His idea), Jesus gave strong advice to men on how to keep it under control, and strong warnings to those who don’t:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell (Matt. 5:27-30).
Very few think that Jesus’ words about self-mutilation should be taken literally, simply because neither plucking out an eye nor cutting off a hand are sure ways to resolve one’s problem with lust or sexual sin. Yet the idea of removing what is causing one to stumble certainly makes sense.
One-third of all American pastors who responded to a Christianity Today poll admitted that they are addicted to internet pornography. They apparently don’t believe that Jesus’ warnings of hell to the lustful apply to them; thus they aren’t motivated to follow His simple instructions to gain victory. They only need to disconnect from the internet, something that people somehow survived without for the past five-thousand years. Or they could keep their computer in a public place in their home or office or subscribe to a service that blocks porn sites. Again, Christian men should do whatever is necessary to keep the wild horse inside the fence. The man who dabbles in internet porn is a fool, because he is only fueling a fire. He deceives himself if he thinks he won’t wander far once he jumps the fence.
He Who Finds a Wife…
Although marriage, as we have already learned from considering David’s life, is not the automatic cure for lust, it can certainly help fight the disease. As Paul wrote, “It is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9). Solomon (not exactly known for his contentment), admonished:
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love. For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress and embrace the bosom of a foreigner? (Prov. 5:18-20).
Understandably so, the average wife prefers a husband who is “exhilarated always with her love” over one who uses her as “an outlet for his sexual drive.” Guys, that involves letting her know that she is loved all the time every day, not just two nights a week.
To all the wives who are reading this, having ignored the “For Men Only!” warning at the top of this article, I hope you better understand what your husband is facing. Because I warned you not to read this article, please don’t become angry with me when I tell you that he will be less likely to be tempted to steal the Ford across the street if he has a Lexus parked in the garage! You obviously knew how to attract him to get him in the first place. He’ll appreciate it if you work at staying attractive. (But Mr. Potato can hardly be upset with Mrs. Potato, now can he?)
Single men have the most difficult task, but they should practice the same self-control that they will have to practice once they are married and closely follow the scriptural principles I’ve outlined above. God knows what you are facing and He will help you. And with means such as E-Harmony to help people find compatible mates, there isn’t much excuse these days to remain single forever! And please don’t tell me you are waiting for God to send you His pre-ordained woman! God told you, “Seek and you shall find” (Matt. 7:7). Seeking has never been easier.
OK, I’ve meddled enough! No doubt I’m in hot water now! If you respond, be kind!