If you are a guy and have been involved in some sort of accountability group (like an X3group), no doubt the subject of “lust” has come up. In my group on Wednesday mornings we talk about this often.
Usually the conversation focuses on 3 things:
1. What is lust?
2. How do I not lust?
3. What do I do when I lust?
All 3 of these questions could make for their own post, but for the sake of brevity I rather just focus on the second: How do I not lust? Or, more specifically, How do I look and NOT lust?
But before I do I would like to clarify what lust is and isn’t:
Lust IS NOT looking.
Lust is letting your mind wander to sexual thoughts AFTER looking.
You see, lust is not this thing that just happens.
It’s not spontaneous.
It’s not random.
It’s in many ways organic.
And it has its own lifecycle.
So when you or I look at an attractive person, we aren’t lusting… but it’s at that moment when the lifecycle can start to unfold.
So, with that being said, here are 3 things you can do to make sure your looks don’t turn into lust (and no, I’m not going the whole “bounce your eyes” route either):
1) Count your “looks.” Around here at XXXchurch, we have a saying:
Look once, you’re human; look twice, you’re a man; look three times, you just disrespected your wife.
Now before you get all legalistic, realize that we don’t really boil lust down to the exact number of times you “look.” But the point here is simple; if you keep glancing and looking, chances are you aren’t doing it because you admire that individual for their personality. Most likely you’re continuing the looks because you get some sort of pleasure from what you see.
Simply put, this is a discipline and it takes practice. But if you are conscious of how many times you eye up someone, you’ll also be more aware of the when the lust monster starts knocking at your door.
2) Follow up your look with an action. Okay, so to be clear, not ANY action will do. There are, of course, some actions that would be really inappropriate or maybe even land you in jail.
What I’m talking about is more of a spiritual thing. When you see that “hot” lady jogging by in her form-fitting shorts and top, don’t just look and let your thoughts get taken over by something unhealthy. Be more intentional. This is what the Bible means when it says to take your thoughts captive.
Maybe pray for her (and not because she’s some sort of “Jezebel” wearing tight clothes—she probably isn’t). Or think about how that woman is someone’s daughter or wife and deserves respect, not objectification. Or just recognize that a moment of decision has arrived and you are deciding NOT to lust but rather to think about something else.
Remember, lust has to grow. You can kill that growth with some solid intentionality.
3) Give glory to God. What? Wait a minute? Give glory to God for the “hot” jogger I just saw?
The Bible tells us to glorify God in all things and give him glory for all things.
You glorify God for what happened in church on Sunday.
You glorify God for the promotion you just got.
You glorify God for the beautiful sunset you just witnessed.
And yes, you can glorify God for creating the beautiful jogger who just ran by.
Don’t be a legalistic tool and think it’s impossible to see an attractive person and appreciate their beauty without being some sort of perv. You can.
Remember … looking is not lusting. Lust doesn’t just happen; it’s cultivated.
Next time you see someone who hits a “10” on your hotness scale, take a minute and say, “Thank you God for creating that person.” Then, move along and continue with your day.
I hear so many Christians bemoan about lust and how visual distractions are all around them.
It’s true; you will always see beautiful people. Sometimes wearing clothes that leave less to the imagination. But remember:
Lusting isn’t inevitable. Lust is a choice.
You can stop lust by killing it at the root.
So next time you see someone who’s looking good, remember these three steps:
1. Count the looks.
2. Be intentional with your thoughts
3. Say “Thank you Jesus!”
If you do these 3 things and go about your day, you will halt lust in its tracks. Because the “battle of lust” begins where it dies … in your mind.
You’d think that the answer that question would be pretty obvious, but I believe more often than not, people get confused when it comes to these two topics (especially Christian people).
Here’s the thing:
You can lust after anything, not just the opposite sex.
You can lust after money.
You can lust after a car
You can lust after power.
And the list goes on.
The word lust simply means having a passionate or overmastering desire or craving for something. It’s just that, in our culture, we generally connect lust with “sexual lust.”
Looking, however, is a bit different.
I can look at something without having a strong desire for it.
I can even admire something (like a car) without lusting after it.
But because sexual matters are so sensitive, we often have a hard time trying to distinguish the difference between looking and lusting when it comes to those we’re attracted to.
Your spouse probably would have no problem with you saying, “Hey, that new sports car our neighbor got is pretty great-looking.”
However, try saying that same thing about your neighbor’s spouse.
Wow! It’s off to couch city for the next few nights.
But the truth is, looking and lusting are entirely different. The reason we have a hard time recognizing this fact is either because of “religious guilt” or insecurity.
So, for those of you who are constantly asking yourselves, “Am I looking or lusting?” here are 3 ways you can tell:
1) You just can’t look enough.
Hey, she’s good-looking.
I get it.
You didn’t ask to see her; she just ended up crossing your path today.
Looking at her and noticing that fact is not wrong. And it’s not lust.
But how many times do you need to go back to the well for a drink?
Chances are if your head keeps turning like it’s on a swivel, you’re doing more than just “looking.” You are looking for a reason.
And often that reason is lust. You like what you see and you want to see more because there is some strong desire there.
2) You are “coveting” what you see.
Take my earlier example of the neighbor with the “new” good-looking spouse.
Whether you end up on the couch or not, the truth is, you are not lusting after your neighbor’s spouse simply because you acknowledged that they have some visual appeal.
However, if you follow up your look and unwelcomed observation with the thought, “Boy, I wouldn’t mind if that person was my spouse,” then there is a problem.
You now have crossed the line.
You are coveting.
Coveting is an older term we find in the Bible a lot but basically means “to have a strong desire for.” So in this case, since your “strong desire” is for someone other than the person you’re committed to, then it’s safe to say you’ve wandered into the lust territory.
3) It makes your “special areas” all warm and tingly … and you want more.
Now, I know I may catch some heat for this one, but the truth is men are wired very differently than women and respond accordingly.
While women visually process things, men are far more visual, and our biological responses to what we see are practically hard-wired.
If a man sees a woman who’s very attractive (and especially dressed in a provocative nature), he is going to feel some sort of primal response. In other words, his brain is going to let him know it likes what it sees.
Not much we can do about that.
However, it doesn’t have to go any further than that. There are ways to keep that look from drifting into the lust arena (I wrote a post on that HERE).
But, say you feel all warm and fuzzy and decide to let that look linger because you want more of that feeling. Or, after you are done looking, you keep recalling in your mind what you just witnessed and how great it made you feel.
Well, now you officially crossed over into the lust area.
You see, the first situation is a physical and biochemical response. But the continuation is an intentional decision to elicit sexual pleasure from what you’ve seen.
And if what you’ve seen is not your spouse, then it’s time to have a talk with that accountability partner of yours.
Hey, I understand. This topic is a little sensitive.
Especially if you are talking about it with your spouse.
But don’t confuse looking with lusting.
Don’t let religious guilt or insecurities lead you to self-imposed and needless shame.
But at the same time recognize that looking can lead to lusting very quickly if left unchecked.
So be aware.
And seriously, be honest enough to talk about this stuff.
Carl (@carl_t) is a husband and father of two who, typical of his New Jersey roots, doesn’t mind pushing boundaries or challenging the norm. He is an ordained pastor & holds a Masters in Theological Studies graduating with High Distinction from Liberty University. Carl struggled with pornography and sex addiction for over 17 years until he finally found lasting freedom in 2010. He now leads the operations of XXXchurch.com and is the Director of their Small Groups Online and X3pure recovery programs. When Carl isn’t working he enjoys spending time with his family, hanging out with good friends, or preparing for his next obstacle course race.
Winning the war against lust is by far the most common theme of all the emails we get in our inbox. Today’s question comes from an anonymous listener. “Hello, Pastor John. Thank you for taking my question! I am a female college student in Maryland, and I love listening to your podcast. Thank you for the encouragement and truth that you put out each week. My question is this: How exactly does one transform the way they think? The Bible talks about letting your mind be transformed, but I feel it’s not so cut and dry as it is laid out in Scripture. Lately, I’ve been struggling with lustful thoughts that make me feel very insecure and guilty. So how do I deal with this, especially in a sex-crazed culture? I want to fight the temptations. Every time a lustful thought occurs, I feel like I’ve let God down. How do I let my mind get transformed, as the Bible says, so that I can win this overwhelming and exhausting battle?”
“How exactly does one transform the way they think?” That’s where she starts. Let me pick up there. There are so many pieces to her words that I’m probably not going to touch on every one of them, but let me give our college-student friend in Maryland a simple two-part paradigm for transforming the way we think. Then I will try to fill it out with a few details.
Let me use the analogy of becoming physically fit or physically transformed into fitness to illustrate how we may become spiritually or mentally transformed in fitness. Almost everybody would see the common sense of saying that if you want to be physically fit, there are two aspects of the process of transformation. I think these same two are going to apply spiritually. Let’s call them resistance and reception.
By resistance I mean the kinds of exercises that put your muscle under a great deal of unnatural strain. For example, you want your biceps to be stronger so you can lift heavier packages or lift light ones more easily. You curl a weight up and down — say ten, fifteen, or twenty pounds — and you do it enough times that on the last one, you can barely do it because the resistance is so strong against your bicep.
In that process of resistance, the bicep, ironically, becomes stronger. It’s strange that you make yourself look like an idiot, trembling and pulling and unable to pull it up for the tenth or twentieth time. But out of that weakness, a few weeks later — lo and behold — your bicep is stronger.
By reception I mean you receive healthy foods and sufficient sleep and a kind of activity that is not so much pushing against something, but rather welcoming right and good things into your body.
So there’s the analogy, and you can work with it and see if I’ve got it right physically, because I don’t know much about that. But it seems to work for me.
Push Back the Darkness
Now let’s apply it to spiritual and mental fitness the way the Bible says it happens. Of course, resistance and reception are not sequential. They’re not sequential, like some days you do resistance and some days you eat. No, it’s simultaneous, at the same time.
First, there’s the biblical principle of resistance. James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Paul says in Romans 8:13, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” So we kill specific sins by targeting them with lethal resistance.
James 1:3 reads, “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” So the testing of faith corresponds to the resistance of the barbell by your bicep. Some temptation or some suffering comes into your life and threatens to conquer you and ruin your faith and your holiness. You have to lay hold on a promise of God and push hard against the rising doubt and unbelief with all your might, as you rely upon the promise of God.
So, push back the encroaching darkness just like you push on the floor when you do push ups. Why? Because this produces steadfastness or endurance. This means that those tests — those pressures of unbelief and temptation, those tests that have to be resisted by faith — result in two things.
1. These tests enable us to resist greater tests, greater temptations, and greater suffering in the future.
2. These tests enable us to meet all tests that used to make us stumble with relative ease so that we’re not thrown into a crisis every time we meet some sexual temptation, for example.
Now, all of this applies to lust and sexual temptation because those are thoughts and tests that we have to resist. We have to take hold of a promise of Christ, believe it, and then use it to push — actively push — the thought out of our minds.
We say, “No, no, no!” I mean, I do this. I’m not kidding here. Some lustful thought or some image comes into your mind, and you’ve got about five seconds to decide whether you’re going to let it take over or whether you’re going to push on it with “No — you’re out of here. In Jesus’s name, you’re out of here!”
You must direct your attention to some superior promise: “Jesus is better. Jesus is enough. He said this. You’re out of here.” And you keep pushing until it’s gone.
So that’s what I mean by resistance — the first half of the transformation. I want to encourage you that even though it may feel or sound exhausting at first, it really does yield a peaceful fruit of righteousness. Read Hebrews 12 and you’ll see what I mean.
Running on Empty
Now, here’s the second half. That’s only the first half, and so many Christians try to solve the problems of their temptations and their defeats only by the resistance half of sanctification. It won’t work. It just won’t work in the long run.
Let me give what I mean by the reception part. Paul says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice, this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. We are receivers. This is the reception side.
We are fixing our gaze on the glory of the Lord, and we do that mainly in the word. We linger over the sweet and beautiful descriptions of the person and the work of Jesus Christ. We marinate our minds receptively by faith in the Crock-Pot of God’s word. We fix our eyes, the eyes of our hearts, on Jesus.
The more we receive into our hearts the beauty of Christ through the eyes of the heart as we read and meditate, the more we will have his desires, his preferences, and his convictions. We will be receptively transformed.
Oh, how sweet to have that receptive transformation so that the hooks of the devil don’t even lodge themselves anymore!
Here’s another passage to stir in. Colossians 3:10 reminds us that in Jesus we are new creatures, we have new selves. But we must put on the new self. That is, receive the new self. Put it on like a coat — consciously receive it.
But there’s a phrase in Colossians 3:10 that tips us off to how it happens. It says, “Put on the new self” — and here comes the phrase — “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” So, the transformation of the mind and the desires and the thoughts of the new self happens in knowledge.
This is just like saying, “Look to Jesus more and more, and your thoughts and your feelings will be changed. You will experience your newness.”
Here’s the last passage I’ll mention that relates to newness through beholding Christ — newness through knowledge. It relates specifically to sexual temptation. Here’s what Paul says: “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” — and here comes the key — “not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5).
Notice where Paul lays the fault of sexual passion taking control and ruining our lives. He says that passion, that sinful passion, rules in people who do not know. Just like Colossians 3:10, they don’t know. Just like 2 Corinthians 3:18, they don’t see, don’t meditate on, don’t know, don’t absorb, don’t receive the knowledge of God.
In other words, they haven’t been renewed in knowledge. They haven’t set their minds to behold the glory of Jesus day and night so that they become like what they admire. They are at the mercy of their sinful passion because they haven’t been transformed by putting on the new self, renewed in knowledge.
That’s the biblical pattern of transforming our minds and our hearts so that we are less vulnerable to sexual temptation. It’s both resistance against unbelief and temptation and doubt and Satan, and it is the sweet and enjoyable reception, through God’s word, of the preciousness and the beauty and the greatness of Jesus. Both resistance and reception, over time, transform our hearts and our minds.
If you are a single guy, let the words in this article soak in deep within you. And please share with every single guy you know! Even as a married man, I was incredibly challenged by this article! This post was originally found on Desiring God. Enjoy!
When Solomon saw a man without sexual self-control, he saw an enemy army and a pillaged city. He saw broken windows and unhinged doors. He saw the stronghold taken and the people defenseless. Or in his words:
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)
In the modern West, no city has walls; you don’t need to knock at a gate to enter Boston. But in Israel’s ancient Near East, where nations warred for land and survival, walls could make the difference between a flourishing city and a ravaged one. When Babylon breached Jerusalem’s walls, the city that was once “the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2) became a widow and a slave (Lamentations 1:1).
So it is with us in the war against sexual sin. You are a city under siege. The armies of lust are at the gate, with seething hatred in their hearts and satin lies on their tongues. They seek to steal your contentment by making you grasp for phantom pleasures. They yearn to kill your manhood by rendering you incapable of cherishing a woman who is not airbrushed or imaginary. And they long to destroy your very soul by leaving you more in love with lust than with Jesus (1 Peter 2:11).
None of this happens overnight, of course. But over time, as we consistently throw a rope to these “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22) and allow them to climb into our city, the walls crumble under their feet.
A City Without Walls
We haven’t yet grasped the nature of the fight against lust if we think only in terms of individual skirmishes. Each act of disobedience certainly has its consequences; we all know the sting of immediate guilt, regret, and self-reproach. But no single battle destroys your city — no one failure robs your contentment, your manhood, and your soul. That only happens in stages, as habitual defeats gradually weaken your defenses and silence the sound of your war cries.
Yesterday’s loss will not subject a man to the tyranny of lust, but weeks and months and years of losses will (Galatians 6:8). That’s because sin has a subtle soul-twisting quality. Each time we follow the phantom of lust into the caves of our imagination, our eyes become more accustomed to the darkness, and we find the light less welcome. This morbid curving of the soul is what C.S. Lewis called “the real evil of masturbation”:
For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. . . . Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 758)
If we allow ourselves to habitually conjure up that imaginary harem, we will gradually become men who choose imagination over reality, men who find contentment as elusive as a shadow, men who have lost the ability to love a real woman. Or, to return to our image from Solomon, we will gradually become a city without walls. A city where lust roams at will, a city where no woman feels safe, a city that is flirting with total destruction (Matthew 5:29–30).
I know how tempting it is for single men to seek refuge in the thought that marriage will end this warfare. But marriage, as much as it may bolster a man’s sexual self-control (1 Corinthians 7:8–9), cannot make a persistently lustful man pure. Saying “I do” cannot rebuild the walls he has demolished through a thousand clicks, fantasies, and double takes. Men who have laid down their weapons during singleness should not be surprised when months, weeks, or even days into marriage they find lust inside the city gates.
A City with Barricades
So Satan and the armies of lust are laying siege to your city. The destroyer who turned a garden into a wasteland would smile to see your citadel collapse into ruins.
But the Holy Spirit is on a counter mission to defend your city — to raise the battlements, to post the guards, and to fortify the gates. He burns with zeal to make your city a home of righteousness, where a woman walks safely and where the noise of songs and dancing rumbles through the streets. The Holy Spirit’s presence transforms your city into a temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19), and he is jealous to make it holy.
If habitual sin twists our souls and tears down our walls, habitual righteousness beautifies our souls and builds our walls. Every time you say no to lust by the power of God’s Spirit, you are not simply denying yourself; you’re building. You are not simply beating off the hordes of enemy armies; you’re setting stone on top of stone until the walls become impenetrable.
Every time you lower the sword of God’s promises on the leering head of lust (Ephesians 6:17), you are turning outward toward other people instead of inward toward yourself. You are banishing those shadowy brides and preparing to welcome a flesh-and-blood wife. And most importantly, you are sharpening your sight of God’s beauty — the only sight that will flood you with pleasure upon pleasure forever (Matthew 5:8).
In other words, you’re becoming more like Jesus, the man who faced the rage of enemy armies but never once let a soldier through the gates. Jesus was a walking fortress of a man — a city of contentment and manhood and sexual wholeness. Within his walls lives everything good. And one day soon, he will welcome us in as his bride, and we will revel in the strength of his steadfast love (Revelation 19:6–8).
Until that day, men, let’s fight with everything we have to become more like him.
He Died for This
Maybe you read this and think it’s too late. You’ve already dismantled the walls of your city. Lust has taken up its residence inside you, and you feel beaten, shackled, enslaved. If that’s you, hear Jesus’s word to every sinner, sexual or otherwise: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus died to seek and save people like you — the lost, the sexually defiled, the one who has no self-control, the city without walls.
And Jesus also died so that you might take up a sword and raise the resistance. He died so that you might “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” and live a “self-controlled, upright, and godly [life] in the present age” (Titus 2:12). He died so that, by the power of his Holy Spirit, you might build some walls, raise some barricades, and defend the city.
One of the most gut-wrenching plays that take place in a football game is when a pass that was meant to be completed is picked off by the opposing team. For all you non-sports people (like myself), we call this an interception. Interceptions seem to happen at the most unlikely times within in a game, even when the quarterback looks like he has everything under control. The bottom line: Interceptions have the potential to totally change the momentum on the field. One moment of playing a defensive position turns into an offensive opportunity with the possibility of scoring big!
Recently, I was watching a movie with my family and it was almost as if a light bulb went off in my brain. I wasn’t struggling with my thought life at that moment, but I realized that each and every single time I replace a sexual or negative thought with Scripture, prayer, or something truthful, then I’m making a HUGE interception in my thinking.
The dictionary defines the word “intercept” like this: “to take, seize, or halt or cut off from an intended destination.” Interceptions don’t just happen four months out of the year on the field. Every day, men are making interceptions in one of the most important places: their minds. Men are are going on the offense by making huge plays. How is that possible?
2 Corinthians 10:5 says it like this: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Granted, this can be difficult to do living in a sex-saturated culture with instant access to all kinds of media. But just because something is challenging doesn’t make it impossible.
A military definition of the word “interception” says it like this: “the engaging of an enemy force in an attempt to hinder or prevent it from carrying out its mission.” Impure, sexual thoughts are clearly an enemy force. The mission is clear: An impure thought — whether prompted by porn or lust — has the potential to take root in your mind urging you to act out in a sexual way, thus bringing out loads of shame, guilt, and isolation. How do we fight these intruding thoughts from their inception?
Take them CAPTIVE. In other words, make the INTERCEPTION.
In summary, what should the strategy look like in keeping our thought lives pure?
Make theInterception – Identify the distraction, trigger, temptation, as soon as it crops up. Don’t be naive in thinking that just ignoring the thought will make it go away.
Change the Direction – Once you’ve identified and intercepted the intruding thought, replace it with the truth, whether that be God’s Word, a lyric from a worship song, or talking to your Heavenly Father about it. By doing this, you’re shedding light upon it and it can’t hide.
Score Big! – Repeat steps #1 & #2 as much as it takes! 🙂 Disciplining your thought life is a process that takes lots of practice. Remember that nothing that’s valuable (a pure thought life) and worth attaining comes easy.
Surely there’s a lot more to developing a healthy thought life than just these three steps, but we all have to start some where.
One last thought: While it doesn’t directly say this in Scripture, I believe that God knows that we’re going to have impure, distracting thoughts at times. Especially if we’re in the thick of sexual addiction or coming out of it. And while that shouldn’t give us a pass to go wild in our heads, it should signify that God knows us — more than we know ourselves. He knows we’re going to struggle, slip, and mess up a lot on this journey.
Having said that, in my experience of watching football, it only takes one interception that can lead to a game-changer. The same applies to you and I.