Not long ago, a prominent college football coach tweeted a quote in the morning: “Look not back on yesterday—so full of failure & regret; Look ahead & seek God’s way—all sin confessed u must forget.”
Later that same day, according to The Wall Street Journal, the coach flew to Tampa as part of a recruiting trip. A few hours after the plane touched down, his school phone registered a call to a number linked to a female escort service in that city. After the university’s investigation uncovered “calls of a similar nature” over the course of several years, the coach resigned.
Lust is something you don’t hear much about in church. It comes up occasionally in men’s groups because it’s a struggle common to all men. Living in a culture of lust makes it virtually impossible to avoid sinful allurement. So, I’m going to get really honest and blunt about this topic because it’s a battle we all face, and the stakes could not be higher. Illicit sexual lust threatens your marriage, your family, your job, and especially your walk with God (Ephesians 5:5)
What is lust?
The Bible describes lust as ungodly, worldly, deceitful, and that which “wars against the soul.” The primary word for lust in the New Testament is epithumia and is usually translated “desire” or “passion.” In the King James Version it’s almost always translated “lust.”
When we speak about lust, we’re talking about God-given desires that all of us have. The problem is our sinful flesh often turns our desires against us, luring and enticing us to temptation, leading to sinful actions (James 1:14-15). For example, we all have a desire for sex. God means for that desire to be satisfied within marriage; our flesh, on the other hand, tells us it can be satisfied in other ways, which results in sin. Out-of-control desires can lead to illicit thoughts which then can lead to sinful actions.
The battleground for lust is your heart. Jesus makes it clear that this is the source of our sinful thoughts and actions. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) When you lust, God says you need to examine the deeper issue in your heart to win the battle. Namely, what satisfaction are you seeking from illicit sexual desires that you don’t believe you can get from Christ?
Unbelief is at the heart of all sin. The reason you’re tempted in the first place is because you already believe that you can’t trust God or his commands. “I don’t see how God can fulfill this sexual desire—and I surely don’t need him to tell me what’s right and wrong.”
"The sexual sinner, finding no pleasure in real intimacy with God, ultimately finds no pleasure in false intimacy."
"The sexual sinner, finding no pleasure in real intimacy with God, ultimately finds no pleasure in false intimacy," states counselor Harry Schaumburg. Bob Jones, Sr. once said, “Back of every tragedy in human character, there is a process of wicked thinking.” Men don’t just spontaneously visit chat rooms, frequent strip clubs, or solicit prostitutes—it’s the last step of a deceptive pursuit that began with false attitudes, thoughts and desires.
Where are you?
Guys, do not let yourselves be deceived. The first step to victory over lust is to get brutally honest about the ways you might be indulging your illicit sexual desires. The obvious ones include viewing pornography and masturbation. However, there are many other on-ramps to lust that perhaps you’re passing off as innocent. Consider these examples:
• You notice an attractive woman and steal a few extra glances—since no one noticed, no one got hurt, right?
• You think about that same woman later in the day and hope she passes your way again.
• The Victoria’s Secret catalog or Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue shows up in your mailbox, and you take a peek before tossing it.
• You click on internet ads or YouTube videos that feature suggestive images or headlines—you might see something gratifying that isn’t technically porn.
• You let yourself consume popular television shows, movies and music which have strong (if not blatant) sexual overtones. While it gets your mind going in a certain direction, you excuse it because “you’re an adult” and everyone else is doing it.
If any of these sound familiar, you need to admit that you’re giving a foothold to lust, and these thoughts can be like runaway trains.
Our primary defense
Killing lust starts by replacing false attitudes with the right thoughts. Many verses in God’s Word challenge us about our thought life:
“Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
The next time you are tempted to lust, don’t buy into the lie that it will give you satisfaction that God cannot. Instead, resolve in your mind to honor God by cutting off the sin because you know that He alone truly satisfies. Ask God to give you such a strong desire for Him that it makes lustful thoughts nauseating.
"Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”
- C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
You’re not doing yourself any favors if you’re not spending time daily in God’s Word. For the Spirit to penetrate your heart with the truth of scripture and Jesus’ teachings, you need to know them. Read it, meditate on it, memorize verses that really speak to your heart, and share what God says to you with others. Apart from preparing your mind with scripture, your struggle against sinful lusts will be futile.
Covenant with your eyes
If thoughts are connected to desires, we must learn how to control our thoughts. There are two avenues by which illicit thoughts come to mind: the ear gate and the eye gate. For men the eye gate is the main point of entry for illicit sexual thoughts. Jesus alluded to this when he said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)
Some guys mistakenly have the idea that lustful sexual thoughts are normal. They think it’s just something all guys do. Too many guys view every woman they see from the neck down. I even heard one guy say, “My wife doesn’t care where I get my appetite as long as I eat at home.”
That kind of rationalizing is dangerous. We need to remember that we can sin with both mind and body. Solomon wrote: “The thought of foolishness is sin.” (Proverbs 24:9) Adultery is committed in the heart before it’s ever carried out in physical action.
We need to hide the Word of God in our hearts. (Psalm 119:11) And we need to covenant with our eyes. Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1) I think it was Billy Graham who said, “It’s not the first look, but the second and third look that will get you into trouble.” You will not be able to avoid enticements but you can train yourself to look away.
Make yourself accountable
If your thought life is out of control, get honest with yourself, get into the Word, covenant with eyes, and find a trusted friend who can share your struggle and encourage you. There is hope! You can tear down that barrier that’s keeping you from experiencing God’s peace and power in your life.