by Jesse Jost
He had received strict instructions, “No matter what happens, do not touch or smell any of the flowers along the road. They are lethal – extremely poisonous!”
As he walked toward the perilous path, he remembered yawning at the desperate tone with which the old man gave the warning. What could be so dangerous about flowers? After all, how hard could it be to avoid touching or smelling flowers? His mind soon wandered to other things.
The young man started down the road and soon noticed the flowers. These were not ordinary flowers. They had color more rich and brilliant than anything he had ever seen, and the texture of the petals looked like smooth velvet. Their fragrance sent a delicious sensation through his whole body. Intense craving flooded him. He ached to pluck a flower and breathe deeply of its tantalizing aroma.
The urgent warning came back to him, but it was quickly consumed by the flaming fire of his desire. He had to have one of the flowers. His legs went weak at the sight of them all. With trembling hands, he reached for a rose-like beauty. His fingers wrapped around the stem – what a delightful feel it had on his skin! It came out of the ground effortlessly, as if it wanted to be held. He lifted it to his face and inhaled deeply.
In a moment, the fragrant aroma became a hideous stench, the blissful sensation that had been caressing his body flared into a flesh-eating fire. But worse still was the anguish of soul, the inner turmoil that began to eat at him. In agony he crumpled to the ground, lying there for hours as the poison slowly sucked every last bit of life from his tormented body.
In fairy tales, we are warned against plants, fruits, and potions. In real life, we are warned against lust. Nothing has the ability like lust does to make something so destructive look so appealing and to make some so beautiful so damaging. When raging desire has been let loose outside the safe, secure confines of marriage, lethal poison appears inviting. The very thing that will kill your chances of finding satisfaction, ruin your prospects of a happy marriage, and possibly even take your own life (Proverbs 7), looks like a harmless piece of candy that you just have to have. Lust is one of the greatest saboteurs of marriages today.
The pull of your God-given desires for physical affection and sex are so strong that if you do not submit them to the authority of Christ – i.e., only feeding these desires within a marriage relationship – they will turn into lust and make you their slave. You’ll eventually become so consumed by them that you will always crave and never be satisfied. But unlike the story above, where the consequences were immediate, in reality, it may take years before you reap the bitter fruit of your wrong choices.
God’s Word is full of repeated warnings about how devastating lust is. We are told to flee, no questions asked. In the heat of the moment, just run, don’t reason, or you will lose.
There are several truths that will guard your mind and put lust into perspective. At the first stage of temptation, a review of these principles can douse the little spark before it bursts into a wild fire. I have found some biblical ways to keep you from the immoral woman (or, for you girls, the immoral man – he’s definitely out there!), and consequently, from death itself. I have made them easier to remember by using the acronym E-S-C-A-P-E. For some of the letters, I have attached more than one “battle strategy.” In order to better remember the acronym, just pick the strategy for each letter that is most helpful to you. These are time-tested and well-worn truths in my life. I know what a terrible struggle fighting lust involves. These truths were lifelines in my fight against sexual temptation.
If you want to prepare for a successful marriage, it’s so important that you learn to conquer lust. I pray that these steps will enable you do to that. For you girls, I’m directing this mainly to guys, but much of it is very applicable to you, too. Please keep reading!
In the face of temptation, we usually only think about what we want right now, and we give little thought to long-term consequences. Stepping out of the now to take a look at your life from the bigger perspective of eternity will show lust for what it is – a destroyer of all that is beautiful. Think of the cost of a temporary thrill: guilt, shame, enslavement, and eventually, causing a sense of betrayal and insecurity in the very one that you want to protect and cherish.
Someday you may fall in love with a beautiful woman. You’re going to feel an incredibly strong desire to protect and cherish her. The thought of seeing her in pain will be a thought that brings great anguish. When you take her in your arms, are you going to know with confidence that you are a safe place for her? Or are you going to be her source of pain? When a wife knows that her husband is looking elsewhere for satisfaction, it’s a terrible blow to her sense of worth. A wife longs for the assurance that she is all the beauty her husband needs to be satisfied. Every time your wife sees you looking where you shouldn’t or discovers your lust addictions, the effect will be like a knife plunged into the very heart that you would do anything to protect.
The consequences of this pain can be devastating for you. Do you think she will feel like being intimate with a man who is cheating mentally on her? Knowing your head is filled with airbrushed, unrealistic women will make her feel terribly unbeautiful. A wife needs to feel beautiful before she can have a desire to give herself to her husband. I can’t say this strongly enough – giving into lust will never satisfy! It is like drinking salt water when you are thirsty. The more you drink, the more you want.
But do you know what does satisfy? True intimacy with a real woman. I’m not just talking about sex, but the emotional closeness that comes from romance – soul intimacy. The stereotype is that guys want sex and women want romance. I disagree. Like I mentioned in a previous chapter, what really satisfies me is the romantic aspect of life: The long walks at sunset, the candlelit dinners, the heart to heart late night conversations, and the way Heidi looks at me after I’ve served her in some way. In my relationship with Heidi, I feel satisfied at every level! Lust can give temporary relief to a biological function, but it will leave you feeling more and more empty, both spiritually and emotionally. Guys need emotional and spiritual closeness to be satisfied. Lust destroys your chances of finding either.
In contrast, it is more satisfying than you can imagine to have a good marital relationship, a wife who trusts you, and a clear conscience before God. When you bring your sex drive under the authority of Christ, it can be a wonderful thing. Let your need for physical intimacy be something that drives you towards your wife, not something that drives you apart. Deal lust a blow by learning to think long-term.
S-Sacrifice your body, Starve your sex drive, Set yourself up for success
Sacrifice your body – Paul instructs us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Christ paid an immeasurable price to redeem you, giving His life for you so that you might be saved. To receive this gift you must give your life to Christ. He must be Lord of your entire life, not just your actions, but also your thoughts. In God’s eyes, lustful thoughts are just as wrong as lustful actions: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). No matter how many times you have failed, you still have the obligation to your Savior to surrender yourself to Him. He gave His all so that you could be free. You also need to give Him your all so that you can be free.
If you rebel against Christ’s authority over your life, the result will not be freedom but enslavement to a vile enemy. You have one of two choices: Either to be enslaved to the one who hates you and wants you destroyed, or to surrender your life to your Creator, a kind and gentle Master who loves you more than life itself, and only wants what’s best for you.
Starve your sex drive – Many guys feel like they have a sex drive that’s just too strong to handle. What they don’t realize is that lustful thoughts and visual stimuli such as pornography will grow the sex drive way beyond what God intended it to be. If you stop feeding your lust, your sex drive will shrink back to a more manageable strength. But you will have to be patient; it will take a while. I have read though, that if you can starve yourself from any sexual stimuli for just three weeks, you’ll find it much easier to fight temptation after that. Your body will have adjusted, and you can be a man with self-control.
Set yourself up for success – My brother-in-law, Andy, was a resident director at Cedarville University, overseeing and giving counsel to a dorm of male students for three years. He had some very helpful advice for men who struggled with pornography. He used an illustration from the movie “Gettysburg.” In the movie, there was a battle where the North had the high ground and the South was forced to attack running uphill through an open field. The South faced heavy casualties because they were fighting from a position of weakness; they had no covering and were being mowed down. Andy’s point was that you need a strategy that will help you succeed. You need to stay away from situations that will make defeat inevitable. So if your problem is pornography when you are alone with the computer, try to put your computer in a place where others can see you. Or get some software that will email to your accountability partner a list of the websites you visited. If there are certain times and places you always find yourself losing, identify them and see what you can do to find greater protection during your weak moments.
C-Crucify your flesh, Covenant not to lust, Cleanse your house, Control your mind
Crucify your flesh – Paul instructs you to “count yourself dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). When you make Christ your Lord, you’re identifying yourselves with His death. You’ve died with Him so that you may truly live with Him. It is helpful during temptation to visualize yourself as a corpse. A corpse is completely unresponsive to the lures of sin. We should have the same attitude toward the things that will destroy us.
Covenant not to lust – Make a covenant with your eyes to not lust after any woman you are not married to (Job 31:1). When you’re tempted, remember that your eyes belong to God, and that you have no right to look lustfully at someone who does not belong to you. This is vital to a healthy marriage. Looking at a woman in a way that starts your engines is a form of foreplay. Your wife is the only person you should be looking at that way. I’m sure you think it would be wrong to just go up to a woman and fondle or kiss her, because your wife would feel betrayed. Looking lustfully is being unfaithful to your wife, and you will pay the consequences. You have no right to look that way at a woman any more than you have the right to kiss or fondle her. She belongs to another man. If you are looking, you’re stealing from another man, and also giving away something that belongs to your wife. When you marry, your eyes belong to your wife alone. If you’re not yet married, they should still belong to her, even if you have never met her. Faithful eyes are one of the most precious and romantic gifts that you can give a woman. (Heidi: Absolutely – amen!!)
There is a difference between seeing a woman and looking lustfully at her. You can’t help it when a scantily clad woman walks by, but you can control your eyes. If you find yourself receiving sexual pleasure from looking at a woman, it is time you looked away. However, it’s so much easier if you can learn to bounce your eyes even before you get turned on. Train yourself to look away immediately, before the image gets a chance to register. Guarding your eyes also includes guarding your mind. When an image is flashed before your eyes, you have the responsibility to choose to discard that image rather than ponder it for a while. Remembering that I have made a covenant to not look lustfully at any other woman has often stopped me from getting careless with my eyes and looking a little too long.
Heidi: Guys, I know it’s unbelievably tough to do daily battle against the visual temptations from magazines, movies, internet, and women in your church, school, or workplace. And when you see guys you respect with lust in their eyes, looking twice at immodesty, it’s even harder to keep your guard up. It makes you wonder, “Who isn’t looking?” But please, please keep on fighting every day with God’s strength to resist the temptations to look and lust. You answer to God for your purity, not for the fallen standards of men around you, or the motives of the immodest women who make your life difficult. You have a precious woman out there, somewhere, waiting for you. And she longs for a Prince Charming who will honestly tell her she’s the one and only most beautiful woman he has ever laid eyes on. Do you know how much security I find in knowing that Jesse loves me passionately without comparing me to any other woman? I trust him and freely love him because, ever since he was a small boy, he’s worked at guarding his eyes. With me, he has nothing to hide. He’s not going somewhere else for satisfaction. I LOVE knowing that he’s completely mine and I am completely his.
Cleanse your home –
Jesse: This is one of the most practical and effective ways to escape lust…Cleanse your home! It will be so much easier if you don’t keep things around that will cause you to stumble. I know there were times as a teen when I just felt like a raging fire. I’m so glad that we had a cleansed home because there were frequent times where I don’t think I would have had the strength to not look at something I shouldn’t have.
Talk to your mom and sisters. I’ll bet they would be happy to help you. My sister Emily would tear out pages or scribble over inappropriate images. Mom made sure that magazines and catalogs were thrown away or had the offensive ads torn out. Mom or Emily would preview movies or check them out at www.kids-in-mind.com or www.pluggedinonline.com, so we would know which parts to fast-forward if we watched the movies at all, and our little sisters, Amy and Hannah, would often find a pillow or a book to cover up any immodesty on the TV screen. These precautions made it so much easier for us boys growing up. This is a simple strategy but it will make a world of difference!
Control your mind – Conquering lust starts with controlling your mind. This was the area in which I struggled most as a single man. The mind is the easiest place to give into lust – it’s quick and it’s private. Because of this, it is also the hardest place to find victory. But whether you find success or defeat in dealing with sexual temptation will depend on whether you win the battle in the mind. There are a few things that helped me in this area.
The first one is to realize your mind is not private; God sees it and you will give an account to Him of your thought life. If you are not sure if a thought is pure or not, try this experiment: Imagine your mind as a theater and what you choose to think about is on display for others to see. How would your future wife feel sitting in the front row? What about if your mom and sisters saw it – would you be ashamed?
A second way is to replace the lewd images with counter images. It doesn’t work to not think about something. For example, don’t think about white elephants. What did you just think about? The way to not think about white elephants is to think about something else. When you are tempted by a lustful fantasy, picture your wife in tears, hurt by your betrayal. Picture Jesus’ body bloodied and broken beyond recognition to pay for your sins. Or picture the joy of standing before your wife with a clear conscience and telling her that you have fought valiantly for her and you’re not going to stop fighting to maintain your purity.
A third way is to memorize and meditate on Scripture. This is discussed in the next letter of our battle strategy acronym. Even if the scripture you are meditating on doesn’t have anything to do with defeating lust, it will still give your mind a healthy alternative to the poison you think you want.
Finally, be careful what you feed your mind. Our mind has to process what goes in. If you are filling your mind with graphic descriptions of immorality, or lewd portrayals of lust, you will find that the battle in your thought life will be far more difficult. One of my weaknesses was reading graphic descriptions in novels or even marriage manuals. I would get a rush even thinking about flipping through a book in search of tantalizing word pictures. However, when I actually did find something graphic, my rush of excitement was immediately replaced by overwhelming guilt and a sense of defilement. I knew that I had another painful confession to make or I would not be free. I am so grateful for the purifying effect guilt had on me, because it kept me from further defiling my mind. As it was, the images those words created caused enough trouble and would haunt me when I was trying to go to sleep or had too much free time to think.
A-Apply the warnings of Scripture and Accountability
Apply the warnings of Scripture – The book of Proverbs uses strong and graphic language when warning about sexual temptation from “the immoral woman.” The immoral woman is not just the prostitute, but any woman, real or imagined, who tempts you to lust after her body, causing you to be unfaithful to your spouse. Proverbs 5-7 especially deal firmly with this. The immoral woman is described as having “lips that drip honey,” but her “house leads straight to the grave.” We are told not to stray near her path or be allured by her beauty, because we will pay a huge price for it, now or later.
A verse I often kept close by was James 1:16-17, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” This verse reminded me that God was the only one who could offer real satisfaction. To think otherwise was a deception that would bring ruin.
Commit to memory several of these warnings, and use them as buckets of cold water to douse the fiery darts of lust.
Accountability – It is almost impossible to defeat sexual sin such as pornography or masturbation while you are keeping it a secret. You need to confess these sins to a brother in Christ and ask him to keep you accountable. Knowing that you will have to report your failure will cause you to think twice about indulging in sin. I had a friend who told me that he was struggling to overcome a certain sin, and we set a weekly check-up time. He said that knowing he was going to be asked about this sin was not only a major deterrent to giving into it, but also a real help in finding victory. Make sure you find someone you respect who will hold you accountable. If you find someone who simply says, “It’s okay, we all struggle with it,” he’s not going to be much help. Yes, we all battle temptation to sexual sin, but victory can be found. It’s important that your accountability partner recognizes that.
P-Perceive women the way Jesus would
Women are often portrayed as objects for men’s gratification. When Jesus walked this earth, prostitutes were so strongly drawn to Him. I believe that they saw in His eyes a genuine love for who they really were – thinking, feeling humans. Up to this point, they had either been looked at with lust and felt like objects, or with disdain and disgust, and felt like trash. Jesus saw them as women made in the image of God, hungry for love and acceptance – women who hurt deeply and longed to be cherished and protected. When you are tempted to lust after a woman’s body, remember her soul and ask, “How would Jesus see her?”
Learn to view a woman as someone else’s daughter. Think about how you would want men to look at your own precious little girl. How would you feel if you saw a man leering after your daughter? This may not be that effective until you have a little girl of your own. But once you have held the little angel in your arms and have vowed to do anything to protect her, you will understand.
When a woman puts her body on display and is trying to sell herself, it is a sign of deep neediness. I grieve for these women because they are buying into the lie that their worth is based on their measurements and sex appeal. But no woman can hope to live a normal life and keep that shape. Based on that standard, she will soon feel empty and worthless, which is sad, because a woman has much more value than her worth as a sex object. No matter her age or shape, a woman still has so much to offer the world. When God created the world, He saved the best for last. Women are God’s precious handiwork, the jewel of creation. Learn to see women as God sees them and don’t demean them with a lustful stare.
E-Enjoy God and His ways
It is not enough to focus on what we must avoid. We must be proactive in enjoying the good gifts that God gave us! Our deepest longing is not sexual release but intimacy with God. If that longing is not fulfilled, nothing else will satisfy. If we are filled with God, we will find the grace to enjoy life regardless of what He asks of us. God’s laws are for our benefit! He would not ask us to keep sex within marriage if this was not the best way to enjoy the gift. Thank God for your desires in this area and look forward to His fulfillment of them.
Physical intimacy is one of God’s greatest gifts, intended to cement the marriage covenant and draw a husband and wife together. But God’s purposes for sex are not merely to give pleasurable sensations to your skin. If you make sex a selfish pursuit of pleasure, you will find that the sensations are wonderful but fleeting and only make you feel emptier. This is because the purpose of sex is to create intimacy with another person, to experience the joy of full self-disclosure and of knowing the other person totally and completely.
Sex is supposed to be something that pulls us out of ourselves and trains our eyes on the other. Pornography and masturbation turn sex into a selfish pursuit that keeps us enslaved within ourselves. C.S. Lewis had this to say about self-stimulation, “For me, the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads an individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and grandchildren) and turns it back, sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And his harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.”
Sex is satisfying only when it is an expression of love and sacrificial giving. God created sex to be a reflection of the kind of intimacy He wants to enjoy with us. He is passionate about making sure this gift fulfills its function. He knows that sexual perversion will keep you from being able to enjoy Him. He also knows that the only thing that will give you the motivation and desire to overcome sexual immorality is to enjoy a relationship with Him. Surrender to God your desires for love and physical intimacy. Find your satisfaction in Him.