I have held my tongue long enough. Of course, I hold my tongue like a toddler holds a 25 lb. barbell. As women shed their winter fur (coats) along with most of whatever else they used to wear, the modesty debate rises to the surface, trying to take the place of the discarded clothing. I read almost every modesty article, pro and anti, that shows up in my various news feeds. I believe quite strongly in the merits of modest dressing as I wrote here. However, while women have been scrutinized, harped on, measured, and discouraged, I see a serious problem that modesty culture has obviously not done enough to address.
Modesty is often held up as The Way to help men overcome their lust problem. The consequences of this idea are lethal: Guys feel helpless or justified in succumbing to the lustful glance whenever they see a girl who is “immodest” by their standard. Girls get discouraged and then angry when they feel like they are unfairly carrying the burden of men’s purity. Because they react to this bad reason for modesty, they often can’t see the more valid and godly reasons for modesty and throw clothing restraint to the wind.
I want to be clear upfront: modesty will not solve the problem of lust! I am ashamed that we Christian men have let this problem get so far. We need be more ruthless in attacking lust and take responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. It is ridiculous to blame the Christian girl in your circle for your lustful thoughts. If you lusted after her, she is not the problem. If she was completely covered up you could still find a way to lust, if not over her then over some other girl, and in our sexually charged culture, you wouldn’t have to look very far, in fact, perhaps no farther than your next thought.
I think Satan has twisted the basic principles behind modesty and left guys feeling like they don’t have a choice when an “immodest” woman walks in. This woman failed to do her part to dress modestly for you and now you have to give in to lust. That is satanic bovine poo-poo. (Excuse my strong language, but I’m a little upset!)
I want to challenge you men with some reasons to guard your eyes regardless of the way the women around you are dressed.
I was explaining to Heidi the other day how strange this idea of looking away from beauty can seem sometimes. I believe God is the source of beauty and he has filled this earth with stunningly beautiful items. To the male eye, a woman is the most beautiful thing in creation. With every other thing of beauty, we are free to enjoy it, soak it in, and give praise to God, so why can’t we do that with other women?
First the biblical guidelines
Even though we humans love a good game of throwing “you can’t do that” around, the only authority we really have in condemning certain actions comes from the Moral Lawgiver Himself. He is the one who has laid down specific moral requirements for His creation. He has revealed these laws in His Word, by raising up governments, and in giving us a conscience. Our wrong choices have caused our consciences to malfunction regarding our own actions, though when it comes to noticing the wrong actions of others, our consciences seem to be in fine working order.
I take this brief digression because it is important to note that when I talk about lust, I am not just talking about my taste or what I am comfortable with. I am trying to appeal to God’s ultimate standard. So you can feel free to reject my thoughts and opinions, but you do have a duty to your Creator and you will give an account of your actions to him some day. Now that we have that out of the way, what does His Word say about lust?
Two of the Ten Commandments apply here (Exodus 20): Number 7, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and number 10, “Thou shalt not covet …your neighbors’ wife.” Job, who was held up by God as a righteous man, felt the need to make a covenant with his eyes to not look lustfully on a young woman (Job 31:1). In the New Testament, Jesus taught in Matt 5:28 that “Whoever looks at a woman to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Now obviously part of his point was that we are all adulterers at heart and need His forgiveness, but Jesus was also pointing out that this is God’s standard for us, and He wants to bring us, through a process of sanctification, to a place where we are freed from the destructive consequences of lust.
We cannot hope to achieve this standard on our own strength, but God still calls us to obey it by the power of His Holy Spirit. Paul tells us to “flee youthful lusts” in 2 Timothy 2:22. There are many other places the Scriptures warn about lust and the dangers of immorality, but I hope you are already getting the idea. God specifically and graphically condemns gazing lustfully upon any woman you are not married to.
What is the difference between sexual desire and lust?
The distinction is an important one. Sexual desire is God given, and one should not feel ashamed for feeling that desire. Given the biblical commands to keep sex within marriage (Heb 13:4), sexual desire seems to become lust when one starts to receive sexual gratification from something or someone other than his/her spouse. When Jesus talks about a lustful man already having committed adultery with a woman in his heart, he must mean that the man in question did more than just desire her, he acted on it in his thoughts. Being tempted is not a sin. Jesus was tempted, yet did not sin. James says in his first chapter that “When desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin.” So desire is not sin, but it is a force that must be watched carefully and surrendered to God. God created our desires for sex, and he wants to fulfill them in a way that makes us whole, instead of destroying us. Sexual desire also turns into lust when it becomes selfishly motivated. God made sex to pull us out of our self-centered state into a satisfying relationship of mutual giving. Lust only cares about selfish gratification and cares little about who is affected as long as it gets what it wants. Godly sexual desire can never be divorced from its relational purposes.
When does the admiration of beauty become lust?
That is a tricky question to answer because of the powerful nature of sexual arousal. The components of sexual attraction are ultimately good and are a satisfying gift within the divinely constructed guidelines of a marriage relationship. God foresaw how many stresses and pressures would push and tear at the marriage relationship. I believe that one of the purposes of sex was to give the couple a little oasis from the storms of life. It is an emotion- and hormone-driven trip to paradise, where the married couple can forget about their problems and focus on each other, and re-cement their bonds of love. In order to accomplish such a monumental feat, the gift needed to be powerful and have a strong hypnotic effect. In marriage, coming under the spell of sexual enchantment is a wonderful way to forget about the burdens of life. But this spell can also be used by Satan to make us forget God’s laws and ignorantly dive headlong into a blazing fire.
The Hypnotic Spell
God designed our bodies with an arousal switch. There are certain things a husband and wife can do to help throw that switch. Visual stimulation plays a big role in being turned on. This is where enjoying a woman’s beauty is different from admiring a mountain or a waterfall. There is a physical component to sexual desire. The body undergoes hormonal changes that prepare the couple to enter what should be a selfless, marriage-affirming act of love. When a man sees a woman he is not married to and starts to feel these sensations of arousal – and this can happen even if the woman is dressed “modestly” – he must act quickly and learn to bounce his eyes, or the fire will spread throughout his body, as Satan tries to enslave him with lust for a woman he cannot righteously have.
The first reason to guard your eyes from looking at a woman in a way that turns you on is to prevent you from entering the dangerous spell that will distort reality and make you want what you can’t have. If you keep lusting, the woman you should be showing unselfish Christ-like love to will become a mere object of lust in your eyes.
Another very cool feature of our sexual design is the way God made our sexual attraction to be adaptable. As a couple ages and goes through pregnancy and hormonal changes, their body shapes will change quite dramatically, and I’m not just talking about the wife here. Thankfully God designed us so that whatever we have been enjoying sexually lately imprints on our brain and becomes our “type” – what we crave and are addicted to.
The body shape glorified as the sexual ideal has changed dramatically throughout history, from the very well fed models of the middle ages to our current skin-and-bones waif that is held up today. In marriage, this adaptability means that if a man is saving his eyes for his wife alone, he will always be satisfied by her. As she changes, so will his taste. On the other hand, this morphing mind can also be a source of great frustration in a marriage. If either spouse is lusting after pornography, or other men and women, the images they look at will be imprinted as the new type they need to find sexual satisfaction. No real life woman can compete with the artificial enhancements found in porn, and the husband will find that he is no longer satisfied by his wife’s real body. This is terribly disappointing to both spouses and a source of great pain.
This is the second reason to save your eyes and day dreams for your wife alone: so that your sexual tastes can be completely tailored to your wife’s ever-changing shape you and will always be delighted to drink from your own well (Prov. 5:15-20). A wife who knows how much her body satisfies her husband will be freed from so much of the misery our culture inflicts on women.
The Corset of Culture
There seems to be some kind of very dark conspiracy to enslave women where their bodies are concerned. For decades, women felt they needed to wear painful corsets that crushed ribs and deprived them of oxygen and proper circulation. In the 1920s, the generation that finally discarded the corset was enslaved by a brand new type of subjugation as millions of woman starved themselves to fit the mold of the stick-thin “Flapper”. Even today woman are held to a much more unattainable standard of sexual perfection than men are.
We had the opportunity recently to meet an ex-supermodel who left the industry and now shares how horrible the reality is behind the scenes. She is tall and one of the thinnest women I have met. She said she was six pounds less than her current weight when she was called a “fat pig” by her agent and warned she would soon be out of work, so she starved her 5’10’’ frame down to 110 lbs. Even then her body was always being photo-shopped. Do you see how twisted that is?! How impossible it is for a woman to achieve this and still enjoy the full life that God wants her to enjoy?!
This is the third reason to guard your eyes: to break this cycle of female oppression. When you let your eyes roam freely, allowing your sexual tastes to be warped by the artificial and unrealistic portrayals of women, you are perpetuating a continual source of depression, anxiety, and body hatred among women. Is that the effect you want to have on your wife, sisters, and daughters? When they hear you rating other women or mocking the culturally defined “imperfections” of women around you, you will only enforce the message they are being bombarded with already: That their bodies need to fit certain measurements or they are worthless. I know many people are aware of how prevalent the “body image” problem is for women, but until we men start guarding our thoughts, eyes, and mouth, the women in our life will not find freedom!
Follow the bouncing eyeball
The sight of a beautiful woman showing off more of her body than anybody but her husband should see can be a flaming dart and set off a fire of desire. Women who have encouraged other women to “dress for yourself in whatever makes you comfortable,” seem to have difficulty recognizing the effect they can have on male bodies and minds. That being said, I want to add loud and clear, that you are not a victim to the way a woman dresses. She is not responsible for your battle with lust. You always have a choice to bounce your eyes away from the tempting sight, and the sooner you do, the more manageable the flame will be. God has a grace for you that covers that first unintentional glance. If you look longer and more deliberately, you are surrendering ground and rapidly becoming enslaved to demonic influences.
In your eyes…
Think about what a woman sees when she looks in your eyes. Does she see love that shows genuine interest in her whole person, including her mind and emotions? Or does she see eyes that are selfishly roaming her body and making her feel dirty or judged? Does she see disgust? Have you deceived yourself into thinking that looking is okay as long as you are condemning her outfit at the same time? A woman who has dressed carelessly and is showing more skin than is good for her, should find the most grace and understanding in the eyes of a Christian man. Sadly, this is rarely the case. We are as twisted by our warped, sex-saturated culture as the next person.
Freedom and Wholeness
But there is hope, there is forgiveness, there is God’s abundant healing power.
If you are a single person who is struggling with sexual addiction and feel like your sex drive is just too strong for you to handle, don’t blame your Creator. Every time you give into lust and feed it with sexually charged images, you are strengthening your appetite. If you can repent and starve your sex drive you will find the battle growing easier and you will love the sense of freedom and true masculinity that purity brings.
If you are a married man, addicted to porn and un-attracted to your wife’s body, there is hope. If you can find the grace to starve your mind and your body of any sexual stimuli other than your wife, you will find healing and adapt again to your wife’s body, experiencing satisfaction you never knew was possible, and God will be glorified as you enjoy his precious gift of love.