Not too long ago I received an e-mail asking a specific question about lust. The man asked:
Personally, God brought me to a brick wall some years back with my porn addiction, and showed me that it had had to end, period. It felt like God hit me with a two-by-four, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He delivered me.
I have not been so successful in the day-to-day comings and goings. I can be over-scrupulous I think, which can make outings a real nightmare of self-scrutiny: “Did I just lust after that woman?” I’ve heard numerous strategies to dealing with seeing beautiful women in day-to-day life, but none of them seem to stick.
It’s not that I’m imagining myself in sexual situations with these women, and many times it’s not even a look that is intense or long-lasting.
This habit is still with me, especially when I’m tired or depressed. It functions just like an addiction. I guess you could call the addiction “curiosity”: trying to discover who the most beautiful woman is in a given place or day.
I just don’t really know a way forward.
I’ve talked to a lot of men with this problem (myself included). I believe, like David Powlison says, sexual sin is mastered at different levels. We might overcome pornography addiction but then we move to an even deeper battle of how we see women (or men) in general.
Here was my reply:
First, I want to suggest to you that asking, “Did I just lust after that woman?” is a good question to be asking. It at least shows you care about holiness. Only a heart made alive by the Spirit of God does this. So when you find yourself asking the question, let that be a trigger to remind you: The very asking is a sign that God is at work in you. Let that be a point of rejoicing for you.
Second, allow yourself the freedom to recognize the thin line between looking and lusting, but keep the two separate, nonetheless. The fact that an attractive woman has caught your eye is as natural as the day is long. “Lusting,” however, is more of an actual craving, a coveting of something. The move from looking to lusting can be a very quick one, but it is very counter-productive beat your conscience down with false guilt.
Instead, when an attractive woman crosses your path, and when you find your eyes lingering, use it as an opportunity to remind yourself of the truths of Romans 8. In that chapter Paul tells us the Spirit in us is alive because of righteousness, but the body is still dead because of sin. As long as we live in these mortal bodies, there will always be a beachhead for sin to exist in our lives. By the power of the Spirit, we can keep from indulging the flesh, but the body is not renewed until the resurrection when Christ returns for his people. Until then we “groan” in our mortal bodies for the day of Christ. Each time you see an attractive woman and feel the pull to keep looking, let it remind you of your ultimate longing, the day when Christ will totally vanquish sin. Thank him for the renewing work he has already done by awakening your soul to the truths of the gospel and giving you a new heart.
Even as I type this, I am prompted to ask myself, “Yeah, okay, but what about defeating the lust once and for all?” In reply to my own frustration, I need to remind myself that as Christians we live in the overlap of the ages: the present age and the age to come. We will and do experience freedom from the power of sin, but we do not yet experience freedom from the presence of sin. Until that day, our experiences of temptation and sin (both ours and those we see around us) are meant to be a catalyst to draw us to our ultimate hope.
Somewhere in the struggle, the more we do this, the more we will find our hearts draw toward Christ and less toward the images of women around us. Though the struggle is real and always present, the struggle becomes more and more a window for the eyes of our soul to treasure the redemption Christ has bought for us.