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The Inevitable Disappointment of Overgrown Desires

Last Updated: September 28, 2021

Brad Hambrick
Brad Hambrick

Brad Hambrick serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, NC. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, has authored several books including God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles, and served as general editor for the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused (churchcares.com) project.

In a previous Covenant Eyes post on “Will a Better Sex Life Keep Porn at Bay?” I made the statement:

“When we are willing to sin in order to get something, it has become too important. When something is too important, it cannot satisfy. In order for sex to be satisfying in a way that offsets temptation, it must become less important so it can be more satisfying. Until we recalibrate the value we place on sex, increasing the frequency of sex will not have the temptation-alleviating effect we desire.​”

This concept deserves more attention and is central to understanding many of the misconceptions surrounding the subject of pornography… or any other besetting-addictive sin for that matter. Until we see how this dynamic sets us up for inevitable disappointment, we will continue to find most of sin’s lies believable.

Biblical Foundation for Desires

Let’s start with one of the most well-known and foundational passages on discipleship.

“And he [Jesus] said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” Luke 9:23-24

The first sentence is Jesus teaching us we must die to self. The second sentence is Jesus applying this concept to personal satisfaction. We must realize these two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

The first sentence says, in effect, when a desire is so overgrown we will not submit it to Christ, we have abandoned the way of Christ. Not that we lost our salvation if we have embraced the gospel, but that we can no longer expect the blessing of being right with God as long as this desire remains in excess.

The second sentence explains this is not the result of God being a passive-aggressive deity who spitefully punishes those who fail to love him most, but it is a dynamic inherent in the way people function. Let’s take a couple of examples to illustrate.

Desires Grown Too Large

Imagine the husband whose desire for respect has grown too large. It is what he believes will make all the world right; it is what will “save his life” to use Jesus’ words. His wife and children are not providing the respect he thinks he needs so he tries to “save his life” by lecturing, “I am tired of this disrespect. It is time you guys start respecting me as your husband and father. If I had talked to my father the way you talked to me, you don’t want to know what would have happened. Things need to start changing around here. Do you understand?!?”

If his family responds in a sincere, “Yes sir,” is he satisfied?

Or, imagine a wife whose desire for appreciation has grown too large. She believes that gratitude is what will make her world better. Her husband and children are neglecting to notice all she does so she tries to “save her life” by saying, “No one notices everything I do around here and I’m tired of it. I do more for every one of you than any of you realize and do I hear ‘thank you’? No, all I get is more entitled requests for more things that need to be done. Well, that stops today.”

If her family responds with a sincere, “Thank you,” is she satisfied?

Unsatisfied Desires

In both cases, we can tell neither person would be satisfied. They both got exactly what they wanted, but their desires were so large they were willing to sin against their family in order to get them. Therefore, they couldn’t enjoy the legitimately good things– respect and appreciation– they were after. You can see how misunderstanding this reality results in much of the controlling, manipulative, and blame-shifting dynamics in our relationships.

For more on how this dynamic impacts marital conflict in general your can reference this message on Luke 9:23-24 entitled “Romantic Conflict: An Introduction to a Gospel-Centered Marriage.”

This dynamic is why a better sex life will never be a remedy for pornography. When our desire for sex– romance, closeness, belonging, affirmation, or whatever desire is driving us to look at pornography– is so strong that we’re willing to sin in order to get it, then we are like the ranting husband and wife in the examples above.

Hope for Overgrown Desires

But notice how Jesus concludes verse 24, “But whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” This is the hope for overgrown desires. These desires do not have to be forsaken, but they do have to be tamed. Once they are proportionally submitted to Christ, they provide the kind of enjoyment they were designed to provide again.

The husband in the example above can enjoy the respect of his family when he doesn’t need that respect in order to be a secure person. The wife in the example above can enjoy the gratitude of her family when her emotional well-being is not dependent on how their appreciation. You can enjoy the romance, closeness, belonging, or affirmation when you are no longer willing to look at pornography to obtain an empty version of them.

As you seek to make application of this post, allow these three questions to guide your thoughts:

  1. What do I want so bad that I’m willing to sin in order to get it?
  2. In what ways do these things become less satisfying when I pursue them in this way?
  3. How can I remind myself of this in moments of temptation so I am less prone to believe sin’s lies?
  • Comments on: The Inevitable Disappointment of Overgrown Desires
    1. Roger

      Wow! that was a good read thank you. At first I was looking for a step by step. I think this message is much better, give what I have. Failure to meet expectation is common. As a single father I didn’t care for your examples and that’s the point. Thanks again!

      • Steven Lockwood

        Wow. That was so good. So true

    2. Glad to see a Carolinian brother serving. Yep, if something is an idol, it must fall. The most pure and wonderful things can become idols and completely ruin God’s perfect order for that “godly” device in that person’s life. The beauty and order to that supposedly godly thing then becomes stale, shallow, empty, and then gradually fills all involved with bitterness. Family, money, sex, pastimes, ministry… they can all become a curse if they are out of the natural order or design for where God meant for them to be. I am hoping beyond hope that I can be re-shaped by our Lord and that the overgrowth of sexual desire can be placed back into its rightful place in my marriage.

    3. “The problem is not that our desires are too strong, but too weak.” C. S. Lewis

      • One of my favorite quotes. Good to hear from you, Harry. Thanks for all the work you do!

    4. Really?

      I have yet to find one fundamentalist Christian that could explain to me why looking at a naked woman is a sin and “because the bible says so” is not an answer. It is a cop out actually because I can point to many places the bible contradicts itself. Hate to tell people but the bible is just a control mechanism written by man to keep the masses in check.

      But if you want to find real EVIL. Go to the fundamentalist South. The bible belt. The cradle of religion in America. It is also the incarceration capital of the world. Millions of souls destroyed in cages. Billions in profit made off their suffering. Now, ladies and gentlemen, that is a sin. That is the real hidden evil. That flies in the face of mercy for souls. It flies in the face of Christ. Not me looking at a cute girl on the internet.

      Many Christians, when they stand before God, are going to have a rude awakening as to what is moral and not moral. I assure you of this.

      • Concerned


        I’m going to give this a shot: I think you would argue that incarceration is wrong because people suffer, freedoms are cut short, depression reigns, people’s lives are ruined, and greedy people are profiting off of the whole situation without a care for justice and the people who are hurt. I think pornography is wrong for similar reasons–it’s a kind of self-incarceration really.

        Let’s say you turn to pornography after a tough break-up. It promises some kind of comfort, right? Now after spending your time watching and masturbating are you more or less happy with your life? More or less emotionally fullfilled? More or less likely to do something healthy–like exercise, accomplish your major work deadlines, spend time with your grandma, volunteer to give blood, host a party at your home, etc.? Doesn’t pornography use tend to lead to more pornography use, binge watching TV, loneliness, despair, poor hygiene, poor diet, so on and so forth?

        Now let’s think about what it does to your view of people. Did your experience with pornography make you respect people more or less? Are you more or less likely to ogle the next woman you meet? Are you more or less likely to spend time trying to get to know her or in rating her (compared to the women in your pornography)–and depending on your rating, either fantasizing about her or ignoring her because she didn’t measure up? When you trained yourself to be sexually attracted to all kinds of women, voluptuous and pencil-thin, brunette and blond, etc., do you think you will find it more difficult or less difficult to be content with being sexually attracted to your wife? Would you appreciate it if she had watched so much pornography that she had expectations of you that were equally impossible to fulfill? Are your kids going to feel more or less secure in their emotional identity when they know that you are spending so much of your sexual energy toward women other than mom? If things got difficult in the marriage, do you think that pornography makes you more likely to ruin those kids lives with a divorce or do the hard work of staying committed through the nasty fights.

        So basically,
        1) Incarceration destroys kids lives by making dad/mom feel lost to them. Porn does too.
        2) Incarceration destroys marriages by stealing time from intimacy. Porn does too.
        3) Incarceration limits your ability to spend time on productive and healthy things. Porn does too.
        4) Incarceration puts you in an environment filled with bad influences. Porn does too.
        5) Incarceration adds to your depression. Porn does too.
        6) Incarceration trains you to not make decisions/ know how to deal with real life/relationships. Porn does too.
        7) Incarceration enriches greedy people who don’t care about the lives that they are ruining. Porn does too.

        To put it another way, stuff that’s wrong tends to cause suffering. There are more reasons why something might be wrong, but this one will work just fine to show you why porn is. I really am not sure of what hurts more: to lose your dad because of a 10 year prison sentence or to lose your dad because he’d rather look at porn than spend time with you and mom.

        Jesus summarized the Bible like this, “Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” These things are tied closely together. Do the first and you will do the first. REALLY do the second and you will do the first. In my answer, I have just dealt with the second, but the truth of the matter is that one of the main reasons that porn is wrong is that it shows you have an impoverished love of God. When you pursue porn, God gets none of your heart. You don’t run to Him in your pain. His beauty isn’t captivating to you. You’d rather be satisfied with His creation than with Him, the Creator. Whenever we do this, we hurt people.

        I hope this helps! Also, I wonder if you are just throwing out the “bible is full of contradictions” line because it’s a good way to avoid the whole issue of whether its true. A good sign you might be doing this is that (1) you cannot name a single contradiction off the top of your head–or without taking the someone on the internet’s word for it and (2) you have never actually spent much time reading the bible. I don’t want to assume that is you, so if it doesn’t fit and you are genuinely concerned about things that look like contradictions, pick the most difficult issue and send me an email–or post a reply.

        I don’t pretend to have all the answers. And I am not interested in you thinking that I have got it all together. I don’t want you to trust me or my feeble understanding of Christianity. I get it wrong a lot. And the church has been full of a lot of arrogant people who don’t get God’s word and could really care less as long as they win or get power over someone else. Jesus says the church is full of sick people–I am not wanting you to honor the sick people, but to look at their Doctor.

      • Kerri

        Dear Really? I am going to attempt to answer you why it’s wrong. This will only be relevant if the following conditions are met: You have not graduated to explicit porn, where you are involved in vulgar or child porn. This will mean more if you are a father…because unless you have been a parent, it would be hard to grasp the magnitude of this scenario. And you must be a half way decent person by the world’s standards, again, if not than this will not have the same effect.

        So you have a wonderful daughter, you have been involved in her life, watched her grow to a wonderful, intelligent young lady. She has a bright future before her, got into the college of her dreams. So before you take her to campus, where you will say your farwell, hopefully with a few tears, you stop her before you leave the house. You say to her, “Dear daughter, you have been the apple of my eye, I’ve been priveleged to be your father. But, listen before you go, could you do me one thing? I’ve been waiting and waiting until you *finally* turned 18, and I really want to remember you while you are away, so could you please strip down to your birthday suite and give me a really sassy, sexy smile and pose?” Now, if she, or your wife don’t beat the living daylights out of you there is a HUGE problem in your family. If some other guy told you to do this you (again, if you are a decent person) should indeed punch him out.

        So if that is a little too close to home, then I suggest waiting until your daughter has a going away party, so you can ask her best friend to do the above. Again, if her father or brother/s don’t end up on your door step with a shotgun, your friends have serious problem.

        But you see, all those cute **GIRLS** that you like to look at…they are someone else’s daughters. Have you even looked up the statistics on how many of the porn stars have been sexually abused while growing up? Let me give you a hint…it’s most of them. So you my dear ‘decent’ person are just perpetuating their abuse.

        When I was a teen, I was not a Christian. I remember my step dad getting a new camera. We got some of the first pictures in and my mom and I were looking through them together. In one picture there is this woman, in a bikini, on the beach. Hmmm, I thought, must have been a mistake. But then there was another, and a third. This lady was the ONLY thing in the picture (besides the sand and lake). So I say to my mom, “who in the world is that lady?” My mom’s response, “oh, I don’t know some stranger.” So I ask her, “why in the world did dad take a picture of her????!!!” She tells me, “oh, honey, I’m nothing to look at, and he has to look at something.” Right then, there was a deep, deep pit in my stomach. I KNEW that was wrong. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

        I wasn’t a believer, but was old enough to remember some of their vows (when my mom remarried) to know that there was a line in there about ‘forsaking all others’. That sir is NOT forsaking ALL others. But in this day and age most men need a SIMPLE vocabulary lesson to learn what the word “all” means.

        I have been blessed with 5 daughters. My oldest are 18 and 16. They know that their father has a problem with porn. They know it has torn our family apart. And I can not even begin to tell you how ABSOLUTELY WRONG it is for a mother to hear her daughter ask her, “But mom, if he (their dad) goes around looking at other girls/women, then what will stop him from looking at me like that?” Do I tell them the truth that, hey, don’t worry your dad hasn’t graduated to that level of porn yet? Do I say the ‘correct’ thing and tell them that he would never do that because he loves them? And they know that he loved them so much he lost his job over this junk. Thankfully he was able to find another job in short order…but what happened if he didn’t? That was a difficult one because I know he has been to those “Barely Legal” sites. So do I tell them, no problem it is socially acceptable to not look at your own daughters, just everyone elses daughters?

        Just because that girl is on the other side of a screen makes it NO less wrong than asking your daughters best friend to strip down. You can make all the excuses that you want, but they will be just that…excuses.

    5. @Kerri

      Kerri, women make choices… period. Let us look at things realistically. How many jobs are their out in society? Tens of millions right? Right? Get a real job and don’t do porn…. it is that simple!!! No one forces anyone to do porn. It just doesn’t happen. But there is always the choice to get a 9-5 job or go into the porn industry. Always. Every woman who has ever done porn had that choice. I worked three jobs while going through college. Busted my butt. I didnt do porn. I worked hard. That is what I did. Worked.

      Here is what I see in our society and it isn’t your made up illusion of the wholesome little girl. I see BILLIONS of porn pictures. Not millions but rather tens of billions. On one site, I found 7,000,000 galleries. In each gallery, there were over 50 pictures. In those pictures, you often see anywhere from 5 to 15 different girls and sometimes higher. That means in pictures alone, you have a least 300,000,000 girls doing porn. Then, lets step back and look at our society further. You have strip joints (thousands of those that employ hundreds of girls), webcam girls (hundreds of thousands of those), escorts (millions of those), models (thousands of those), massage girls (thousands of those), girls doing homemade porn (millions of those).

      When you realistically look at our society, hundreds of millions of women are pushing sex. Women simply manipulate through sex. As the weaker sex, that is what they do. Even the girl, who makes a guy wait until marriage to have sex, is manipulating through sex. They are essentially saying —- if you don’t give me what I want (marriage) then I wont give you sex. Pure manipulation. It isn’t about love. It is about leverage.

      I do not know if you were projecting in your comment, but your comments are an extreme. No fathers are asking their own daughters to strip, but make no mistake, there are more than enough of these “innocent” girls out there stripping for money and comfort. Also, make no mistake, biologically speaking it is proven that men look at women. You are never going to change this fact ever and are very foolish to think that marriage or daughters will change this.

      If you have a problem with porn it is quite simple ….. tell those girls not to take off their clothes. They have free will don’t they? They have choice don’t they? They can study or go get a job right? Women have the ultimate power. The power to not do it in the first place…. yet we never want to acknowledge that do we? It is NEVER the woman’s fault. Never. No one ever addresses the female side of this and that is why it never improves. That is why it will never improve.

      Start teaching daughters not to manipulate via their beauty and things will change. But you wont. After all, the makeup industry is a ten billion dollar business —- an entire industry that is built around women preparing themselves to manipulate men through beauty. So spare me the oh woe is me routine about daughters and girls. They are not as innocent as you propose they are. Never have been.

      • Random Single Dude


        Here are some thoughts:

        1. Kerri has shared one of the most hurtful things that ever happened to her. Please try to have a little more heart before you jump in and blame women for her pain. Your post isn’t all that far off from responding to a parent whose kid just drowned in a pool with a comment like “Pssh, can you believe parents these days?!?!”
        2. People only make money selling what people will buy. The porn industry makes a lot of money ($3 billion in the U.S. alone). This means a lot of people are wanting to buy. The industry would be dead if no one looked at porn. No one forced me to look when I got hooked. It was my own lack of self-control that got me into the mess. I REALLY doubt that many women would be willing to create porn for free.
        3. Sure, it is wrong that some women are willing to make porn for money. Many of them got forced into it in traumatic ways, but for those of them who just wanted to do it for power, fame, and money (and who thought they were harming men in the process), yes there is something to say against that.
        4. I really doubt that it is as many freely consenting women as you suppose. Almost no one creates porn for free and the money doesn’t add up to the number of girls you are claiming. If we just stick to the U.S. and pretend there are no costs, no photographers, no business people–if we assume that all the money is going straight to the girls, you are only going to get into the thousands/ 100s of thousands of girls. If a girl makes $20,000 a year (poverty level) doing porn, a $3 billion dollar industry can only support 150,000 girls–or about 0.1% of the U.S. female population (i.e., one girl out of every 1000).
        5.To put that in perspective, there are 2 million prisoners in the U.S. at present and a total of 6.9 million if you count those out on parole and probation. Literally 99% of these prisoners are male. Drawing all the facts together, if 2-3% of the men in prison made their livelihood out of crime, there are about as many men supporting themselves by being criminals as there are women supporting themselves by creating porn. The porn industry is NOT the women’s fault. Let’s act like men and take some responsibility for living like boys.
        6. If you think that porn is wrong, what in the world are you doing going through pages of galleries on a porn site systematically counting the number of women in each photo?
        7. Bro, I have had a hard struggle with porn myself. By God’s grace, I am not the man I used to be. You CAN win the fight with your eyes. It’s not fighting biology any more than being in shape is fighting biology. If you really want sex all that badly, find a wonderful woman who you would love even if you never had sex with her and marry her. (If it makes a difference: I am in my 30s and would like to be married, but I am not.)
        8. And, finally, yes, most women have probably at some point put on clothes that were a little more immodest than their consciences would allow. Usually, they just really, really wanted a particular guy to like them. (And they have their own biological justification for this kind of thing: “I just really want babies and to be married. I am getting older and my eggs are gonna go.”) When I have heard girls opinions about this, they are surprised that other guy’s heads might be turning to–usually the comment I hear is “ewww, gross.” Other girls are just in a comparison battle with their peers. Still others might have realized that they can feel loved when people pay attention to them. There are a lot of reasons for this behavior. They are not very good reasons in the end. But they aren’t being nearly as unkind as you made them out to be, most of them aren’t doing this very often at all (unless your modesty standards require women to wear Amish people clothes), and even when they have done horribly unhelpful things with their clothes, no one makes you lust. –If the fault of the women is to be unkind in playing games to get love, power, and affirmation, the fault of the men is to encourage them in it by looking, affirming, drooling, and paying them for it. (Imagine, if you will, that you are a girl pushing for modesty and you see all the dudes oogling, flirting, and praising the “hot girls” whose body is no better than yours but who have simply given in to giving the men what they want–short skirts and all the rest. Now imagine a 5 years of that with one date and tell me you wouldn’t be tempted to compromise a little.)


    6. Kerri

      @ Really,
      First of all I didn’t say ALL women do porn because of abuse. I just said that YOU are contributing to it. I have only very, VERY bad words for you right now. You have NO clue what I teach my daughters. Manipulate guys by withholding sex before marriage? are you freaking serious? You proclaim that women are the weaker sex, but if a guy can be BROUGHT DOWN from a picture or the promise of sex, I;m pretty sure you got who is the weaker sex wrong. It is a sad state of affairs to having to keep teaching my daughters that 98% of the guys out there won’t be worth their time to get to know. You think girls are the only ones minipulating??? Ha! How about the guys who act all concerned about the girl, listening to her when she talks, showing interest in her hobbies. ANd I get to tell my girls that they are ONLY trying to get in your pants. Pathetic at best. ANYONE, female or male use sex to get what they want, and BOTH are wrong for doing it.

      I wasn’t saying my examples were real….please check your reading comprehension. It’s what we call an analogy. And apparently you are too steeped in porn and sex to see what I was saying. Because it is INDEED extreme, but it IS INDEED the idea that there is NO difference. It’s not ok to look at your 18 yo daughter, but it is ok to look at someone else’s 18 yo daughter.

      This is a very scary world. And people with your thought processes make it even that much more so. Sex is supposed to be a beautiful thing, something sacred. People like you bring it down to animalistic. People like you are teaching your kids that it’s ok to screw anything that moves. God help us!


      • Thomas Weyandt

        Agree with you Keri.
        Also women do not get the respect they deserve.
        For every bad apple female out there, there are many who don’t manipulate guys and too many guys willing to manipulate to get what they want.
        As for myself, I don’t like the kind of person I turn into when I’m viewing pornography.

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