How Do I Battle Subtle Temptations To Lust?
How Do I Battle Subtle Temptations to Lust?
How do I battle lust in temptations subtler than porn? It’s a question I see often from men in talking about swimsuit issues and lingerie catalogs. This particular question comes to us from an anonymous man. “Hello, Pastor John! Three years ago, I turned away from porn for the final time, a perennial struggle for my life for the better part of a decade, between ages 16 to 26. I’m now married and have not looked at porn for three years. I can only say it’s a victory from the Lord to find deliverance in Christ from the bondage.
“In recent months, however, I am lured to images of women in female marketing campaigns. My wife gets a number of catalogs from companies that make female workout clothes and lingerie. We are putting a stop to those mailings, as much as possible, but a lot of them simply show up. It feels like the same allure as porn, the same challenge — maybe less immediately dangerous, but very similar. I don’t want to undersell this struggle. What advice do you have for those of us who have experienced victory over porn, but are now tempted by subtler and less scandalous objects of lust like this?”
Well, may God get the glory now and from everyone who listens to this that there are stories of triumph like this — there are. They are there by the thousands, and we shouldn’t be totally discouraged when we hear all the bad news about how prevalent pornography is among people, and believers in particular. But this is glorious. Thank you for sharing it. I love the renewed sense of vigilance over the soul. It is such a good sign of spiritual reality when little things matter as well as big things in the pursuit of holiness. All impurity matters to God: seemingly harmless magazines as well as adultery and rape. God lays claim on every impulse in the human heart.
Eyes Like a Magnet
The male eye is like a magnet in its attraction to excessive female skin, or tantalizing gaps in clothing, or featured bodily shapes through tight clothing. God cares about these magnet impulses of the male eye, and what we do with them. I am glad that our friends, and this man in particular, care as well. Every Christian should care about what appear to be such little things compared to the horrific things that we might be considering. So, I’d like to point to five passages of Scripture. Each of them addresses, I think, an aspect of the battle for purity, even in regard to a wife’s women’s magazines. I know exactly what he’s talking about. I could name them. I dumped three of them in the garbage yesterday.
“God lays claim on every impulse in the human heart.”
My wife’s in Florida right now, welcoming a grandbaby, and the magazines keep coming. They all tend to come at once. Do you ever notice? They must all use the same mailing company. I get three women’s fashion magazines, clothing magazines, and there they go in the garbage. Or do I open them? Do I look for the bathing suits? Do I look for whatever? What do you do? So, I would sum up these five principles or guidelines — or you decide what they should be called — like this:
Faithfulness in Little
Urgency in Warfare
Fighting Like a Dead Man
Making Specific Covenants
Praying for Sovereign Sway
Let me say a word, and give you a verse for each of those, and tell you what I mean, and see whether this might just provide another piece of kindling on the fire of vigilance that is being expressed.
- Faithful in Little
Luke 16:10: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” Now, that applies in context to money, but it is the same with regard to all temptations, I believe. God cares about small things, and when we are faithful in the small, who knows what God might be willing to entrust to us, and what great things he might be willing to do through us, if we are faithful in the smallest things.
- Urgency in Warfare
You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:27–29)
Well, suggesting that we tear out our eye, because the issue is heaven and hell, is a call to urgency — about as strong a call to urgency as I can imagine. My oh my. Misplaced sexual desires — not just acts, but desires — is, it turns out, not such a small thing after all. So, urgency is essential.
- Fighting Like a Dead Man
Now, this is the heart of the uniquely Christian way of pursuing purity and fighting sin. Lots of people think it doesn’t really matter how you kill sin. Just do it. Just do it. No, there’s a Christian way to do it, and you might be turning it into a false way if you don’t do it the Christian way. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Why? “For you have died . . .” Wow. So, every Christian has to come to terms with this. Have I? What is that in my experience? “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). That’s about the most amazing thing that can be said about a human being. You’re dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Wow, that’s worth a few hours of meditation.
“There is a place for very specific covenants with our eyes, and hands, and feet.”
re’s the uniquely Christian paradox. You have died, so put to death. You have died, so put to death. “You have died” means that, by faith alone, you really have, through identification with Jesus, died and risen and passed from death to life. Your life is hidden with Christ in God: sins forgiven, eternity secured. Now, fight. Kill sin. The first four sins Paul mentions relate to sexual desire. Go figure. There’s nothing new under the sun. If you say, “I don’t need to fight, because I’ve died, and I’ve been raised, and I’m secure in heaven. Nothing can happen to me,” you simply show that you’re not dead. You’re not, and therefore you’re not secure. The fighting like a dead man — your fighting like a dead man — is the proof you are a dead man. If you don’t fight, you’re not dead.
- Making Specific Covenants
This is absolutely essential I think. Here’s what I mean. Job 31:1 says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” A covenant with the eyes. I think there’s a difference between saying, on the one hand — and I’m basing this on significant personal experience, as well as biblical observation. There’s a big difference between saying, on the one hand, “I’ll do my best, by the power of the Spirit, to walk in holiness and purity for the rest of my life — ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years,” and saying, on the other hand, “In the next four weeks, I will not crack open a single women’s magazine that comes in the mail, not one page. Period. No exceptions.”
If you leave your hormones wiggle room, which is what lifelong, general commitments do, without very specific commitments or covenants with your eyes, your hormones will almost inevitably convince your mind that this little exception is okay. “They’re just bathing suits.” There is a place, in other words, for very specific covenants with our eyes, and hands, and feet. I’ll be honest. When Noël left, and she’ll be gone probably for a couple of weeks, I made one of those covenants, with regard to a bunch of specific things. I think that’s crucial. Not that it’s okay to sin when she’s here, but there’s something unique, there’s a unique challenge, when you’re alone.
it into a worthless thing. It’s demeaning to women. It’s deadly for men. So, the psalmist pleads for sovereign sway. “Turn my heart, turn my will, turn my eyes. Get sovereign sway over my desires.”
So, those are my five suggestions in the ongoing fight for purity, even when the great battles have been won against pornography.
1. Faithfulness in Little
2. Urgency in Warfare
3. Fighting Like a Dead Man
4. Making Specific Covenants
5. Praying for Sovereign Sway
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently What Is Saving Faith?