Read our other “Tactic” articles below!
Tactics: Waging Wise Warfare for Your Sexual Purity – A New Series
Tactic #1: Fight From Your Justification, Not For It
Tactic #2: Recognize that Your Soul is at Stake
The battle against lust will fail if we mistake who our enemy really is. The desire for sexual intimacy is a God-given desire. God created men and women’s souls and bodies (Gen 2:7; 2:18-24). And he placed within us a powerful longing to become one with a member of the opposite sex through sexual union (Gen 2:24). God created these desires to be fulfilled in and only in marriage, but in order to lead to marriage, these desires must be felt before marriage. We know, therefore, that sexual desire, even prior to marriage, is not necessarily sinful (see Song 1:1-4; 2:7). Sexual intimacy and sexual desire are not the enemies. The enemy of our soul is the perversion of these good gifts. Due to our sinful natures, we may desire someone who is forbidden to us (another man’s wife), or desire inappropriately someone who is not forbidden to us (a girlfriend or fiancé). In both cases, our nature as sexual beings is not to blame (God created us that way); our sin is to blame, for it twists a good desire and leads us to want that which is forbidden or want too much of that which isn’t forbidden.
Furthermore, it will do us no good in our fight for purity if we mistake our capacity to appreciate physical beauty as sinful lust. True, our appreciation may quickly devolve into lust, but that doesn’t mean the capacity to recognize beauty is itself sinful. It is evident that God has created the woman to be physically appealing to the man and the man to be physically appealing to the woman. Indeed, the Bible does not hesitate to speak of men who were physically attractive (Gen 39:6; 1 Sam 9:2; 16:12; 17:42; 2 Sam 14:25; 1 Kings 1:6; Ps 45:2; Songs 5:10-16) and of women who had beautiful faces and beautiful figures (Gen 12:11; 14; 26:7; 29:17; 1 Sam 25:3; 2 Sam 11:2; 13:1; 14:27; 1 Kings 1:4; Job 42:15; Songs 4:1-5). Pretending that a woman is not beautiful when she actually is, therefore, will not help you in your battle against lust.
I distinctly remember a conversation with an older Christian man who told me he fought the temptation to lust by pretending his beautiful female neighbor was a gross, ugly old woman. How he accomplished such a feat of the imagination, I’m not sure. But it occurred to me sometime afterward that this tactic was fundamentally flawed because it wasn’t grounded in truth. It simply was the case that his female neighbor was attractive. Her beauty and his capacity to recognize it were not the issue. The problem was the temptation to dwell on that beauty and desire it for himself (see Prov 6:25).
How, then, might he have effectively waged war against lust while being careful to not take aim at the wrong enemy? By deliberately choosing to not gaze at her (Job 31:1). I tell my sons when the circumstance calls for it, that God made women beautiful, but we are not to gaze at them. To “gaze” at a woman forbidden to us (i.e., someone who is not our wife) is to look at her with a heart of longing for her attention and affection. We are likely falling into lust when our brief, passing recognition of a pretty face turns into looking at that pretty face for multiple moments after the encounter.
When such temptations encroach, we would be wise to immediately thank God for creating this woman in his image, to pray for her salvation and holiness, and quickly move along with our business. By swiftly turning our hearts to the reality that this woman is an image-bearer who is in need of salvation and holiness, we are training ourselves to view them holistically—not as mere physical objects, but as eternal souls. Actually, we are to view everyone primarily according to their spiritual status (2 Cor 5:16), not their physical appearance. Such a mindset will help us mightily to turn the tables on lust.
When it comes to our Christian female neighbors, Paul instructs us to interact with these women as our spiritual siblings, in all purity (1 Tim 5:1-2). Nevertheless, the same strategy we applied above is to be applied here as well. These women are our sisters in Christ. They are not only God’s image-bearers; they are God’s very daughters for whom Christ shed his blood to make them holy in body and spirit (see 1 Cor 7:34). Keeping these realities at the forefront of our minds and hearts will have the powerful effect of uprooting lust and will enable us to appreciate our sister’s spiritual beauty as the most important facet of their personhood. When temptations arise, brief words of thankfulness to God for our sister’s salvation and prayer for her purity will do much to turn our minds away from lust. Despising sexual desire as inherently unclean and cultivating a sense of disdain for the gift of physical beauty may have the appearance of wisdom, but it will be powerless against lust (see Col 2:23). Recognizing the goodness of God’s creation is essential for achieving any measure of victory over sexual sin (see also 1 Tim 4:1-5).