The issue of lust, sexuality, and guarding the heart is a difficult one in the life of the Christian man and rife with many abuses and pitfalls. Discussing it is a delicate matter—like walking along the edge of a knife. Fall one way, and you are cut to pieces by legalism. Fall the other and you plunge into licentiousness and abuse of grace. Like any topic dealing with sin and salvation by grace, “lust and sexuality” is fraught with nuance and can easily be misunderstood. Is it any wonder that Paul, as he taught that salvation is by grace alone and that we are freed from the law, constantly had to clarify what he did and did not mean? By some, he was called a libertine who subverted the need for God’s law and Christian purity. By others, he was called a legalist who imposed too many restrictions on Christians who were saved by grace. Sometimes he would get these opposing responses to the same lesson!
Because of this complexity and delicacy, especially concerning an issue many face and one that is so important to the development of loving relationships both within marriage and without, this article will be divided into sections. It is, in essence, a series, but I am putting the entire series into one post. This will make it a long discourse, but it is divided so you won’t have to read it all at once. Readers ingest online writings better in short segments, and I’m fully aware of this and respectful of the reader. I could present this topic as a series of separate posts, as many writers do, but I want to put the series into one link because series are often lost in the shuffle of a website and can be read out of order. As stated above, this is a difficult issue that can easily be misunderstood, so to prevent misunderstanding, I want the topic presented together in one place while separating it into six parts to facilitate ease. You can choose to read the entire series all at once if you wish, or you can leave it at any given section and return when you have more time.
As you can see from the title, this series is addressed to men about lust and female sexuality. I want to make it clear, however, that what I write here can just as easily be applied to women regarding lust and male sexuality. All human beings sin, all lust, all struggle with how to repent of their sinful thoughts and habits. However, given the visual nature of men, the overt sexualization of women in our culture, and the intense drive within men to have sex, lust tends to plague men more than women—though, given the sexual proclivities and obsessions of our culture along with modern feminism and its push to “free” women to behave no differently than men when it comes to sex, lust is becoming more of a problem for women than it has been in the past. Sadly, women in general are no longer the civilizing force they once were.
You might be wondering at this point why I, as a woman, am talking to men about this topic. Shouldn’t a man be addressing men about this? Aren’t women only to “train and instruct” other women, especially about such intimate matters? Isn’t the Bible clear that women are not to teach men? First, I am not discussing sexual acts and intimacy, or the issues around them, which would not be entirely appropriate for a woman, but I do reject any socially constructed prudishness that shuns discussion of sexual issues in general between men and women. Too many Christians become pink-faced when sexual dynamics are discussed by anyone in public—a shame that is foreign to Scripture, which never shies away from proclamations about sexuality and sexual relations—sometimes in the most passionate terms—and any sexual immorality that arises from our sinful hearts. Christians should not cover up what the Bible has brought into the open.
Second, I am committed to biblical doctrine when it comes to the nature and roles of men and women in the home and in the church. I refuse to jump on the evangelical feminist bandwagon and violate the clear mandates of Scripture about male headship and authority, even when it comes to teaching. However, I will not add or take away from Scripture on these issues, neither will I distort what the passages say on a woman’s role.
The Bible is clear that women are not to have authority or teach men in the church. Writing a book or an article is not teaching within the context of the local church nor is it exercising authority over anyone. Wayne Grudem explains this point well in his book that defends biblical manhood and womanhood, “Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism.” He does an excellent job of distinguishing between teaching authority within the church and exhorting, instructing, and giving advice privately and outside the church sphere, even in matters that involve biblical doctrine. I am a writer, not a teacher in the church. I have no authority over you the reader, and my words carry no weight beyond that of a fellow sister in Christ who is gifted with biblical training, ministry experience, wisdom, and the ability to write. I am an older woman sharing my insight and expertise on these matters. That is all.
On this point, Grudem compares the writing of articles, commentaries, and books on biblical doctrines to a “private conversation” between the reader and the author:
[A] modern parallel to the private conversation between Priscilla and Aquila and Apollos would be the writing of books [or articles] on the Bible and theology by women. When I read a Bible commentary written by a woman, it is as if the author were talking privately to me, explaining her interpretation of the Bible, much as Priscilla talked to Apollos in Acts 18:26. Reading a book by a woman author is much like having a private conversation with a woman author. The woman author does not have teaching authority over an assembled congregation or a group of men.
There is another point of difference: Preaching to a church is generally endorsed by the church, while publishing a book is not. We can see this in the fact that churches carefully guard the responsibility of preaching to the congregation, so that, in general, the congregation knows that those who preach from the pulpit have the endorsement and approval of the church leadership. But we all read many things we disagree with, and churches do not usually try to keep their members from reading a variety of viewpoints. Bible teaching to the assembled congregation has the general endorsement of that church (and thus carries authority over that church) in a way that publishing a book does not.
My goal in writing this series is to help, not hinder; to remove stumbling blocks rather than erect them; and to love my brothers in Christ as I love my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Finally, relating to the particular topic at hand, I am writing this series to address weaknesses, pitfalls, and abuses that I have witnessed among Christian men as they’ve sought to deal with lust by guarding their hearts and shunning temptation. This is a very relational issue because it is born of and impacts how men relate to women. I am a woman, and I have experienced that impact, for better and for worse. As a woman, I want to, not only advise men on a matter I have studied in-depth, but help them see—from a woman’s personal point of view that is rooted in Scripture—how their choices, assumptions, and actions affect women they are called to respect as image-bearers of God, to be in community with, and to love.
In this series, I will be addressing the practical implications of men guarding their hearts against lust and what that means regarding interactions with women. I will not be explaining all the intricate ways men are to guard their hearts—that is a topic addressed by many men in books and Bible studies, and it is not my intent here to advise on the various ways men are to avoid lust and improprieties through practical rules and regulations (the "watchmen" they erect in their lives). My intent is to address the consequences that come from men who are already doing this but doing it without moving toward positive holiness. In particular, my purpose is to address failures in the matter of “guarding the heart.”
Because this is a critique, or rather an exhortation for men to go beyond much-needed rules and regulations of guarding their hearts so they can live in faith, I need to make a couple of things clear before we get started. First, I am not addressing the important issue of men taking steps in public to avoid the appearance of impropriety, especially when they are in positions of authority or in ministry. That is a different issue and one best handled on an individual basis by men in ministry and positions of authority. Advice about how to avoid getting entrapped by evil women who lie about their interactions with men in private (it sometimes happens) and to avoid others from misinterpreting a man’s actions while meeting privately with a woman can certainly be applied to all men, whether they’re in ministry or not. However, this concern, as it pertains to purity in appearance, is mostly experienced by men whose livelihood (his ministry or business) is directly connected to public perception.
The issue of a minister or public figure in a parachurch ministry who isn't struggling with lust but who feels like he must keep women at bay for the sake of how he will be perceived is handled differently among men and often a hotly debated topic regarding particulars. As I see it, it is up to the man and his family about what kind of rules he feels comfortable implementing. Some men don't give credence to public perception if their consciences are clear before God, and they, therefore, interact liberally with women. Some men are less concerned about public perception and more concerned about the possibility that a woman will falsely accuse them and they won't have any recourse because they were alone at the time. This is a sad consequence of women abusing the social justice mantra "believe the woman" to control men—but this is certainly not all women.
Given all the complexities of our times and yet still wanting to engage with women, some men simply take their interactions with women on a case-by-case basis with input from their wives. Other men have zero interactions with women to avoid any problems whatsoever. Whatever the case, these are public figures in ministry and not the real focus of my article, though I do think what I've written applies, to a degree, to pastors in local churches who need to be in communion with all of their congregation—pastors whom I assume are already self-controlled and not burdened down with lust.
On this point, anyone in ministry, whether in public or within local church, needs to have their lust under control with positive piety (I explain this term later in the series) so they can freely interact with women if they choose to do so. If a man in ministry avoids women altogether because he doesn't trust himself and struggles with lust, then it appears from scriptural teaching that he has not risen to the level of self-control required of ministers and elders: "Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach" (1 Timothy 3:2). Avoidance or ascetic self-denial is not fully realized self-control (a point I explain later). If you don't meet these qualifications, maybe you should think about getting yourself and your mind under control before continuing in your calling as a minister.
Second, when I discuss interacting with women, celebrating and loving female sexuality as God has designed it, and finding freedom in Christ regarding communing with women, I am in no way talking about clear manifestations of sin, such as going to strip clubs, watching pornography, hanging out with women in hotel rooms on business trips, or engaging in communications with women that are sordid and clearly sinful. Likewise, when I’m talking about engaging with women, I am not talking about interacting with “the temptress,” the evil seductress of Proverbs whom men must avoid and flee from, as Joseph fled Potiphar’s wife.
The important point I will be making is that women are NOT temptresses simply by being female, by being an extraordinarily beautiful female, by being a female who expresses her femininity within the context of culturally relevant yet wise measures of modesty, or by being a visually desirable female because of her God-given form. A woman is never to be reduced and defined by the lusts of men or categorized as an object of temptation simply by being a woman. This, however, is not to ignore the very tragic and terrible fact that some women do use their femininity and sexuality to purposely tempt men. Regarding such a woman, “Keep a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you lose your honor to others, and your dignity to one who is cruel” (Proverbs 5:8). Wisdom, in such instances, “will save you from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words” (Proverbs 1:16). In the following series, when I speak of men loving women, celebrating female sexuality, enjoying freedom in community, and engaging everyone, including women, in the body of Christ, I am not talking about THIS woman.
Part 1: Guarding the Heart
Sex. It’s everywhere almost all the time. Our society is awash in sexualization and temptations that are purposely imposed on men to entrap and gratify sinful women by feeding their desperate need to be desired. It’s used by corporations in advertising, the music industry in song lyrics and marketing, and the film industry in movies, television shows, and pornography. Modern feminism has capitalized on sexualization in the name of liberation, celebrating the porn actress, the naked pin-up, the cam girl who bears her full breasts for attention and money. As many have often observed, you can’t stand in the checkout line at the grocery store without being bombarded with sex, sex, and more sex. You can’t go on the internet without being inundated with pop-ups of breasts and allurements to sex—even on conservative websites!
Women themselves—again because of feminism—have been propagandized to express their sexuality in the most decadent ways: all in the name of liberty. In this cauldron of sex, men are eyed with suspicion—their visual nature and powerful sexual drive are exploited by women yet labeled toxic at the same time. Is it any wonder why men who are striving for sexual purity want to run and hide, throw social burkas on women, or just curl into a corner in quiet desperation? Is it any wonder that men have been convinced that they’ll never be free of lust, that it will be an albatross around their neck until they reach heaven and are finally freed “of this body of death”?
Clearly, times are bad for men—and women—when it comes to lust and sexuality. Modern society is particularly burdened with this plague of exploitation, self-objectification, and mutual sexualization. Men and women have become both predator and victim in this brave new world of unrestrained sex. But when it comes to lust in the heart and the struggle to remain sexually pure, this tale is as old as time. The Bible is filled with commands and exhortations to avoid all sexual immorality—many examples of failures are provided. Lust is real and part of the fallenness of man. It's not just an action—it comes from within. Jesus said that the man who lusts after a woman has already committed adultery in his heart. The struggle is real, the sin is devastating, and the battle is fierce.
This is why the Bible warns Christians to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are warned that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Jesus told his followers, to “pray that you will not fall into temptation” (Luke 22:40). Because of the struggle, wisdom tells us that, above all else, we are to guard our hearts, “for everything we do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). James, ever focused on piety and virtue for the betterment of all believers, warns that temptation is not from God. It’s not from the good things God has made; it's from within: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).
No one is exempt, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As Cicero once said, the sparks that go forth from nature are immediately extinguished by false opinions and depraved manners. This is as true of lust as it is any other sin—and the temptation to lust is rooted deep within because it is born of good desires that have turned evil. God has given these good desires to us as sexual creatures, who are designed to be united with the opposite sex, passionately, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. How typical of evil to take what is good and twist it into evil, to bring disorder out of order, and death out of life.
Of course, the promise to every Christian is that we do not remain dead in our sins. We are made new by the power of Christ, not only in justification but in sanctification, in our daily walk through this dark and decadent world where we are sojourners looking forward to a better country. But in this journey, God has promised to give us a great gift: his Spirit. And by his Spirit, we overcome the desires of the flesh and put on the new nature, the spiritual nature. Integral to this overcoming is mortification of sin, or "the flesh." Flesh, however, must be properly interpreted. As R.C. Sprout wrote, "The word flesh must not be understood as a synonym for 'physical body.' Our bodies per se are not evil, since God made us as physical beings and became a human being Himself. The flesh refers to the sin nature, the entire fallen character of man."
This doesn't mean that the body and the spirit are disconnected and have no influence on each other. Though the body is good, it is affected by the fall and corrupted by evil desires. So there is a time and place to do as Paul did and bring the body under subjection. This practice of mortifying the body, of denying its natural and good desires (eating, drinking, and sexual relations) can be a profitable exercise to learn mental self-control. But this asceticism is not where Christians are meant to stay, especially regarding interactions with others in the body of Christ. While we deny our sin and put to death the sinful desires of the flesh, we are being made new, to live freely in the Spirit. The former leads only to deprivation without the latter.
From this promise and by the power of God’s Spirit working in us and through us, we do as Paul instructed: “To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
As Christians, we were dead in our transgressions. We used to live like those around us in their darkness and love of self, gratifying the cravings our flesh and following its desires, as Paul describes in Romans 7. When we lived in that state, we were bound by God’s law and condemned by it, for we could not keep it. Our hearts had no love for holiness and righteousness. Our desires were continually on ourselves. But when God made us new, a different law began to work in us, a law of the Spirit that bears righteous fruit. As new creations, we no longer love the things of the world, we love God. Because of this “we have been released from the law so that we serve the new way of the Spirit, and not the old way of the written code” (Romans 4:6).
What does this mean regarding lust? It means there is no condemnation for those who have faith in Christ. The Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death. We are now living in the realm of the Spirit with a mind governed by the Spirit. Our hearts are no longer desperately wicked. Our hearts have been renewed, set free. Our obligation now is to put off the misdeeds of the flesh that lead to death and to put on Christ, to follow the Spirit of God, and to live as his children. In other words—you can overcome lust and develop the self-control needed to interact freely with women because you now love God and have his Spirit living in you.
This might sound well and good, but no doubt many Christian men reading this are saying they just don't believe they can change. While it's true that we still have sin in our hearts that needs to be weeded out, guarded against, and opposed with all our strength, we can change, though it's a process—and a hard one. We still need to be willing to cut off our right hand if it causes us to sin, just as Jesus said. Indeed, the path of sanctification doesn’t happen in a moment. No wonder Paul cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 8:24) But, what is his answer? “Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25) Paul could change—but only through faith in Christ who continually delivers him. This is true for all believers. Our appetites, desires, and temptations that rise up from a heart still affected by the remnants of sin are all there wrestling within for dominance, but they have no power. Why? Because in our minds we are slaves to God’s law, to God’s holiness, to God’s righteousness, and nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ.
When we talk about lust—something that comes from within—we, as Christians, need to stop thinking like the world. The world thinks the mind is dictated by desires, and indeed for those who are not made new in Christ, the mind is enslaved to sin. But for the Christian, the mind is being transformed so that we know what God’s perfect will is. We are able to see him in all his glory and love him, just as we are able to see all that is good in his creation and love it. This is what it means to “put on the new self.” We are being renewed in “knowledge after the image of our Creator” so that our minds and our hearts are guarded in Christ Jesus. When it comes to overcoming lust, the real question is: Do you believe in Christ, or not—do you believe his promises, or not?
Part 2: Renewing the Mind
This renewing of our mind and setting our thoughts on the knowledge of God and not on the desires of the flesh or the lies of the world is key to living a life that is finally free of lust. This renewal takes acts of denial—negative steps of purity: the “do nots” that we often think of when we battle sin and strive to think as God thinks. We know what those look like. Many advice books written to men are filled with lists of things not to do. Don’t eat with women. Don’t be alone with women. Don’t look too long at a woman. Don’t go to places that tempt you. Don’t email women. Don’t talk to women on the phone. Don’t touch women. Don’t hug women. Don’t think about women. Some might even advise not to converse with women at all, or at least not without your wife present.
I’m being very general here, but you get the picture. The lists are often long, and they might vary from man to man depending on his particular proclivities and struggles. He's like the drunk who can’t be in the presence of alcohol and is bound by many “don’ts” in order to ward off temptation: Don’t go to parties. Don’t sit at the bar. Don’t eat with people who are drinking. Don’t go to the wedding where there is wine. Don’t drive on the street that goes by your favorite bar.
These lists are well and good, for what they are. This “negative virtue or piety” is often necessary for men who struggle with lust, who have not fostered self-control or mental strength, men still weak in the faith who are unable to take those thoughts about women and make them captive to Christ as they interact with women. So they avoid woman, a practice that is certainly necessary for those oppressed by lust. They are duly aware of the sinful inclinations within them and seek to put them to death. John Own captures this commitment well with the following statement:
When we realize a constant enemy of the soul abides within us, what diligence and watchfulness we should have! How woeful is the sloth and negligence then of so many who live blind and asleep to this reality of sin. There is an exceeding efficacy and power in the indwelling sin of believers, for it constantly inclines itself towards evil. We need to be awake, then, if our hearts would know the ways of God. Our enemy is not only upon us, as it was with Samson, but it is also in us.
Owen, in his work "Mortification of Sin," rightly urges the believer to guard his heart and weed out sin like a meticulous gardener protecting the health of his crops: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.” Indeed, this is wise advice.
The problem, however,—and this is the thesis of my series—is that too many Christian men in their rightful aims to overcome lust and to guard their hearts remain in a state of negative purity without moving toward positive virtue or purity: putting on the fruit of self-control and renewing the mind regarding thoughts of women so they can love as Christ loves. They never reach the point of being free to love women as they are meant to be loved. They focus on the weeds, but they never tend to the fruit, and it often withers on the vine.
Men often avoid what they think might be temptations—but are not temptations in and of themselves—because they are afraid of failing. This fear is legitimate, and God uses it to keep us from falling into sin. After all, like the Bible says, the devil prowls around us, seeking to devour. He knows our weaknesses and seeks to exploit them. We are beset by real temptations rising up within us. Faith doesn't change this reality. As Owen said, “Steadfastness in believing does not exclude all temptations from without. When we say a tree is firmly rooted, we do not say the wind never blows upon it.” Therefore, it is reasonable to avoid the devil. If you look into your own heart and know your own weaknesses, then you will know what you can and cannot handle, who you can and cannot talk to, and what you can and cannot see. This is wisdom in the fight against sin. But this is still negative purity. It, in itself, is not enough. It is, in a way, a kind of bondage if that is all you have, if that is all you’re aiming toward.
As we learn from Paul and from Christ himself, the Christian life and calling is so much more. The goal is not “do not sin” (negative purity)—a form of the law. The ultimate goal is “to love” (positive purity)—the fulfillment of the law. The goal before us is not repression, but redemption. The path is not shutting down the mind, but renewing the mind. A man’s thoughts should not be absent of women and female sexuality, but filled with right knowledge of women and female sexuality. A man’s life should not be avoidance of women, but meeting women with self-control. A man’s relations should not be rejection of women, but communion with women. A man’s desires should not be emptied of women, but fixed on the God-designed sexual beauty of women and their God-directed purposes.
As Paul writes to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy, THINK about these things” (4:8). Not much is more beautiful in this world than the glory of a woman as a woman. What God has called good, let no man call evil. And God has called woman, humanity, man, our sexualities, the masculine and feminine, very good. This goodness as part of the created order did not disappear with the Fall. Our hearts became sinful and our bodies suffered the consequences, but our physical forms, our sexuality, did not become evil.
Too many Christians act like dualists regarding nature and sin. Dualism is the philosophy that the spirit and body are separate; that the physical is evil while the spiritual is good. As Christians unconsciously fall into this thinking, they tend to see both the physical and spiritual as fallen and evil. Only when we’re saved are our spirits made good (or are being made good), but they still think the physical is evil, or at least they act like it even if they don't actually believe it. This makes Christians look at everything in God’s creation with suspicion, as if our physical nature, our biological makeup with its biological drives, is sinful. But God denies this. As David declares in Psalm 139:14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
When we fell, we did not lose our likeness of God. We lost our will to righteousness, our ability to be holy, but the goodness of God’s creative order was not lost, even as all have been corrupted by sin. Our hands, our feet, our breasts, our sexual organs, our eyes—all are still good. The mountains God formed, the seas, the skies, the animals—all good. What fell was man’s heart; his thinking became futile—and God’s good creation and even our bodies moan with the falling. Our natural appetites within this terrestrial sphere—hunger, thirst, biological sexual urges felt as impulses of attraction—were all affected by the Fall and can be twisted into sinful desires, but they are not essentially wicked. Are you sinning when you’re hungry and look at a bowl of fruit and want to eat it? No, of course not! Sin is when you lust for it out of gluttony—something that is not inevitable because we still have some semblance of reason in our fallen condition, not due to our ability but to God's grace.
This point needs clarity because I don't want you to assume that I am denying the effects of the Fall on human nature or man's corruption by sin. I am being very specific here about biological urges—natural sexual attractions—as part of our condition as human beings. Even in the natural order of social engagement—interactions that are not purely biological—we can still "do good," though sin still affects every part of our minds and hearts. While our human nature is fallen in sin, this does not mean that our natural abilities cannot act according to a "worldly good," such as the flourishing of human society. This is true for unbelievers and believers. "If the Gentiles have the righteousness of the law naturally engraven on their minds, we certainly cannot say that they are altogether blind as to the rule of life," John Calvin wrote. We can do good acts, love our neighbor, create beautiful art, form sound syllogisms, make good laws, etc. But none of these aim toward an ultimate good, the celestial good, the true and perfect righteousness of God that we originally had in the Garden.
When the Bible says that "none do good," this is what is meant: none do good in comparison to God even as we might do some earthly goods. All is tainted by sin, and the fact that we can do any good at all is still based and sustained by God's common grace. We don't descend into gluttony at the very sight of food because of God's grace, though our need for food is not sinful in itself. Men don't want to ravish every woman they see or even try to act on that desire, because of God's grace—though biological attractions between males and females are not sinful in themselves. Only God keeps us from twisting everything we are into utter depravity. "Had God not so spared us, our revolt would have carried along with it the entire destruction of nature," Calvin wrote.
"We may see how human nature, notwithstanding of its fall, is still adorned by God with excellent endowments," Calvin continues. "Use of this knowledge continued.... we may see that these endowments bestowed on individuals are intended for the common benefit of mankind.... Some portion of human nature is still left. This, whatever be the amount of it, should be ascribed entirely to the divine indulgence." Likewise, he says, "Some principle of civil order is impressed on all. And this is ample proof, that, in regard to the constitution of the present life, no man is devoid of the light of reason." This knowledge, these natural instincts, this sense of social good—all gifts of God to a fallen humanity—can do nothing to save man, and they are not a "true good" all their own, but they are beneficial nonetheless. They should not be elevated to being more than they are—or cast down as being less.
Relating to natural impulses of attraction between the sexes and a response to the beauty of God's created order, these are certainly stained by sin, and we must guard against twisting them into disorder. But neither can we treat them—in and of themselves—as evil. Even our fallen minds can perceive some good in this. "The human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator," Calvin wrote. "If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver." Sin corrupts the good, but God enables us to overcome the corruption. Unbelievers do this only by God's common grace for the benefit of society, and believers do this by God's renewing Spirit for his glory.
As we grow in our Christian faith and our minds and hearts renewed by the power of the Spirit, we begin to see God and his creation as they ought to be seen. We see sin in all its darkness, but we see God and the good he has created in all its light. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” I think it is a fair extension of this statement that they will also see God’s creation for what it truly is. The problem with sin is that it distorts everything. It twists everything. The good is called bad. The light is called darkness. The sweet is called bitter.
In application to our discussion on lust and female sexuality, we too often call what is good evil. Female sexuality is good. It is what we as women do with our own sexuality that is evil, not our sexuality itself. It is how men lust after our sexuality, making us an object to be obtained instead of a subject to be loved, that is evil, not our sexuality itself.
The goal, therefore, is to move beyond lust, to progress beyond negative virtue, and move into love and positive virtue. This happens by renewing our minds. We not only take off the rags of sin, but we put on the robes of righteousness. That righteousness is fulfilled in love. We cannot grow in love if we do not actually know and love others. A man cannot fulfill his calling and obey the command of Christ to love women if he doesn’t know women; interact with women; embrace a woman; look a woman in the eyes; converse with a woman; be willing to receive advice, private instruction, and exhortation from a woman; respect the mind of a woman; and come together in all things with women as the early church in Acts did. A man who is shut behind barricades of rules and regulations—much-needed for a time to work on gaining self-mastery over lust—cannot live as Jesus did, in full communion with women. A man who is not free from lust in his mind and merely represses it cannot grow in authentic love.
Part 3: Understanding Temptation
A failing of too many in the church is to treat negative virtue as the height of Christian piety. It is not. It is only the beginning. It is along the right path to love—for love is indeed the goal—but it is only a benchmark on the path, and very much at the beginning of it. It is still a state of immaturity as the novice in mastering lust is in a weak state. It’s better than indulging fleshly desires, but it is not full Christian maturity or manhood. It is not realized spiritual strength and self-control. The fruits of love must blossom even as the weeds are burned. Sinclair Ferguson puts it this way:
The negative task of putting sin to death will not be accomplished in isolation from the positive call of the Gospel to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). Paul spells this out in Colossians 3:12–17. Sweeping the house clean simply leaves us open to a further invasion of sin. But when we understand the “glorious exchange” principle of the Gospel of grace, then we will begin to make some real advance in holiness. As sinful desires and habits are not only rejected, but exchanged for Christ-like graces (3:12) and actions (3:13); as we are clothed in Christ’s character and His graces are held together by love (v. 14), not only in our private life but also in the church fellowship (vv. 12–16), Christ’s name and glory are manifested and exalted in and among us (3:17).
Why then do so many men caught in this moralistic web presume that negative piety alone is Christian maturity? I ask this realizing that, like all things in the Christian life, this is a process. It isn’t like we move from negative virtue to positive virtue in a sudden lurch, shedding all our constraints and embracing liberty in the Spirit in one fell swoop. As a man dealing with lust and learning to embrace female sexuality in all its God-given glory, you might be able to let down one barrier (talking to a woman on the phone) while, in good conscience, need to keep another in place (not hugging a woman). This is why I want to focus on the mindset. If the mindset is solid—that you need to be heading toward the goal of relationship, love, and self-mastery—then everything else falls into place, and timing is relative.
I believe this entrapment to negative virtue regarding lust and relating to women has to do with several errors of thinking regarding guarding the heart. As I clearly stated in the first section, we are called to guard our hearts and minds in Christ. We are to cut off our right hand if it causes us to sin. In areas where others are free, we are sometimes not because of our own histories or proclivities or circumstances, and therefore we must be obedient to our own consciences. And in these matters, fellow Christians need to respect our consciences and not cause us to stumble. But in the matter of being settled in an immature mindset regarding “guarding our hearts”—as too many Christian men are—this is born of several errors.
One error is a wrong understanding of the nature of lust. Because many in the church are not well-taught on the nature of sexuality as God designed it and have instead bought into a dualistic or reductionistic view of sexuality (especially female sexuality), they see femaleness and the erotic nature of it as bad in itself. They might also wrongly assume that women are somehow more spiritually defective than men, often misunderstanding Paul’s statements that women are the “weaker vessel” and that “Eve was deceived.” Without going into a full exegesis of these passages, let it suffice to say that neither is stating that women are more corrupt than men or less able to be rational and righteous.
The weaker vessel verse, when you use a proper hermeneutic, is speaking of women being physically weaker and in need of a man’s gentle oversight and strong protection. The verse about Eve being tempted first has to do with Paul’s argument about headship. Satan didn’t go to Adam because he was the head; instead, he went to his subordinate—always a better scheme if you want to bring down the head. Additionally, however, I do believe this goes to the nature of women as well, but not as a matter of her being less honorable, righteous, or even rational (we are all made in God’s image, and morality and rationality are intrinsic to that nature for all human beings). Women, however, tend to be more relational (which is not the opposite of rational), more accommodating, and more communal, thus being open to more possibilities. These are strengths for women in the right context. Satan played on these strengths, twisting them into a weakness (as he is prone to do)—and it worked!
As stated above, men too often see women in a more dualistic way, casting the female form as somehow a temptation in and of itself and maybe even bad, especially if her sexual form is revealed to a degree—within the realm of modesty in this modern era—and not hidden under piles of clothing. There is nothing biblical about this view. As stated in the previous section, women's bodies are made good. Their female sexuality is good and part of the image of God. Women, in and of themselves, are not temptations. As the Scripture says, temptation comes in when you are dragged away by your own evil desires. Jesus touches on this theme when he says it’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:11).
I have one caveat here. This does not mean that we can’t actually be tempted by others. Like I said in the introduction, a man can be tempted by a woman, just as Jesus was tempted by Satan and Eve was also tempted. These, however, are acts done on the part of evil people to get others to sin. Alcohol does not tempt. It simply is. A person is tempted when their desires drag them away. A person is tempted by another person when they lure them to drink alcohol against their conscience. I will even go so far as to say a nude work of art, like those by Michelangelo, do not tempt, for the artist is simply portraying a good—the human form. It only becomes lust and sin when a person’s evil desires drag them into it. Likewise, nakedness that is used by the “artist” (I use that term loosely) to tempt and to lure someone into desire and lust makes the “artist” is the tempter. Pornography has one purpose—lust. Seductive cam girls luring men to desire their bodies are tempting men. Good men in these instances do what Jesus did with Satan—they resist the temptation.
Understanding lust means you understand the nature of the temptation, but it also means understanding what lust is in the heart—and more particularly what it is in the mind. Because human sexuality is God-designed, human attraction to the opposite sex is God-designed. Men are made to be attracted to women. Women are made to be attracted to men. This relationship is natural and good—it's part of being human.
Having this nature, this human sexual identity, means that when a man finds a woman beautiful and feels that natural pull of attraction, he is simply experiencing his own healthy male sexuality. This happens even with married men. They don't stop being sexual males when they get married. They will notice other women. It's just now, in marriage, their erotic desires are directed toward one woman. Sin arises when what is natural to the human condition is corrupted by sinful choices in the mind and the will.
Lust enters in when evil desires that are contrary to God’s order cause the man to look at the woman’s sexuality as an object to be possessed and used, when a man's natural attractions are twisted into imaginings of sex with the woman. Sproul spoke about this in a study on the biblical sex ethic, urging his listeners to understand the difference between a natural desire for a woman and lust:
Lust is an intensification, a weighty kind of desire, a desire that has run away with itself, a desire that has become a preoccupation. To lust after a woman is to burn for her inwardly, to want her physically—when you have no right to. Now, you can control this. You can notice that a woman is beautiful, you can even notice that she evokes a certain desire in you. But how do you control that? When does it become lust? Luther said you can’t stop birds from flying around your head, but you can stop birds from nesting in your hair. When the New Testament talks about temptation, it talks about taking an idea and taking it into one’s self and nurturing it and feeding it and begin to become controlled by it and have a fixation on it. That’s what lust is all about.
Women are not made to be objects for men to possess or use in men’s minds or in actuality. Women are subjects to be loved. They are not a means to a man’s own end to gratify his imaginings and desires. They are an end in themselves—to be loved—as all human beings are to be loved, not rejecting or maligning their sexual identity, but accepting and celebrating it as integral to their full personhood.
The problem is too many Christian men have been misled into being suspicious not only of women as temptresses but of their own sexuality. They see a beautiful woman, they come face to face with female sexuality, and they are attracted by that biological impulse. This wrongly terrifies them, and they think these attractions are themselves lust. So instead of mastering himself as a man and rightly ordering his thinking, he either blames the woman or shuts himself off from the woman (while often blaming the woman). What a man should do when he feels a fleeting attraction for a woman and her sexuality is to take that thought and direct toward the good—recognize it as part of God’s beautiful design of the sexes, look at the woman as God made her in his image, and treat her as someone to be respected and loved as a woman.
If a man’s mind is occupied with “good thoughts” of female sexuality, thoughts that are “in Christ,” and according to God’s design, then he has no room for lust to take hold. This is an important point. When a Christian man sees that attractions can be twisted into lust and is therefore aware of it, he might, in some cases, admit that he is a very weak man who needs to turn away for a time. But this creates a vacuum regarding thoughts of female sexuality. The room is swept empty; it’s good that there’s no lust there, but it is still empty. The room needs to be filled with good, loving thoughts about God’s creature—this beautiful woman who stands before him. Those thoughts lead to celebration and freedom. They lead to love and respect. They lead to healthy relationships.
Part 4: Insecurity, Legalism, and Fear
Too often, insecure wives, who also have these wrong views about sexuality and lust, put their husbands in bondage by making them feel guilty about their God-given natural attractions to the female form and feminine beauty. They notice that their husband’s eyes light up a bit at the sight of a beautiful woman, and they become jealous, insecure, and even angry. They, then, under the guise of godliness and purity, urge their husbands to barricade themselves behind walls of negative virtue (and sometimes actual walls). They look upon the beautiful woman with suspicion and harbor in their hearts resentment and envy. There is nothing biblical about this, and I’m afraid too many men are bound by their wives’ weaknesses, manipulations, and spiritual immaturity rather than growing in maturity themselves when it comes to their interaction with other women.
Once again, I must make a caveat. If a man is married to a woman who is weak and insecure in this way, the answer isn’t that he tell her to deal with it and go along his merry way exercising his Christian liberty by interacting in wholesome ways with other women. If you are married to an insecure woman who lives in fear and distrust, you are called to love her and to sacrifice your Christian liberty for the sake of her conscience and her weakness without being manipulated by her. Paul said he would give up everything not to make his weaker brother or sister stumble.
This, admittedly, is a hard place for a marriage to be, and it’s difficult for the man who wants to enjoy the delights of Christian liberty by communing in love with women. But, out of love for his wife, it’s something he must do. This, however, doesn’t mean the weakness should be ignored. The woman needs to be freed of her fear and her error in thinking. Her mind needs to be renewed about God-designed sexuality and what it means to love others. If the husband has done things in the past to lose her trust or if he is doing in anything in the present, that needs to be dealt with so the relationship is strengthened. Security and trust need to be fostered.
The wife's weakness in these instances needs to be seen for what it is even as the man gives up his liberty for her, but the couple should not remain in this state. The husband is tasked with leading his wife in righteousness for her sake and his own. It is not good for a woman to remain fearful, weak, and suspicious. She must take control over her own self, just as men need to take control of themselves, by coming to right knowledge that leads to right actions and loving relationships in the community of Christ.
Another cause of remaining in negative virtue is moralism or general legalism—having a form of godliness but no power, being bound by the law and not being free in Christ, and forsaking God’s promises that he is making us new. Too many Christians live in bondage to the law and do not experience the freedom of life in the Spirit, bearing fruit for his glory—fruit that is focused on loving others. As stated before, if your aim is not love, if your goal is not to honor God’s people, to be in community in the body of Christ, then you are not growing spiritually. You remain under the yoke of the law with no freedom in Christ. As Paul clearly says, this freedom is not “to go on sinning so that grace may abound.” By no means! This is freedom from sin and the law is so you can live as Christ, abide in him, and love as he loves.
Finally, the trap of negative purity posing as mature piety is also born of unbelief and a spirit of fear. I have heard more than one man throw up his hands in desperation and say, “I simply don’t believe we can ever be free of lust in this life, so I need to separate myself in a form of asceticism, to keep from sinning.” While we will certainly always struggle with sin as long as we are in these mortal bodies, this does not mean we can have no victory over particular sins. God promises that victory, though some people will struggle much more than others. He says that whatever we ask, he will give it to us—and that is in the context of pruning sin and putting on the fruits of the Spirit. He promises that we can be free of sins, that we can overcome drunkenness, gluttony, thievery, gossip—all of them. The sexual sins are no different—all of them. They’re just harder because of how we’re made, the power of our God-given erotic desires that Satan loves to twist, and the culture we live in that is saturated in sex and promotes it.
If you believe in Christ, you must believe he has the power to change your heart, to renew a right spirit within you, and to set your mind on things above. Like I said before, the pure in heart will not only see God for who he is and love him, but will see God’s image-bearers for who they are and love them. I know it might be hard to imagine, but you can be free of lust—so much so that when you look at a woman, you see her in all her glory and delight in it without sinning.
This change will have a profound and life-changing effect not only on you but the women you come in contact with. As you look upon her as she truly is—as a beautiful female made in God’s image—and as you interact with her in love, she will see herself reflected in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in your respect. That will draw her closer to God, humble her, and create in her a desire to be even more conformed to his likeness in every way. This is the path of authentic love that can't be attained by repression. What greater gift can you give another person than to master your own self so that you can love and give them this gift—the very gift Christ has given us by restoring a broken relationship that was once shattered by sin but now restored?
Part 5: Unintended Consequences of Negative Piety
In the previous section, we looked at some of the causes of remaining in the world of “don’t” instead of progressing in the mindset of “do.” Now I’d like to issue some warnings relating to this immature state in the Christian life.
When this negative mindset is set up as the height of Christian piety and the ultimate goal of the Christian man in this sexualized world, the consequences are devastating. For starters, it breeds self-righteousness, prudishness, and legalism—a terrible bondage to law that pervades the man’s life and extends outwardly to his family. His sons are raised with this mindset and bound to it, as are his daughters. This inhibits children from growing in godliness and a healthy understanding of erotic relationships between men and women in courtship (or dating) and marriage. It often stunts them from developing mastery over their impulses and merely hides them behind a wall of “don’ts.” Self-control is not instilled through training because no opportunities are provided to attain it. Everyone is shut down and shut in.
For the girls, they develop a spirit of suspicion about their own sex, eye other women with competitive jealousy, and see themselves as somehow flawed just by being women. This causes them to become insecure young ladies and bitter, insecure wives. Or, at worst, for both the boys and the girls, it fosters within them a spirit of desperation that bursts forth in rebellion and sexual immorality. This is why some of the most sexually immoral people you might have known were raised in repressive and oppressive homes that either never talked about the beauty of human sexuality or outright denigrated it.
Outside the home and in the church, as men cloak themselves in this false piety born of good intentions, they often degenerate in their views of women, cutting themselves off from other members of the body of Christ, and developing self-righteous attitudes of superiority and even misogyny. Their wives play a part in this, finding comfort in their husband’s immature masculinity and moralism and judging women according to their own standards of morality rather than God’s. This creates division and even hostility within the church and society.
As an anti-feminist in the 21st century, I have to confess that I understand how and why feminism got a foothold in American culture. While it was certainly born of a multitude of sins stemming from women's pride, one cause needs to be put at the feet of stagnant negative purity and the dualistic and condemning thoughts that can come out of it. There are simply too many instances in the church throughout human history and in America’s past in which women were (and are) looked upon with the suspicion I’ve been describing. The effect has been self-loathing on the part of some women instead of celebration, desperate despair in being dehumanized and reduced by a man's lusts, and a sense of isolation created by men (and weak women) who see women as the enemy and the embodiment of temptation.
This has left women angry and frustrated—feelings that have caused many to reject the church and the gospel of Christ. They equate the Christian religion with repression, oppression, moralism, and suspicion. This criticism of the church is not unfounded. A well-intended aim to take hold of the sin of lust went awry and degenerated into hateful assumptions. This is a fact Christians simply can’t deny and must own. It is a fact that must be rectified, not for our own sakes, but for the sake of lost souls and for the glory of God.
I’ve mentioned a number of times the “spirit of suspicion.” This is an evil born of fear and error. Love cannot grow in the midst of fear and untruths. It cannot grow in the ground of distrust. While we all know that every human being is corrupted by sin, this does not mean we have been dehumanized, and it doesn’t give license to dehumanize one another. We are each still made in the image of God, to be respected, honored, valued, and loved—even in our fallenness. How much more for those who have been saved by Christ, engrafted into his body, and raised to a new life that is supposed to foster love for others, including our neighbors outside the church? We cannot love if we’re bound by a spirit of suspicion, because it robs us of the freedom to embrace the very people we are called to love. There is no love in bondage, and Christ set us free to love.
Christ’s teaching on this point is clear: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34). Paul says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, but rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). This is the goal—be free to love! As stated before, you cannot love if you aren’t in relationships with those around you. You can’t love if you remain hidden behind your walls. You can’t love if you never touch those you are called to love. We are to love not with words or speech, calling over the wall to those passing by, “Hey, by the way, I love you!” No! We are called to love “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Part of that truth is knowing one another as God knows us and seeing one another as God sees us, looking into the faces of men and women through the eyes of God, not through the distorted lenses of sin.
It is not an option for the Christian to fail in this. John says in his first letter that “whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love his brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (4:20). The spirit of suspicion is a spirit of hate, no matter the excuses of “godliness.” The wife who looks with suspicion at the woman talking to her husband is not showing love but hate. The man who sees a beautiful woman and feels those natural pulls of attraction to God’s creature yet calls them lust and casts her as a temptress is not showing love but hate. The Christian couple who out of suspicion and judgment refuses to invite the divorced woman or the wife with an absent unbelieving husband into their home for a meal is not showing love but hate. The Christian businessman who is too suspicious of women to hire them is not showing love but hate.
The elder or deacon who hurries by a woman in church without respectful engagement—a woman who can share much wisdom—because he’s suspect of her beauty is not showing love but hate. The man who can’t talk to a woman without his wife standing next to him because they’re both suspicious is not showing love but hate. The man who responds to an innocent email from a sister in Christ by copying his wife’s email into the thread without explanation to the woman is acting under a spirit of suspicion. It is not love but hate.
On this last example, it is perfectly acceptable as a measure of accountability to give your wife access to all your emails, but it is inappropriate and suspicious to attach your wife to a private email from a woman who has asked for counsel, acted with propriety, and given no cause for suspicion. By attaching the wife to the email, you are bringing the woman into your circle of accountability that should be between only you and your wife, and doing it simply because she is a woman. This is showing suspicion—and the woman feels it and is hurt by it.
If you are in the midst of negative piety and one of your rules is not to engage in email conversations with women, then that needs to be told to the woman—with you putting the reasons on yourself and in no way blaming the woman. This goes for men who simply ignore emails from women, especially men in ministry. This isn't godliness. It's rude. If you can't correspond with women, don't ignore them, tell them so. And work on getting out of your negative piety so you can freely communicate with your sisters in Christ.
I could give you one example after another, but my point is clear. Is your motivation out of suspicion or out of wisdom with the aim of love? Is your goal to be like Christ or to remain in your fearful condition, bound by sin in your mind, relegated to negative piety without any true love? If Christ is your model, think of how he interacted with women—and in a time when the traditions of men forbade it, traditions born of suspicion not God’s holiness.
Christ taught women and men the same and didn’t divide them into separate groups. He associated with them freely, as did his disciples who served side by side with women. Christ was surrounded by female disciples, including those who used to be prostitutes. He let women touch him, wash his feet with their long hair, anoint him with oil—sinful women and women of ill repute. He ate and drank with them. He talked privately with them. He discussed sexual relations with them. Women remained with him when many men fled. They were the first resurrection eyewitnesses. A woman, Mary Magdalene, was his intimate companion. He was friends with Mary and Martha, eating with them, teaching them in their home, and grieving with them. He sat with a woman at the well in Samaria when his disciples refused—a sexually immoral woman. He loved women without suspicion.
“Ah,” you might say, “but that’s Jesus. I’m not Jesus.” No, you’re not, but Jesus was tempted in every way you are. You are also called to be like Jesus, emulate him in your relationships, and love others as he has loved you. He is your standard, not your fallenness. He is your goal, not your own sense of piety. He is the model of love, not your own shadows of love that don’t amount to love at all.
If you fail to let lust truly die so you can live with authentic love, you will never be free of sin. And sin has a subversive way of weaving its way into your soul. The man who merely barricades himself from lust but fails to move into love in the freedom of Christ will often experience degeneracy in his own spirit. His desires that he truly has not tamed will seep out in unhealthy, sinful, and perverted ways. He’ll sneak to watch porn, he’ll look at cam girls online, he'll join chatrooms under an anonymous name, he’ll call hotlines for sex talk—all in private so no one will know, even as he outwardly shuns women in every other area of his life.
This degeneracy happens because sin never lies dormant. The empty house must be filled with righteousness, or Satan will fill it with all manner of sin, and it will be filled to an even greater degree than before the man started to “guard his heart.” Negative virtue alone has no real power, and without the true power of Christ and the putting on of maturity and self-control, you will either become hardened in self-righteousness and legalism or you’ll rebel, breaking free of the rules in the worst way and becoming the adulterer you always feared you’d become.
Isolation breeds the worst forms of wickedness, and rules and regulations without movement toward integration and “sincere delight” in the full community of Christ sap the soul that isn’t receiving and giving love. Suspicion morphs into bitterness, and moralism transforms into hardness. There’s no joy in such a life, no celebration in relationships with others, no godly ecstasy in Christ’s gift of freedom. You can’t breathe, and we’re made to breathe, to experience joy, and to be who you are truly meant to be. If you’re not becoming who God designed you to be, but only hedging off what you ought not to be, you are living an inauthentic life before God. That is a burden we’re not meant to bear, an existence we’re not meant to live. Often, the result is more brokenness and even apostasy.
Part 6: Moving Beyond Lust Toward Love
How then can anyone conquer lust with love and move past negative piety to live in the wonder and fullness of positive piety? As I've stated at the beginning, incorporating the “don’ts” in your life is a necessary first step and one that might take a long time to get past. But in this process (and it is indeed a process), your mindset and your effort must be toward true love and the power that entails. This happens through the practice of self-mastery and self-control. You can’t learn self-control if you don’t actually practice it. This might sound risky, and it can be, but you are not alone in the effort. If you are a believer, you have the Spirit of Christ inside of you, interceding for you, praying for you even when you don’t know how to pray, encouraging you, pruning away the sin, and watering the fruits of the Spirit that blossom into Christian maturity.
You also have the grace of Christ covering you. You might fail as you strive to become the man of God you are called to become in relation to women, but such failures are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ covers you. Once again, this grace is not license to sin; it is grace to love. It is grace that empowers you to grow if you truly have a changed heart, if you have put your faith solely in Christ and not in your works. You have been freed from a spirit of fear because of his kindness. It is by God’s grace that you’re saved, not by works, so that you cannot boast. And if you are saved by grace alone, you will not lose that grace because you sin along the path of sanctification. If you don’t have that hope, that faith in Christ, and that resting place, you will lose heart, and the devil will use your doubt and fear to keep you in bondage and unable to grow into Christian maturity.
The path of sanctification is one you walk with the Spirit. You aren't carried along, and you don't walk it alone. It's cooperative. This means you put forth the effort, but you do it trusting in Christ, looking for his empowerment, and praying for his strength. This practice of self-mastery needs to happen in all areas of your life if you want to overcome lust. Guarding your heart against lust alone isn't enough. If you have no self-control in most areas, you won’t have it when it comes to something as powerful as lust. If you can’t control what you eat or drink or how you speak, you won’t be able to control your thoughts about women. You can’t have demons running amuck in half the house and expect to keep them out of the other.
When you meet with other men and discuss these topics, don’t just leave it at accountability for your actions, though this is helpful and wise. Talk about what God says about women, the glorious purposes of their sexuality, the love Christ has for women and how men need to emulate that, and even the glorious purposes of the female form—not as an object but as a subject made in God’s image. Meditate on what that means in the community of Christ, in marriage, and in friendship. Christ was friends with women. The disciples were friends with women. This doesn’t mean you have an intimate female bestie, for we still can’t deny the natural drives and impulses of men and women to be physically connected. But men can develop, in healthy, godly ways, friendships with women, friendships that are God-honoring not self-indulgent. A famous friendship I've always admired was that between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They corresponded with each other often, and we are blessed by their letters. What a stellar example of a godly friendship between a man and a woman.
Another example is even more instructive. The apostle John wrote his second epistle to a woman: "To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth." This preeminent lady opened her home for the church to meet, and John wrote to encourage her in love, discernment, and truth. Contrary to some commentators who erroneously interpret "the lady" as "the church," she was a real woman, with real children, and a real servant in the church whom John hoped to visit and talk with "face to face," so their "joy may be complete." Matthew Henry describes her as "a noble Christian matron." John Gill writes that "the elect lady is the person [John] writes unto; by whom is designed not the church of Christ, since such a way of speaking is unusual; and besides, he speaks of coming to see her face to face, and of the children of her elect sister: but some particular person, some rich, as well as gracious woman of John's acquaintance."
Jesus and his disciples modeled how men and women are to interact with one another, and none of them showed a fearful prudishness in that relationship. This, of course, does not mean we should fail to guard our hearts, a point affirmed throughout this discourse. But we are to love, be free of our sins and sinful thoughts, and renew our minds so we can engage freely with one another. That should be our goal whether we're single or married.
If you are married, pray with your wife and ask her to grow with you in this matter, with an openness and freedom to talk about female sexuality. Work on loving the women you meet and know—together. Come to a shared understanding of the difference between lust and natural attraction and admiration so you drive out the spirit of suspicion. Root out that hateful spirit so you can love others and love one another with complete trust. Delight in the “wife of your youth,” focus your erotic desires on her alone, so that you don’t lust after other women. Keep her close in your heart, in your mind, in your spirit, and in your bed. This relationship will do more to protect you against sinful thoughts than any denialism or asceticism. If she fills your heart, there is no room for another. Likewise, if love of Christ fills your soul, sin will find it difficult to gain a foothold.
If you’re single and long to have sex and experience the joy of sexual union, pray for a godly wife. Be patient and wait on the Lord, but in the meantime, meditate on the divinely crafted glories of womanhood—qualities that go beyond sex. Your mother, your grandmother, your sisters—all women fashioned by God in beauty. See their uniqueness, the treasures they are as different from you. When it comes to other women, see them outside of the sexual frame and refuse to only focus on the sexual dimension, though that will be there.
Too many men have bought into the lie that they can see women only as sexual. This is simply not true—not for the Christian, in particular. It’s true that men and women feel that pull, for that is how they’re made, but this isn’t the only aspect of their relationship. There is so much more to human beings and human interaction. We are, after all, subjects made by God to love, not objects to be used.
Growing in grace is certainly a path of “don’ts,” but the “dos” have to be there. To grow in grace, you need to walk in grace and that means staying close to the Giver of grace. Praying, meditating on God’s Word, reading and studying the Bible and humbling yourself before the One who made you and saved you. I remember hearing a sermon by a famous evangelist and he said people often came to him complaining that they weren't growing in godliness. They were burdened by sin, depression, and discouragement. They couldn't understand why. When he asked them if they spent time every day in prayer, in meditation, and in the Word of God, they said no. How then, he asked, if you're not drinking from the well of God's grace can you expect to be filled? He was so very right. We complain that we're not being freed of our sins, yet we spend no real time with the One who has promised to do just that.
As stated above, one thing that is extremely important in this journey against lust is the renewal of the mind. That means flexing those muscles with good thoughts, true thoughts, and right knowledge. Don’t just avoid the temptations around you. Think about and meditate on sexuality as God designed it. Think of how God made Eve, the good purposes of her body, the beauty of her sexuality, the magnificence of her nature. Grow in love for who women are, not who you have reduced them to be through your lust or fear.
If you’re married, have sex with your wife, enjoying her body as God designed it and letting her enjoy yours. Don’t reduce her to a tool for the expression of your pent-up lusts. Love her, delight in her, honor her, and enjoy her sexuality because she was made for you—to be one, body and soul. If your wife is unwilling, get the counseling you need to heal the brokenness in your marriage, because I can assure you that if you’re living as a monk in your marriage, it will be very difficult to overcome lust outside of it.
Being made new in Christ isn’t easy but it’s especially hard, if not impossible, if all you’re doing is dying to self. You need to be awakening to a new life as well, becoming alive in Christ. What is cut off must be replaced with something good, something substantive, not distractions. If you’re cutting off lustful thoughts about women, you need to be engrafting good, wholesome thoughts about women.
As stated in the introduction, but it bears repeating here, if you are in a position of ministry and you have so little self-control that you cannot interact with women (and again, I’m not talking about avoiding appearances of impropriety for the sake of your ministry), then you should likely not be in ministry. Paul tells Timothy that one of the marks of an elder is self-control. Self-control is not attained by negative virtue alone. If you’re in a house with no food, you’re not exercising self-control by not eating. Self-control is attained when you can go into the candy store and not eat what’s on the shelf. If only more ministers focused on real self-control instead of false practices of negative piety that are merely dams holding back sin, we might not have the scandals we often have in the church today. If there's no release, the dam will burst, and all manner of sin will come pouring out.
Finally, in this movement toward Christian maturity and fully developed biblical manhood, don’t deceive yourself about what liberty allows. Know your limits, get to know your own conscience, and do not put yourself in situations you can’t handle. Don’t be like the daffodils in late winter anxious for the spring and sticking their heads out of the soil on the first sunny day only to be killed off by frost that inevitably comes. Be wise, discerning, and know yourself—but know yourself with the continual aim to be the full man of God you have been created and recreated to be. Have the mindset that the goal is to live freely in Christ and to love others as you commune with them, enjoying the great diversity and individuality found in the body of Christ.
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). In all things love, for this is the greatest commandment: to love God. The second is like it: to love others. This love is not self-seeking, fearful, or suspicious. It is filled with grace, for it "does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:6-8).
Denise McAllister is a cultual commentator, Christian apologist, and author of "What Men Want to Say to Women (But Can't)." You can follow Denise on Twitter @McallisterDen and Gab @DeniseMcAllister
Big Tech censorship has been expanding beyond just Conservatives… Christians are next!
While many of us have been warning about the coming persecution of Christians, I don’t think any of us thought that it would be ramping up so quickly. While we are luckily not facing physical persecution yet, such as beatings or death, we are facing censorship, deplatforming and even jail time in some instances. These are just the birth pangs of what is coming next.
While we still have a voice here at The GateKeepers, we are doing everything that we can to bypass the algorithmic walls put up by Big Tech and the Social Media companies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Our videos used to get thousands of views across all of our platforms, while now they are being throttled and hardly getting distributed at all. An added wrinkle is that, while our video content is seeing lower views, traffic to our website has never been higher. Over the past year we’ve seen a 700% increase in traffic, and it’s been amazing to experience this kind of growth. Because of this, we’ll be launching GKTV very soon, hosting all of our shows exclusively on our platform.
While The GateKeepers started out as nothing more than a blog for me to post my articles, it has now expanded into a podcast network featuring fifteen shows, a publishing company that has published three books over the past year and we are now hosting conferences on a regular basis. We’ve seen the addition of contributors to The GateKeepers such as Denise McAllister, Pastor Cary Gordon, Pastor Ken Peters, Dr Mike Spaulding, Dr Bobby Lopez and many other amazing Christian leaders. Our lineup of shows has expanded, as well, featuring shows such as The Shining Light Podcast, Conversations with Jeff, The Big Brown Gadfly, Battlefront: SouthGate and The Verum Monitae Report with Dr Mike Spaulding, in addition the the several other shows we also carry on The GateKeepers.
While we’ve seen some amazing growth and expansion, we are also working hard to make this be a long-term play, and with that comes with how to fund our work here. I’ve intentionally not turned The GateKeepers into a non-profit organization because I don’t want to become beholden to the government, and I also don’t want to be focused on sending out fundraising letters constantly begging for money like most non-profit ministries do.
Instead, we have our online book store, are hosting online conferences and have our Plugged In membership program. Right now we are funded exclusively through these three different avenues. We are especially excited about our Plugged In membership, as this brings so much added value to you as a thank you for supporting our work here at The GateKeepers.
Becoming a Plugged In member provides access to the weekly episode of The GateKeepers Podcast, the monthly episode of Connected, free access to all of our online conferences, the recordings from previous online conferences and 30% off in The GK Store. If you would like to support us by becoming a Plugged In member, click here.
However, we’ve also been getting a lot of requests from supporters asking how they can donate to help support The GateKeepers. We are extremely grateful for these requests, as this will help us to expand even further and provide more quality Biblical content. If you would like to help support to The GateKeepers, you can donate through PayPal here.