This post was originally published April 15, 2011.
1. Run away. Paul tells Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). Joseph employed this admirable technique when dealing with Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:12), and he did not know that in running from her arms, he was actually running toward a throne. This was not made immediately obvious to him, but it was a key element in that story. Would you excel in your work? Would you stand before kings? Would you be entrusted with great things? Then run away from every breach of sexual trust. You are running toward a high calling.
2. Don’t run away. There is a kind of fastidious “denial” of lust that just pours gasoline on the fire (Rom. 7:7). Putting a pressure cooker lid on and cinching it down tight — while keeping the heat on — is a good way to get beans on the ceiling. See my post Dealing With Nuisance Lust, which you can check out here.
3. Don’t get everything backwards. Remember that there will be a natural tendency to apply #1 when you should apply #2, and #2 when you should apply #1. Study your lusts. Undertake this study with the full knowledge that your lusts are liars, and so is the devil. Look at your lusts instead of looking with them. When you look with your lusts, you will see many curvaceous delights. When you look at your lusts, all you can see is a little chimp with bright red lipstick on. Find out what’s actually going on. This is no contradiction.
Should we answer a fool according to his folly, or not? It depends on the circumstance (Prov. 26:4-5). If you learn how to study your lusts, you will soon discover that porn is a bundle of catechetical lies. Study your lusts (and not the object of your lust), and you will come to see the lying trick that makes porn attractive.
4. Make careful distinctions. Distinguish between mere physical appetite, which is certainly part of this equation, and lust, which is the foundational culprit. There is no such thing as a biological need to break God’s law, and your “members which are on the earth” want to break God’s law (Col. 3:5). That’s the whole point. That’s what makes it attractive in the first place. Biological appetite must be directed and disciplined (1 Thess. 4:4), while lust must be killed (Rom. 8:13). Don’t capture your chief lust, and then act like Ahab did, inviting Benhadad up into his chariot (1 Kings 20:33-34). This is a basic lesson of sexual ethics — never invite defeated lusts up into your chariot.
5. Recognize that lust is wired up to quite a few other attitudes of yours that you probably don’t think of as sexual at all. But lust is not just a straight line desire (as the physical appetite is), but is rather part of a complex web of tangled relationships, competitions, envies, resentments, discontents, strivings, comparings, and sidelong glancing. This complex web involves lots of other people — your father, your mother, your brothers, your sisters, your friends, your foes — all of them connected in some mysterious way to that unruly creature in your loins. Fights come from lusts (Jas. 4:1), and lusts come from fights. Driven by lust, masturbation is not a solo act. Everybody is involved — some as victims, others as co-perpetrators, and some as both. Lust is therefore inescapably social.
6. Lusts are connected to everything else, but so is self-control. Virtues and vices are like grapes — they come in bunches. The fruit (singular) of the Spirit is nine-fold — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control (Gal. 5:22). Just as lust goes with envy, strife, discontent, and so on, so self-control goes with patience, kindness, and joy. Godly discipline is not hermetically sealed into one little compartment of your life. It affects everything, and spreads to everything. Godly discipline expands and grows. When you get up early to study, when you take on the kind of job that creates calluses, when you run three miles daily, you are becoming a certain kind of person. You cannot say that you would rather sit on a couch all day in order to fully concentrate on your sexual purity.
7. Recognize that sexual sin is not just a sin for which there will be consequences later (although that is also true). Sexual sin is itself a judgment for antecedent sin. Find out what that sin is, and deal with it. Stop floating down toward the falls. Work your way upstream. “The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein” (Prov. 22:14). Analogously, homosexual sin is not just a sin with consequences, it is itself a consequence of another sin (Rom. 1:18, 24). If you were to fall into a deep ditch, this would be a profound blow from God. So you should not just think of sexual sin as the bait that makes another trap work. Recognize also that something else was the bait for which this is the trap. “For a whore is a deep ditch; and a strange woman is a narrow pit. She also lieth in wait as for a prey, and increaseth the transgressors among men” (Prov. 23:27-28).
There are many other things that could be said, and some day, they probably will be.