Lust often goes no further than visual sex, yet there is a loss of control of the lustful thoughts. Contrary to the disease model there remains for many a strong motivation of fear that controls the progression of the behavior. For others, the loss of control coupled with living in a digital world quickly moves them to sexual chatting and sexting. And for others, loss of control leads to physical adultery. Be aware; when you secretly feed your lusts for years, there is an increasing unconscious temptation growing on the inside that can lead you to go one step further and physically act on your lust.
Secular counseling, and some Christian counseling, would describe the loss of control as the brain forming a new compulsive “bad habit,” a “disorder of compulsive relief seeking,” or an addiction. A bad habit is defined as “repeated reward-seeking despite negative consequences.” The entire process is seen strictly as a function of the brain with little or no willpower to change the bad habit. I asked Dr. Brian E. King, an expert in Applied Biopsychology who has conducted research on the biological factors that affect habits, “Why do you believe that everything we do is caused by the brain?” His answer was a quick matter-of-fact response: “What else is there?” My follow up question: So the brain is the only logical explanation as to why we do what we do?” He answered my question with a question: “Why are you continuing to ask me the same question? If you are implying a metaphysical cause, I can’t help you, I’m not a philosopher.”
Actually, I was implying a biblical explanation. Biblically, there is more to the process of loss of self-control. The Bible doesn’t give us scientific explanations for human behavior, but it does tell us the cause. As Bible believers, we can’t start or end with brain functioning as the only explanation for everything we do. What causes anyone to move from a sinful thought to a sinful behavior? “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” (Mark 7:21). The heart, not the brain, is seriously committed to our own well being, but primarily in a selfish way. Sexual sin, such as heart or physical adultery, is an automatic response to what the heart perceives will improve well being by bringing immediate increased benefit with less effort and without the fear of rejection than sexual intimacy with a spouse. Thus, temptation may come from any man or woman who makes an offer of benefit you can’t resist.
Minors often frequent chat rooms, and they can facilitate illegal sexual contact. Joe started looking at pornography at age 10. Married at age 21, the struggle continued and he eventually got involved in sexual chatting online. The offer of sex with a sixteen-year-old was too good an offer to turn down. Rather than being met by a teenager, Joe had a rendezvous with a female police officer. He is now serving a prison term, separated from his wife and children. Lust is more dangerous than we like to think!
Here is the real danger. You turn and look at a woman or man with lustful intent. You assume that no one knows what you are doing or thinking. Your spouse doesn’t know; no one around you knows; but you know that the intent of the look was direct and specific. You know what is on your mind. We also know what our Lord taught about lust. “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” (Matt. 5:27, 28; see Col. 3:5). God is watching you! Lust in a digital world is being carefully watched by God. He sees the most dexterous and sensitive finger of your hand as you point, click or tap. He watches your every move; your eyes, your thoughts, your genitals, and your heart! Simply refraining from physical adultery does not fulfill the law of God. This is the real danger! Wanting sex with a minor makes you a criminal; but wanting sex with someone other than your spouse is unlawful in God’s court, and that unlawfulness is on the inside even when you don’t get caught. Lust is not just thinking about sex with the wrong person, it is eternally suicidal. “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality . . . will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10).
The opportunity of either seeing a live person or an image on the Internet is not the problem. The opportunity to look is external; the real problem of lust is internal. The “lustful intent” is more than sexual desire or appeal. The real problem is the desire that comes from within. Self-indulgent lust is difficult to control when the opportunity for more benefit, with less effort, comes along in the form of a person.
God intended that mature, meaningful, consistent, God glorifying sexual relations in marriage provide protection against temptation and lack of self-control (see 1 Cor. 7:1-6). But you can defile your marriage bed with the “passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:5). The process of learning to make love takes time, thought, experience and spiritual and relational maturity. Too few Christian couples take the time or make the commitment. The wanting in lust, in marriage or out of marriage, is always about getting what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. Such self-indulgence must be replaced with what God wants in the marriage bed and out of the marriage bed!
Here is the biblical principle: Live to get what you want, and you will serve the god of self, but you will not be able to control your desires. “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity . . . (Rom. 1:24). Paul repeats the point two more times, “God gave them up” (vs. 26, 28). God giving them up to sin, to no longer control their sinful desires, is a result of idolatry. Lust is neither a sexual addiction, nor a disease or merely brain functioning. Lust is a sinful rebellion that refuses to make God the center of all existence. The lack of self-control is brought by the refusal to honor the Creator as God.
The giving up to sin is a result of idolatry. Verse 24 is part of a paragraph that started with “For the wrath of God” (vs. 18). Only He knows the timing of His wrath, as unrepentant sinners are by that wrath carried away by their own lust into a bottomless pit of vile passions. God deals with sexual sins, like all sinners, by abandoning them to their own desires as a discipline action that might lead to repentance. God’s intervention is to smite in order to heal. “Striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them” (Isaiah 19:22).
Psychologists like Dr. Brian E. King, by observing human behavior, strongly believes that it is extremely difficult to change a bad habit by willpower once it is formed in the brain. The observation is correct, but it is not the brain but the heart that is hard to change. Who can deliver us? Thank God that He can change the heart through Jesus Christ our Lord! I have great hope for a man like Joe, as I do for anyone who learns through the discipline of the Lord to be obedient. Six years is a long time, but six years in prison is less than a millisecond compared to all eternity. “But he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10b, 11). Lord Jesus, show your mercy to thousands, and tens of thousands more!