How can we stop lusting?

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery'. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28)

The seventh commandment is clear – "Do not commit adultery". However, the Pharisees of Jesus' day took a narrow view of this commandment by limiting it to the physical act of adultery. (They did the same with the commands forbidding murder and stealing.) But Jesus' statement reveals God's intent when he gave the commandment on adultery.

Jesus says that adultery is committed not only when the physical act is engaged in, but when a man lusts in his heart after a woman. Immoral thoughts and immoral actions are both a violation of the command, "Do not commit adultery". A man may never actually commit the physical act of adultery, but he may frequently break God's law by committing adultery in his heart.

We live in a sex-saturated society where we are confronted every day with sexual material ranging from the mild to the extreme. So how can we live a pure life in such a sinful environment? Jesus tells us.

The Divine Solution

Lust begins in the heart. The eye sees a woman, the gaze is detained, then the heart begins lusting and sin occurs. Peter describes men "with eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning…" (2 Peter 2:14) These men don't just look at a woman – we all do that – but they look with the intention of lusting after them. The way we keep our heart pure is by controlling what our eyes see. To emphasise this point, Jesus uses strong figurative language: "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:29-30) What Jesus is saying is something like this: if you are sinning because of what you are seeing, then start living your life like a person who is blind. Act as if you cannot see. The same is true of your hand; if your hand is used to engage in sinful behaviour, act as if you had no hand. This is the way you deny sinful gratification.

Willpower will not keep us from lusting, but there is a divine way to purity: "It is God's will," Paul says, "that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable … Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you the Holy Spirit." (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8) The way we live, the way we think is the result of long established patterns of practice. If lust is a continual problem, it is because we have allowed it to be. We have gotten into the habit of lusting. With God's help – and it's there in abundance – we can replace bad habits with good habits. It's been said and it's true that "habit overcomes habit." God wants us to be holy and God has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to be holy. And by the power of the Holy Spirit we can put to death the sinful deeds of our body and make no provision for the sins of the flesh. With the Spirit's help, we can avoid lusting.