Overcoming Impure Thoughts
Written by: Drury, Keith Posted on: 01/07/2004
... Overcoming Impure Thoughts
"...and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
-- 2 Corinthians 10:5
We live in a sex-saturated society. Advertisers use "sex appeal" to sell perfume, after shave lotion, blue jeans, hosiery, even toothpaste. Most of the TV advertising we see is carefully designed to appeal to our sensual natures. A modern diet cola advertisement is quite as erotic as many "girlie magazines" of a few decades ago. Magazines, books, newspapers, billboards, movies, even office conversations offer stimulation of the sexual parts of our beings. An increasing host of "soft core" TV programs titillate millions of viewers nightly, and what was once considered blatantly "sexy" is now accepted as good taste in clothing.
Is it any wonder that believers living in such a society are troubled by improper sexual thoughts? The temptation to dwell on sexual themes and erotic thoughts is everywhere.
Impure thoughts are not a temptation limited to young men. I once thought this to be so, but experience in counseling many years has taught me otherwise. I have talked with scores of older men who are plagued with this private sin and have suffered for the forty or fifty years since their teen years. Neither is lust the exclusive sin of men. My wife reports from her traveling and speaking schedule that she has counseled with innumerable women, young and old alike, who suffer with habitual sensual fantasies.
If this area of temptation is completely foreign to you, or you are aghast that Christians exist who wrestle with this awful demon, the following excerpts from two letters, may be helpful in describing the depth of this particular fleshly sin:
"I'm desperate for any help you can give me. I am so sick of my obsession with impure thoughts that I've even thought of suicide. I feel so filthy, so dirty, so unworthy after I've given in and dwelled on some memory or daydream about a beautiful woman. My guilt brings me to confess. And I promise God I'll never do it again. But I do. I always do. Sometimes I fight heroically. Sometimes I even beat this monster, but I often fall. Real often.
"Is there help for me? Am I too far gone? Should I simply give up at trying to be a Christian? That's how I feel sometimes. This filthy habit has clung to my life for more than 30 years. I've never told anybody else about it. My pastor, the board, the whole church -- even my wife -- all think I am a perfect model Christian. But I know I am rotten inside. I feel like such a hypocrite! Is there hope for me? If so, I need it soon."
Or, consider this letter my wife received from a delightfully talented woman.
"I had never even thought of how women have impure thoughts until last week at your session. I always figured that guys were the ones who had problems with "dirty thoughts." But maybe I have a problem too. "There's this handsome young man in our church choir who is not only talented, but pays attention to me. My husband is one of those guys who pretty well ignores me -- especially in public. But this guy treats me like a queen. He listens to what I have to say, looks right into my face, and acts like I am an important person. You know what I mean... he just treats me special.
"Anyway, I wonder if this has become a trap for me. I think about him all the time... while I'm working, during church services, even when I'm with my husband. Not that I think of having sex with him or anything like that. I just invent these intensely romantic scenes in my mind, as if they are happening between this fellow and me. It's exciting! But I wonder if it's wrong. Is it O.K. as long as I don't actually fantasize about the actual sex act? I hope you can guide me on this because I've been troubled about it all this week.
"P.S. All this has made a big difference in how I feel about myself lately. I now have something to get up for in the morning again. Even my husband complimented me recently (believe it on not!) on how nicely I've been dressing. Could these thoughts be wrong when they seem to have so many benefits????"
What would you tell this woman? What would you tell that man?
What is "Lust"?
Some spiritual advisors are not worried by these kinds of thoughts. They soothe troubled Christians by saying that sexual fantasies are common, normal and quite innocent. A few even consider impure thoughts as healthy for your marriage.
The Bible is not so soft. It names such thoughts with one word: "lust." God's Word condemns lust as sin. Christians are to get rid of it along with other evil thoughts, words, and actions. Fooling around with lust is like playing with a loaded gun. Given the chance, impure thoughts will ruin your soul. Lust is serious. Jesus shocked His audience by stating that in God's sight, lust is as serious as adultery itself.
So, what is lust? It is dwelling on sexual thoughts which, if you carried them out in real life would be clearly sin. Lust is sexual or sensual fantasies about someone you are not married to. Lust is sinful sexual passion. It is sinful sexual thinking nurtured in your mind and dwelled on for the sake of personal sensual pleasure. Lust is willful...it is purposefully thinking these thoughts.
Lust is not temptation. If you are blessed with high sexual energy, you may be especially tempted in this area. Satan may frequently remind you of some memory, tempting you to dwell on it. Or he may attempt to seduce you to fantasize about a particular person. This is not lust; it is temptation. While it is sometimes difficult for us to determine that fine line between disobedience and temptation, there is a world of difference between an evil thought and the thought of evil. Even our Perfect Example had thoughts of evil while He was not guilty of evil thoughts. He banished these thoughts from His mind with a decisive refusal to surrender, and a quote from God's word. Lust is not temptation. It is surrendering to temptation...dwelling on the impure thoughts Satan has presented to our minds.
Neither is dreaming lustful in itself. Dreams are a mysterious function of our subconscious mind. Have you ever dreamed that you had shot and killed someone? I have. I woke up trembling, and felt as if I had actually committed murder. But I was not guilty of murder, even in God's sight. God does not hold us accountable for the mysterious workings of our subconscious mind. Dreaming is not sin... daydreaming is the problem.
Lust is purposefully dwelling on sinful, sensual thoughts. These are the wild horses of our mind which must be tracked down, captured, and made obedient to Christ.
So What's the Trouble with Impure Thoughts?
1. You will come to justify sin.
The Great Deceiver tells you, "Don't worry about these thoughts, they're harmless, innocent fantasies." He would like you to dismiss them as the ordinary musings of all humanity. This sometimes works. The human mind cannot survive long when our behavior is out of sync with our beliefs. If you believe something is wrong you will want to stop it. However, if you fail at your attempt to stop, you will then try to sanctify the thought, word, or deed. You justify it as appropriate, thus escaping the tension of doing what you know you shouldn't. If you do not beat this thing, eventually you'll simply justify lust as ordinary and inescapable.
2. You will live a double life.
If you are truly saved, the Holy Spirit won't abandon His convicting work. Though you tell yourself this sin is O.K. the Holy Spirit will keep telling you otherwise. You will then adopt a new strategy: you partition life like a roll-top desk. You decide to simply ignore this part of your life. You create a pigeonhole for impure thoughts pretending they don't exist.
Churches are full of men and women who live this kind of double life. They tuck their evil thoughts into a sealed desk drawer of their mind. Into this drawer they enter alone. These folk seem quite ordinary when you meet them, work with them, or serve on a committee with them. But they are a Jekyll-Hyde Christian. Though they grow in other areas, appearing to make progress along the highway of holiness, they have a cancerous closet in their mind. These double-minded Christians sneak off to their private closets of their minds. There they dwell on corrupt and sordid thoughts, then cower back full of guilt and despair. This is a wretched way to live.
3. Lustful thirst is unquenchable.
Sexual pursuits outside marriage is like an empty well. It promises satisfaction, leaving you unfulfilled. It is an unsatisfying pursuit. The more you dwell on these thoughts, the less exciting they will be for you. In your quest for fulfillment you will mount a perpetual treadmill of self gratification. The faster you chase satisfaction, the less satisfied you'll be. Like drinking salt water, the more you drink the less satisfied you'll be.
4. You will become obsessed.
Sexual fantasies are addictive. Once you establish the habit, you will begin a relentless cycle of obsession. These thoughts will gradually permeate every recess of your mind. They will dominate you, enslaving you in a bondage of despair. Eventually your entire life will be tarnished by them. You will be "hooked" on the opium of sexual fantasies. You will be obsessed with your quest for satisfaction -- always hungering, never satisfied. You will then be lust's slave.
5. Lust diverts wholesome sexual energy.
The devil didn't invent sex. God did. He termed it "good" along with the rest of creation. The most important sex organ in your body is your mind. God designed your mind with the powerful capacity to direct and focus sexual energy toward another. This remarkable mental ability is God-given and designed to produce the great sexual satisfaction in marriage. This God-given ability should be focused on your mate, not squandered on some fleeting fantasy. When you surrender to impure thoughts, you poke a leak in your own sexual energy, which ultimately produces frustration and unfulfillment.
6. Thoughts lead to action.
On this one concept philosophers and great thinkers throughout history agree: as you think, you shall become. If you think positive, uplifting, wholesome, healthy thoughts, you will eventually become a positive, healthy, uplifting person. If you think gloomy, negative, sickly thoughts, you will turn out to be a negative, sickly person. What we think, we become. As Jesus put it, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
Your mind is like a fertile field. A field doesn't care what you plant in it -- corn, oats, or wheat. It simply obeys the universal law: what you plant in the field, you'll get back in abundance. If you plant corn, you'll get corn. Wheat, wheat, and so on. Your mind is like this fertile field. Your thoughts are seeds. What you plant, will sprout and grow, eventually producing an abundant crop in real life.
Can you see the ultimate results of impure thinking? "Innocent fantasies" planted in your mind will eventually produce an abundant crop of sinful behavior. What you thought was a benign mental pastime carried on in the privacy of your mind will turn out to be the doorway through which your moral downfall enters. Thoughts lead to actions. Your sensual thought life will not escape this universal law of life. Sooner or later you will act as you think.
Ten Steps Out
How to Completely Overcome Impure Thoughts
If you have been enslaved by impure thoughts, there is good news for you. You can be free. Completely so! If you seriously hunger to be free from the bondage of impure thoughts, God is able to do it. He can!
The following are ten steps you can begin today. They are not some philosophy dreamed up in an ivory tower of theory. Rather, they have been hammered out in the trenches of life by hundreds of men and women who once suffered in defeat, but are now free of this "clinging" sin (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Though they are "steps" in one way, they are not to be considered completely sequential. Though there is a general arrangement of the order, each point must be continually maintained while others are added. Hundreds have followed these steps and found complete victory. You can too!
All improvement starts with confession. Quit dismissing impure thoughts as inconsequential. Tear down the partition to that private closet in your mind, allowing Christ's light to expose these thoughts of darkness. Call them what God does: lust. Agree with God concerning this sin and begin your journey to a pure mind.
2. Expose lust's "big lie."
Admit to yourself and to God that this way of life does not bring the ultimate satisfaction. Acknowledge that the promises of the Deceiver are out-and-out lies. Lust is not satisfying. It never has been... never will be. Keep reminding yourself that the Devil is a liar from the beginning. Start remembering where all this "daydreaming" could eventually lead...to behavior, moral collapse, the break-up of your home.
3. Starve the sources.
Track down your stimuli and get tough with them! What is it that gets your mind going? Is it the "story section" of a woman's magazine? Is it a particular TV program? Videos? Soap Operas? Music? Is it a certain person who is flirting with you? Is it double-meaning kidding with someone? Is it "girlie magazines?" Do romance novels start your sexual engines? Is it indecent jokes or stories of another's sexual activities? What is the outside source of your temptation?
Your mind is fearfully and wonderfully made. It is incredible. Better than man's best computer, the mind is constantly receiving messages, processing input, and affecting your behavior. When you expose your mind to stimuli, it affects what you think. If your mind is wandering into sexual fantasies, somewhere along the line it has received stimuli which triggered these thoughts. Track down and avoid your besetting stimuli. "Be careful, little eyes, what you see."
If you were a rehabilitated alcoholic, you would have to learn to stay away from alcohol. If God had delivered you from drinking, would you drop into a bar just to check out how well God had delivered you? Would you order a beer and set it before you just to test your resistance? No! You would avoid alcohol in any form whatsoever.
So it is with lust. Lust is a hungry carnivorous monster. It must be fed "flesh" to survive. External stimuli trigger lust. These stimuli continuously nourish and multiply a lustful orientation. Since society is saturated with sexual stimuli, you may be tempted to play along -- simply giving up. But you need not do this. With a little thought you could make a list of the ten most dangerous "triggers" for temptation in this area. Then starve the sources.
4. Win with the Word!
How shall a young man keep his way pure? How will you keep from sinning against God? By hiding God's Word in your heart. A consistent habit of reading, memorizing and meditating on God's Word is incompatible with impure thoughts. One will eventually destroy the other. Which one wins in your life? (Consider Psalm 119:11... better yet, all of Psalm 119.)
A believer who is failing to live above impure thoughts will almost always confess he or she is not practicing a regular habit of systematic devotional Bible reading. The road to thought purity always runs through Scripture. The most important habit you can begin, to aid you in your battle against temptation, is a daily "Time Alone with God." If the devil is tempting you to lustful thoughts, start with these scriptures:
2 Corinthians 10:5
2 Timothy 2:22
1 Timothy 4:12
1 Timothy 5:2
1 Corinthians 10:13
5. Practice "Displacement."
"An idle mind is the devil's workshop." If you have ample amounts of unoccupied time, you will be a "sitting duck" for Satan. If you are often alone, you may find Satan coming in like a flood during these times. Perhaps your job is boring and unchallenging, allowing time for your mind to wander -- and wonder. When a mind is unoccupied the devil takes this opportunity to suggest sinful thoughts for you to dwell on. What you do with his "pitches" will determine dour destiny!
Displacement is concentrating your mental energies on other things (cf. Philippians 4:8). It is filling up your brain with other thoughts, focusing your mental powers elsewhere. Impure thoughts are crowded out. Search for a mental infatuation with something else: baseball, scripture memorization, an invention you're working on, taking a class at the nearby college, a new floor plan for your "dream house." Anything decent will do. Find something which can occupy your mind, and displace impure thoughts.
6. Redirect your thoughts.
If you are married, you have already discovered that the temptation to impure thoughts does not pass with the wedding ceremony. In some ways it increases. But the married person has one definite counter force against this temptation: When you are tempted to think sexual thoughts, go ahead and think them. What? Yes. Rather than developing a negative obsession about these thoughts, redirect them properly. Where? Toward your mate. Use your sexual thoughts to enhance your own sex life in marriage. Focus your thoughts toward marriage -- toward that relationship where sexual expression is beautiful and God-sanctified. This is the wholesome use of your powerful mental sexual energies.
7. "Drink from your own spring."
If you are single, skip this one. If you are married, work on developing a satisfying sexual relationship at home. A developing sexual relationship takes tenderness, understanding, and patient hard work. Learn to flirt with each other again. Recapture the tremendous sexual power of that meaningful glance. Practice romance. Spend some money. Surprise her! Allure him! Keep the fire hot at home.
8. Turn temptation into spiritual energy.
Do a turnabout on the devil. When he introduces some delectable temptation to you, immediately go to prayer. Not for yourself, but for others. Take your temptation as a signal that Satan would love to have you fall so that he can more easily get at those in your circle of influence. What about your son? Daughter? People in your church? Someone you discipled? Spouse? Congregation? Could they be tempted likewise? Most likely they are. Thus go to prayer for them, that they will be strong in their similar temptation. This is a great trick to play on Satan. His temptation merely sends you to earnest prayer for others. The more he tempts you, the more you pray -- what a clever ploy! What a mighty ministry of intercessory prayer!
9. Become accountable.
You will doubtless never beat this one alone. Find someone of the same sex whom you trust, preferable someone who has fought this battle and won. In a few cases I have know of husband-wife accountability on thought-life, but often an accountability relationship with someone of the same sex is better. Ask him or her to check up on your thought life every time he or she sees you. Make sure they are tough on you, never satisfied with less than 100% purity.
10. Seek deliverance.
This sin is usually too powerful to beat by the first nine steps alone. If you carefully follow each of the above prescriptions you will find great victories and progress in your struggle. You will become an overcomer most of the time. You may say, "I've come a long way," but you are not completely free. You will still yearn for complete freedom. You want more than partial victory. You are not even satisfied with 100% "victory." You want deliverance (Romans 7:24-25a; 8:2-3).
You can have it. God carries deliverance in stock. You can do more than fight the battle -- often winning, sometimes losing -- "one step forward, then two steps backward." You can do more than resist the magnetic pull of the flesh.
True, you will likely not ever be totally delivered from temptation in this area (or at least related areas). But you need not fall. You need not be content with being a "recovering lust-aholic."
You can have deliverance. You'll never completely beat this thing through striving, though strive you must. You'll never defeat this clinging habit through hard work, though work you must. Only the "Strong Man" can bind this evil spirit of the mind. It is only the Son of Man who can drive these thieves from the temple of your heart. God can deliver you. And He will. If you let Him.
Now don't leap too quickly at this opportunity for a shortcut. Don't say to yourself, "Good, I'll seek instant deliverance... it's certainly easier than memorizing these Scriptures." God will see through your shallowness and spiritual laziness. He expects you to work. And as you work, He also works (Philippians 1:6; 2:13). So, as you pursue thought purity, also seek His total deliverance. He can do it. He has done it for many; He can do it for you!
It could happen today, or after many months or even years of seeking. It could happen gradually or it could occur in a single instant. But it can happen. There is not one sin which you can not be free of. God forgives. He also delivers. Let it happen!
Now what about you, my friend?
Do you suffer defeat in your thought life? Has lust plagued you for years? Have you almost given up hope of being free of this beast? Don't give in. Don't give up. Rather, cheer up! Look up! Your hope of deliverance is near. If His gentle Spirit convicts you of this sin, rejoice. For He never convicts without the hope of correction. Your conviction is cause for joy. There is hope. Beginning today. You can be free!
In what way does Jesus here expand the interpretation of the seventh commandment?
2. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.
What weapons might Paul be speaking of which can demolish "strongholds" and take "captive thoughts."
3. Psalm 119:9-10.
What preventative for sin is prescribed here?
5. 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Is it possible to be in a spot where we are helpless before temptation, unable to have victory?
What is the difference between "resistible temptation" and "escapable temptation?"
6. Colossians 3:5-6.
To what does lust belong?
What are we told to do with lust?
7. Philippians 4:7-8.
Besides guarding our hearts, what else will the "peace of Christ" guard?
What are eight types of thoughts with which we should fill our minds?
8. Colossians 3:1-2.
Where are we to set our hearts and minds?
What can a Christian do to develop a heavenly "mindset?"
9. Personal Reflection.
What is one single thing you could do in response to the truths of this chapter?
An action to take:
A promise to make:
From: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by Keith Drury
(c) 1989 Wesley Press
Only not-for-sale copying of this chapter is permitted. All other rights reserved.
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