God made us for relationships. Deep, intimate, self-giving relationships.
And one of the most intimate human behaviors God has given us is sexual intercourse. By its very designation, sex is intended to be an intercourse––about exchange and relationship.
Lust perverts all of that. Rather than seeking relationship through deep, intimate, mutual giving, lust seeks out its own pleasure. Rather than treating the body and sex as beautiful gifts to be honored and protected, lust treats them as cheap pleasure-delivery devices. “Lust is as irreverent about bodies and sex as it is obsessed with them,” says Rebecca DeYoung in her great little book, Glittering Vices.1
How lust is robbing us today
Casual sex, casual nudity, and pornography are eroding our respect for the body and sex. They’re training us to separate two things that God created to go together––intimate relationship and the intimate giving of our bodies. In short, these are training us to replace the deep joy of self-giving relationship with the cheap thrills that lust provides.
In a sexual relationship, we fully give our bodies to another person. When that happens outside the bounds of a marital relationship––a full commitment and joining together of two persons’ lives––we do something with our bodies that we haven’t yet done with our lives. The commitments of our bodies and our lives are out of sync. I suspect this confusion of commitments has contributed to increasing divorce rates. Take a look at this 10-minute video, “The Economics of Sex.” As sex has become easier (as the video puts it, in greater supply), the number of committed relationships has decreased.
Relationships built on lust, whether casual sex or the porn industry, rely on the premise that no one is getting hurt––that these are relationships involving consenting adults. But that notion is fiction. It denies the relation of our bodies to our minds and souls. When you involve your body in something intended for deep intimacy, your mind and soul can’t help but be effected.
Some self-examination and practices
I’m usually quick to absolve myself from most vices when I look at them in their narrowest terms. Once I start to look at the larger concepts, though, I often find those vices lurking within me more than I had expected. Some rigorous self-examination has been good for me. I hope it might be for you, too.
Our goal here isn’t to feel guilty. Our goal is to identify these vices’ symptoms or catalysts in our lives, then to begin pulling them up like weeds at the root. That will always require God’s grace and will most likely require some dedicated practices on our own part.
In the next week, will you examine yourself for signs of lust? Are there any ways that you’re treating others’ bodies or your own with less reverence and modesty than they deserve?
1 — If lust is really an attack against intimate relationships of mutual-giving, one of the best ways to fight back is to invest in good, mutually-supporting friendships.
Rebecca DeYoung captures this well: “The best advice, then, for resisting lust is not to get an Internet filter (although you should do that too!), but to have good friends. If we have genuine friendships in which we learn to give and receive love in a healthy and satisfying way, we will be less inclined to wander off looking for sham substitutes and quick fixes. Good friendships teach us how to respect one another, to offer appropriate physical affection, to appreciate and care for others without looking for something in return, to trust one another. Someone who knows what real love looks like, whether in a sexual relationship or not, is a person who is less tempted to find lustful pleasures a tempting option.“2
One further question for friendships: Where can you share openly with someone and receive accountability? Not just about lust, but about life. Before Lent is over, can you find a consistent place for openness and accountability? Look for a person or community who will ask you direct-enough questions about good and evil in your life, who will encourage and pray for you and share openly with you, as well.
2 — Examine what you’re consuming. I’ll be specific and direct for a moment here. I’ve been dismayed by the number of devout Christians––even Christian pastors––whom I’ve seen talking about The Wolf of Wall Street. One website describes a few scenes from that movie (out of many similar ones) in matter-of-fact terms [a warning, these are rather graphic]:
“A man masturbates while looking at a woman in the middle of a crowded party (we see his erect penis).”
“A man is shown thrusting into a woman from behind while she performs oral sex on another man (we see her bare breasts and side of her buttock). A man thrusts on a woman while kissing another woman. Three fully nude women (bare breasts, abdomens, buttocks, genital areas are shown) kiss and caress a man lying on a table while a crowd watching chants.”
These depictions dishonor everything about the body and sex. Rather than treating certain parts of our bodies with special modesty, they display them to the whole world. Far from an intimate act of self-giving, sex is a public act that the movie viewers are invited to watch.
If you’re consuming pornographic images like this, and you don’t believe that they’re deforming your value of the body and sexuality, I think you’re kidding yourself. You can’t have a high regard for the intimacy of human sexuality when you sit in a public theater and watch people have sex and display their nudity for public viewing. Might we consider the mere behavior of watching things like this as lustful––a use and abuse of others’ sexuality for your own entertainment? As I’ve said before, I don’t know where the line is on some things like this, but I’m certain this is well past it. If you choose to stop consuming things like this, it might mean you don’t get to see every Oscar nominee. It might mean you miss a great opportunity for cultural engagement and critique. From the earliest days of the Church, Christians self-excluded from some of the culture’s most popular activities. Why shouldn’t we expect a need to do the same today––for the sake of our souls and our witness?
You were made for deep love and intimate relationship. The vice of lust seeks to rob those from you by turning your attention to shallow and selfish bodily thrills. May God fill us all with his self-giving love and free us from lust’s selfish deceit.