A Strategy for Fighting Lust
Pastor John Piper
Here’s the strategy I have used countless times myself in battling the unbelief of lust. With these six steps, I have in mind men and women. For men, the crisis is more obvious. The need for warfare against the bombardment of visual temptation to fixate on sexual images is urgent. For women, it is often less obvious, but just as great, especially if we broaden the scope of temptation to food or figure or relational fantasies. What I am focusing on here is the realm of thought, imagination, and desire that leads to sexual misconduct. So here is one set of strategies in the war against wrong desires. I put it in the form of an acronym,
Avoid, as much as possible and reasonable, the sights and situations that arouse unfitting desire. I say “possible and reasonable” because some exposure to temptation is inevitable. And I say “unfitting desire” because not all desires for sex, food, and family are bad. We know when the desires are unfitting, unhelpful, and moving toward becoming enslaving. We know our weaknesses and what triggers them. “Avoiding” is a biblical strategy. “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:22). “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). And, of course, this is done out of faith. That is, it is done because we have a superior satisfaction in Christ over all things and we do not want to tempt our fickle hearts beyond what is necessary.
Say no to every lustful thought right away. And say it boldly with the authority of Jesus Christ. “In the name of Jesus, No!”
You don’t have much more than a few seconds. Give the lustful thought more unopposed time than that, and it will lodge itself with such force as to be almost immovable. Say it out loud, if you dare. Be tough and warlike. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Strike fast and strike hard. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” ( James 4:7).
Turn the mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction. Saying “no” will not suffice. You must move from defense to offense. Fight fire with fire. Attack the inferior promises of sin with the superior promises of Christ. The Bible calls lusts “deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22). They lie. They promise more than they can deliver. The Bible calls them “passions of your former ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:14). Only fools yield. “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter” (Prov. 7:22). Deceit is defeated by truth. Ignorance is defeated by knowledge. It must be glorious truth and beautiful knowledge. We must stock our minds with the superior promises and pleasures of Jesus. Then we must turn to them immediately after saying, “No!”
Hold the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out. “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2). Here is where many fail. They give in too quickly. They say, “I tried to push it out, and it didn’t work.” I ask, “How long did you try?” A minute? Five? Ten? How long did you make war on this one temptation? How hard did you exert your mind? The mind is a muscle. You can flex it with vehemence. Take the kingdom violently (Matt. 11:12). Be brutal. Hold the promise of Christ before your eyes. Hold it.
Hold it! Don’t let it go! Keep holding it! How long? As long as it takes. Fight! For Christ’s sake, fight until you win. If an electric garage door were about to crush your child you would hold it up with all your might and holler for help, and hold it and hold it and hold it and hold it. Until it cut your fingers off.
Enjoy a superior satisfaction. Cultivate capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason lust reigns in so many is that Christ has so little appeal. We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. Don’t say, “That kind of delighting just isn’t me.” What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? Have you fought for joy? Don’t be fatalistic. You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart—more than you treasure sex or sugar or sports or shopping. If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don’t have: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14). Then look, and look, and look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him as supremely magnificent and satisfying as he really is.
Move into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors. Lust grows fast in the garden of leisure. Find good work to do, and do it with all your might. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Abound in work. Get up and do something. Sweep a room. Hammer a nail. Write a letter. Fix a faucet. And do it for Jesus’s sake. You were made to manage and create. Christ died to make you “zealous for good works”
(Titus 2:14). Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds.
And in between the moments of hand-to-hand combat with lustful thoughts, devote yourself in every way to seeing and savoring the superior worth of Christ. This will be the victory. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.