You don't need to be told that everyday we are "invited" to indulge in sexual lust. And, it isn't even considered something to "tsk, tsk" about anymore; no, it's winked at and giggled about. But do we really understand what lust is? Me-love. Yeah, it's just a sickening fattening of the ego, a gorging of the inner desires that, in the end, brings brokenness instead of happiness. That's why we need Christ: His power is the only antidote to the poison of self.
She reclines on a sandy beach, wearing a sultry smile and little else. Her heart beats a little faster as she looks at the camera; men will find her attractive and gaze at her image with longing. The promise of admiration feeds her desire for power . . . .
He is drawn to her picture; her beauty makes his pulse race and his senses go on high alert. He consumes her with his eyes, momentarily sating his appetite for pleasure . . . .
Men like to look and women liked to be looked at - it’s the way humans are wired. And God made it that way. He called it good.
But something called sin entered the picture; and with one act of rebellion, everything was skewed. Human relations tilted and twisted, and self-centeredness became the core from which man and woman operate.
Genesis 3 records the sad account of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. This was a turning point for mankind, and the dynamics of human relationship have not been right since. Men and women find it difficult to understand one another. The distinctive traits of each have become irritants to the other. And the beautiful sexual force between them has been skewed.
Since the “fall” of mankind, Satan has experienced tremendous success by using our sexuality against us. Knowing the power of womanly beauty and the magnetism of manly appeal, he works through our self-centeredness and tempts us to satisfy our own cravings at the expense of others. Men and women both are susceptible to sexual lust because it nourishes the inner beast- men, of pleasure and women, of pride, and both of power.
Because Adam listened to his wife’s voice above God’s law and followed her into sin, man is extremely susceptible to feminine charms and can very easily succumb to a woman who seduces him. Since Eve persuaded her husband to sin with her and used her influence to lead him astray, woman is drawn to gain power over men and can easily disrespect them by treating them as eager little boys.
Scripture tells us that we must not be ignorant of Satan’s ways of working. We need to be alert and watchful because the enemy prowls our minds like a beast of prey, seeking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8) We can defeat him only if we know God’s truth and use the power of the Spirit.
Power and Pleasure: a Toxic Mix
In this dynamic between the sexes, it is helpful to understand the basis for male and female behavior.
Let’s begin with why men look.
On the surface that seems simplistic. Of course we know why. Men are visual, sexually aroused by sight. But there is a deeper why.
In the great waltz of the sexes which reaches its grand finale in the marriage relationship, the beauty of the woman plays a significant role; it draws the man to her. The Creator meant that the man would long to cherish, enjoy and protect this beauty forever and commit himself to her. In marriage, the woman’s beauty and the man’s beholding is a sacred thing.
But when a woman’s beauty is used as a lure for the men she meets it becomes an entirely different matter. And when a man looks at a woman in lust there is nothing sacred about it.
A woman who chooses to dress provocatively in public and invite the gaze of every man who sees her may think it wins her admiration. And it does gain attention, but not for her sake. When a man is looking in lust, he does not necessarily include her, as a person, in the mix.
In other words, when lust is the motivation, a man wants the beauty for his sake, not for her sake. He desires her beauty because it brings him pleasure. She could as well be a poster as a live woman. The feelings he is indulging are self-centered, not her-centered. He might have no feelings of affection for her as a person, only for her anatomy as a woman. It is as if he is a hungry man and she is a plate of food; he desires to consume her so he might feel satisfied. He cares not what the food feels.
In Mathew 5:28, Jesus called out men who indulge their predilection to visual adultery. And in 2 Timothy 3:6, the Apostle Paul warned against men who invade the hearts of vulnerable women for their own fulfillment, be it financial, spiritual or sexual. Men, without the grace of God at work in their hearts, have the tendency to become voyeur-predators, taking visual advantage of women to satisfy their own desires.
This is why God’s idea of married love makes so much sense. When a man chooses to love a woman and protect and cherish her in a marriage commitment, he is truly loving her as a person and as a woman. He isn’t using her beauty for a sexual fix; he is loving her as a total person and sexual pleasure is a wonderful part of that relationship. In a Christ-centered marriage, the eyes of love are not self-seeking. There is true delight in the one whom God has given; there is affection and commitment.
Power and Pride: a Dangerous Brew
Women don’t escape the selfishness of lust; they are just often on the other side of it. A woman may enjoy making a man look, not because she really cares about him, but because of the thrill she gets from her power. She may like the fact that a man enjoys looking at her, but it may be because it makes her heart pound and her cheeks feel flushed. It feeds her pride. She feels wanted and desirable; his feelings may matter only as they serve to gratify her. She may not be interested in belonging solely to him in a marriage relationship because there are others whose eyes she’d like to tempt and whose admiration she’d like to win.
Over and over, in the book of Proverbs, King Solomon warned his son about the dangers of the seductive woman. In Proverbs 23:28, he describes her in a visual image that resembles a lioness on the hunt, lying in wait for prey. A man can find himself the target of a woman’s quest for dominance through sexual means, and, if he gives in, he will discover that he is reduced to a mere “crust of bread” because of his lack of control. (Proverbs 6:26) Adam Clarke’s Commentary on this verse remarks that, in biblical times, a prostitute could be hired for as little as a loaf of bread. Thus, God’s Word is saying that a man can sell his own dignity and integrity for the price of a call girl.
C. S. Lewis’ character Screwtape, writing from the perspective of a “senior tempter” mentoring his nephew Wormwood, says “Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground…He [God] made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy [God] has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He [God] has forbidden. ” 1
When men and women focus on sexuality as “personal fulfillment,” temptation is lurking nearby. Sexual intimacy wasn’t given to us as a platform for pleasure or power at another’s expense. God’s good gift of sex was meant to be enjoyed by a married man and woman for mutual delight and emotional nourishment and, in a deeply mystical way, as a reflection of the unity between Christ and His church. To lightly hold this sacred bond and use it for selfish purposes is a desecration.
1 Corinthians 13, called by many “The Love Chapter,” showcases the attributes of love grounded in selflessness. It is a good idea to read this chapter often and remember its admonitions when facing sexual temptation.
1. Love is cherishing another person, not expressing selfish appetite.
2. Love is long-term commitment, not short-term gratification.
3. Love is sexual attraction plus . . . ; lust is sexual pleasure only.
4. Love is God-honoring intimacy; lust is primal indulgence unrestrained.
Sexual lust, in essence, is self-centered desire. But Satan doesn’t want you to know that. He hopes that you will not see the ugliness behind following self. He doesn’t want you to know about the havoc in countless homes or the tears and shame and brokenness. He wants to dazzle you with the idea of full indulgence to self’s wishes; he calls it good, but he has always been a liar. In reality, he runs the slaughter-house of souls.
Christ calls us to die to self, and have our minds renewed by His Spirit. He asks us to surrender our whole selves, including our sexuality, to His Lordship, because surrender is the pathway to fullness of joy. He will always provide an escape from sexual temptation and will bless those who commit their passions to His keeping and plan.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins, 1942), 44.