The Eight Patterns: Lust

... a desire for something wrong.

A desire
for something wrong

Unlike gluttony, which seeks to fulfill legitimate needs, lust seeks to satisfy illegitimate needs. The object of lustful desire is commonly of a sexual nature, but it can be non-sexual as well (such as a lust for power).Whatever the object of lust may be, it is assumed that fulfilling this desire will bring excitement and pleasure. Often there is no overt attempt to fulfill lust because nurturing the impure desire can itself be a source of pleasure. For example, someone who might not readily agree to have an extra-marital affair can still enjoy fantasizing about having one.
with chastity
Commonly understood
as sexual desire
Not to confused
with sexual activity
Other forms:
immodesty, vulgarity, cruelty, masturbation, inappropriate physical contact, prudery, foolish speaking

To achieve victory over lust, follow these simple instructions: wash your left foot precisely at dawn using a mixture of one quart salt water and three teaspoons of lemon juice, then stand on one leg (the left) while balancing an acorn on your nose, and recite the alphabet backwards. As long as you faithfully do this once a week, you will never again struggle with lust.

Wouldn't it be great if that really worked? The battle against lust is so difficult and intimidating that some are willing to try anything for relief. Many have even quit fighting because they believe their defeat is inevitable. This is unfortunate and unnecessary -- victory is possible.

Warning: Lust is clearly the most awkward pattern to discuss. This material might be uncomfortable if a person's mores and preferences are offended, or if their heart is pricked with conviction. This presentation strives to be truthful, helpful, tactful, and candid.

Like gluttony, lust springs from the fallen natural of mankind. Satan is not the source of lust; he certainly attempts to fuel it, but he cannot produce it. Thus, each person must conquer their own lusts, and not the lusts of someone or something entirely outside of their own control.

The assault of lustful temptation generally starts at the onset of puberty, and continues well into old age.

It is a mental activity focused on physical behavior. Ultimately, the goal of lust is a physical act, but the sin of lust is committed in the mind before the body ever moves to action.

The most common fuel for lust is lust itself easily making it the most self-sufficient pattern.

There are three basic types of lustful activity: that which is physically acted out with another person, that which is physically acted out alone, and that which is acted out only in the mind. Note: The physical acts of the first two types range from foolish speech to blatant sexual perversity.

Lust is increasingly addictive, making it especially dangerous. It can be sated, but only temporarily. When it returns, it comes back even stronger, and what once was a satisfying lustful thought no longer provides the same degree of gratification. Like all addictive behavior, lust produces bondage. As your will to resist weakens, then you become increasingly enslaved to your own lust. Saying "no" becomes more difficult.

The battle with lust is frequently fought on several fronts at once, and is especially fraught with many quick, persistent skirmishes. These temptations are most effective when they can slip into the mind unnoticed and become ingrained before the true danger is finally recognized.

Progress against lust is made with small, hard-fought steps, but failure comes with great leaps. A single "small" lapse can demolish weeks, months, or even years, of hard fought success.

ASPIRE. Focus on reflection. Lust simply cannot withstand the contemplation of God. This will not be easy to do, because lust uses distraction and misdirection when tempting you.

Starve it. Lust is an appetite with an appetite. It weakens if it is not fed. In practical terms, this means to avoid everything that fuels lust.

Abstinence is more than just a good idea -- it must be the law. Be careful that you do not try to avoid lust, or abstain only when it is convenient. If you are willing to make any exceptions to the standard of complete avoidance, then you will fail.

Continuously cultivate purity. You never get a vacation from this struggle. You must remain vigilant at all times. Negligence and carelessness are invitations to greater temptation.

Lean on God. The potential strength of lustful thoughts is absolutely beyond your ability to handle. The initial temptation might seem manageable, but as it gathers momentum, it will eventually surpass your own strength. You definitely need supernatural assistance.

Lean on a friend. An accountability partner can be extremely helpful against lust. Unlike gluttony and acedia, a partner who is also struggling with lust can still be a helpful partner.

The shame and fear which usually accompany lust will make you think that you do not need an accountability partner. Such thoughts are wrong. Certainly, you must be careful and discreet in selecting someone to help you, but you definitely need someone to help you.

Address those patterns that feed lust, namely gluttony and anger. While this approach can help weaken the grip of any pattern, it is particularly helpful against lust.

Both gluttony and anger distort your perceptions, impair your ability to make sound judgments, and reduce your level of self-control. As lust grows stronger, it renders you increasingly insensitive and careless. Eventually, even stupid and/or dangerous behavior will become very enticing.

In the realm of spiritual warfare, it does not matter how you sharpen your safeguard abilities, but that you do so. If you can more easily improve your self-control through resisting a temptation other than lust, it will still equip you to more effectively face lust. Also, as lust weakens its grip, these abilities will remarkably improve.

Do not be afraid to use fear. Initially, fears of getting caught or hurt can be an effective barrier to fulfilling lustful thoughts, but over time, these inhibitions and fears will fade. Continually consider the possible consequences of your behavior.

Hope can also be a helpful motivator, but it is less effective than fear. Victorious Christian living pleases God and will be rewarded. Do not insult God by dismissing His promised rewards as a mean thing.

Wear yourself out. Not only must the "inward man" be addressed, but the "outward man" as well. In addition to purifying the mind, exercise the body. Physical exertion can undermine lust, so do something physically strenuous: exercise, jog, etc.

Don't forget that God can see you. This idea can be an encouragement for those who desire to maintain purity, but it rarely motivates those who have not won at least a few significant battles against lust. Someone who is stuck deep in the pit of lust typically does not care what God can see.

Be very careful at night. Generally speaking, lust is not an early riser.

Do not confuse secrecy with solitude; they are very different. You need solitude to pray without distraction, but secrecy serves no helpful purpose. Lust thrives in darkness, but shrivels up when exposed to the light of scrutiny by others. If you have to do something in secret, then ask yourself if it should be done at all.

Sidebar: Imagery
Lust is a uniquely visual pattern of thought. These temptations are accompanied by mental images, which can be persistent and very difficult to resist. To see the significance of lustful imagery, consider how the other patterns consistently move through the following process:

Temptation begins with a suggestion.1 Once the suggestion is considered, the temptation enters the mind.2 A period of internal conflict ensues in which godly intentions wrestle with ungodly thoughts.3 Following this competition, a point of decision is reached.4 Opting to reject5a the tempting thought leads to victory,6a while submitting5b to it is followed by the captivity of habitual practice.6b

One does not have any control over the first two phases of any temptation, and is not even truly responsible until the battle has started in phase three. Under many circumstances, a lengthy conflict can be helpful. Temptation relies on misdirection and momentum, both of which wilt under the scrutiny inherent to spiritual competition. It is most effective when the struggle is short and the moment of assent is reached hastily. For example, suppose a man is tempted to steal his neighbor's ladder. The initial idea is considered as he tries to determine whether or not he should do it. After a long struggle, he decides to do it. At this point, he has sinned. Carrying out his intentions will only compound his culpability.

Lust functions differently. The temptation to act upon lustful thoughts is usually a subtle diversion from a more serious threat: the temptation to struggle with lustful thoughts. The suggestion appears to be an appeal to do something lustful, but is actually an appeal to think about doing something lustful. The victim may think he is safe because he has not yet acted upon his thoughts, but he has sorely misjudged the situation. For example, suppose a man is tempted to seduce his neighbor's wife. He thinks about it at great length, but never follows through on his thoughts. Once he has agreed to struggle with lust, he has placed himself in grave peril. Lustful thoughts are to never even be entertained. The competition phase of this temptation is never healthy and is always a sign of failure.

Impure images are not easily forgotten. If they are not rejected immediately, then they will become more firmly entrenched in the mind. These images will also resurface in future moments of temptation. Without this mental imagery, lust is rendered virtually powerless.

Lust is prohibited. It is not to be done – ever. Unlike gluttony, lust cannot be corrected through moderation. "Cutting back" is never an acceptable approach to the absolute commandments of Scriptures.

"You shall not commit adultery." – Exodus 20:14

"We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did -- and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died." – 1 Corinthians 10:8

"For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person -- such a man is an idolater -- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God." – Ephesians 5:5

"May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer -- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?" – Proverbs 5:18-20

Abstinence and chastity are similar, yet very different. The former entails simply refraining from a particular behavior, while the latter is purity. It is possible to abstain, yet be impure.

"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

Whatever God's will for your life may be, it unquestionably includes sexual purity.

"It is God's will 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 honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit." – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

"Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." – 2 Timothy 2:22

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." – 1 Peter 2:11-12

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." – James 1:27

"For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life, keeping you from the immoral woman, from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man's wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished." – Proverbs 6:23-29

There is hope. No sinful behavior, including lust, can cause such bondage that God cannot provide victory. Lust can be a former problem.

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived." – Colossians 3:5-7

"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." – Romans 6:12-14

Guard your body. It is a dwelling place that you provide to the Holy Spirit.

"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

Abstinence from sexual activity is not always a viable option. Fortunately, God has provided a solution. If you cannot resist sexual temptation, pursue the only suitable outlet: marriage.

"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9

For those who are already married: it is your job to help your partner in the battle against lust.

"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." – 1 Corinthians 7:3-5

"A wolf in pursuit tracks down the shepherd, and the spirit of lust tracks down those who fill their belly." – Evagrius Ponticus, Reflections 17 (Aramaic).

"The force of the waves batters a ship without ballast in a storm; the thought of fornication will act similarly on the the intemperate mind." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts II.3.

"Many people who are tempted by pleasures of the flesh do not sin with the body but lust with the mind; they keep their bodily virginity but lust in their heart...." – Gerontius of Petra, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, V.2.

"... Nothing troubles the deamon of lust more than laying bare his urgings. Nothing pleases him more than the concealment of the temptation...." – Anonymous, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, V.13.

"A hermit said, 'Chastity is born of tranquility, and silence, and inner prayer.'" – Anonymous, Sayings of the Desert Fathers, V.25.

"He who cherishes his stomach and hopes to overcome the spirit of fornication is like one who tries to put out a fire with oil." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 14.

Early definitions of lust were typically sexually oriented. Many cases of non-sexual lust might belong more appropriately to greed. However, there is a strong precedent for a non-sexual usage of this word (i.e., "a lust for power"). The key idea is intense desire. The Apostle Paul even uses this word in a positive sense when he says, "I desire [lust] to depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23).

Sex itself is not a sin. Husbands and wives enjoying sexual intimacy as God intended is not lustful in any way. There is simply no such thing as legitimate sexual desire outside of marriage.

Biblical terminology related to lust includes words like uncleanness, defilement, impurity, pollution, filthiness, etc.

Did you notice how often the word "initially" appears on this page? Lust is definitely a process. It plants seeds that sprout later. More than any other pattern, lust feeds itself.

Did Christ ever struggle with lust? Cassian believed that He did not. He reasoned that if Jesus had never sinned, then He never succumbed to gluttony. And if He never fell to gluttony, then the doorway to lust was never opened, making it impossible for Him to be tempted with lust. Cassian still believed Christ was "tempted in all points," but only in those areas where He was "eligible."

Obviously, Jesus never struggled with any form of temptation which builds upon previous failures. For instance, He was never tempted to lie to get out of another lie. However, Cassian's argument can only be valid if the "gluttony springs from lust" premise is correct, and I am not completely convinced that this is the case.

## Evil thoughts cut off good thoughts, and good thoughts cut off evil thoughts. If lust can stunt your spiritual growth, then your spiritual growth can stunt lust.

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