Jesus Christ has the answer for those struggling with sexual sins, “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). God’s will is for your holiness, your sanctification, and abstinence from sexual immorality. God wants you to know how to possess your own body in holiness and honor, and to not be inflamed with lust (1 Thess 4:3-5). Christ can help you with every sinful and addictive behavior. His words are freely provided in the Bible. This article specifically addresses what dozens of books and websites have not provided the wisdom and knowledge necessary to stop this prominent sin. Keys to overcoming immoral sexual behavior are here from God’s Word. This article defines what is sexually immoral, and what are the causes and answers to sexual temptations.
Even in a life wrapped in prayers and scripture reading, many have found themselves enslaved to a behavior that they do not want and even despise. While some Christians may not struggle with sexual temptations as though they have a low desire or fulfilling marriages, many struggle with uncontrolled sexual desires. Urging someone to read more, be saved, go to church, and stop sinning are excellent things to do, but sometimes, believers can still miss how to overcome certain temptations. Facing sexual temptations are still thought inappropriate to openly address in some churches, but teaching on this subject is needed as seen by sexual immorality facing Christ from the first century unto today (1 Cor 5-7).
The man who can honestly say that he has never been tempted to lust after a woman is rare. Just as rare is the woman who can say that she has not been tempted to romantically fantasize about man, real or invented. There is not any particular person or generation to blame. Christians must be accountable for themselves and each others. Yes, it would have been nice to have avoided any exposure or abuse to such sins. Still, we must hold ourselves responsible.
What is sexually immoral? Sadly, many justify sexual sins and irrationally explain away the definition of sexual immorality. Yet, Christians need to have a clear awareness and strong conviction, so that we abhor this evil (Rom 12:9). Jesus has a very clear definition of sexual immorality. Jesus defined marriage as one man and one woman as created by God (Mark 10:6-9). All sexual immorality is behavior outside of the marriage between one man and one woman. Marriage is only natural humankind.
When Jesus spoke of adulteries, fornications, and lewdness being “evil things” that defile people, Christ knew what He meant (Mark 7:20-23). Adultery is engaging in sexual behavior with a married person. Jesus also said that adultery includes divorcing and marrying another person except unless one’s spouse sinned in extramarital sex (Matt 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, cf. 1 Cor 7:10-11). Consider the definition of fornication from the Greek word porneia. This evil behavior is all sexual intercourse outside of marriage between one man and one woman (Mark 10:6-7, cf. 1 Cor 6:16, Eph 5:31, Heb 13:4). Procreation according to God’s design produces children. Without recognizing, thanking, and glorifying God, people can pervert natural desires into strange lusts (Rom 1:20-28). Jesus did not have to specify what He meant by fornication and lewdness with a descriptive list, but rape, incest, and homosexuality are such forms of sexual immorality outside the natural union of marriage between a man and a woman. Jesus also condemned pedophilia when He opposed the abuse of children (Matt 18:7-10, Mark 9:42-50).
Jesus openly used the definition of sexual immoral behavior according to the Law of Moses when Jesus spoke to those who were under Moses’ Law. Within the Law of Moses, immoral sexual behavior consists of adultery, extra-marital sex, premarital sex, incest, rape (pedophilia), sex during menstruation, homosexuality, bestiality, prostitution, and uncovering nakedness (lewdness) (Lev 18, 19:29, 20; Deut 22:5, 22-30).
Christ also spoke against lewdness, which His Spirit defined to mean to “allure through the lusts of the flesh” (2 Pet 2:18, cf. Luke 17:1, Jas 1:13-14). To cause others to lust through tempting speech, revealing clothing, and nudity is lewdness. Remember Jesus’ words that out of the heart proceed evil things like evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, covetousness, and lewdness (Mark 7:20-23). Regarding sexual immorality within the heart, Jesus taught to not look to lust (Matt 5:28). Looking at another person with an inflamed craving and lust is adultery in the heart. Jesus said in Mark 7:20-23 that what comes out of a man’s heart defiles him (cf. Matt 15:19-20). Jesus said, “And I say to that every person looking at a woman with covetous lust for her has now committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).
The Cause: “What is happening to me?!” How can someone become enslaved to a sin that a person does not want to do? If you feel enslaved and feel like you cannot control your sexual behavior, the Bible talks about such enslaved behavior. This enslaving behavior is the same as an addiction or compulsion. Sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body (1 Cor 6:15-20). Jesus said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38, Matt 26:41). Many who are trapped in sexual sin or any habitual sin relate to these words, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Rom 7:15). The problem is sin dwelling within one’s flesh, and that person cannot find how to do what is good (Rom 7:17-20). No one can overcome indwelling sin without the indwelling Spirit of God. See, there is a way of escape for all (1 Cor 10:13). Therefore, “Escape sexual immorality!” (1 Cor 6:18, cf. Gen 39:8-13). “Can we continue in sin that grace may increase? Certainly not!” (Rom 6:1-2a). “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24).
The Answer: The Spirit of Christ says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-17). God’s Spirit commands that we be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). This is our choice and our action. Sin and lies have deceived many to think the Spirit dwells in them when they continue to sin.
A Christian must open one’s eyes to see the victories and conquests when walking in the Spirit. They should give attention and reproduce that pattern of living everyday. Therefore, fill your life with Christ, His life, His words, His love, and His commands given to His Apostles and prophets found in the scriptures (cf. Col 3:16, Eph 3:3-5). These are all from the Spirit of God. Walk in Spirit, and you will have the fruits of the Spirit, which include self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Work diligently to grow in the virtues of your faith (2 Pet 1:5-11). Counter your temptations from sinful desires, cravings, and urges by walking in the Spirit.
To live by the Spirit, a believer must die with Christ, be buried with Him, and be raised with Him. If you do not do this, then you are not regenerated, and your attempts to follow Christ will help you. Those who are of Christ crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24). You are not saved by grace until God gives you life when He raises you into the newness of life with Christ (Eph 2:4-6, cf. Phil 3:9-10). With an obedient faith, a believer is only made alive with Christ through His resurrection by dying to sin and being buried with Christ in baptism (Rom 6:1-7, Col 2:12-13). Only from baptism is a repentant believer raised into the newness of life. This is the Gospel by which God saves all believers (1 Cor 15:1-4, cf. Rom 1:16). Jesus commanded baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit after He rose from the dead (Matt 28:19, Mark 16:16). This baptism is an immersion in water and Jesus’ name (1 Pet 1:3, 3:21, John 3:5, Titus 3:5, cf. Acts 2:38, 10:47-48, 22:16).
Remember that God’s grace teaches the denying of worldly lusts (Titus 2:11-12). The Christian must see God’s grace as more than salvation from past sins, but also as salvation from giving into future temptations. Christ has already forgiven you of the sins that now tempt you. Why do them again (Rom 6:1)? Christians must see the loving grace that forgives sins, so that they truly love God (Luke 7:40-43). Jesus’ love shown through His death compels His followers to live for Christ (2 Cor 5:14-15).
Therefore, learn to set your mind on the Spirit (Rom 8:5-6). By setting the mind, the Christian must always see through desires and temptations to see that on the other side of temporary pleasure is evil, guilt, regret, devastation, and ruin. A Christian must see that sin is an enslavement (Rom 6:15-23). Listen to Christ’s Spirit, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death” (Rom 6:20-21). What do people gain from sin? What is left after temporary pleasure? Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). For which Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Remember that evil thoughts and imaginations feed the lusts of the flesh. Wherever you are, start disciplining the mind, and be aware that God sees you and He knows your thoughts. You must set your mind on the Spirit and be spiritually aware above the lusts of the flesh. “[Y]ou must put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:22-23). Romans 8:5-6 states,
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
In offering one’s body as a living sacrifice, Romans 12:2 commands, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” You must change your mind and thus your heart (Rom 1:28, 8:7; Eph 2:3, 4:17-24; Phil 3:19, 4:8, Col 1:12, 2:8, 3:1-5ff; 1 Tim 6:5; Titus 1:15, 2:11-12; Jas 1:8, 4:8, 1 Pet 1:13).
Set your mind by Christ’s words and love. When setting the mind on the Spirit, the Spirit dwells in you (Rom 8:9-11). Set the mind upon Christ’s love (John 4:23, Eph 3:16-17, 1 John 4:7-13). Christians are crucified with Christ and alive in Him (2 Cor 5:14-15, Gal 2:20, cf. John 15:13). Christians know the love of Christ by Jesus’ selfless sacrifice (1 John 4:9-10). God dwells within Christians when those believers abide in love, because God is love (1 John 4:16). Thus, the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love into the hearts of Christians (Rom 5:5-8). Only by Christ’s sacrifice can anyone really know love and be compelled by love (John 15:13, 1 John 3:16, cf. 1 John 5:1-3). When God indwells by love, Christians gain their strength from the Spirit (Eph 3:16-19). You must have this love in your heart, and then Christ’s love will compel you to overcome. Love is the first blessing listed among the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). True believers increase in that love by abiding in Christ’s words (John 14:21-24).
James 1:21 states, “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (cf. Col 3:16, Eph 5:18). This is the work of the Spirit to change you through the indwelling of God’s Word (2 Cor 3:18, Rom 8:5-6, 11-13). Therefore, think on those things that are truthful, honorable, just, pure, loving, respectful, virtuous, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8).
Setting your mind on Christ must include prayer. Jesus told His disciples on the night of His betrayal, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41, Mark 14:38). Jesus warned His disciples, and yet that night, they all fled when they said that they would not (Mark 14:26-31). As Luke’s Gospel describes, Jesus said, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40, 46). Was Jesus wrong about prayer?! These are not useless words! Would prayer have helped deliver these disciples? Yes, it would. If prayer against temptation was not useful and powerful, why would Jesus have commanded His disciples to pray? What if they would have prayed three times that night? Take an example in this to pray constantly (1 Thess 5:17). Wake up praying against temptation, pray throughout the day, and pray before bed. Pray David’s repentant words in Psalm 51. Pray daily for the rest of your life and do this in setting your mind on the Spirit. Christ taught His followers to pray, “Bring us not into temptation” (Matt 6:13, Luke 11:4).
Set your mind on Christ to make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lust (Rom 13:13-14). Set up a perimeter in your life and in your mind. Find a way to stay away from private temptations of secret sins. Remember Solomon’s warning to not go near the street of the adulterous woman at night (Prov 7). Make no way for private and hidden sins. Romans 13:13-14 states,
“Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”
From here, grow in Christ and in His virtues for the rest of your life (2 Pet 1:4-11). This is a war, and Christians must fight the good fight. “[A]bstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet 2:12). Lusts are trying to deceive you (Jas 1:14-15). Doing nothing is not going to aid you in overcoming these sins. Remove the temptation to sin. Jesus said in Matthew 18:9, “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from you: it is good for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire” (cf. Mark 9:43-48, Matt 19:12).
Jesus did not give into temptation to overcome temptation. Work diligently to have this mindset always. Remember that when Satan tempted Jesus that He countered the temptation with a better thought from Scripture rather than trying to ignore the temptation (Luke 4, cf. Matt 4). God’s grace is through His Word. Do not think that guilt comes from being tempted. The evil one tempted Jesus. Sinful desires will tempt you, and those urges may not completely go away. Will giving into these help you resist the next temptation (1 Cor 6:18)?
Set your mind to know when you feel strong urges and do not give into the urges, then you are killing evil desires in the flesh (Gal 5:24, Col 3:5). The temptations can and will eventually diminish although never fully go away. The urges will weaken. Do not be deceived to believe the lie that urges will keep growing and not stop until giving into sin. “Therefore subordinate to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7). The Bible teaches that tempting urges can cease naturally. Knowing the path of sin that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Jas 1:14), you can endure the urge without giving into the temptation. Christ’s Spirit says,
“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
Enduring temptations will make you happy, and the light of a new day will fill your soul more than any worldly pleasure. For “Blessed [happy] is the man who endures temptation” (Jas 1:12, cf. 1:4). Fear God, escape, and then endure with prayer. You are able. You do not have to give into the temptation. Giving into temptations will only make temptations worse and increase sin upon sin (Rom 6:19).
Take up your cross daily and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). After reading this, consider this post, “How to Overcome Habitual Sins and Addictions through Christ“.
Questions and Answers (FAQ)
A. What about God’s forgiveness and grace? What about if we stumble again? Everyone sins and everyone stumbles (Rom 3:23, Jas 3:2). Feel guilty and let it help change you. Have godly sorrow and fear God since “godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation” (2 Cor 7:10). God can forgive you if you repent. Jesus taught us to forgive when one confesses repentance seven times in a day (Luke 17:3-4). Why? Because we are to forgive as God forgives us (Eph 4:32, Col 3:13). What if we confess repentance seven times in a day to God? Therefore, as we walk in the light and confess our sins to the Father, God cleanses us from all sins (1 John 1:7, 9). Let the Word on the heart’s conscience motivate you.
B. How can a Christian Manage one’s desires within marriage? What about other natural emissions? God has provided ways to cope by managing sexual desires. The Scriptures refer to nocturnal emissions and staying clean (Deut 23:9-14). When Israelite soldiers were single or away from their wives, they were not excused in the circumstances of war to behave in a sexually immoral way by committing adultery, rape, or any other evil. Married men must know how to manage themselves at specific times in their marriage. This is what God has naturally provided. God gave further instructions to Israelite men to live with a way to control themselves (Lev 15:1-17). Women also have a similar natural function, and they have the same task to maintain self-control. No one has to submit to the world’s ways of addressing these desires by giving into lust.
C. How does a biblical respect for marriage help? Just the simple conviction that sex is an act of love meant only for your spouse changes how some directs one’s desires. You have to honor marriage by honoring the marriage bed even if you are not married. A single person can defile the marriage bed too. This is clear by the reference to fornication in Hebrews 13:4, which says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Marital intimacy is not to be withheld by either spouse (1 Cor 7:1-9). Marital affections are due to each spouse. “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Cor 7:3). “Do not deprive one another” (1 Cor 7:5). Why? “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor 7:2). “[I]f they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor 7:9). Husbands and wives are not to deprive their spouses.
D. How must a Christian husband live with his wife? (Greek: thalpo) (1 Pet 3:7, Eph 5:28-29). He must do this with understanding and without bitterness (Col 3:19, 1 Pet 3:7). Likewise, women must also recognize that God’s ideal for marriage is for a wife to love and respect her husband by subordinating as is fitting to the Lord (Eph 5:22, 33, Col 3:18, Titus 2:4, 1 Pet 3:1). God gave desires for a spouse within the intimacy of marriage and all desires for others that are outside of marriage are perversions. This desire of the flesh can only be controlled by using it properly within marital love. This is all vitally important in understanding marriage and honoring the marriage bed.
E. What about unnatural desires? If you have unnatural desires like homosexual desires and other forms of paraphilia, these are lusts and temptations given to people, who are not recognizing the true God, glorifying Him, and thanking Him (Rom 1:18-27). Therefore, recognize that God made you in your specific gender and He made you in His image. This is true even if God has made you a eunuch (Matt 19:11). Thank God and glorify Him for the traits of your gender. Grow and be strong in the natural qualities of your God-given gender. If you are a man, live as a man and enjoy that life and put away any femininity and restore your natural desires. If you are a woman, be feminine and womanly by putting away any masculine tendencies. While you still may be tempted, listen to Jesus and be committed even as a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven’s sake (Matt 19:12). God made man and woman become one flesh in marriage, and all desires outside of this are outside of God’s will.
F. How can a Christian avoid pornography? Starting with the internet, TV, and magazines. Pornography is probably the most common sin of Christian men. Having the internet is like having a stack of pornographic magazines under one’s bed. The temptation is always there. This is like the street of the adulterous woman as Solomon instructs not to go near (Prov. 7). The internet or television can be the street of the adulterous and strange woman. Do not let her street end at your house. Many find it easy to control their hands from exchanging money for pornographic magazines, but struggle to restrain themselves when thinking they are anonymous online. This lewdness is an evil thing, sexually immoral, and for the married, it is adultery in the heart.
Get rid of any saved sexual material. Get rid of the bad cable channels or get rid of cable TV all together. Put the computer in a common room with more than one filter and maybe use accountability software if you want. This is good to protect children. Regarding internet filters, OpenDNS and Family Safety are excellent and free. The Family Safety also provides a curfew to restrict certain times of temptation. Use these to make no provision for the flesh.
G. How can a Christian maintain purity when dating and engaged? Remember “make not provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14). Only date someone who you would marry and when you decide otherwise while dating then cease the relationship. Double dates and meeting in public places is the best if not the only way to date, but there is something else that can make it easier. Draw a line to not cross.
Physical relationships between a man and woman progress. The progression of affection is a part of how God has designed man and woman. Romantic passion usually progresses like this: an arm around shoulder, holding hands, kissing, passionate kissing, and so forth into sin. Of this progression, when does one quit thinking clearly? Most would point to passionate kissing. At passionate kissing, rational thinking is often thrown away as the couple becomes “love-drunk”. You can prevent the progression into sin by avoiding passionate kissing.
Some couples are tempted while being alone for even an hour. Sexual desires reach a point of sexual intoxication when one cannot think soberly. Try talking sense into a drunk. How can such sensual drunkenness be prevented? We must keep from the passion of lust. What triggers sexual passion and intoxication? Decide and know exactly when to stop along the progression and let your date know too. If your date passes this point, separate from that person for some time.
H. How Can a Christian better maintain affections within marriage? First Corinthians 7:2 states, “But, because of fornications, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” Here is an answer to sexual desire. Marriage certainly makes it easier. Now, temptations can arise from not fulfilling marital affections. A successful marriage based on rendering what is due (1 Cor. 7:1ff) and obeying Ephesians 5:23-31 will usually prevent these sexual sins. Now and all the time, “make not provision of the flesh” (Rom 13:14). Do not privately meet with anyone of the opposite sex who is attractive to you or could be. Temptations for adultery increase by lack of attention, affection, and admiration from the other spouse. A little attention, affection, and admiration from someone else welcomes an affair, and a little attention, affection, and admiration toward your spouse pushes such temptations away.
May God bless you all who read this.