It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit.1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Any preachers who say they never struggle with lust struggle with lying. It’s a battle for both men and women. In a day and age when preachers, pastors, and evangelists are making headlines for sexual sin, my prayer is that I will stay faithful to my wife until the very end. When we took our vows on August 11, 1990, we were committing to each other the gift of exclusive sexual intimacy.
So how do I guard myself from sexual sin? Here are five habits I’ve cultivated over the past 33 years of marriage and 34 years of ministry that have truly helped me stand strong against the enemy “lust.” And I believe that if you implement them faithfully, these simple habits will help you stay pure as well.
1. Spend time in the Word daily.
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your Word.Psalm 119:9
If we want to stay pure, then we must daily drink the pure milk of God’s Word. We must so absorb it into our spiritual systems that, in the words of Charles Spurgeon, our blood becomes “Bibline.”
- Do I have daily time in God’s Word scheduled into my calendar?
- Do I have someone keeping me accountable to this schedule?
2. Memorize Scripture consistently.
I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.Psalm 119:11
Memorize verses of Scripture, and quote them out loud at times of temptation. Meditate on them in between those times.
The Word of God is how we play offense when it comes to sin and Satan. When Satan tempted Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 4, he came after Jesus hard. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days! I’ve done a 9-day fast before and can’t imagine a 40-day, water-only fast! Jesus must have been emaciated and felt weak. So how did He respond to Satan’s dirty-fighting temptation tactics? Simple. He quoted three passages of Scripture out loud, one for each temptation.
In Ephesians 6:17, Paul calls this “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The word “Word” here is “rhema,” which means “spoken word.” That means that when Satan attacks, we should be ready to quote the right Scripture out loud to counter the temptation. We should be ready to speak the Word.
- Am I ready to speak the Word against temptation?
- How much Scripture do I have memorized and at my disposal?
Depending on how much Scripture you’ve memorized, you’re fighting temptation with either a pocketknife or a broadsword. Memorize verses. Meditate on them, and when the day of evil comes, stand—and swing the broadsword of the Lord.
3. Get filled with the Spirit relentlessly.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.Galatians 5:16
Think of the filling of the Spirit like a hand filling a glove. The glove can’t do anything by itself, but when the hand fills it, it can do anything the hand can do.
We can’t successfully and persistently win against lust on our own. We are like that glove. But when filled with the Spirit, we can do anything He can do! We can walk in victory over any and every sin, including lust!
How do I remind myself to get filled with the Spirit? I set my Apple watch in a silent alarm three times a day. When that alarm vibrates on my wrist, I stop and pray and ask God to fill me in that moment.
- Do I have a method to remember to stay filled with the Spirit?
4. Pursue your spouse passionately.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.Ephesians 5:25
I never want to stop dating my wife. Some marriages are a waltz. Some are a tango. Waltz marriages are those couples who don’t seem to ever fight. They’re steady and strong. Other marriages are a tango. It often looks like a battle put to music, but as the couples learn to give and take, they can dance to the rhythm of the Spirit. In the end, it’s a beautiful dance as well.
My wife and I have a tango, not a waltz. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
After 33 years of marriage, she still blows me away. She still makes my heart skip a beat. We’ve had to work hard at it. And, yes, we’ve had plenty of struggles. But we’re all in to make it work, to dance to the rhythm and make our marriage a sanctuary for intimacy between the two of us.
We love to watch movies, go out to eat, go on long walks, take hikes in the beautiful mountains of Colorado where we live, and just be together. We take small vacations throughout the year as we can—even two days away can feel like a mini-honeymoon.
In about two weeks, my wife and I will be empty nesters, as our daughter goes off to Word of Life Bible Institute. My prayer is that this means even more time pursuing my sweet wife.
Some of the best advice ever given to me about staying pure was at a pastor’s conference I attended some 30 years ago. The person leading it had counseled many pastors over the decades who had fallen morally. He said that every one of these fallen pastors had some sort of accountability rules in place (not counseling a member or dining with or being in a car with a member of the opposite sex alone, etc.). He said: “No matter what your rules are, just remember that lust will pick a lock. If you want to avoid sexual sin, passionately pursue the Lord and your spouse every single day. All those ‘rules’ are a distant third.”
What a great reminder: Pursue the Lord and your spouse. (By the way, you can do this even if your efforts aren’t reciprocated—see the prophet Hosea.)
- Am I pursuing my spouse (if I have one) passionately?
- What are specific ways I can do this better?
5. Confess sin immediately.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. James 5:16
When I’ve struggled with the lust of the eyes, there are two things I do: First, I confess it to God. Although I know I’m already eternally forgiven for all my sins, I want to be practically restored back into fellowship with Him. Too many times when a person falls into the mud of lust, they allow Satan to step on the back of their head and push their face down deep into the sludge of shame. This can lead to even more sin. It’s like someone who’s trying to lose weight and breaks their diet by having a piece of cake, and then, out of shame, gives up and eats the whole cake. If we don’t immediately confess and forsake our lust, Satan can get us falling into a lust/shame spiral.
- Am I confessing my lustful thoughts to the Lord?
- Am I seeking to live out what I learned from the Scriptures I read?
- Am I groveling in shame instead of seeing my sin as crucified on the cross?
Secondly, after having confessed to God, I confess to a trusted friend. Someone once said: “We confess our sin to God for forgiveness. We confess our sins to each other to be healed.”
I have a small group of godly men I confess my sins to. We hold each other accountable with what we call “The Red Phone.” (In the old Batman TV show, the Commissioner used the red phone to contact Batman.) While these guys don’t wear tights (thank the Lord!), they come to my rescue when I’ve struggled with lust.
When that happens, I confess to them. We pray. I move on in victory.
The phone confessional works both ways.
Our mutual goal when it comes to lust is to walk in victory and not have to make the call. But when it happens, we face it, confess it, forsake it, and then move on.
- Do I have a friend or a group of godly friends who hold me accountable when it comes to sexual purity?
- Am I being 100% honest with them?
My prayer is that—whether you’re married or single—you’ll begin these habits immediately, put them into practice faithfully, and in doing so, stay pure unwaveringly.