Lust is any strong desire; sinful lust is desire for something that God has forbidden. Lustful thoughts produce lustful actions, and lust acted upon always leads to devastation. Eve lusted for the delicious fruit from the one tree about which God had said, “You must not eat from it” (Genesis 2:16–17). Her act of eating and giving some to her husband opened the door for sin to enter God’s perfect world. David lusted for Bathsheba, another man’s wife, and, when he acted upon that lust, it led to murder and the death of his infant son as part of God’s judgment (2 Samuel 11:2–4, 14–15; 12:13–14). Wicked actions begin with lustful thoughts, so it is important that we get rid of such thoughts as soon as they arrive.
To get rid of lustful thoughts, we must first define our areas of greatest temptation. Lust is not always of a sexual nature. Greed is lust for money or power. Envy is lust for the popularity or position someone else holds. Coveting is lust for anything we do not have. Lust starts with a thought. While we are not responsible for every thought that enters our heads, we are responsible for what we do with those thoughts.
Second Samuel 13 recounts the tragic story of lustful thoughts turning to wicked actions. King David’s son Amnon became obsessed with his half-sister Tamar. Because he did not get rid of his lustful thoughts, they consumed him until he committed the horrific act of raping her. After his lust was sated, he no longer cared what happened to Tamar, and he discarded her like a piece of garbage (verse 15). Lust cares only about satisfying its urges; it cares nothing about the people who will be hurt by it. A lustful thought must be seen as the enemy it is before it takes over our lives.
When we hold on to a thought that we know is displeasing to God, it can quickly become sinful lust. The desire grows until it creates dissatisfaction with our current situation. Lust imposes upon us the belief that happiness and contentment are impossible unless we have what we want. James 1:13–15 describes the progression from lustful thought to lustful action: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
We can get rid of lustful thoughts by replacing them with thoughts that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). We must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We must repent of entertaining lustful thoughts and ask the Lord’s help in redirecting our thoughts.
If the lustful thoughts we are trying to get rid of involve another person, we can defuse their power by turning those thoughts into prayers for the other person’s well-being. By bringing that person before the Lord, we weaken lust’s power to objectify him or her. We must recognize each person’s value as a creation of God and remember that God has higher plans for him or her that do not include us. When we bring our will into agreement with God’s will, we learn to see this person as He does, not as lust does.
Stopping lustful thoughts also requires filtering the information we are allowing into our minds through our senses. Our thoughts are usually the product of what we have seen, heard, touched, and tasted. By controlling what we allow in, we can greatly reduce the material available in our minds for lust to exploit. If pornographic images have been burned into our minds through sinful viewing, we can ask the Lord to replace those images over time. By refusing to look at things that incite lust, filtering out music or language that creates lustful thoughts, and banishing lustful memories from our repertoire, we can starve lustful thoughts until they have little to work with.
Memorizing and meditating on Scripture is also a good way to avoid lustful thoughts and renew our minds as Romans 12:1–2 instructs us to do. Keeping worship music playing in our ears also focuses our minds on that which is good, pure, and beautiful. A Christian’s life is to be one of ongoing surrender. As we daily surrender ourselves to the lordship of Christ, He helps transform a sinful thought life into one that pursues Him. Lustful thoughts invade all of us from time to time, but taking authority over them, rejecting them before they take root, and seeking God’s help can give us victory.