If you struggle with pornography, beware a sneaky trap that may keep you going in circles.
What do you do when you experience temptation?
Most people with habitual patterns of unwanted sexual behaviors react to temptation in one of two ways: They lust or they look away. If I were to put it in a chart, it would look something like this:
|Run Towards Temptation||Run away from the Temptation|
|“That looks good”||“That looks dangerous”|
|“I can’t pass up this opportunity”||“I have to endure this trial”|
You probably have other things you’d add to each of those lists. Maybe under the “Look Away” side, you even have strategies you employ to help you get out of the situation. I’m all for that.
But do you notice what is the same in both lists? And do you notice what’s missing?
Neither list sees the person.
On the other side of every sexual temptation is a human being, but our most common reactions to temptation both overlook the man or woman in front of us. Instead, the Lust reaction sees only an object to use for my sexual pleasure, while the Look Away reaction sees only an obstacle that threatens my well-being in some way.
Given the option between the two, the Look Away option usually seems best to Christians—like the holiest response. But it’s not necessarily. This is the sneaky trap because it may seem like you’re making the best choice, when really you’re still not seeing a person.
To be clear, learning to look away instead of lusting is usually an important part of the process! For those of us who have developed a lust habit that is so deeply entrenched that we simply can’t be in certain situations without automatically lusting, looking away can be a part of detox, a way to begin retraining the brain. Just make sure to introduce into the process that the reason you’re looking away is not because you’re avoiding “a temptation” (as in, the person is a temptation), but rather because you’re experiencing temptation (see James 1:14) to misuse a person.
To put a point on this, I’ve heard from women who have felt shamed by a man’s lust—being looked at as little more than a piece of meat. I’ve also heard from women who have felt shamed by Christian men’s attempts not to lust—not being looked at, as though they were evil or temptresses somehow just for having a female body. In both situations one person is overlooked by the other, perceived as only a temptation, rather than being seen. This emphasizes just how important it is for us to grow in the virtue of love, rather than just avoid the sin of lust!
I think here of Jesus’ question to Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:44, “Simon, do you see this woman?” Simon’s guilt in that moment was not looking with lust, but looking with disdain. Jesus saw a woman full of love and longing, so in need of God’s mercy.
I also think of the many other times in the Gospels when we read something like, “Jesus looked at him/her/them and felt compassion,” or in Acts when we read how the apostles “looked intently at him/her.” In all these, we catch a glimpse of one person’s eyes truly seeing someone else and then the seer being stirred to move/act/heal in love for that person.
(Contrast this with the person trained by lust: the eyes perceive an object and then the viewer is stirred to take advantage of that needy person or to turn away from that needy person.)
God, long have we used our eyes and failed to see other human beings. Perhaps our eyes are blurry or blind and need healing. Certainly our hearts need to burn with Your holy love. We confess both that we have lusted and that we have run away. We acknowledge You created our eyes that we might see and love. Jesus, we want to see! Holy Spirit, fill us and make our eyes clear, that we may see as You see.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What stands out to you in this article? Do you struggle more with “seeing” objects, obstacles, or both?
This is a profound and foundational reflection, for recovering persons probably central to conversion itself. Praising God Josh for what He put on your lips
Thanks for your encouragement and prayers, JST.
This is something that I struggle with not being able to see the person. Only seeing a body part so I turn and run. I want to honor God, my wife, my children and God’s children and truly learn how to see people for people.
You are so not alone. Thanks for your honesty. If you haven’t already, check out our coaching and also our Awaken Community. Both could be a great help to you on this journey!
Excellent article! Thanks Josh!
Thanks as always, Paul.
Thank you for sharing this! As a woman I’ve always struggled with the idea that because I’m a woman I’m a temptation to men and it’s my fault if men lust after me or have to look away so they won’t lust after me. I couldn’t understand why when Satan was tempting Jesus he didn’t try to tempt Jesus with a woman, and your article makes this so clear… because Satan knew that Jesus sees each of us, including us women, as a person, not an object. I’ve bought into the idea that as a woman I’m an object and instead I need to see myself like Jesus does, a person created and loved by God. Thank you!
Ruth, I’m so glad the article spoke to you the way it did! Your words made my day. Yes, yes, and amen! Also, if our women’s coaching could serve you in breaking free from that old wound of feeling like an object, please let us know!
Hey Josh, been a looong time reader of this site and your posts. Thought it was time to raise my hand and thank you for the work you do, which is so needed! I’m working on that detox you mention and this was very timely.
This was spot on and really solidified some thoughts bouncing around in my head. Thanks for some concrete words to express them. Keep ’em coming! God bless.
Darren, thanks for raising your hand. It’s great to hear from you! God bless you on this journey!
As a woman I have always struggled with
Not wanting to be a temptation to men. But also wanting to feel beautiful. This article brings light to what God really expects of us. That we can think someone is beautiful, but we must look at their soul and spirit and truly look at the need of them. Thank you for the wise words.
Thank you, Amber. Thank you for your sensitivity–both to men’s struggles and also to your own heart’s longing to feel beautiful! May you experience the gaze of Jesus as He looks on you with eyes of infinite love!
Yeah, but nah. Some people know what they’re doing, and try to set thirst traps. Some want to use their body to make people lust, so there is a place for the “flee fornication” tactic. 1 Cor 6:18. On the other hand, James 1:14, does say “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Sometimes men want to be drawn away, and sometimes some women (Proverbs 7) like to do it, and crave that type attention. So let’s not paint all women like innocent little misunderstood girls either. Most men haven’t attained the Jesus level of mental disclipline and perfection yet, and get tripped up too easily. If she is objectifying herself being immodest and putting her bits on didplay, we are justified to protect our eyes and hearts and not look at her objectifying herself. Don’t blame us as if we are always the ones objectifying. Do not be a stumblingblock (scripture).