How to Overcome Lust
Why does giving in to lustful cravings leave us feeling empty and helpless? Lust can take many forms in our life. How can we fight and overcome lust?
Alcohol. Power. Social media. Cigarettes. Sex. Food. Fame. Screens and devices. Money. Pornography. Esteem. Video games. Junk food. Clothing. Dirty chat rooms. Likes on our posts. (What else would you add to the list?)
Call it addiction. Call it craving. In this post, we’ll just call it what it is: lust.
If you’re trapped in a cycle of lust and feel you can’t break it, what can you do?
If you’re reading this seriously, you may have taken the first step. Defeating lust begins with a personal recognition that lust is not good for us and needs to be dealt with.
But how can we begin to deal with it?
3 steps to overcoming lust
Here are three steps that can help us overcome lust in our lives.
1. Identify the hole in our lives we are trying to fill with lust.
In the growing field of research into addiction and craving, more and more is being discovered about how we seek to fill what is missing in our lives with easy, shiny replacements.
The biggest hole mankind has dug is rejecting God, and trying to fill it with anything other than God will never bring peace and happiness. It is like trying to stuff a square block into a round hole. Only God fits, and if He is not retained in our knowledge and given His due place in our lives, we will give ourselves over to all kinds of perverse fillers (Romans 1:21-32). They’re called lusts.
Another interesting development from current research on addiction is the concept of replacement, or substitutions, of lusts and addictions with other damaging ones.
Some may seek to fill the hole in their lives with gambling. But if they don’t have access to money to gamble, they may instead try to satisfy their urges through sex, phone addiction or continuous overeating.
Alcoholics will often switch to cigarettes when in recovery—replacing the addiction instead of overcoming it.
Instead of focusing solely on what specific sin we use to satisfy our lust problem, we’ll find it more helpful to figure out why we are turning to lust for fulfillment and leaving God out of the picture.
The idea of substituting lusts that are considered “less bad” or “less damaging” for lusts that are considered worse is not dealing with the core problem of lust. For another example, sometimes drug addicts or alcoholics turn to other drugs considered less harmful to satisfy their lusts and overcome the so-called worse addiction. This is an example of how God can be left out of the picture.
When we turn to Him and His Word, we learn that the real issue behind lust and addiction is spiritual. It is a character problem. We can’t defeat bad character by replacing it with different bad character. When we realize lust is a problem, we can defeat it only by understanding and addressing the real cause of the problem.
So what is missing from our lives that we may be trying to “fill” with lust?
- Are we lacking intimacy and closeness in our relationship with our spouse (1 Corinthians 7:2-9)? Lust promises we don’t need that and can just have sex for pleasure (detached from love and commitment) anytime we want. Or lust might encourage us to look for that warm feeling of comfort by eating a whole chocolate cake. These are lies.
- Do we lack godly confidence in ourselves and our relationship with God, leading to insecurity, anxiety and depression (Proverbs 12:25)? We can use any form of lust as a quick fix for all of those complex feelings and emotions. Whatever we lust after to make us feel less anxious, insecure or depressed for a short time is temporary. We have to deal with the root of the problem.
- Are we making poor health decisions—like neglecting sleep, exercise, good nutrition, etc.—and filling the void with something that makes us feel good (or gives a false sense of health)? Lust is much more appealing when we have brain fog or are tired, hungry, bored or idle. Why give it this enormous open door?
- Are we neglecting godly priorities in our lives, like taking care of our families, serving others and trying to please God? Lust distracts us by causing us to prioritize ourselves above all others. Love of money, or materialism, breeds all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
When we try to fill holes in our lives with lusts, we will always be unsatisfied and incomplete—continually searching for the next “fill,” but not easily finding it. Lust is like a shiny, expensive-looking cup with a huge hole in the bottom.
Instead, we should fill that hole with God and His ways. In other words, fill it with godly thinking, pursuits and character. The most powerful way to overcome lust is to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). (To learn more, read “How Do You Know You Have the Holy Spirit?”)
2. Seek help and support from the right people and sources.
Once we’ve identified why lust is plaguing us and what hole we may be using it to fill, the next thing we have to recognize is that we can’t defeat it by ourselves. There are a myriad of resources available to help us, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
God wants us to overcome lusts, live an abundant life now and ultimately receive eternal life (John 10:10; Mark 10:29-31). However, Satan, our adversary and enemy, only pretends to help us by offering to fulfill our darkest desires and lusts (Ephesians 2:2). He wants us to seek his version of happiness from fulfilled lust, not from God.
We will seek help from one or the other. God wants us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19). We can do that by seeking Him in prayer, study, meditation and obedience to His law of love. We will soon learn that those things are for our benefit and are the greatest source of help we have (Deuteronomy 6:24).
Apart from the Bible, there are thousands of resources to read, listen to and learn from. However, while some of these resources can provide helpful points, others can be devastating in our fight against lusts—sometimes excusing wrong behaviors that are lusts or lead to lusts.
When looking for resources to help, spiritually discerning what will and what will not help is part of testing all things and holding fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Friends and family can serve as an amazing support system for overcoming lusts. But, in some circumstances, they can also become a part of the problem.
There are our friends and family who will stay away from bars (if alcohol is our trigger) or pricey restaurants (if wasting money is our trigger) to help us, but there are others who will encourage us to stay up an extra hour gaming (if video games are our trigger) or to have that third bowl of ice cream (if junk food is our trigger).
The point is, we need to be very careful with our influences. Will the people around us lead us toward or away from our weaknesses? Choose to spend time with the latter!
3. Be a detective and examine failure.
In order to change the thinking that results in succumbing to various lusts, we can closely examine our failures and successes and consider them as learning opportunities. We need to be aware of what is going on in our heads when we fail or succeed.
We should take sin so seriously that we view it as a crime—a crime against God. Successfully overcoming lust can provide a lot of answers and encouragement, but examining failure can as well. If we stumble in our battle with lust (and we will, at times), we can treat our failure as a crime scene and take on the role of a detective.
After all, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Instead of wallowing in endless guilt, we can diligently investigate which law(s) we broke and why. We should take sin so seriously that we view it as a crime—a crime against God.
As detectives at our crime scene, we can go through a procedure similar to the following:
- What was my thinking like at the time of the crime? Was I hungry, tired, angry, anxious, depressed? Are there healthy ways I can deal with that thinking when it arises again?
- Where was I and who was around me? What was the setting of the crime and how could I change my environment to avoid future crimes?
- What was the motive of the crime? Why did I fall into the lust? How can I change my motives?
We should deal with these issues instead of ignoring them and just vaguely hoping we do better next time they arise. This kind of personal investigative work can help us be more careful about our future thinking or the environments we choose to be in.
Examining these specifics can be a practical way to learn from our failures. God is merciful and wants to help us overcome and change (Hebrews 4:16), not wallow in self-pity, self-degradation and self-loathing as we stay stuck in the mire of lust.
Fight the good fight
Lust is not easily overcome. It might turn out to be the hardest fight of our lives.
The Bible describes how sin can reign inside us and turn us into its slaves, obeying its lusts (Romans 6:11-13). No one wants to be a slave, especially to something so empty and unfulfilling as lust. With God—who always wants the best for us—on our side, we can overcome lust.
Get out there and fight.
Topics Covered: Christian Living, Social Issues, Overcoming