Excerpt from Glittering Vices

Lust thrives in privacy and isolation, and lustful people often feel shame, which also motivates them to keep their struggles hidden from others. But when we hide our sin and deny it, we cannot confess it or deal with it. This means lust’s remedy requires community, openness, and accountability. Sheer individual willpower doesn’t work. It’s a cycle a lot like yo-yo dieting. About 90 percent of all diets fail, with failure defined as having gained back the same pounds lost (and usually more) within a year of starting the diet. Lust’s cycle is similar: we keep it private, trying to tackle it alone, making fervent new resolutions, failing to live up to them, despising ourselves afterward, and then falling into despair and letting ourselves get in again, this time even deeper. To get out of the cycle, we would have to open ourselves up to someone else who can keep us honest and accountable. Countering lust’s alienating tendencies, chastity requires intentionally being part of a community.

There are a host of small, practical things to do, of course. We can keep computers in public areas, get an Internet filter and accountability software. We can know better what makes us vulnerable and schedule alternate activities or call for help during those times. We can keep our language respectful and our jokes clean. We can much more carefully regulate which movies and television shows we watch and which magazines we read. We can dress modestly. One group of teenage boys started a first row club” at church. So that they wouldn’t be distracted by the revealing way girls at their church were dressed, a group of them agreed to sit together in the front pew each week. They physically situated themselves out of the view of temptation and in view of God’s Word. That strategy is worth trying outside of church, too. Reading the Bible and reminding ourselves of his love also helps; he wants the most beautiful and best for us, nothing less. Our minds will be full of images and ideas — but which ones? We can follow Paul’s advice to seek out what is true, honorable, just, pure, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8), rather than letting just anything that comes our way drift in.

The bottom line, however, is that not doing things is not the only or the best answer. Chastity is not mere abstinence, just saying no. Let’s face it, by the time we’re tempted — even if we do say no — it can already be too late to avoid lust. So often we try to have it both ways — filling our senses with lustful stimuli and courting sin without actually consenting to it, and then despairing of our ability to keep our hearts and hands pure in the moment of decision. We tend to try to walk as close to the edge of the cliff as we can, hoping that we can keep our balance and not fall off. Chastity commits us to staying away from the edge altogether. Flee from sexual immorality!” counsels Paul (1 Cor. 6:18 NIV). Don’t court it, flirt with it, consider it, bring it tantalizingly close, and then try to stay strong enough to resist it. Flee early and flee often.

If chastity is not a rulebook of don’ts,” then what is it? It is a pro-love” lifestyle, and therefore a virtue one needs whether single, married, old or young. Chastity is not something you need only when dating or surfing the Internet; it is a quality of one’s character, evident in all areas of life. Chastity is a positive project, a project of becoming a person with an outlook that allows one to selflessly appreciate good and attractive things — most especially bodies and the pleasures they afford — by keeping those goods ordered to the good of the whole person and his or her vocation to love.19 Chastity’s fundamental question is not, How far should I go on a date without crossing some invisible line of sin’ ”? but rather, How can my life — my thoughts, my choices, my emotional responses, my conversation, and my behavior — make me a person who is best prepared to give and receive love in relationship with others?” Chastity preserves and protects and paves the way for wholeness in all our relationships, all of the time. To channel and control our sexual desires is to empower ourselves to love.

The best advice, then, for resisting lust is not to get an Internet filter (although you should do that too!), but to have good friends. If we have genuine friendships in which we learn to give and receive love in a healthy and satisfying way, we will be less inclined to wander off looking for sham substitutes and quick fixes. Good friendships teach us how to respect one another, to offer appropriate physical affection, to appreciate and care for others without looking for something in return, to trust one another. Someone who knows what real love looks like, whether in a sexual relationship or not, is a person who is less tempted to find lustful pleasures a tempting option. If your relationships with others and with God adequately feed your need to love and be loved, you will both see through and despise what lust has to offer.

DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyck. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009. pp. 177 – 178.