I've had a problem with lust since I was first introduced to porn when I was nine. Since then, pornography and masturbation are two things I've struggled to overcome.
Recently, I feel my lust has entered even my relationship with my girlfriend. We don't have sex because we know it's not right to do so before marriage. However, we can get quite intimate at times, and although it's not sex, I know it's not right because it's not living in true, fulfilling love that God has planned for us.
I've talked to her about it, and we both agreed to the need to have an authentic Christian relationship and set boundaries. We both know the reasons why we should not be doing this and what the effects of it are on our own relationship with God. However, no matter how much we try, we still often fall back into the same sin.
I feel this problem in our relationship first stems from my own lust and lack of self-control. As the man, I should be the one to be firm about this and lead her closer to God because it is my role to protect her in this relationship. Yet I feel like I'm failing terribly at this. Do you have any advice on how to overcome this?
Thanks for your question and for your honesty. Praise God that you and your girlfriend want to fight sin and conduct yourselves in a God-honoring way in your relationship. I also want to commend you for trying to lead in this area of your relationship and your own life as a faithful man and future husband. Let me offer some thoughts on the standard to fight for, some practical ways to get there, and (I hope) a word of encouragement.
You wrote in your question that you know sex outside of marriage is sin and that other things you’ve been doing, short of intercourse, have been sinful as well. You don’t spell out what you mean by “an authentic Christian relationship” as it relates to the physical, so let me offer a suggestion. As I’ve written on Boundless before, I believe the Bible to teach that all sexual activity outside of marriage is sin, and all romantically oriented physical activity is sexual activity. In my view, this includes premarital kissing. I won’t go into a detailed defense of that idea here – check out my article on “Setting Boundaries” if you want to read more – but it’s clearly biblical in my view (take a look at 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 5:2, I Thessalonians 4:3-8, Song of Songs 2:7, among several other passages).
So while I think the idea is theologically sound, I mention it here for a more practical reason: from the standpoint of lust and temptation, it is actually easier to refrain from a romantic physical relationship altogether than to engage one another in physical intimacy and then try to stop that train at some intermediate “boundary.” As I and Michael Lawrence and others have written here, all romantic physical activity is foreplay that is meant to find fulfillment in actual sex. To the extent that you and your girlfriend arouse sexual desire and then frustrate it, you are doing yourselves no favors in terms of avoiding sin together or your own struggles with masturbation and lust. This is all a long way to say that if you and your girlfriend strive to set your agreed boundaries at no physical relationship, you will not only be doing what is good and right biblically, but you will aid the fight against lust in both your lives individually.
Tools for the Fight
So if you desire to eliminate sexual sin from your relationship and your own life, how do you get there? In both cases, the best tool is accountability. Not a conversation with someone once in a while in vague terms, but regular, consistent, in person, specific, hard-question accountability. Both you and your girlfriend should be in this type of regular accountability with another believer of the same sex who knows you well. The place to find the deep, healthy Christian friendships that can lead to such accountability is in a healthy, biblical church. If you and your girlfriend are not members of such a church, I would encourage you to join one and get deeply involved. If you’re in such a church, seek out accountability relationships. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for this. One of God’s gifts to us in the Christian life is other Christians. God does not intend for us to fight sin completely on our own.
The second set of tools for the fight against sexual sin is simple to identify but difficult to execute – it is the common sense steps that reduce or eliminate opportunities to sin (either with your girlfriend or on your own). Resolve to spend time with your girlfriend only in public rather than in places that present opportunities to sin (time alone in house/apartment; extended time alone in the car out of the view of others). Do you live alone? Consider roommates. Is your computer the problem? Use it only in group areas of your house or apartment – or decide not to have a computer in your home. These sound like radical steps because they are. They are restrictive, inconvenient. But faithfully applied, they work. Sexual sin can be successfully fought. It’s just a matter of what you are willing to do for victory. You said you and your girlfriend fall into sin “no matter how hard [you] try,” but if you’re not taking any of the steps I’ve mentioned, you can try a lot harder.
Finally, pray. Prayer works in the fight against sin! Pray that God would give you faithfulness and discipline; pray that he would give you the will to take the right steps; pray that he would protect you from sin.
Finally, remember the grace of the Gospel. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If you are a Christian, then Christ died on the cross for all of your sins, including the sexual ones. Conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit that leads to repentance is good. Living in guilt, on the other hand, is not for God’s people. There is grace for all of us.
I will pray that you and your girlfriend, with God’s help, will live faithfully for God’s glory in all that you’ve written about.
Copyright 2015 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.