In the Orthodox Church, there is a battle chest available, providing us with practical ways to resist sin and to actually defeat it. We don’t just tell people to “try harder”. We also tell them HOW. We give them the weapons they need to wage war against sin, and to arise victorious.
Everyone knows lust is bad. Everybody tells us to fight against it. But not everyone can tell us HOW to fight against lust successfully. We try, we fail, we try, we fail, we try again, and we fail again… and at some point, we realize that we need better advice than just “try harder”.
Today, we will consider twelve practical ways for Christians to do battle against the sin of Lust. These methods are time-tested and trustworthy. And they actually work:
1) Don’t let your fantasies write a check that your loins can’t cash. If you are unmarried, do not fantasize about sex. Ever. Guard your thoughts. If you are married, but your spouse is currently inaccessible, then don’t spend ten seconds thinking about sex. Don’t even think about sex with your spouse. Guard your thoughts. If you are married, and your spouse is currently accessible, then have normal marital relations with your spouse regularly. This helps reduce the risk of illicit temptations.
2) Fight the birds. There is a saying: “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building a nest in your hair.” No thanks to the logismoi, the devil can do this to you without your consent. Sexual thoughts will unavoidably pop into your mind. This does not make you guilty. What makes you guilty is your *response* to that initial thought. The moment an illicit sexual thought pops into your head, immediately “fight off the bird” by distracting yourself with something else, and give that other thing your full attention.
3) Not all distractions are created equal. Some activities (like jogging or weight lifting) take a lot of physical effort, but very little mental effort. Even while doing these things, your mind can still wander into bad places. Other activities (like writing a theological paper, solving a math problem, or reading a good book), so intensely involve your thoughts that you cannot easily keep thinking about two things at once. As long as you are focused on that math, that philosophy, or that puzzle, the thoughts of sex go away for a while. If you try jogging or working out and that doesn’t help, then try distracting yourself with something more mentally intense.
4) Confess it immediately. Call someone godly who you trust (especially a priest), and say, “I’m getting tempted again.” It is amazing how confession totally breaks the power of the Enemy, and makes him go away for a while.
5) Immediately go near other people. When you are standing in the presence of other people, having a conversation with them, it is amazing how easy it is to avoid illicitly pleasuring oneself.
6) Read the Scriptures, and the writings of Orthodox Christian Saints. Sure, you “already know what they say”. But read it again. And again. And again. It helps.
7) Fast. Orthodox Saints agree that indulgence in food is directly connected with indulgence in lust. Thus, by regularly fasting from food for a certain period of time, we do battle against the sin of lust. If you practice asceticism and self-denial with your stomach, that will make it easier to practice asceticism with the other parts of your body.
8) Don’t feed the beast. Again, guard your thoughts. Don’t watch a movie or TV show that has even a little bit of fornication, or a little showing of scantily clad beauties. Even if you only see them for a few seconds, your brain will lock onto those images, and hold onto them for hours (or years). Then when you are alone and vulnerable, your brain will bring those pictures back to torment you and tempt you. Therefore, avoid these triggers to begin with.
9) Look at Orthodox icons. Look directly at the cross. God works wonders through the cross, and He tells you, “Your sin may seem strong, but it is not stronger than THIS!” Other icons are good too, for the same purpose. Remember, porn is just the Devil’s iconography. God is the one who invented icons, and He did so because images are very powerful. Fill your mind with divine images, and God can use those divine images to drive out the other images.
10) Be faithful even if you don’t feel like it. It’s not all about your feelings. You can show faithfulness, even when your emotions haven’t caught up yet to where they should be. Manifest faithfulness long enough, and the feelings will eventually return. Emotions are meant to follow, not to lead.
11) Pray. Don’t fight lust alone. Call upon Christ, call upon the Theotokos, call upon the angels, and call upon all the Saints to assist you. Prayer to the Saints works.
12) This too shall pass. When the temptation hits in a strong way, a voice in your head will tell you, “You have already gone too far. It is impossible for this tension to go away now, unless you manually pleasure yourself.” — This is a lie. — In fact, if you get up, walk around, pray, and forcibly occupy your mind with something else for several minutes, the tension will go away, and the urge will pass. Knowing this to be true can help you successfully win the battle.