What The Bible Says About Lustful And Nasty Thoughts
The Bible says people should aspire to be free of bad thoughts, besides not doing actual things that might end up harming others. After all, bad attitudes and actions, and temptations it's hard not to give in to, will always be sparked off in the first place by thoughts. Without thoughts of doing bad things, they naturally won't be done.
If you're suffering from a religious form of OCD where you have disturbing thoughts intruding into your mind of a sexual nature or worries over blasphemous thoughts, you might benefit from reading our self-help article instead: Conquering Distressing Abhorrent OCD Thoughts.
Psalm 139 (TEV)
1 Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
2 You know everything I do;
from far away you understand all my thoughts.
3 You see me, whether I am working or resting;
you know all my actions.
4 Even before I speak, you already know what I will say.
5 You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.
Psalm 139 (NLT)
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Lust is not just another word for sexual desire. Lust is when someone's desire to do or have something such as sex comes first, above any consideration for the welfare of anyone who could possibly be harmed if they do or have it, or any concern about whether it would really be best for them themselves.
So, for instance, a man with lustful thoughts might look at a pornographic magazine or website, and masturbate as he fantasizes about having sex with the women in the pictures, without caring one little bit about their welfare. Lust will just make him get absorbed in his own pleasure. If he looks at the magazine or website with caring-concern instead, he might at first feel a stirring of sexual desire - it'll be difficult to help that; but then he might think something like:
"What are you women doing, presenting yourselves as commodities to be masturbated over by people who don't care one little bit about you, people who might fantasize about having sex with you but won't give a second's thought to whether you enjoy what you do, or could be making something better of yourselves? If one of you was my daughter, I wouldn't want you posing sexually in a place where any old pervert could masturbate over you; I'd want you going into a career where your best talents and skills could be developed so you could be happy and respected; and I'd want you having a relationship with a man who respected you and cared what happened to you and wanted the best for you."
Or if a young man went into a bar or a club and saw young women getting drunk, if he was used to a lustful way of thinking, he might think, "Oh good, I'm in with a chance here; some of these chicks might not want to have sex with someone they'd only just met if they were sober, but they'll likely do anything drunk, so I'm going to have fun. They look sexy! I'll go and chat one up; if my technique's good enough, I expect I'll get her into bed with me for the night."
If his attitude was one of caring-concern/compassion and respect, on the other hand, he might instead think something like,
"What are you women doing, drinking so much your judgments are going to be impaired so you'll be more likely to make bad decisions such as to go to bed with someone you've never met before tonight, who might have some kind of horrible sexually transmitted disease for all you know? Or what if you enjoy being with him and the sex seems affectionate and you become attached to him and hope you'll see him again, but all he wants is a one night stand and doesn't care a thing about you, so you exchange numbers and he says he'll call you, but he never really intends to call you and will just want to move on to someone else, just thinking of you as a past conquest he can congratulate himself on and massage his ego about, so you just end up getting upset? That'll be sad. Or what if you end up pregnant, but he's long gone by then and anyway you don't want a child? Why are you risking all those things? What a pity you're not enjoying yourself in a safer more healthy way. I wish you were."
So when the Bible speaks out against lustful thoughts, it's talking about thoughts about selfishly doing things that might feel good in the short term, but mean a lack of consideration for others, and a possible recklessness as to the consequences for others or oneself. And when it talks about how instead of lust, people should have love and consideration for others, it means people should care about each other's well-being and want the best for them.
Matthew chapter 5 (NLT)
27 "You have heard that the law of Moses says, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Some men laugh and sneer at the idea that there could possibly be anything wrong with merely lustfully thinking about seeing scantily clad or naked women. But for one thing, thoughts, if cherished, can lead to temptations, which can lead to actions for some people. Also, lustful thoughts can lead to uncaring attitudes. Some might come to understand the problems of those more if they ponder the question:
How do you think you'd feel if you were a woman and you were walking along in the summer so you weren't well covered, and you heard a man commenting in delight to another one behind you or from across a room, "Look, another half-naked woman!"
Do you think you'd like it, or do you think you might think it was a little creepy and made you feel a little uneasy or even a little unsafe, or at least irritated? If it would, why might you feel like that?
Or what if you were a woman and were told that a man you know had just commented like that about women dressed like you, or you heard someone in the room commenting like that about a woman on television or in a magazine? Would you respect him as much as you did before, or would you think he might be devaluing women as if their purpose was simply to be there for men's sexual enjoyment - for instance if a woman was reading the news or was playing someone in a film who was worried because she'd lost her way, but all he seemed to be thinking about was how big her breasts were? Or do you think his comments would make you wonder if he wished he was up to something he shouldn't be, perhaps enjoying mentally being unfaithful to his wife, without even giving a thought to whether the woman he was lusting over would want the same, or whether she or his wife would end up hurt by it if it happened?
It might be hard for a man to put themselves in the position of a woman who hears a man commenting on her physical appearance like that. But the reason a woman might not like it is because it can seem as if what the man sees when he sees her is not a human being who deserves respect as someone who is bound to have feelings, opinions, skills and talents, a personality, likes and dislikes and so on; what he appears to see is just a shapely piece of flesh that an apparent animalistic stirring in his trousers has made him wish to selfishly use or at least leer at for his sexual enjoyment.
It may be that that's sometimes an unfair interpretation of what men are thinking when they comment like that, because some might not really think of women like that at all. But it's the impression such comments can give.
So men are not only appearing to demean women by making comments that make it seem as if a sexual object is all they see; men are also dishonouring themselves by commenting like that, because some women around them and maybe also some men might think less of them, because they assume they're thinking of the woman they're commenting on as a sex object first and a human second, perhaps so much so that some women might wonder something like, "If I was carrying shopping and someone bumped into me and I dropped it and bent down to pick it up, would he think, "Oh no, she's dropped her shopping; should I offer to help her pick it up?" Or will he not really care about the fact I've dropped it and just think something like, "Corr what a nice arse! It looks especially good up in the air like that!", because all he's thinking about is how sexually appealing I am to him rather than caring about me as a person?
A lot of men may assume that if a woman wears revealing clothes, she must want to attract sexual thoughts and comments and flirting and even propositions. But a lot of women can dress revealingly because the weather's warm or because it's fashionable or they're hoping for admiration, and they might be surprised or unsettled when men treat them as sex objects, rather than as people whose well-being counts for a lot and who deserve to be treated with consideration and respect.
Perhaps a more understanding perspective can be got by thinking about the question:
"How would you feel if you had a daughter of about 16 and you began to hear men making lewd comments about her, or seeing them giving her lustful looks?"
Would you think she was too precious for people to have an attitude like that towards, because you wouldn't like the thought that despite all she meant to you and all the hopes you had for her, they were just thinking of her as someone they'd like to spend a bit of time in bed with? Would you feel protective of her?
If so, then why think it's allright to think that way yourself about other people's daughters, sisters, mothers and so on?
And if a man's wife or girlfriend hears him talking about another woman as if he's got sex on his mind, or looking at pornographic pictures, she can become annoyed or worried by it, wondering if he's hankering after sex with another woman, or thinking the other woman's body is more desirable than hers. There is actual evidence that men who regularly look at pornography sometimes become less satisfied with their sexual partners. That's partly because pictures are often doctored to get rid of imperfections, so the bodies look better than they really are, and better than a human partner would be likely to look. So looking at such things can actually be bad for the sex life.
Women who deliberately present themselves as sex objects are dishonouring themselves, because some men will inevitably and disrespectfully think of their sex appeal as being what they're all about, rather than it being just one of many good qualities that make them human.
People can't help their thoughts; lustful and other thoughts will just flow into the brain by themselves whether they're wanted or not. So people can't be faulted because they do. But people then have several options: either enjoying the thoughts and allowing them to shape their attitudes, or doing something else, such as casually thinking something like, "Oh, there goes another lustful thought", and then getting on with something else and allowing it to just flow away naturally, or soothing any feeling of longing by being thankful that they are, - or probably will be one day, - with a long-term committed partner who it's appropriate and fun to have a sexual relationship with, so they don't need to look elsewhere. And that sexual relationship will hopefully go along with the affection and caring sex was intended to be coupled with, rather than just being about lust.
Also, sometimes it's possible to get a better perspective on the way things look from others' points of view and whether they're allright to do if you think, "If Jesus was standing next to me right now, what would he think about what I'm doing or thinking?" Thinking about that could stop some thoughts and fantasies in their tracks.
Mark chapter 7 (NIV)
21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts,
Proverbs chapter 15 (TEV)
11 Not even the world of the dead can keep the Lord from knowing what is there; how then can we hide our thoughts from God?
Romans chapter 8 (NLT)
3 The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful. God destroyed sin's control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the requirement of the law would be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. 7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God's laws, and it never will. 8 That's why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all.)
10 Since Christ lives within you, even though your body will die because of sin, your spirit is alive because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by this same Spirit living within you.
12 So, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 For if you keep on following it, you will perish. But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family - calling him "Father, dear Father." 16 For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children.
17 And since we are his children, we will share his treasures - for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too.
Proverbs chapter 4 (TEV)
23 Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.
24 Never say anything that isn't true. Have nothing to do with lies and misleading words.
Proverbs chapter 21 (TEV)
2 You may think that everything you do is right, but remember that the Lord judges your motives.
Proverbs chapter 30 (TEV)
12 There are people who think they are pure when they are as filthy as they can be.
13 There are people who think they are so good-oh, how good they think they are!
Proverbs chapter 16 (TEV)
30 Watch out for people who grin and wink at you; they have thought of something evil.
Philippians chapter 4 (Living Bible)
8 Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.
Isaiah chapter 65 (NIV)
2 All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations-- 3 a people who continually provoke me to my very face, ... 7 ... says the LORD.
Jeremiah chapter 17 (NLT)
9 "The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? 10 But I know! I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives.
Luke chapter 17 (NLT)
1 One day Jesus said to his disciples, "There will always be temptations to sin, but how terrible it will be for the person who does the tempting. 2 It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck than to face the punishment in store for harming one of these little ones.
James chapter 1 (TEV)
13 If we are tempted … we must not say, "This temptation comes from God." For God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But we are tempted when we are drawn away and trapped by our own evil desires. 15 Then our evil desires conceive and give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
To demonstrate how thoughts can lead to actions, and thus, one reason why some of them should be considered sinful, here are two excerpts from articles. The first is from a story about what appeared to be an occult experience inflicted on a woman by a man, (what it really was will forever remain a mystery) the woman taking action which was very unkind after a while to try to rid herself of the problem: (The article is linked to Here.)
"I resorted to doing something that was probably far more drastic than necessary to make him leave me alone, and to try to make him think about what he was doing. Although I'm a Christian, I regrettably discovered a few of my weaknesses and resorted to some sinful behaviour in the process. I sent him a long letter, most of which responded to the many criticisms of Christians he often made, the thinking partly being that if he became less antagonistic towards Christians, he might be more open to becoming one, and if he did, he wouldn't want to do scary things to people anymore. I did also genuinely want him to become a Christian. I was concerned about him. … The sinful part involved me thinking up some weird theories about why he was the way he was, some of which were reasonable, but some of which were extreme. I let my imagination run away with me. I found some of them rather amusing for reasons I can't remember now, but they probably upset him. …
I'd actually been entertaining myself with very mildly racist thoughts about the man for some time. ... I'd enjoyed trying to imagine what he would do if I provoked him by telling him the jokes I'd made up, because he got very scathing even about trivial comments he didn't like. I'd thought my thoughts were just a piece of harmless fun, particularly since I'd never mentioned them to anyone else. But they weren't godly thoughts. They were disrespectful.
I found him fascinating sometimes, but I'd actually begun to think of him some of the time as an object of entertainment and curiosity, because some things about him were so unusual. But I discovered that that's dangerous, because thinking of someone as an object makes it easier to do horrible things to them, because you're less concerned about how what you do will make them feel, because of course objects don't have feelings.
I was so amused by my thoughts at the time that I didn't stop to think about whether I should have been having them. But when the time came when I wanted to fend off the man, having been thinking them already, it was easy to embellish the thoughts and make them nastier. If I had stopped myself from thinking the ungodly thoughts much earlier, it's very doubtful that it would have suddenly occurred to me to begin thinking nastier versions of them when I was under stress. Therefore, my attack on him wouldn't have been so bad.
This realisation was mirrored a few months later when someone who helped me sort out the occult problem turned up and read me parts of some Christian books, some of which were about the occult and some of which were about other things. One was about a Christian thought life. I can't remember who the author was or what the title was, but it said that a pastor the author counselled had had an affair with a woman that eventually ended his career. The affair had started after she'd come to him for counselling and he was sexually attracted to her, and she'd enticed him to begin a relationship with her, and he couldn't resist the temptation. Apparently, the reason he'd been so quick to fall into it was because he'd been having sexual thoughts about women and so his mind was on that track to begin with. If he'd had a history of stopping himself from having lustful thoughts whenever they came into his head, obeying the Bible, which says that thinking about extramarital sex is as sinful as doing it, it would have been less likely that he'd have been so quick to fall into temptation, because his mind wouldn't have been focused on such things.
Worse than this, it's known that sex offenders feed their compulsions to offend through their thought life. From an article about current treatment programmes for sex offenders, Multi Agency Work With Sex Offenders in Northern Ireland:
"Sexual offending is now viewed by workers in the field as a form of compulsive and obsessional behaviour. It involves:
Sex offending is now viewed as a cyclical process with offenders targeting their victims, de-personalising them through fantasy and distorted thinking, sometimes even rehearsing part of the offence and building up to the offence itself. This "cycle of abuse" is not fully worked through by all offenders, in all cases, but the model provides a useful framework within which sex offending can be understood and interpreted. A programme of work can then be developed to try and reduce the probability of offending in the future.
... There is a lot of evidence that sex offenders consciously work on developing inappropriate arousal and fantasy patterns over prolonged periods of time as a way of overcoming their inhibitions to carry out their sexual offences. Sexual arousal is learned behaviour and is controllable. More suitable outlets for sexual expression can be developed."
It's been said that when a murderer claims in court that they just snapped temporarily and lost control, that is actually very unlikely to be true. They will probably have been fantasising about murdering the person for some time, and then one day under provocation - even if the provocation is only a minor irritation while they're feeling angry about something else, they actually do it. They may have thought of their fantasy as a mere safety valve before, but it does make them far more likely to commit the act they've been fantasizing about when they're under temptation than they would have done if they'd never fantasised about it. It's as if they've been cuing the emotional part of their brain to respond quickly when a provocation similar to the one they've been fantasising about getting violent in response to happens, for example when they're nagged. So they kill in the heat of the moment before they have time to think about whether it's really a good idea.
Someone once emailed me saying he had a pornography addiction. He was ashamed of it and would often clear his hard drive of pornographic images; but no matter how bad he sometimes felt about having looked at them, within days, he was searching the Internet for pornography again, looking for worse and worse things, which worried him afterwards, but at the time it gave him pleasure. He wanted help. He was worried that sooner or later he would start wanting to do the things portrayed in the pornography he looked at to people, and that he would merely think of women as objects.
I suggested that he re-focus his mind on other things. He said he was a Christian, so I suggested that in the times when he would normally search for porn, one thing he could do would be to go to websites where he could read Christian testimonies instead. (There are testimonies about how people became Christians linked to on this site on the main Bible pages.) I advised that one thing he should try to re-focus his mind on was other people and their needs, and on trying to help them. I said he could do this partly by going to websites where there are lists of prayer requests, where he could pray for others instead of looking for porn. (There are links to websites where you can pray for others on Bible Part 1.) I advised that he should remember the prayer requests, so that when his mind was unoccupied, he could pray for the people with problems. I said that filling his mind with something useful might well stop it from going back to dwell on unhealthy thoughts at those times.
I also suggested he focus his mind on the Bible, and specifically on his favourite verses. I recommended him to read some about the compassion of Jesus, such as you might find written about in the selections of Bible quotations about Jesus linked to in Bible Part 1.) I also gave him links to websites where he could get further help with recovering from addiction.
When he got my email, he said that it was as if it brought him to his senses, and he lost the desire to look at pornography for the most part after that.
Ephesians chapter 5 (NLT)
3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God's people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes - these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God.
Galatians chapter 6 (NLT)
1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.
1 Corinthians chapter 10 (NLT)
12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin.
1 Corinthians chapter 10 (TEV)
13 Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.
Hebrews chapter 4 (TEV)
13 There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves. 14 Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God - Jesus, the Son of God. 15 Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16 Let us have confidence, then, and approach God's throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
1 Peter chapter 1 (TEV)
13 ... have your minds ready for action. Keep alert and set your hope completely on the blessing which will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. 15 Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy. 16 The scripture says, "Be holy because I am holy."
Colossians chapter 3 (NLT)
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God's right hand in the place of honor and power. 2 Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. 3 For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
I heard a sermon by the inventor of the Alpha course, Nicky Gumble, who said he recalled a man who had been to a strip club several years before, and after that had developed an on-going lustful attitude towards people. His attitude to his wife changed and they lost the intimacy in their marriage. Part of him began to want desperately to be cleansed by God from his constant lustful thoughts, but another part of him didn't want to let them go, because he enjoyed them so much. But one day, it occurred to him that God was offering something so much more enjoyable and precious than his lustful thoughts that it would be worth letting them go. When he did, his relationship with his wife improved and he began to see it as a precious thing and her as a valuable person again, which made it much more fulfilling for him.
Another reason unholy thoughts are considered sinful is that they disappoint what the Bible claims to be God's ideal of purity which all Christians should aspire to with the help of God's Holy Spirit, and which it is said Christians will achieve in heaven, a state in which we will live for eternity.
1 Thessalonians chapter 5 (TEV)
23 May the God who gives us peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being-spirit, soul, and body-free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians chapter 1 (TEV)
4 Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him.
Colossians chapter 1 (TEV)
21 At one time you were far away from God and were his enemies because of the evil things you did and thought. 22 But now, by means of the physical death of his Son, God has made you his friends, in order to bring you, holy, pure, and faultless, into his presence. 23 You must, of course, continue faithful on a firm and sure foundation, and must not allow yourselves to be shaken from the hope you gained when you heard the gospel.
Ephesians chapter 5 (NLT)
25 You husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.
1 Corinthians chapter 1 (TEV)
6 The message about Christ has become so firmly established in you 7 that you have not failed to receive a single blessing, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be faultless on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians chapter 3 (TEV)
12 May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. 13 In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him.
Hebrews chapter 12 (TEV)
18 You have not come, as the people of Israel came, to what you can feel, to Mount Sinai with its blazing fire, the darkness and the gloom, the storm, 19 the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of a voice. When the people heard the voice, they begged not to hear another word, 20 because they could not bear the order which said, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death." 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling and afraid!" 22 Instead, you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, with its thousands of angels. 23 You have come to the joyful gathering of God's first-born, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, who is the judge of all people, and to the spirits of good people made perfect. 24 You have come to Jesus, who arranged the new covenant.
1 Peter chapter 1 (TEV)
2 You were chosen according to the purpose of God the Father and were made a holy people by his Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be purified by his blood.
2 Corinthians chapter 7 (TEV)
1 So let us purify ourselves from everything that makes body or soul unclean, and let us be completely holy by living in awe of God.
Romans chapter 12 (TEV)
1 So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.
2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God-what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. 3 And because of God's gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you.
Isaiah chapter 55 (NLT)
6 Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. 7 Let the people turn from their wicked deeds. Let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong! Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 "My thoughts are completely different from yours," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.