Well straight in the deep end - lust. Where do you draw the line between ‘attraction’ and lust, the unhelpful sort? I was involved with pornographic magazines many years ago, before becoming a Christian and getting married. I have prayed, been prayed for, used biblical texts like ‘taking thoughts captive’… I would like to be able to look at all women with a healthy appreciation: some better than others of course, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I sometimes also get into mind games, which are only self-destructive. Maybe I’m looking for a quick fix when it’s hard work at every thought, to not be seduced into a fantasy moment before coming to my senses and praying, repenting, feeling so foolish and helpless.

"Thanks for your question. I know there will be a lot of other men and women out there who will be very glad that you have asked this, as it is such a common challenge. You ask ‘where do we draw the line between attraction and lust.’ The red-herring is to think that it is primarily what goes on in our heads that draws the line. Rather, I believe that a line is created by the given (or withheld) relationship and then we have to learn the discipline of following that line.

Attraction is the starting point, which can lead to desire and then to arousal, if it is allowed to go through those stages. A bonded relationship where both partners are giving themselves to each other, gives us permission to follow the tracks of attraction into full-blown arousal, physically and mentally. God’s boundaries advise us to only open the gates into desire and then arousal with our marriage partner, see Hebrews 13:4. (I also believe at the dating stage, this process is appropriate to start and develop in sync with commitment.) So, with your husband or wife, you can open the gate at each boundary and let attraction lead you on into getting really turned on, flirting with her in your speech, body and mind and enjoying the chemistry of this.

On the other hand, we all come across people who are attractive, but with whom we do not have the commitment or permission to walk through the gates of the boundaries that would lead us on from attraction. We have to learn to hold our responses behind the first gate where we can celebrate beauty, in the same way we would react to a sunset or a stimulating painting. It has to stay at a non-sexual level. I am often known to say to my husband ‘doesn’t she look beautiful?’ when we pass a stunning woman. I know he is good at not opening the sexual gate and keeping the looking simple. Lust is where we indulge in forbidden or uninvited arousal. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 emphasises the importance of the mind as much as actions. ‘If anyone looks at a woman lustfully, he has committed adultery with her in his heart.’

Lust usually exists in a situation that is not relational or equally yoked; the object of your lust is not involved with you as a whole person. You are therefore carving them up into split-off parts of their humanness and letting a split-off part of them arouse you. This is usually their physical body, though for some people it is the fantasy of what they have perceived of that other person. This is unhelpful as it de-grades them and reduces your humanity by reducing theirs. This is why it leads to rubbish feelings afterwards. We sense our own reduction. It is also possible to reduce married sex to lust, if we deny intimacy with each other at other levels, splitting off their physical body from their deeper presence.

So, all of this I hope answers your question as to where do we draw the line. However, it doesn’t answer the ‘how’ question! You are right, it is hard work, particularly if we have in the past transgressed boundaries. The more we have done this, the harder it is. On the encouraging front, the more we practise holding healthy boundaries, the easier the discipline becomes. Often the ‘how’ is as simple as making it one look not two. If the mind is still trying to probe when the eyes are being diverted, then give the mind something very distracting to dampen it. I’ve heard that car mechanics or fishing memories work a treat!

But if you do find yourself slipping into a fantasy moment, come round into God’s strength and grace, not into helplessness and foolishness. Luther described the difference between temptation and sin like this: “we can’t stop birds flying over our heads, but we can stop them nesting in our hair”. Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way known to humanity but was without sin. Remember, that if you have felt the winds of temptation blow over your head, all you have to do is not allow a nest to be built. If you can manage this, then you can celebrate your strength and move on. Don’t wallow in the judgementalism of self-criticism and feeling foolish. Ironically, that is more likely to send you into sexual sin, to bring comfort and relief from your sense of failure!"