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Volume 7, Issue 4: Husbandry

Head Games

Douglas Wilson

The biblical standard of sexual morality is not difficult to understand. God requires absolute purity, mental and physical, prior to marriage, and absolute fidelity, mental and physical, after marriage. The fact this is easy to understand does not mean it is easy to do, but it nevertheless is easy to understand.

The clarity of this requirement means that those who want to get around it, while thinking to themselves that they are actually obeying it, or thinking that their disobedience isn't all that bad, must resort to various ingenuities. Peter tells us that we are to abstain from various fleshly lusts which war against our souls (1 Pet. 2:11). As with all warfare, sometimes the assault is straight up the middle, while other times subterfuge is employed. If a man is tempted to head down to a strip joint while the family thinks he is shopping for a Mother's Day present, we could consider that as an "assault up the middle." But there are many other snares which are not nearly so blatant and which ensnare men just as effectively.
Some men daydream at length about sexual activity with women other than their wives, and sanctify this in their minds by including marriage vows as part of the daydream. In other words, in their daydreams they are lawfully single again (perhaps a grieving widower? Such a trial, really . . . ), and then because they marry their new partner, whatever goes on is okay, right? Not right. Wanting another man's wife as one's own wife is right at the heart of breaking the tenth commandment (Ex. 20:17).
Another contrivance is established by the amateur sociologist, who watches programming and reads magazines he ought not in the name of keeping a thoughtful finger on America's pulse. "This is an important film for understanding postmodern culture . . ." He is helped in this in the fact that half the people at church have seen this important film, too. Important films are distinguished from dirty movies by three biblical criteria, but I forget what they are.
Then another man silently blames his wandering mind on his wife. "If she met my needs . . . If she only . . . And if she . . ." A man who thinks this way is like someone who wants to buy a new house because the lawn there is freshly mowed, and the lawn where he lives isn't. He may not be courageous enough to sin openly, but he justifies indulging his mental lust by saying that his wife would have no right to complain if she knew because she is the one who sets him up. The problem here is that lust is not a sin against a wife; it is a sin against God (Ps. 51:4). Moreover, a man who has an unresponsive wife is responsible to God for that too.
Someone else buys the pop-adage that "it doesn't matter where you get your appetite, as long as you eat at home." And so he tells himself that he is actually working hard to improve his relationship with his wife this way. Way to sacrifice, big guy. A variation of this involves mental scissors and library paste and self-justifying editorial skills. I once had a conversation with a Christian man who said that whenever he was looking at another woman's naked body, he just imagined his wife's face on her. But the Bible doesn't tell us to be satisfied with our wives from the neck up (Prov. 5:19). It should consequently be no big surprise to find out that all such promised "improvements" in the marriage relationship are fleeting at best.
A man cannot contrive a defense for this out of the fact that his wife "doesn't mind" if he looks around. Again, sexual fidelity is not a duty a man owes to his wife; it is a duty a man owes to God concerning his wife. Put another way, a wife has no authority to give this kind of permission. Only God may give it, and He has not done so.
Another man has discovered that there is nothing like sin to turn one into a precise exegete. "Jesus said not to lust after a woman. But what does lust refer to anyway? What's the Greek word? And what is the exact dividing line between appreciation of beauty on the one hand, and lust on the other? We have to be careful not to go beyond the Scriptures." The point is simultaneously well-taken and much-abused. The real issue is simply honesty. The sin of lust is distinguished from temptation to lust (and appreciation of beauty), but this does not mean that the realm of temptation is a good place for a man to stand, however nice the view. One of the simple in Proverbs lost his life for being stupid before he got into overt adultery. "With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him" (Prov. 7:21). A popular head game with Christian men is the idea that "I can do this, and still not fall." But when a man has gotten it into his head that the goal of his sanctification is to be as close to sin as he can get without actual sin, he has already joined the ranks of the simple - and deserves everything he gets.

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