My husband and I have been married for more than half a year now. Before that, we were in a courtship for just over two years.
Most of that time was spent struggling with a sin we were deeply ashamed of and which few knew about, save for the closest of friends and a church leader: lust.
From holding hands to cuddling, the temptation to be physically intimate grew increasingly and irresistibly stronger as we grew closer to one another.
We tried to fight this temptation with whatever we had in our arsenal. We prayed feverishly for self-control, submerged ourselves in scriptures on sexual purity and immorality, read and reread Christian articles and devotionals on overcoming lust, instituted a range of physical boundaries, cried tears of shame and frustration and repentance when we crossed them, held ourselves accountable and talked to our mentor couple, and even saw a Christian counselor together.
Yet it often felt like our efforts were in vain. We were ‘doing’ all the right things, weren’t we?
The funny thing is that even though we knew what the Bible, books, and married couples had warned us about lust, we didn’t quite understand. The mere knowledge of what the right thing was wasn’t enough to keep us from doing the wrong thing. It was so much easier to gratify the burning passions of our flesh, than to listen to the quiet stirrings of the Spirit to rein in our desires.
Only in experiencing the consequences of sin did we finally understand the reasons behind the rules. While caving in to our lusts felt pleasurable in the heat of the moment, it also resulted in feelings of shame, guilt, hurt, and pain almost immediately after, which lingered on for days and weeks. We realized that we were actually hurting one another with our lustful thoughts and actions, and grieving our Holy God who had cleansed, purchased, and redeemed us from our sins with the price of His Son’s very own blood.
Because lust is a secret sin that Good Christian Couples don’t talk about openly or seem to face, we felt mostly alone and alienated in our season of courtship. The more ‘Christianlike’ couples around us seemed so determinedly focused on their love for the Lord and good works towards others that we cast stones of shame at ourselves for not possessing that same measure of self-control.
So when I say we struggled with lust, we really struggled with lust.
Finding Hope for Our Battle
On hindsight, I see how God has His purpose for every single season in our lives, no matter how mundane or excruciating. He appointed that season of struggling with purity so that I would experience what King David—my husband’s namesake—underwent himself in Psalm 51.
I had read the psalm before, as a prayer of repentance and redemption when I sinned against God at times. But it began to take on a deeper significance as a personal lament during those months of wrestling with sexual sin.
The psalm is a very intimate glimpse into the heart of David at his lowest moment, after he had committed adultery with a married woman, Bathsheba, and killed her husband, Uriah, out of fear and guilt.
He cries out to God in contrition, recognizing that he had first and foremost sinned against God. Not Bathsheba, the married woman he had taken for himself and impregnated. Not Uriah, her husband whom he had plotted against and murdered in cold blood. Not even the prophet Nathan, who confronted David’s lies and hypocrisy.
David recognized that he had sinned against God alone: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4).
You can sense how wretched David feels, as he acknowledges his utterly sinful state. Yet his cry also contains a glimmer of hope, a hope that his personal sin would lead to spiritual salvation and restoration, for him individually and his nation collectively (Psalm 51:7-15).
But what was his hope rooted in? Where did he find such hope in the dark circumstances that he himself had created?
David knew that his sin—adultery and murder—wasn’t the be-all and end-all. He knew that God wasn’t just a holy and fearful Judge who rightly and justly judges all our sins, but also a God who loves to show mercy, love, and salvation. He knew that God didn’t just delight in physical sacrifices or offerings, but in a “broken and contrite” heart that turns to Him in godly sorrow and repentance (Psalm 51:17). He knew that no matter how evil his transgression, God would be able to take away every single one of his sins (Psalm 51:7-9, 14).
Not only that, David knew that God could create in him a pure heart, renew in him a steadfast spirit to sustain him, and restore to him the joy of His salvation (Psalm 51:10-12).
Holding God’s Word Close to Our Hearts
I can’t remember the number of times I prayed this passage in tears and mourning.
Throughout the twilight of our courtship, I held this psalm close to my heart, as a promise and comfort, through every small slip and unseen stumble, in every dark valley and every quiet corner of shame.
It reminded me, again and again, that though I may have sinned against God, our sexual sin was not the end of the story. Instead, I can find rich mercy, unfailing love, and great compassion whenever I turned to Him in humility and repentance—not because of anything worthy I’ve done, but purely out of His own greatness and goodness.
His Word gave me a hope to cling to and the courage to cry out to Him every time we stumbled and failed, to find forgiveness and endurance in our journey, and to write this, even now.
Over those two years of courtship, His Word and Spirit forged a deep personal conviction within us, to be faithful to Him, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. We learned that the most important weapon against lust wasn’t so much about distracting ourselves with what to do or what not to do, but about sitting at the feet of Jesus daily, listening to His Word, and choosing the good portion: our Lord and Savior Himself (Luke 10:38-42).
Just as how King David turned his transgression into a testimony for the Lord, I pray that our own might give you the same courage in battling your own struggles, according to His Word:
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
— Psalm 51:14-17
Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a two-part series on overcoming lust in dating relationships. Look out for some practical suggestions in the second article!