Immodesty and Lust: A Man’s Perspective

Friends, do I have a treat for you! Only rarely has my husband, Ike, written on my blog, but today I have asked him to weigh in. He’s here to offer his perspective on a topic about which he knows much more than I: male lust.

One of the reasons I asked Ike to address this topic is that I fear Christians have a terribly low view of men. When it comes to male lust, men come off sounding like animals. Whenever I hear that “men cannot help themselves,” I also hear this: the resurrection is powerless to heal the brokenness of sin, and depravity ultimately trumps renewal.

I am not satisfied with this narrative. We need to expect more from men, and from Christ. We women need a better understanding of male lust in relation to the cross, and Ike’s words have really helped me in that regard. As you read, I hope he will encourage you too.

Here’s Ike….

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As a spectator of the lively conversations about modesty, I know that Christians have a great deal to say about what women should and should not do, or should and should not wear.  However, relatively little of the modesty discussion has been addressed to men. Instead, the church has adopted a problematic notion that, left unaddressed, will prevent Christians from ever arriving at a real or biblical solution.  It is the notion that all men lust, hopelessly and helplessly.

A friend of mine was recently confronted for dressing immodestly.  She was approached indirectly, and informed that some men in her church were struggling with her dress.  She received the statements graciously, but she later shared an insightful frustration with Sharon and me.  She commented that she would gladly dress more modestly out of love and concern for her brothers in Christ, but there seemed to be no corresponding “rehabilitation” required for these men who, apparently, struggled with lust.

As our friend pointed out, there is a glaring inconsistency in the church, one that allows men to make judgments about the modesty of women without confessing and repenting of their own complicit lust in the process.  Instead, a woman is accused of immodesty and shamed, all by virtue of the fact that a man has lusted after her; however, the man who engaged in lust does not experience the same public shame. In fact, he is sometimes considered praiseworthy for addressing such a “threat” to the community.

I imagine countless women can sympathize with my friend’s experience.  The truth is, the Church has acquiesced to the notion that “all men lust,” and this is a problem. When men are portrayed as helpless sexual animals, they are logically excused from the hard but truly effective work of exercising self-discipline.

And yet, this hard work is exactly what Christ calls us to. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we hear one of Jesus’ most radical interpretations of the law: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:27-8)

The way in which my friend’s “immodesty” was handled, as I am sure is the case with so many incidents, might lead us to think the verse continues: “…and when you do look at a woman lustfully, go to that women and tell her to dress more modestly.”

But this is not the case. Jesus tells us rather, “if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matt. 5:29). Jesus cuts to the heart of it: The true seat of lust is a man’s heart, not a woman’s body.

No doubt, there is truth to the statement that all men lust, but it is a truth about the condition of the heart, not a women’s clothing.  Rather than portray men as helplessly prone to lust, it would be more accurate to describe lust as an ever-pressing temptation to all men, a temptation that requires great vigilance and discipline of mind.  The failure of men to diligently address this temptation has led to the false conclusion that all men are incapable of resisting the temptation entirely.

On this issue we men are our father’s—Adam’s—children.  On no other issue do we men so unabashedly play our father’s card: God, it was that woman you put here…  Much like Adam, we often shirk our personal responsibility by shifting the blame and attention, in this case, to the secondary contribution of immodesty.

To be sure, there is a place for conversation about modest dress, but to stop there is to treat only the symptoms of a much deeper sickness: we as men have not chastened our desires and disciplined our minds in accordance with the things of God (Phil. 4:8).

Treating the issue—gouging out the eye and throwing it away—means doing the hard work of establishing healthy thought patterns regarding women.  In particular, men need to establish healthy habits for our eyes and our minds in relation to the female body and person.

What does this look like in practical terms?  Personally, I have established habits and practices to vigilantly resist this ever-pressing temptation. However, rather than prescribing universal rules for all men, here are some self-reflective questions that might help individual men determine what is effective for them:

  1. 1. Why are you looking at a woman?  There are many legitimate reasons to be looking at a woman: she is your co-worker, classmate, leader, or volunteer in a ministry you work with, etc.  But we men know there are less than honorable answers to this question as well. Be aware of your motives
  2. 2. Why are you looking a second time? When you see a woman, especially one to whom you are sexually attracted, what is your reason for looking again?  What is your intention and what do you hope to accomplish?
  3. 3. When you look at a woman, where does your gaze come to rest?  Do you look her in the eyes, or do you look at her disrespectfully when you think she doesn’t see you? For me, it is difficult to lust after a woman when I am looking her in the eyes.

These are only a few of the self-reflective questions we men must consider if we hope to reclaim our minds. Ultimately this issue is not about locating the proper place of blame but about freeing and renewing ourselves from the possessive oppression that lust exercises upon men’s minds.  In this liberation we men are freed for clear and healthy thinking, and to love and honor our sisters in Christ as whole people, created in the image of God.

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If you have any questions for Ike or me, feel free to let us know in the comments section!