When Solomon saw a man without sexual self-control, he saw an enemy army and a pillaged city. He saw broken windows and unhinged doors. He saw the stronghold taken and the people defenseless. Or in his words:
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)
In the modern West, no city has walls; you don’t need to knock at a gate to enter Boston. But in Israel’s ancient Near East, where nations warred for land and survival, walls could make the difference between a flourishing city and a ravaged one. When Babylon breached Jerusalem’s walls, the city that was once “the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2) became a widow and a slave (Lamentations 1:1).
So it is with us in the war against sexual sin. You are a city under siege. The armies of lust are at the gate, with seething hatred in their hearts and satin lies on their tongues. They seek to steal your contentment by making you grasp for phantom pleasures. They yearn to kill your manhood by rendering you incapable of cherishing a woman who is not airbrushed or imaginary. And they long to destroy your very soul by leaving you more in love with lust than with Jesus (1 Peter 2:11).
None of this happens overnight, of course. But over time, as we consistently throw a rope to these “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22) and allow them to climb into our city, the walls crumble under their feet.
A City Without Walls
We haven’t yet grasped the nature of the fight against lust if we think only in terms of individual skirmishes. Each act of disobedience certainly has its consequences; we all know the sting of immediate guilt, regret, and self-reproach. But no single battle destroys your city — no one failure robs your contentment, your manhood, and your soul. That only happens in stages, as habitual defeats gradually weaken your defenses and silence the sound of your war cries.
Yesterday’s loss will not subject a man to the tyranny of lust, but weeks and months and years of losses will (Galatians 6:8). That’s because sin has a subtle soul-twisting quality. Each time we follow the phantom of lust into the caves of our imagination, our eyes become more accustomed to the darkness, and we find the light less welcome. This morbid curving of the soul is what C.S. Lewis called “the real evil of masturbation”:
For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. . . . Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 758)
If we allow ourselves to habitually conjure up that imaginary harem, we will gradually become men who choose imagination over reality, men who find contentment as elusive as a shadow, men who have lost the ability to love a real woman. Or, to return to our image from Solomon, we will gradually become a city without walls. A city where lust roams at will, a city where no woman feels safe, a city that is flirting with total destruction (Matthew 5:29–30).
I know how tempting it is for single men to seek refuge in the thought that marriage will end this warfare. But marriage, as much as it may bolster a man’s sexual self-control (1 Corinthians 7:8–9), cannot make a persistently lustful man pure. Saying “I do” cannot rebuild the walls he has demolished through a thousand clicks, fantasies, and double takes. Men who have laid down their weapons during singleness should not be surprised when months, weeks, or even days into marriage they find lust inside the city gates.
A City with Barricades
So Satan and the armies of lust are laying siege to your city. The destroyer who turned a garden into a wasteland would smile to see your citadel collapse into ruins.
But the Holy Spirit is on a counter mission to defend your city — to raise the battlements, to post the guards, and to fortify the gates. He burns with zeal to make your city a home of righteousness, where a woman walks safely and where the noise of songs and dancing rumbles through the streets. The Holy Spirit’s presence transforms your city into a temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19), and he is jealous to make it holy.
If habitual sin twists our souls and tears down our walls, habitual righteousness beautifies our souls and builds our walls. Every time you say no to lust by the power of God’s Spirit, you are not simply denying yourself; you’re building. You are not simply beating off the hordes of enemy armies; you’re setting stone on top of stone until the walls become impenetrable.
Every time you lower the sword of God’s promises on the leering head of lust (Ephesians 6:17), you are turning outward toward other people instead of inward toward yourself. You are banishing those shadowy brides and preparing to welcome a flesh-and-blood wife. And most importantly, you are sharpening your sight of God’s beauty — the only sight that will flood you with pleasure upon pleasure forever (Matthew 5:8).
In other words, you’re becoming more like Jesus, the man who faced the rage of enemy armies but never once let a soldier through the gates. Jesus was a walking fortress of a man — a city of contentment and manhood and sexual wholeness. Within his walls lives everything good. And one day soon, he will welcome us in as his bride, and we will revel in the strength of his steadfast love (Revelation 19:6–8).
Until that day, men, let’s fight with everything we have to become more like him.
He Died for This
Maybe you read this and think it’s too late. You’ve already dismantled the walls of your city. Lust has taken up its residence inside you, and you feel beaten, shackled, enslaved. If that’s you, hear Jesus’s word to every sinner, sexual or otherwise: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus died to seek and save people like you — the lost, the sexually defiled, the one who has no self-control, the city without walls.
And Jesus also died so that you might take up a sword and raise the resistance. He died so that you might “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” and live a “self-controlled, upright, and godly [life] in the present age” (Titus 2:12). He died so that, by the power of his Holy Spirit, you might build some walls, raise some barricades, and defend the city.
Scott Hubbard is a seminary student at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis and a content strategist for desiringGod.org.