I came across your site today and have been able to get my answers to a lot of questions I had from there. I am a new believer and my faith is about one and a half months old. I have been exhilarated at the beginning of the faith. But now it has become exceedingly difficult in the last few weeks. I don't know whether it's temptations and trials from Satan or not, but I am being bombarded with images of sex, incest, and the like on a minute by minute basis. Sometimes bad thoughts, even about God or Jesus, suddenly come to my mind from nowhere. My mind does not rest for even one second and is always thinking about how to stop this.
I have prayed about the problem but to no avail. I don't lust for anyone knowingly and have done away with even habits like watching porn or looking at women upon deciding to become born again. However, since images are as good as really doing the things that we imagine, as Jesus warned, "I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Must I have not already lost my salvation? Moreover, every living moment has become hell for me and sometimes I tend to think I was better off before being saved since I had a normal life. Even before faith, I have never physically committed adultery or anything of the sort.
I am too embarrassed to discuss such blasphemous thoughts with anybody, and sometimes I tend to wonder whether I am losing it slowly. Neither my friends or anybody I know seems to have any problem as I have, nor I could find instances in the question and answer section of your site. I would be obliged if you can guide me on this predicament.
Thank you for the wonderful site and the guidance there.
"But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles" (Matthew 5:20-21).
The problem you are facing is one that I have discussed with many other people (I Corinthians 10:13). I've noticed over the years that they all tend to be people who are more emotional than your typical person. They are fun people to be around because they easily get excited about things and are joyous in their outlook, but they just as easily swing the other direction.
Let me illustrate what is happening: If I told you not to think of a pink polar bear, what would immediately spring to your mind? A pink polar bear! The difficulty is that in order to not think about something, you must first think about it.
You are new to the faith. It doesn't mean that you haven't faced sin in your past -- after all, you mentioned looking at pornography and lusting after women before you became a Christian. The difference between then and now is that you realize that some of the things you never considered before, and thus did without thought of whether it was right or wrong, you now have a new outlook. You know you shouldn't have sex outside of marriage, so what is the first thing that pops into your head? Images of having sex outside of marriage -- likely the ones you filled your head with before you became a Christian. Of course, you know that is wrong, so you scold yourself and you focus harder on not thinking about those things. But because you are focused on it, those images keep arising because you are so set on not having them in your head.
"For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:9-10).
Paul says there are two ways to approach the Law of God. You can view it as a set of regulations -- don't do this, don't do that -- or, you can see that each law is a consequence of a more basic law -- love your neighbor as yourself. So let's take sexual immorality as an example. Would you want others looking at you as a sex object; a thing to be used for a moment's sexual release and then discarded? Most people realize they want a whole lot more out of a relationship. So a man lusting after a woman is not right because in part it is treating the woman as a thing to be used and not a person of equal stature to himself. When you grasp that notion, then you can say to the thoughts that pop unbidden in your head, "That is not for me, I have too much respect for people to use them as objects for sexual release." Then you can start thinking about how to properly treat them.
If all you do is focus on all the things you know you shouldn't do, you will quickly spiral out of control because you never get the bad thoughts out of your life. Notice what Paul says next:
"And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:11-14).
There are two halves to being a Christian, one is dealing with avoiding sin ("cast off the works of darkness"), but there is an equally essential part: learning to do what is right ("put on the armor of light"). If you all you do is work at removing sin from your life, you will only be temporarily successful. "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation" (Matthew 12:43-45). Emptying your life of sin leaves an empty spot just waiting to be filled by something. If you do nothing else, it will be filled by sin -- not by the same amount of sin that used to be there, but more sin than was there originally. Therefore, to approach being a Christian successfully, you need to fill up your life with righteous things, so that you don't have time for sin ("make no provision for the flesh").
So, get busy doing the good things in life. Go visit some older people who can't get out and bring them a ray of sunshine. Talk to a person about the Lord and when you get stumped, get out your Bible and learn how to respond (Colossians 4:5-6). Find a study that looks interesting to you and work through it, such as "The Lord Your God is an Awesome God!" By focusing on what you ought to do, the bad thoughts will get less and less simply because you don't have time for them. One day you will suddenly realize, "You know, I haven't thought about those things in ages!"
Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule, to reply to my problem. It was really insightful and really appreciate it. And thank you for the link to the book. I understand that I should focus on things that I should do and get on with it rather than thinking about things I should stop! I have decided to ignore such waste thoughts until my faith gets a strong base and then I hope my thoughts will go away. Thanks again for the wonderful website and advice which I am sure is a lifesaver for so many who are struggling like me.