This blog, along with the sampling of questions, is an excerpt from Lesson 6 of Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women, our new small group curriculum. Sexual Faithfulness is available as a free digital download in our online store.

“What are you thinking?” We ask this of each other often, don’t we? When our minds are troubled, and our thoughts seem filled with unholy and disturbing ideas or images, we need outside help. Christ does not leave us to fend for ourselves but rescues us out of our distress to produce peace in our thought lives.

God’s Word makes a startling statement about a believer’s thought life. 1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us that, through our union with Jesus, we now have the mind of Christ. This gives us the ability to distinguish good from evil and truth from lies. Believers can think as Christ thinks. Throughout this lifetime, we will battle to keep our thoughts set on him and the truths of Scripture, but, no matter what you have been through, it is possible to have your mind renewed so that you experience thought patterns that line up with the gospel and an increasingly Christ-centered emotional life.

Women who have pursued pornography, sexual fantasy, sinful sexual experiences, and other expressions of sexual sin increase their likelihood of experiencing troubled thought lives. Sadly, women who have been sinned against with sexual trauma can have troubled thought lives, through no fault of their own. Some say that an image or memory can pop into their minds in an instant, even though they have not looked at porn or been involved sexually with someone for years. Others’ patterns of thought are entangled with troubling emotions that seem deeply engrained in their responses; prayer, Bible reading, and listening to Christian music push away these thoughts for a time, but they still return. Distressing, scary, shame-provoking memories about themselves, their bodies, men, women, relationships, and more flood their minds like an incoming wave or an unexpected hurricane that threatens to undo them.

The Bible teaches that all things are the servants of God (Psalm 119:91) and that all things are in subjection to and under the authority of Jesus (Ephesians 1:22–23). Yet many of us struggle to come anywhere close to clean and holy thought lives that serve Jesus. Present and past experiences have formed pathways in our minds that produce dark thoughts—and usually result in sinful behaviors too. Maybe we have absorbed sexual images through pornography, movies that normalize and celebrate sin, or books that feed sensual ideas and fantasies. Maybe the memories that currently trouble you aren’t primarily sexual in focus, but they are connected to messy relational dynamics in which you were ensnared, like codependency and emotional enmeshment. Perhaps fear triggers a moving sidewalk in your thoughts that carries you from distraction to distress to destructive patterns of thinking.

We have thoughts; we feel different things; we make behavioral choices and decisions. Trying to untangle and tease out all the components can be complicated. Whether this process occurs over a matter of seconds, minutes, hours, or days, we eventually arrive at conclusions. Many women describe the result of this moving sidewalk as a painful, hopeless place in their minds that eventually leads them to respond with less-than-helpful choices and actions.

Do you relate to this at all? If so, how? If this does not resonate with you, what has helped you to keep your thoughts off the moving sidewalk?

2 Corinthians 10:3–5 is one of the most quoted passages regarding our thought lives. Paul is defending his ministry against false teachers and the unbiblical ideas contained in their teachings. Just a few verses later in 11:1–3, we gain more insight into the unseen forces: Satan used false teaching to deceive and seduce the Corinthians’ minds away from devotion to Jesus. In addition to outside influences, our personal unbelief has effectively served as “false teachers” in our lives.

It’s important to recognize this so that we can learn how to take “every thought captive” to God’s truth in order to obey Christ. Rather than allowing our thinking to control us and lead to sin, we must let God’s Word control us and transform our thinking.

Sisters, sometimes we can be tempted to just want an easy, comfortable Christianity, can’t we? We often don’t want to do the hard work that results in a Christ-honoring, Bible-aligned thought life. Rather, we want to simply roll up to a drive-through, place an order through prayer, get what we want, and move on down the highway with a no-effort, no-cost faith. Here’s the problem with that: Such a highway doesn’t exist! As Romans 8:5–8 warns us, there is so much at stake when it comes to the posture of our thoughts.

For believers, over time, our belief systems and thought patterns are conformed more and more to God’s Word. Triggers will lose their power to tempt us towards sin and self as God’s Word becomes more real to us. Christ will be honored in our lives and relationships. Memories of certain images, stories, and experiences will fade over time, maybe completely, maybe not. But we will experience a huge change in how we respond to those memories and what choices we make when we’re triggered by them. The result will be a slow, steady transformation of our thoughts and lives becoming more and more like Jesus. This is what we have been created for!

Questions for Reflection, Discussion, and Application

  1. What do you learn from Psalm 139:1–2 and 23–24 about why God is so important when it comes to our thoughts? What does he do and provide that no one else, including ourselves, can do or provide?
  2. Isaiah 26:3 offers this amazing promise: “You will keep [her] in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because [she] trusts in you.” Does this promise comfort you or taunt you? Does it provoke hope or shame in your heart? Explain your answer as much as you are able.

Here at Harvest USA, we facilitate Biblical Support Groups for people who struggle with sexual sins. One of our groups for male strugglers incorporates a study of Scripture with an eye toward our behavior. One recent question we focused on was this: What’s really going on in our sexual fantasies?

Are they harmless expressions we all engage in? If these fantasies are inside my own head and don’t affect anyone else, what’s the problem with them? As one guy in the group said, “Is it really anybody’s business what I’m thinking?”

These objections, at first glance, might appear to have some validity to them. But I challenged the men with some of these objections: What if my “private” fantasy includes having sex with your eight-year-old daughter? If you knew that was what I was thinking, you probably wouldn’t be too happy to hear I was teaching your daughter’s Sunday school class next week. Yet we still stick up for ourselves and plead “sanctuary” when it comes to our thought lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pleading a case to hear all that’s going on in that head of yours! But it’s also not a “no man’s land” either. Our thought lives are a reflection of what is going on in our hearts; our thought lives are a door to examining the desires that drive our emotions and behavior. Leave that door unopened to anyone else, and it can lead any one of us down some very dark paths. If we want to find freedom from the enslaving sexual desires that entrap us, then we must be willing to allow others to challenge us at the level of our thoughts and fantasies.

So, what’s going on in our sexual fantasies? I believe, if we’re honest with ourselves, that these secret fantasies represent a place where we find ourselves in control. We live in a world that is largely out of our control, one that frequently seems to be against us. Our fantasy lives are a desperate attempt to carve out a little spot in this world where something works out our way—finally! I know that’s a major issue in my life.

Many men, for example, will ask me if it’s okay to fantasize about their wives. I’ll ask if their wives are built different in their fantasies. But most would respond that it’s more about their wives doing things in their fantasies that they wouldn’t do in real life. Does this sound okay to you? Better still, ask your wife if it sounds okay to her.

Fantasy lives always intrude upon real life, somewhere, somehow. They aren’t harmless; they affect the way we think about or even relate to others in our lives. I know I need God to speak to that part of my heart with authority and grace. I know he does speak to that place. He does so through the words of his people, to those I’ve opened up my heart to, allowing them to challenge my illusions of self-importance.

So what’s going on in my sexual fantasies? A whole lot of me that needs replacing by a whole lot of submitting to the reality of what God is really doing in my life.

What about you? What do your fantasies reveal about your heart? What do you need to do with them?

Updated 5.19.2017

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