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The Theater of the Mind

Michael Beck Michael Beck

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he …” (Proverbs 23:7)

Sin takes place in the theater of the mind as well as with the body. There is adultery in the flesh and adultery in the spirit. Jesus said that those who engage in mental adultery by looking upon a woman to lust after her were just as guilty as those who committed the physical act. “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Likewise, there is fornication in the flesh and fornication in the spirit. Fornication is a heart issue as well. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Matthew 7:21-23) To conjure up sexual images in order to incite oneself toward lust is to be guilty of fornication.

Fornication takes place in the theater of one’s mind as truly as it takes place physically.

Fornication takes place in the theater of one’s mind as truly as it takes place physically. When one allows images of another to enter their mind for the purpose of lusting after them one is engaged in fornication. When one is giving the gaze of their eyes to the physical images that surround them, it is certain they will also be giving the gaze of their “mind’s eye” to such images. The little allowance that is made to “sneak a peek” at the pretty form or handsome figure that passes before us eventually leads to a full-blown pornographic mind. One who allows themselves any “liberty” in this area will not be satisfied with a little lusting. Fornicators do not come in differing varieties. Recognizing that another human being is handsome or pretty is not sin. Allowing one’s own spirit to go out toward them in desire is sin. One who allows a spirit of fornication to rule their heart in so-called “admiration” of another’s beauty is a latent “whoremonger.” Given the opportunity one would be glad to “go further” and see more.

For a long time, our culture has normalized lusting after the opposite sex. The average American sees nothing wrong with “admiring” the beautiful form of an attractive person. In fact, how else do people get married, we say, unless we “fall in lust” with another person? Here lies the fatal flaw in such an argument. A relationship that is built around the attraction to another’s form inevitably sours when that form inevitably changes. “But,” one says, “even if physical attraction is not the sole reason to marry another, isn’t it part of the reason?” One may certainly be physically attracted to the person they will marry, but one does not have to burn with lust toward the opposite sex in order to get married. One need not see their bride (or groom) as the fulfillment of all their lustful fantasies.

God has not given single people the go-ahead to lust after members of the opposite sex in lieu of marriage.

God has not given single people the go-ahead to lust after members of the opposite sex in lieu of marriage. Does God give an unmarried man the license to lust after a woman if she is not married? An unmarried man in whom the spirit of fornication is at work will not only look lustily at single women, he will lust after the attractive married woman as well. The single man who looks upon a woman to lust after her is not concerned whether the object of his lust is married or unmarried. His only concern is whether her form is attractive. He commits adultery in his heart because a spirit of fornication is at work within his heart. If and when he marries will he stop looking at “beautiful women” to lust after them? No. Before marriage, he committed adultery in his heart with other men’s wives, after marrying he will commit adultery in his heart against his own wife.

Singleness is a time of learning to be faithful to God. The single man is told: “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32) The single women is likewise commissioned: “The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit” (1 Corinthians 7:34) Should marriage follow, such preparation enables one to be faithful to one’s spouse. Although scripture says it is better to marry than to burn with lust, it is even better not to burn with lust. It is not a given that every single person must burn.

Singleness is a time of learning to be faithful to God.

God commands: “Keep thy heart with all diligence …” (Proverbs 4:24) We are to diligently guard our hearts and minds from erotic fantasizing. A young person who allows such will inevitably burn with lust. One of several words for “imagination” in Hebrew has the meaning to form. The forming or crafting of a thought in one’s heart is called using one’s imagination. In Genesis 8:21, God acknowledged that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Why is the imagination of man spoken of as evil from his youth? While a youth may refer to a child in scripture, more often it refers to a young person, someone we would today call a teenager. While a young man or woman waits to be engaged in the full privileges and responsibilities of adulthood, the greatest temptations faced will first be in the imagination of their thoughts. A budding awareness of sexual feelings combined with a culture that has normalized lust leads to the dangerous crafting of fantasies. If the theater of the mind is not guarded it quickly can become defiled with the spirit of fornication.

If the theater of the mind is not guarded it quickly can become defiled with the spirit of fornication.

What youth will be so bold as to say, “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” (Psalm 101:3) Parents should instruct their children to set no wicked thing before their eyes, in preparation for setting no wicked thing before their mind’s eye as a teenager. The Psalmist says, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” (Psalm 119:37) How can a child be trained to turn away from “beholding vanity” if such is allowed in front of him by parents who themselves behold it? Parents are to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) Training involves showing a child what is acceptable and what is not in the sight of God. A standard of godliness instilled in a child will equip a youth with a conscience. In our sex-saturated culture we may wrongly assume our children will eventually become ensnared in sexual sin, if not in deed, then in thought. Young people do not have to fall prey to the sin of fornication. But they must be taught to guard their eyes as children and guard their hearts as they cross the threshold to youth.


Michael Beck is a pastor in New York City and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.