As a pastor I have the opportunity to talk with many men about the dangers and the destructiveness of sexual sin. There are doubtless myriads of temptations and options available to pursue satisfaction of these temptations, however, the root issue is always the same. Furthermore, the solution to dealing with lust is also always singular.
In this post I want to highlight what lust is, why we lust and how to fight lust. The post is not intended to be exhaustive but it is intended to be practical and intensely biblical.
First it would be helpful to define our terms.
What is lust?
The word translated lust in the New Testament is epithumia. The word simply means ‘desire’. This desire can be good or bad; whether it is good or bad depends upon how it aligns with God and his revealed will.
For example, we do not understand a potential church leader to be in sin who is desiring (epithumia) to the work of an elder (1 Timothy 3:1). In this case the desire is a God-honoring desire, therefore it is not a sinful lust.
On the other hand, we have the sin of lust. In our greed we crave or desire something that is not consistent with what God has sanctioned as good. Simply put sinful lust is to desire something that we believe to be ‘good’ outside of what God has called good. It is to put our own will and pleasure above God’s.
This is seen quite clearly through the example of sexual lust. God has said that sex is to occur within the framework of marriage (between a male and a female). Therefore, any lustful craving to experience the intimate pleasures reserved for marriage apart from this sacred institution is to pursue enjoyment apart from God’s clearly revealed will. When a man sits and quietly fixes his eyes and heart upon a woman (whether it be on a computer, television, photo, in person or in his imagination) and then begins to desire her sexually, this is sinful lust. The man has lustfully craved sexual satisfaction apart from what has been specifically outlined and prescribed by God.
Some biblical observations
So with this basic introduction and framework of lust established, let’s make some biblical observations about lust.
We understand from Scripture that sinful lust is as much a part of our unbelieving lives as breathing (Ephesians 2:3; Titus 3:3), and as such lust is not to be characteristic of the Christian life (1 Peter 1:14; 2:11; 4:2-4).
- Jesus tells us that the nature of lust is demonic (John 8:44)
- The Bible reiterates that this lust is sourced in our own hearts and it fastens itself on stuff; people, things and other expressions of vain glory (James 1:14-16)
- A desire/lust for stuff chokes out the gospel seed (Mark 4:19)
- The lusts of the world are clear, succinct and doomed (1 John 2:16-17)
There is an appraisal that takes place. Each one of us, whether a Christian or not, are led by our hearts. [It is this same heart that is described in the Scriptures as the most deceitful thing in the world (Jeremiah 17.9). I do not want to draw a false line so as to somehow conclude that the heart and the person are separate, for your heart is you . . . it is bad because we are bad.] Our hearts then confront us with stuff and the natural fallen tendency is to appraise stuff through the lenses of self-exaltation rather than divine exaltation. We naturally fasten our lust upon that which exalts self at the expense of the glorious exaltation of God. Is this not your experience? It is also the testimony of Scripture (1 John 2:16-17).
When we are confronted by our hearts we are forced to make a choice between that which God calls beautiful and what the sinful heart calls beautiful.
Here is the scenario, men, you are looking at your computer and you desire to look at porn. So you open up a web browser and go to a filthy site in attempt to satisfy your lust. You have just declared that these images are chiefly beautiful and worthy of your desire. You have elevated your selfish lust and appraisal of beauty to a position of supremacy above what God has called beautiful. As a result, you have acted as an idolater, exchanging the beauty of God for the beauty of a fleeting image. Your sinful heart has just robbed the glory of God of what is due to him by ascribed glory and beauty to this woman.
Do you see how devastatingly perverse and pagan this truly is?
God has not willed that you have expended your sexual passions on this image but rather to sanctify your passions and employ within the context of a marriage.
The heart is so tricky. You will tell yourself that it is harmless because you are just looking. However, Jesus says that one who lusts is as guilty as the one who has actually engaged in the action (Matthew 5:27-28).
The End Game of Lust
Men always like to blame everyone else, but the truth of the matter is that it is our own fault. Everyone who succumbs to lust does so on their own accord: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
Notice here that we are tempted when we are carried away and enticed by our own lust. We are drawn and lured after our own lusts. We are enticed by our unbiblical appraisals of stuff.
How serious is this? What does a full grown seed of lust look like?
The Scriptures are quite clear, it is death. Our unbiblical appraisal of and pursuit of stuff has a declared end and it is death.
The ultimate picture of this is the Lord Jesus Christ. The passage everyone needs to meditate upon when dissecting their lustful habits is Isaiah 53:
“For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
Here comes the Lord Jesus, all of the beauty of God in bodily form, dwelling among human flesh and he is, from a human perspective, devoid of beauty and unworthy of attraction.
This is a blessed and providential pull upon our leash. How does the incarnate Son of God compare with the beauty of this world? In heaven we will engage in unhindered worship of this same Jesus and as sure as truth is in Jesus there will be no longings for this present world, for all of our desires and longings will be terminating on their chief end before the very source and expression of goodness, Jesus himself, at who’s right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:10).
He was not very attractive to men. So what happened?
“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him . . . But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3, 5)
As a result of this lack of esteem, desire and attraction, there was a barbaric crucifixion. It is no different today. When you and I fasten our lust upon something that God has not sanctioned we weigh the Savior upon the scales against our desires and he is found wanting. We measure the object of our lusts as beautiful and the infinitely beautiful Son of God to be . . . unattractive.
You need to think in these terms as you quietly employ the lusts of your flesh. Your ‘innocent’ desires that are the offspring of your glory starved heart have a target in mind and it is the slaying of Jesus.
No matter what setting you find yourself in you must battle your heart. You may say “I don’t struggle with porn.” Praise God! But friend, you do struggle with lust. Everyone of us struggles with the continual waywardness of our own hearts and our insatiable desire for supremacy, worship and glory. I believe it was John Calvin who said that the human heart is an idol factory.
Read Part 2 . . .
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This is a guest post by Erik Raymond. Erik is currently pastoring the new south campus of the Omaha Bible Church, a ministry “aiming to establish a gospel-centered, cross-boasting, expository preaching ministry” in his county. Erik was born and raised in Massachusetts and moved to Omaha, Nebraska, while in the Air Force in 1995. Erik lives with his wife Christie and four children live in Omaha. You can read more thoughts from Erik at his blog, IrishCalvinist.com, where he seeks to “corral Christ centered thoughts and organize and articulate them in an edifying manner.”