As I stated in my last post, the problem of lust is serious indeed. Its consequences are far-reaching and can bring devastation that reeks havoc in ever widening circles. It is scandalous, but the solution is even more scandalous.
The Heart of the Matter: The Real Source of Your Sin
A first step in finding a “solution” to this problem is seeing where the problem lies. We can be tempted to say that the problem is the way that people dress today, or the movies being made, or the headlines on the Internet, or this “culture of raunch” in which we live today. These provide temptations, for sure, but they are not where the problem lies.
We can also be tempted to locate the problem in a “demon of lust” that is plaguing us. Many have tried to drive out this demon or bind this temptation, all to little or no effect.
Others have seen the problem as a DNA issue, with some of us being wired more for this temptation than others. We are predisposed to it because of our genetics. Such an issue, then, must be treated with pharmaceuticals and psychiatry. Thus, we are now observing celebrities attend rehab clinics for their “sexual addictions.” While it is true that genetics can make self-control harder for some than others, this is not where the problem lies.
We are on the way to the solution when we see that the sin of lust resides in not our DNA, but in our heart. Proverbs tells us to “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23). All the words we speak, thoughts we have, and actions we take are the overflow of our “heart.”
Jesus teaches us the same principle: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23).
Right along with “theft” and “murder,” lust is a sin of the heart first.
The fact that the heart overflows into behavior means that unless we have a heart change, we will never see lasting behavior change.
Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
If the heart is the problem, then the solution is what changes the heart. What changes the heart is…the gospel.
Scandalous Forgiveness, Real Power
The gospel brings the two things that we need for our hearts to be changed. The first is a scandalous forgiveness.
We have all heard the confessions of celebrities when they get caught. How often have we rolled our eyes as they confess to “not living up to their own standards” or “forgetting what is important to me.” Perhaps they even apologize “if they have hurt anyone by their actions.” This is typically followed up with a report that they have checked into a rehab clinic to deal with their “sickness.”
Such “forgiveness” is not what you need. You need a forgiveness that sees your sin for what it is: offensive to God and earning his just wrath (Romans 1:18), a deep-rooted selfishness that leaves us silent and accountable before our heavenly Judge (Romans 3:10-20), a filth and moral grime that stains us to the deepest parts of our being (Isaiah 1:18). Lust, like all sin, is wretched and scandalous because it is raising a clenched fist at God and telling him that we are choosing our way instead of his (Gen. 3:6-7).
But there is a true forgiveness even for this sin.
Paul describes this forgiveness in Romans 3:21-28. There we learn of a “righteousness” that can be ours “through faith in Jesus Christ.” Though we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” we are declared righteous (justified) “by his grace as a gift.”
How can this be?
A critical part of this is because of an old word called “propitiation” (Romans 3:25): God put Christ “forward as a propitiation by his blood.” It might sound barbaric to our modern ears, but the true gospel is one where a holy God of wrath against sin must be satisfied for forgiveness to be extended. This satisfaction (propitiation) occurs through “his blood.” He is satisfied because real blood has been shed for sin: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).
For those who believe God is “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26) because he justly punishes our sin—laying it upon his Son!—and because he declares us righteous!
This is scandalous grace for scandalous sin. But there is more.
The second thing we need in our solution for our problem is power to change. If we receive only forgiveness but no power we are doomed to live out the same wretchedness we always have. The gospel gives us more grace!
Romans 6:1-4 shows us we have not merely been forgiven and accepted by God. We have also received the ability to be different.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Something happened when we believed in Christ that we didn’t feel or observe, but it was more real than anything we’ve ever experienced. We actually “died to sin.” It happened by our being united to Christ: “For if we have become united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Salvation unites us to Christ, which unites us to his crucifixion, burial, and his resurrection. His death is our death, his resurrection is our resurrection. While his resurrection was to a glorified state, our full glorification awaits our death (or his return!). Still, we experience this ultimate glorification even now by walking in “newness of life.”
“Newness of life” is shorthand for the impenetrable claws of sin having been wrenched from us. We are now “set free from sin” (Romans 6:7). Of course, temptation and weaknesses remain, but the ultimate stranglehold is broken. The power of sin is not the only power in our lives; the greater power of God’s Holy Spirit is now at work within us.
Thus, the gospel is power to live free of sins that once reigned unchallenged in our hearts. The full victory awaits heaven, but for us now, there is new power to obey in the gospel.
The gospel is forgiveness and the gospel is power. Both are required for our battle against lust. The sin of lust is forgiven when we turn to Christ in faith; the power of lust is broken at that same moment. Our diligence, vigilance, and perseverance is required to battle on against lust, but there is hope to grow in holiness because of the cross of Christ.
Our fight then is fought by an active faith in the gospel, not by a legalistic approach to holiness that sees the strength as lying within us and which looks to rules and restrictions to find holiness. We look to the cross to find our forgiveness, but we also look to the cross to find the power to obey. There are practical considerations that we must consider, but none of these will bear long-term fruit until we’ve settled where forgiveness and power come from:
“He breaks the pow’r of cancelled sin
He sets the pris’ner free
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me”
– Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”