In our look at lust we have unmasked its real face. It makes promises of pleasure and joy, but it leaves with shame and regret. We looked at the real solution to the problem, which is the gospel. Lust begins in our heart and if our solution does not start there, we will never conquer this sin.
In our third post we want to get practical. No matter how old you are or what your track record is like with this sin, there is something you need to acknowledge if you will have any success. You must see that you have a battle to fight. If you think of battling lust as anything less, then you will become much more familiar with defeat than with victory. Here are some aspects of this fight to help you fight well.
1. Fight Lust by Fighting With Faith
1 Corinthians 10:13 says that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” This verse is not a promise that you’ll never have to struggle to win; it is a promise that your struggle is not unique and that God will be there to provide grace for escape.
2. Fight Lust by Fighting…in the Details
While it is true that you are not alone in this fight, it is critical that you understand the specifics of your temptation. You need to know if it is on Tuesdays and not Wednesdays that you are tempted; that you are tempted on your drive home from work; that you are tempted first thing in the morning or lying awake at night; you need to know that it is after a fight with your wife or before your Thursday morning class. The more you understand about your specific struggle, the more you’ll be able to fight well. When you know that your particular temptation is about to come you can arm yourself more to get through it.
3. Fight Lust by Fighting Discontentment
One of the dynamics of lust to understand is the way that it flourishes in certain environments. One of these is discontentment. When our hearts have lost their joy and peace and are dwelling in discontentment, sins like lust can quickly become our escape, our rescue, our moment of pleasure to be a kind of medicine for the soul—a cheap, ineffective one though it is. Discontentment can be a particular temptation when we find ourselves in:
- A hard marriage
- Extended singlehood when you want to be married
- A career apparently going nowhere
- Chronic financial stress
- Long-term illness (in yourself or someone you love)
Such difficulties tempt us to do two things. First, at times we act out our anger at God: “God has given me a difficult marriage, but I’ll show him, I’ll masturbate.” Second, we want to turn to something to medicate the pain: “My job is a nightmare. If I can’t have the job I want, at least I can find some pleasure in pornography.”
This is a critical connection to make. Sometimes we think we have a “lust” problem, but we don’t. You are aware of the obvious: you turn to pornography a lot. But you miss the reason you turn to porn. You are doing it because of the real pain you feel being in a situation you find extremely difficult.
This helps us to battle more specifically. If you attempt to battle your lust problem by memorizing Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” you might be missing the mark. If your battle is discontentment with a situation or anger at God for giving this trial to you, you will be far better off turning to words in the Bible that speak of his Fatherly love for you. His sovereign care for you is perfect and his grace is sufficient even for this trial.
You need to spend more time praying about the difficulty of this trial than about your battle with porn. Not a silver bullet, but one more insight to arm you.
4. Fight Lust…With Others
In Josh Harris’ book, Sex is Not the Problem—Lust Is, he titles his chapter on accountability, “Lone Rangers are Dead Rangers.” As a man personally and as a pastor who works with men struggling with this sin I can say that he is right. Accountability must be a part of your arsenal in this fight. 1 John 1:5-2:2 shows us some aspects of biblical accountability that will bring change and hope.
First, it shows us what we need to know (1:5-7). We need to know that “God is light” and possesses a holiness entirely removed from any and all sin (1:5). This means that those who fellowship with him and his people must also possess holiness. We, too, must “walk in the light” (1:6-7). Ongoing, regular sinning in a particular area is a sign that we are not “walking in the light.”
Second, it shows us what we need to speak (1:8-10). We need to see that we are those who “have…sin” (1:8). We are not perfect and we need to tell this to others. More specifically, “we confess our sins” (1:9). There is grace when we confess to Christ privately. There is even more grace when we confess specific, real sins that we have committed. At such times we experience the full promise of 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Forgiveness and change when we confess our sins – this is great news for those who struggle!
Lust thrives in secrecy like a plant thrives in a greenhouse. Don’t let it stay secret! Assume that the brothers (or sisters if you are a woman) you have for accountability can identify with your struggle, so don’t be afraid. The gospel is designed just for sinners, so don’t feel like God’s grace is not sufficient for you. Don’t let the fact you confessed the same sin last month keep you from confessing it this month! Your sin can never, never, never exhaust the riches of grace we have in Jesus Christ.
Third, the passage shows us what we need to remember (2:1-2). Those who struggle with lust or any sin can feel like we are beyond the reach of grace. We can also feel like perfection is the standard for God and so he will not love us if we give him anything less. This is to believe a false gospel. The gospel is grace for sinners, not grace for those who are perfect. The Bible and God’s power are “so that you may not sin” (2:1a), but when we do sin there is grace for us: “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1b). If you don’t sin God’s blessing is there for you; if you do sin God’s “advocate…Jesus Christ the righteous” is there for you. See how complete is the gospel! Further, we need to remember the completeness of this gospel. It is adequate “for the sins of the whole world” (2:2). Are your sins really greater than that? Even God’s people in the Bible committed murder (Moses), adultery (David), lied about knowing Jesus (Peter), and killed Christians (Paul). These are the “sins of the whole world” that Jesus died to atone for (“He is the propitiation for our sins,” 2:2). Your struggles are not greater than these. There is grace for you, my friend!
So, in your accountability, (1) be specific about where you are walking in darkness. The more specific you are the more grace will come because the greater humility will be required to do it. (2) Be consistent. Don’t let months go by before you confess. Let it be weekly or at the most monthly. (3) Let it be gospel-centered. Don’t yell at each other because you stumbled again. Remind each other of the gospel and pray accordingly (1 John 1:9-2:2).
5. Fight Lust on the Internet
Whatever the struggles some of us had with lust as teenagers in the 70s and 80s (it was the 80s for me), that is nothing like the struggles we have today. With the advent of the Internet suddenly pornography has become anonymous and accessible in a way that it never was. No more do we have to go to a store to buy anything. No more are we limited to our friend’s magazine. Now we have all that we could want in the comforts of our own homes, completely anonymous to the world outside. If lust is a struggle, chances are the Internet is a huge aspect of this fight. You must find a way to deal with the Internet if you are to be successful.
Accountability as we mentioned above is the priority here. Having other brothers (or sisters, if you are a woman) that know your fight with whom you can be accountable is critical. Yet, be smart about tools like Covenant Eyes. There are others on the market, but for our church staff and in our church at large, we have seen this serve men well. The combination of “knowing where you’ve been” on the Internet, and the simple way it shoots an email to my accountability partner that rates my sites, proves very effective. We never forget as we snoop around the Internet that everywhere I go will be seen by another set of eyes. It is as if—in the best sense—my friend is standing over my shoulder as I surf the web. Even when we are doing well, at times a site will rate high. If my friend is serving me well, he might shoot a note to me and ask about the site. Even these times are helpful because they reinforce that others are watching and keeping me accountable. Let two or three friends get your CE reports so that the pressure isn’t on any one man or woman. Make it a part of your Internet accountability.
Take other basic steps as well with your computer. Keep it in the living room, work in a coffee shop, let your screen be visible to others, etc. None of these take the place of holiness, but they are practical steps.
Our day is also one where Internet devices abound. We have to handle each one of these with special care. Get Covenant Eyes on as many of them as you can! Be ruthless when you are not struggling, so that when you are tempted, some assistance will already be in place.
6. Fight Lust…With Promises
The last point to make about battling lust is that we will be more effective in our struggle if we make the promises of the Bible part of our arsenal. Lust is a promise for pleasure, yet it is a false one. We need to get the Bible’s promises for pleasure into our souls. These are true ones that do not disappoint. Memorize a verse like Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Memorize a verse like Proverbs 19:23, “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.”
Feast on a passage like John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”
These words are food for the soul. They help us to see that fighting lust is not avoiding pleasure, but it is finding a real and lasting pleasure without regret. We are not denying life for our souls, but finding it when we turn to Christ instead of lust.
Conclusion: The Days of Battle, the Day of Rest
My friend, I hope that you are able to fight lust with the power of the gospel and the encouragement of other brothers and sisters. I hope that you feel encouraged and not condemned. I hope that you see the gospel as Christ’s open arms to any and all sinners and not just a ticket to heaven. The gospel is not about getting cleaned up and then coming to Christ. It is about coming to him with all of the filth and struggle we have and receiving his grace. Lust can never deliver on its promises. God always does.