Pastor Emmaus Bible Church
Used by Permission
A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon in which I emphasized the deception and danger of lust. I regretted not being able to further develop the topic, specifically how to fight lust. The answer to lust may surprise some, but it is the answer and frankly the only answer to lust that ultimately works.
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’s revealed will.
For example, we do not understand a potential elder candidate to be in sin who is desiring (epithumia) to the work of an overseerer (1 Tim. 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 revealed or provided. 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 the 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 divine sanction.
We pick an awful lot on men with this issue (and rightly so) but the truth is women struggle just as much with lust as men (we’ll cover this as we go).
We understand from Scripture that sinful lust is as much a part of our unbelieving lives as breathing (Eph. 2:3; Titus 3:3) and that it is not to be characteristic of the Christian life (1 Pet. 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 for, a lust for stuff chokes out the Gospel seed (Mk. 4:19).
- The lusts of the world are clear, succinct, and doomed (1 John 2:16-17).
Fighting Lust with Lust
Earlier I briefly looked at what lust is and simply defined it as a desire for 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.
So why do we lust?
Everyone yells in unison “Sin!” or “Pride!” or “Greed!” or some other answer that we know to be true but too often do not understand how it works.
My contention here is that if you do not know why and how your heart works you will not effectively wage war against its fleshly passions.
Why do we sit and meditate about how successful we will be? Or how people will like us? Why do we strain our necks to covet and long for what we do not have? Why do women envy other women’s beauty, style, wardrobe, sense of humor, mothering skills, or professional skills? Why does a man find himself sinfully staring at a woman who is not his wife? Why do we find ourselves daydreaming and fantasizing about how we would orchestrate our lives if we were sovereign?
There is an appraisal that takes place. Each one of us, whether a Christian or not, are governed by our hearts. [It is this same heart that is described in the Scriptures as the most deceitful thing in the world (Jer. 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 through the demotion and insult of God. Is this not your experience? It is also the testimony of Scripture (1 Jn. 2:16-17).
When we are confronted by our hearts we are forced to make a choice between that which God calls beautiful and which the sinful heart calls beautiful.
For example, and I am going to pick on men, specifically in the area of sexual lust (fill in the blank: from pornographic images to that which men execute upon modestly clothed women).
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 to a position of supremacy above what God has called beautiful. You have exchanged 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 Him by ascribed glory and beauty to this woman. 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 (Matt. 5:27-28).
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.
James 1:14-15 – 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.
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?
Notice that the result of this lust is death. Our unbiblical appraisal of and pursuit of stuff has a declared end and it is death. Men, how would you change your viewing habits if as soon as you thought an impure thought you knew that you were going to simultaneously explode? I wonder how often ladies would sit and talk about how they wish they looked like so and so if they at once were to be struck dead?
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.
Isaiah 53:2 – 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.
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 whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:10).
So what happened? He was not very attractive to men.
Isaiah 53:3, 5 – 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.
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. Every one 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.
This is why Peter barks out the divine command: 1 Peter 1:14-16 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
If we do not know what our former lusts were, perhaps they are not former. The Christian life is a battle that is characterized by a tenacious, fanatical, and relentless pursuit of holiness. If we are not walking against the worldly and fleshly current in pursuit of holiness than perhaps we are lifelessly floating downstream.
Here’s the biblical answer to lust: The beauty of Jesus.
Fighting Lust with Lust.
We have looked briefly at what sinful lust is… seeking ‘goodness’ apart from God, and where it is sourced… in our own hearts. In conclusion, I want to equip you with the chief auxiliary in combating lust.
The title of this article is intended to make us think. As we considered the fact that lusts are desires, and in the Scriptures these desires can be good or bad, this depends on how they line up with the will of God. So how do we fight these desires? We do it with desires. Your chief defense against sinful lust is an all-out offensive of sanctified lust, if you will. It is to set our hearts upon the supremacy, sufficiency, and beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in this posture of continual satisfied delight in Jesus that the lusts of our flesh and this world evaporate into vapors like the steam on our morning coffee.
So here are some helpful tools in fighting lust:
Admit you have issues.
Too many of us walk around thinking we are glorified. We are sinners who are saved by and absolutely dependent upon divine grace. We need this grace every second of every hour. Our hearts are continually fighting for airtime; we are to be continually waging war on our hearts.
I love to ask people, “How is the battle going?” The battle is for holiness and against the exaltation of self through our own sin. The Christian life is not a stroll through a field to pick flowers and sip lemonade; instead it is a battle. We should be dressed in armor, progressing through the battlefield with a single-minded resolve and fully dependent upon our Commanding Officer.
Agree with God about His beauty.
This is the key. God is the very source of beauty. Furthermore, He defines what beauty is. We have God revealing Himself in the Scriptures to be the very pinnacle of beauty and in His beauty He eclipses all things. Contemplate the reality that God does not decay or fade, but He is just as fresh, beautiful, and glorious today as He was when Paul preached the glories of Christ, when Jesus walked the earth, when David penned his songs of praise, when Moses cried out for a glimpse of His glory, when Abraham believed, when Adam and Eve walked with Him in the garden, when the angels sang of His glory during creation, and when the Trinity enjoyed their eternal fellowship and worship prior to the creation of the world. Now add to that that His beauty will never fade away… He will always be this glorious, this beautiful, this appealing, this attractive! He is the eternal God whose beauty is eternally untarnished.
The Father has spoken from Heaven as to His appraisal of Jesus. We have read of this divine endorsement of the Savior at His baptism,
Matthew 3:17 – “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
Further, Matthew writes that Jesus is the eternal delight of the Father with whom the He is “well pleased” (Matt. 12:18).
Friends, can we not find ourselves in agreement with God as to His beauty? We must come to the Word of God to have our minds shaped and conformed by God. He says He is infinitely beautiful and worthy to be the unceasing object of our satisfaction and delight. Do you agree?
If you do, then your cravings and lust for things of this world and of your flesh will be starved out by your relentless enjoyment and pursuit of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
You can throw your computer out the window, but that won’t kill your lust. You can never go to the mall, but that won’t kill your lust. You can cut out your eyes, but that won’t kill your lust. You can move to a cave in Montana, but that won’t kill your lust. You can employ legalism, but that won’t kill your lust. All of these things fall short because they are external amputations when we need a heart transformation.
This is how the Apostle Paul tells believers to put off such things as lustful cravings (Col. 3:5-8). Did you notice what the great word that is used in v. 5? “Therefore” is based on what are we to put to death… these passions. It is what is found in verses 1-4:
Colossians 3:1-4 – Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
You are putting to death lustful passions with your ceaseless passion for Jesus Christ, “keep seeking the things above”… “Set your mind on the things above...” It is this seeing and savoring of Jesus Christ (as Piper would say) that brings about the holiness that is required.
But there is more here. In Colossians 3:1 there is another “Therefore” statement. What did he just pivot out of? Chapters 1 and 2 declare the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus over and against everything. Therefore the Christian (and everyone else for that matter) is backed up and all of the apparent competition and rivals to Jesus are completed eclipsed by the resume of Jesus Christ. He is seen to be absolutely supreme and sufficient and so therefore the only choice for your worship. He is it.
To see Jesus as supreme and sufficient is to see everything else as lacking. To see stuff as worthy of your lust (coveting, craving, etc.) is to see Jesus as lacking. To seek goodness outside of what God has called good is to appraise Jesus and find him lacking. We need to think like this. Our lust for selfish pleasure does have consequences. Whether we are talking sexual lust, material lust, professional lust, or whatever, we are talking about the removal of attributes of God and the imputation of the attributes of supremacy and sufficiency to stuff, and this is the height of idolatry (Col. 3:5).
This is why it is so critical to be in the Word of God daily. To find ourselves in subjection to the Divine Word, that we might have our minds transformed and renewed according to the will of God, that we would think His thoughts after Him, appraising that which is excellent and rejecting that which is sinful (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:1-2). Furthermore, we are to drive the Word deep into our hearts through prayer and contemplative meditation; for we are people who need our hearts broken and reminded of the absolute beauty and attractiveness of God that we might see and savor His supremacy and sufficiency in all things. There is little doubt that this is what Paul had in mind as he writes these words in Colossians 3.
Colossians 3:16-17 – Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
How do we fight lust? With a ceaseless pursuit of the delight of God, which is a delight in God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Dale Flynn and his wife, Liz, are Word of Life Local Church Ministries missionaries in Eastern MD. Dale is a Local Church Ministries curriculum editor and is the editor of this Ministering to the Minister E-Transfer national electronic Pastor’s newsletter. The Flynns make their home in Elkton, MD. Questions or comments about this article may be addressed to Dale at: DFlynn@wol.org. ]