Over the last six months there have been three major scandals publicized in the media involving conservative Christian leaders, and at the root of all three was lust: a well-known apologist accused of abusing women; a leader known for promoting family values accused of child pornography; and a leader of a Christian school accused of sexual debauchery.
And before you cluck your tongues and shake your head, remember that none of us is immune from the destructive power of lust. As Paul said, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
That is why I am not talking about “conquering lust.” The word “conquer” infers that you can once and for all be delivered from the destructive power of sexual temptation. You can’t. You can’t conquer lust, but lust CAN conquer you and destroy everything important to you. But we will discover what God’s Word says we can do to prevent that from happening by moving from lust to purity.
The Greek word for “lust,” epithumia, is morally neutral. It means “desire,” “longing,” or “craving.” Besides the Lord, Amy, and my family, I have three great loves: popcorn, Diet Coke, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Whenever I’m watching a movie, I crave popcorn and Diet Coke. And whenever I finish off a nice meal, I often want Häagen-Dazs ice cream. In one sense, you could say I “lust” after these things. But unless I eat or drink to gluttony I haven’t sinned, because there’s nothing moral or immoral about popcorn, Diet Coke, or Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
The moral component of epithumia (lust)—whether it’s good or evil—is determined by the context. “Lust” is a neutral desire unless it is an insatiable desire for something outside the will of God. But usually, the term “lust” is used in the Bible for the sexual desire that is beyond the prescribed will of God.
How can we prevent ourselves from being conquered by lust? I believe there are several principles to follow:
- Remember that no one is immune from the destructive power of lust (1 Corinthians 10:12).
A strong person like Samson, a noble person like David, and a wise person like Solomon all stumbled over the sin of lust. You and I can, too. We often say that sexual sin never begins in the bedroom, it begins in the mind.
But the way it gets into the mind is through the eyes.
- Through television screens, it woos us,
- In glossy magazines, it winks at us,
- And on the internet, it welcomes us.
That’s why we must guard what we look at. In Job 31:1, we read: “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.”
- Replace lustful thoughts with God’s thoughts (Psalm 119:9-11).
It’s impossible to control every image we see or every person we encounter, and therefore, it’s impossible to prevent lustful thoughts completely. As Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
When those lustful thoughts try to start nesting in your head, it’s time to shoo them away. And the most effective way is to replace those thoughts with God’s thoughts (Psalm 119:9-11, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
- Realize that lust is insatiable and destructive (James 1:15-16).
Satan’s lie from the beginning was “Do this and your desires will be satisfied.” But there is no amount of sin, no amount of immorality that will fill up an empty life.
Lust is a craving that is insatiable and eventually leads to the death of everything important to us including our relationship with God.
Years ago, I remember reading a description of how an Eskimo kills a wolf. First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another until the blade is completely concealed in a block of frozen blood.
Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he realize that his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his own blood. He just craves more and more until he drops dead in the snow.
That’s what James had in mind when he wrote, “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 it is accomplished it brings for death. Do not be deceived my beloved brethren” (James 1:14-16).