Like any pastor I find myself talking with men about pornography and other expressions of sinful lust. Through the years I have found that there is a biblical framework that is often neglected when counseling through this issue. I have laid it out in some detail here, and I regret that it is so long. However, I post it because it has served to help many through the years. In short the post is broken into three parts: 1) What is Lust? 2) Where is it sourced? 3) How do I combat it? The answer to this is not to stop desiring things but to properly desire God. Hence the title, “Fighting Lust with Lust”. We combat sinful lust by fixing our “lust” upon the glory of Christ. In other words, we slay sin by savoring Christ.
Awhile back 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 sexual lust is a craving to experience the intimate pleasures reserved for the marriage apart from this sacred institution. Therefore, it pursues enjoyment apart from and in contrast to 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 God has called good.
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 (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).
The Source of the Problem
So why do we sinfully 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 does he find himself daydreaming and fantasizing about how he would orchestrate his life if he were sovereign? It is because we are longing for something. We are have discerned that we are empty and now are seeking to fill ourselves up.