Christian Reflections on Lust, Modesty, and Beauty (Part 8): Fighting Lust

modesty“Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” said the Puritan theologian John Owen. Lust in particular is a killer. Unchecked lust has ruined many men. It has destroyed marriages, cost people jobs, and resulted in significant harm and even jail time. Unchecked lust is a killer. Having clearly defined lust, and owned our responsibility for it, we need to pursue the right course of action against lust in our own hearts.

There’s much that can and maybe should be said about how we fight lust. This subject could easily become its own series of posts over a long period of time. I want, however, to limit my focus to three specific things we can focus on to fight against lust. To fight lust well we need to be broken over sin, captured by a better vision, and given God’s eyes to see people differently.

The reality of our world is that temptation is all around us. Whether you’re at the beach, in the office, or home alone, temptation abounds. Though we can do some things to avoid temptation, we can never remove all temptation from our lives. We must fight lust from a different angle. In particular we ought to start by asking God to help us hate the sin of lust. To be a follower of Jesus means to hate what God hates. The Psalmist declares, “O you who love the LORD, hate evil” (Psalm 97:10a). Other passages invite us to take the same steps. Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” Paul too tells us that true love means that we “abhor what is evil” (Rom. 12:9). To fight the temptation to lust we have to start by hating this sin.

Paul tells us that there are two kinds of sorrow: worldly and godly sorrow. He writes to the Corinthians saying:

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. (2 Cor.7:8-11)

Godly grief leads to salvation, to change. Sorrow over sin can help us to fight temptation. Observing the difference can help us see the value of godly grief in fighting sin. Heath Lambert unpacks the two types of sorrow.

Regarding worldly sorrow, Lambert explains:

The focus of worldly sorrow is the world. People experiencing worldly sorrow are distressed because they are losing (or fear losing) things the world has to offer. The loss could be a reputation, job, money, family, sexual fulfillment, or even access to pornography – anything that brings security, comfort, or pleasure. Some of these things are good, and some of these things are sinful, but they are all things. A sad person consumed with worldly sorrow is concerned about losing stuff – no matter how honorable or dishonorable that stuff is. This kind of sorrow leads to death. It is lethal because it flows from the same kind of heart that wanted to [indulge in sin] in the first place. (Finally Free, 34)

The point about worldly sorrow is that it falls far short of being broken over actual sin. It is more concerned with our loss, not with how my sin grieves God. This will never lead to lasting change.

Godly sorrow, however, leads to salvation without regret, Paul tells us. Lambert describes this kind of sorrow as follows:

Worldly sorrow is sad over losing the things of the world, while the focus of godly sorrow is God himself. Godly sorrow is pained over the break in relationship with God. It is heartbroken that God has been grieved and offended. The tears of godly sorrow flow from the sadness that God’s loving and holy law has been broken. Of course, there is room in godly sorrow for the loss of family, hurt relationships, or other consequences. You do not have to love the practical consequences of sin. Yet, the pain of these penalties is not what produces godly sorrow; godly sorrow is motivated by and oriented toward God. (35)

The difference is a shift in focus. Sin is rooted in selfishness and worldly sorrow is rooted in selfishness. To fight for lasting change I have to desire to please God more than myself. That’s why true brokenness over sin can help me fight temptation.

Further, fighting temptation can happen as I am increasingly captured by a better vision than lust. It is not enough simply to hate sin. The Biblical process for change involves putting off and putting on. So we must replace sinful desires with something better. John Piper speaks of this as “fighting fire with fire.” He writes:

The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone – even the terrible warnings of Jesus – we will fail. We must fight it with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction. (Future Grace, 336)

He points his readers to 2 peter 1:3-4 as support. There we read:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

“How do we escape from the corruption that comes from lust,” Piper asks. “The answer is that God has given us a revelation of his ‘glory and excellence’ expressed in ‘precious and magnificent promises'” (336). We fight the power of lust by believing the promises of God. We fight the temptation to sin by being captured by something more compelling and attractive than sin. We must fall deeper in love with God, believe more deeply in His promises, and see His goodness more clearly. To fight sin we must be captured by a better vision.

Finally, we must strive to see people as God sees them. Lust turns people into objects to be used up for our pleasure and discarded afterwards. These people, however, have dignity and worth because they are made in the image of their Creator. The way we treat one another either celebrates or defames the One in whose image they are made. We ought to pray to see people with God’s eyes, to strive to view them through the lens of the Imago Dei. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying that because of the Gospel we not only view ourselves as those called to the ministry of reconciliation, but in particular we view others as those being reconciled to God. So he says:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Cor. 5:16)

We no longer regard people from a purely worldly point of view. The gospel forbids us from being so reductionist. We see people who are either part of Christ’s beloved bride, or we see people who desperately need to be drawn in to that family. To use people, to view them through any other lens is to undermine the message of the gospel. We must strive to fight lustful thoughts with the reminder that those whom you would lust after are made in God’s image. They cannot be devalued apart from also devaluing their Creator. Strive to view people as God does, to love them as He does. Remind yourself constantly of their worth and dignity.

Lust is a serious killer. We must fight it with all we have. Take these three suggestions as a starting place for your continual war against sin. You are responsible for your lust; with the Spirit’s help you can fight it (Rom. 8:13).

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