ABC's for Fighting Lust
Matthew 5:27-28 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
A - Accept the source of the struggle.
Overcoming lust begins by accepting that it begins in the heart. When Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart,” he reveals to us that the birthplace of adultery is not with a demon or scantily clad women, but rather with the desires of the heart. What does this mean? The “heart” in scripture is the seat of the emotions and the will. Do you have a biblical view of sin that sees the inner pollution or do you reduce the idea of sin to being merely a matter of external obedience (this is a minimalist)? Do you see that sin is not merely an action, but something within our hearts that gives birth to action? In this passage, Christ is not speaking about committing acts of sin, but the pollution of the heart that gives rise to such acts. The fundamental issue is that sin is a disease of the heart; specific sins that we commit (external acts) are the symptoms that arise from the internal disease. Failing to grasp this concept will leave you aiming at the wrong target. Understanding helps steer us away from all the legalistic traps of rules of behavior and moves us to see the enemy is within. Consider Mark 7:20, “What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”
B - Believe in the power of the gospel.
We may progress in overcoming lust by turning in faith to the power of the gospel. In the gospel we are made new and our old heart that was centered on ourselves is replaced with a heart that is drawn to its Maker God and its Savior Jesus. Being made new means that sin no longer is your master. In other words, the reality of the cross is that sin is dethroned its dominion is undone so that it can be overcome. John Owen noted that while sin may still reside in us, it no longer controls us: “It may fight, tempt and perplex us; it may surprise us into actual sin; yet it has not dominion in us, we are in a state of grace and acceptance with God.” Consider Romans 6:5-14: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”
C - Consider the value of confession in the community.
Another important link in the chain for overcoming lust is being part of a confessing community where you can have relationships that are transparent and open to serve and help one another. Confession breaks the hold of sin. You are with other eternal beings striving to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. Isolation/aloneness is dangerous, for lust thrives in darkness. Consider the implications of Hebrews 3:12-13: “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called today, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
D - Deny the passions of the flesh.
Overcoming lust will happen as we are fighting in the battle with our passions. This fight in older literature is often called “mortification.” It means to put to death ungodly passions in the heart. How do you mortify the flesh? This involves self-denial. We are to deny ourselves of those things which tend to enflame the passions, just like keeping gas away from a fire. In other words, do not feed the flesh, don’t keep throwing logs on the fire! Of course the goal is not merely to give stuff up, but to avoid pouring material into the heart where imagination can develop into desires, which in turn become actions. Are you vigilant of that which fills your eyes? We watch what goes into our mouths because it affects our health. Should we not watch what goes in our eyes? Perhaps you struggle with the eyes. Consider Job’s strategy in Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl…If my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes.” Keep in mind Colossians 3:5: “Put to death, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. This comes through the Spirit as he gives you power.” And also Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
E - Exalt the glory of Christ.
Overcoming lust is through exalting in Christ. The irony of illicit lust is that it makes promises of satisfaction that do not satisfy but in fact leave us with a sense of dirtiness and disgust. We must combat the inferior false promises of lust and its unsatisfying joy with the superior promises of unsurpassable satisfaction in Christ. In other words, as we find Jesus to be better, lust begins to suffocate. We see one such promise earlier in the beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart will see God” (Matt. 5:8). The word “see” is not the normal word meaning to look but rather to see is to experience his power and beauty and rest in his presence. Do you believe that God can give greater pleasure that goes beyond the pleasures of lust and sex?
F - Figure the cost.
When you are tempted to lust consider the cost of Jesus’ cross. Dwell on the details of his horrible death, his scourging, etc. Look at the incarnation, humiliation, and crucifixion. Employ the name of Jesus against the thought or sight; every knee must bow. Consider Romans 13:14: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
G - Gain proper proportion.
Perhaps you are under deep condemnation right now as you have fallen and even now are struggling with this call for radical purity. Do not succumb to hopelessness. Do not stumble over the gospel forgetting that it is for sinners, the sick and the broken. This means that you are more than your struggle with lust. Do not define yourself by your sin. Keep in mind that you identity is that of a sinning saint. You are a child of God, and so when you sin, repentant and rest in the gospel that is now your salvation. Because of the gospel we know that God is for us. Consider how much God has given us—you are clothed in Christ now!
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