Let’s get real for a second, shall we?
I struggle with lust, and there’s no excuse for it. I could argue that I’m just a guy and that lust is part of how guys operate, but that’s not valid: girls struggle with lust too (Side note: I don’t mean to imply by this post that only guys struggle with lust, or that they struggle more than girls do. As a guy, I’m more familiar with this side of the issue, so I’m writing with guys in mind. But, ladies, I pray God makes this beneficial to y’all as well. I truly desire purity in all of us. While this may be more geared toward men, check out my friend’s blog for a look at this topic from a female perspective: https://pliesandperseverance.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/his-name-is/ ). Then there’s the more specific argument that guys are naturally very visual and physical creatures, but that doesn’t really do anything more than restate the former with different words. Sure, culture endorses lust (though they may not call it by name), but that doesn’t justify the sin either. For a Christ follower, there’s no excuse for lust (Matthew 5:27-30). I used to get legitimately angry when I saw boys who claimed to be Christians use these excuses to justify having girls in bikinis as their phone or computer backgrounds. It frustrates me immensely to see a brother in the faith check a girl out as she walks by. We are called to more than childish immaturity, and there is absolutely no excuse for a guy to embrace such sin and to make peace with it. Christ went to the cross to save us from junk like this. Spurgeon has been quoted to me as saying, “Sin has been pardoned at such a price that we cannot henceforth trifle with it.” We do not endorse it or embrace it in our lives; we make war against it.
We’re clear on that. We can agree that lust is definitely not conducive to Christian growth and maturity. But that doesn’t stop people in the church from lusting. Rather, we rename it. Some claim they’re only admiring the beauty that God created. Others speak and act as if girls are no more than animals in a zoo, watching them secretly, though never talking in demeaning ways about them, as if that somehow makes everything alright. Conversations are careful to avoid indecent joking and crude comments, yet still center around the “hot” and the “fine” as boys worship the physical features of the girls they see. Or, sadly, crude jokes and comedy are endorsed completely, the justification simply being that these things are “funny.” I think our Lord would disagree.
I felt good about myself for the longest time. I managed to avoid some of the major pitfalls that I often see plague and destroy brothers in Christ. But then I caught myself casting multiple glances at my sisters in the faith from across the room. I caught my mind considering the outward appearances of girls more than is right. I realized that I’d not really escaped the trap of lust; I’d simply settled for a more “acceptable” version of it. I didn’t need to constantly stare to be looking too much. I didn’t need an addiction to pornography for my heart to be just as filthy as if that was the form of my struggle. The teaching of Jesus cuts all rationalizations away: the heart is the issue, not the resulting physical manifestations. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).
I’m speaking to guys like myself here: this is not ok. Lust is sapping my energy, distracting me from my work, stealing my joy in Christ, and cheapening my image of God’s good design.
Even worse, these are my sisters. I don’t have any sisters in my immediate family, but a few girls I know have become like sisters to me, and I’m sickened when I see how some guys have spoken to them or acted around them. I can only imagine that the feeling is greater when this happens to your own flesh and blood. Do you look at your sister like that? Do you want guys looking at your sister like that, talking about her like that? Do you want that for your daughters? For your wife? I don’t think any of us would answer in the affirmative.
At the heart, though, this recognition and reformation shouldn’t be effected primarily because we want the best for the ladies in our lives. That’s not a bad motivation, but this is deeper. This is a sin issue, and if we don’t see this as Christ did, we’re not seeing clearly enough. Yes, these motivations are good, and I think they’re part of a healthy understanding, but seeing lust as sin and responding to it as such is key. David did this is Psalm 51. He didn’t write about how his sin affected Bathsheba or Uriah; he spoke about how he had sinned against the Lord. That’s heavy.
Jesus makes things very clear in the Sermon on the Mount:
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. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
So often, we flirt with sin rather than fleeing. We see how much we can enjoy before getting burned rather than avoiding the flame altogether. According to Jesus, this is not a valid lifestyle. According to Jesus, getting rid of body parts beats keeping anything that could lead to sin and death. According to Jesus, eternity is on the line. In context, I don’t believe Jesus is actually encouraging us to start maiming ourselves for the sake of sanctification; I’m pretty confident that this is hyperbole. Furthermore, I don’t think he’s saying that giving in to lust equals a loss of salvation. I believe that those who are his are safe and secure in him (see John 6:35-40 and Romans 8:35-39). We know that he offers forgiveness and cleansing if we turn to him in repentance (1 John 1:9). But make no mistake: lust is a serious issue. This is “pluck your eye out” kind of serious. The gift is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin (Romans 6). We are saved to live differently. Indeed, sin used to define us, but it can do so no longer (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Guys, I’m not completely successful at living above the lusts of the flesh. I fail much more often than I’d like, and I act the hypocrite more than I serve as the example. But, biblically, this does not have to be the case. Biblically, there is freedom and life in Jesus. Biblically, no temptation can take us out (1 Corinthians 10:13). I want to challenge everyone, myself included, to not simply acknowledge this with our heads, but to embrace this with our hearts. I want to be a man after God’s own heart, a man who can say with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). And, above all else, I want God to be glorified in everything I do. The love of God is greater than the lust of the world. Let’s start believing that.