As the normalisation of homosexuality becomes increasingly prevalent within the United Kingdom then the evangelical church finds itself increasingly at odds with the moral views of society. And over recent months this conflict between 'secular' morality and Christian morality has become more intense and has even led to more than a few churches leaving, or committing to leave, the Church of Scotland. The most frustrating thing about the debate is the amount of false accusations levelled at Christianity. It comes as no surprise, for in any battle it makes sense to portray the opponents in the worst possible light. So there is a great deal of confusion out there on what Christianity teaches and why we object so strongly to gay marriage and homosexuality. This is an attempt to clear up some of the myths.
Myth: Christianity is all about hating gays
This is, I think, the most understandable myth in the sense that usually the only time Christianity makes the news is in relation to the issue of homosexuality. But it's still a myth. To illustrate this point then I'd like you to guess how many sermons I've heard on the issue of homosexuality. Bear in mind that I've been going to church all my life and heard an awful lot of sermons... The answer is zero, while it's been mentioned in passing if it was relevant to the Bible passage we were looking at then I can't recall a single sermon that was centred on this issue. I'm not saying ministers never preach on homosexuality, they do, or that they shouldn't, but I am saying that there are a lot of other things in Christianity which are, frankly, more important.
My second objection to this myth is the use of the word hate. For while, as a Christian, I object to the practise of homosexuality it does not extend to hating people who are gay. The command of Jesus is to "love your neighbour as yourself" and that means that though I do think homosexuality and gay marriage are both wrong then behind all my actions must be a love for all my fellow human beings.
In my previous post (here) I identified what lust is, how it is sinful and the process of grace we need to be freed from it. In this post I’ll look at specific steps we can take in order to grow in grace and put sin to death. Again, I must stress that these are not legalistic guidelines; it is not by our own power that we do this but through Christ’s.
Prayer – This should be a no brainer but I know how easy it is to forget to pray. As Christians we need to be praying for purity of thought and action every single day. When we feel lustful temptations: pray. When we’re confronted with a lustful picture: look away and pray. Even when we think we’re doing fine: pray.
There is no such thing as too much prayer. And while you are praying make sure to pray for the purity of your friends as well in case they forget. Pray, pray, pray. It focuses the mind away from the pleasures of the flesh and onto the spiritual pleasures of God.
Bible reading – We need to constantly remind ourselves about the truths of lust. It is a sin. It will not bring lasting pleasure. Reading the Bible will re-affirm these Biblical truths. Start with Romans 13 v 14
“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Memorising verses like these and many others can be a real benefit when lustful temptations strike. Repeat these verses to yourself to remind you of the truth.
Sowing in the Spirit – any type of Spiritual activity will help you combat any temptation. Go to church, worship God, read a Christian book, study the Bible, anything that has God at its direct centre. Do it. As Paul urges us:
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Galatians 6 v 7 – 8
Do not sow in the flesh but in the Spirit. Focus on God. Avoid lustful situations. Flee from sin. Pursue holiness.
What does sowing in the flesh look like?
Sowing in the flesh means we do anything that condones or praises sin. So in this case anything that glorifies lust needs to go. The easiest way to combat lustful temptation is not during the heat of the moment but rather beforehand. We should seek to avoid as much lust as possible i.e. not sow in the flesh. We also need to remember that we will all have lust triggers that we will need to avoid:
Certain times of day – are bad for us. Typically this is early in the morning and late in the evening. Do what you can to avoid placing yourself in a situation where lustful temptation is easy to give way to and these times. Listen to Christian music, always set a bedside alarm so you get up and you’re not lying in bed with nothing to do, stick up Bible verses around your bed, pray before you go to bed and when you get up. Sleep with your bedroom door open.
Locations – Maybe abathroom, bed, friend’s house, bookshop with ‘smutty’ books, a beach, part of town, etc. Avoid. If you have to go there do so only with much prayer and an accountable friend.
Television/computer games – We can’t be foolish here. All these entertainment mediums are constantly portraying lust as something good or using lust to sell you something. Cut it out. If it’s lustful you don’t want to be entertained by it. Be aware that even watching a soap can lead you to lust. Take drastic measures. As Jesus says:
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Matthew 5 v 30
Cut off any lustful media. Yes, even One Tree Hill. You may not think it is affecting you but it probably is. And the less said about the Inbetweeners the better – just because it’s funny does not make it good. In fact, comedy is a really easy way for lust to get into our heads. And guys: some computer games have a lot of lust in them. Not COD but many others will. Again, cut it out.
Movies - too often we think we can ‘handle’ films we know will be bad for us. Again, this is the wrong way of thinking about things. It’s not even a hint of lust not how much lust can I handle. As a general rule: avoid 18s. Avoid lust ridden teen comedies. Even rom coms could be affecting your behaviour.
Magazines – Again, see above, if it causes you to think lustful thoughts cut it out. Also consider the affect of fashion magazines that may have a bad influence of how you think about yourself. Do not covert a model’s beauty. Living without even a hint of lust may mean living without even a hint of Vogue.
Books – Romantic novels may seem harmless but they often portray sex outside marriage or adultery or other lustful sins in a positive light. If a book has a sex scene in it either skip those pages or stop reading. Avoid trash novels. Women’s literature is especially bad.
Internet – Porn is just a Google search away. If you struggle with this then try moving your laptop to a busy area of your house/flat. Don’t use the laptop when and where you are alone. Stick a Bible verse on it. Listen to Christian music whilst browsing the internet. Have a Bible next to your computer. Be radical – cancel your internet if that is what it takes. Never go online just to browse aimlessly.
Music – is really quite a subtle temptation. Music bypasses our logic and plays with our emotions. In generally a lot of modern songs are about lust, sex outside marriage, adulterous affairs, etc. Not healthy. Be prepared to prune your music collection.
Thought life – we need to be able to control our own thoughts. If a lustful though enters our heads then get into the practise of thinking about God instead. Pray for holy thoughts.
Above all, let’s not be half hearted in our attempts. Sure, we like watching TV, reading, sleeping in, going to the beach, etc. But if it leads us to lustful sin then cut it out. Sure, these measures may seem drastic but we need to root lust out of our lives. Anything that it takes we should do.
And now let’s look at some specific lustful sins:
Masturbation – follow much of the above advice. Masturbation is usually the end result of a long trail of lustful temptation. And remember that God centred sex happens in marriage between a man and a woman. Masturbation is a self centred, isolated, perverted image of Biblical sex. Take things one day at a time. And this may sound contradictory but Christians can become too focused on Masturbation – remember that lust is at its heart. And also remember that lust is just one of many sins that we need to put to death.
Relationship - our relationships with the opposite sex can be just as lustful as anything else. We must be careful to act with complete purity and holiness in our relationships. We must not push for any form of sexual intimacy before marriage. We can do a lot to help each other here. Women that means dressing attractively not to attract. Virtuous rather than seductive. Guys, this means watching the signals we send as Harris puts it: “There are certain things a guy can do or say to girls that are equivalent of a male cleavage.” Above all, we can pray for each other!
And one of the best steps you can take to fighting lust:
Accountability - What is the worst thing you can do if you struggle with lust? Answer: keep quiet about it. Seriously, don’t. Tell a godly person you know. In saying this DO NOT tell someone of the opposite sex - that could just lead you into more lust! Find someone who will question you regularly about how you are coping with lustful temptations. You need someone who can challenge you and who you can trust as well. Someone who will still build you up even when you fail by reminding you of Jesus’ forgiveness. Don’t be afraid to ask older Christians.
Do not be proud about this – we’re all sinners here. You need someone to pray for you, challenge you and encourage you. And if you can find someone who struggles in different areas to you.
It’s too much, I can’t do it.
I have just given a ton of advice here and it is a lot to take in. Start by changing one thing and then build up. Don’t become discouraged. Remember the promises of the Bible:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.”
Philippians 4 v 13
“That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12 v 10
You have Christ on your side. You can do all things. Lust is still subject to God’s authority.
I have committed too many lustful sins
Perhaps you feel as if you have gone too far. You’re committed a terrible lustful sin. You’ve sinned again and again and again and again and again. You feel as though Jesus couldn’t possibly forgive you for all that lust!
He has. I can put it no other way. Banish all thoughts to the contrary out of your head. Your sins are forgiven. When you repent God forgets them all. Take heart!
Your struggle with lust is different from my struggle with lust. Yet we share the same God that can work miracles in our life. Remember: God wants us to be holy. He is more than willing to help us. When we are at our weakest he is at his strongest.
We like to be foolish about lust. We like to think it is something we can control. Or we like to think it’s completely beyond us. The truth is it is something that only Christ can control but we have Christ on our side so it is not beyond us!
I urge you then to think deeply about how what you read, see and hear can affect you. It may not seem so at the time but any exposure to lustful thinking can be deadly. So really think about the advice I’ve given. Be prepared to take radical action. Be prepared to give up things you like. But above all: Pray! Read your Bible! Mediate on God’s promises and on his commands! Combat the lies of lust with the truth of God’s word. And find someone to be accountable with.
Oh yes, and buy “Sex is not the problem (lust is)” by Joshua Harris. It is very readable, good solid Biblical stuff and extremely helpful. Much of this post is based on that book. Only his book is better. At £6.12 it is a bargain and you can buy it instead of that lust filled book/DVD/game you were going to buy.
Yes. You do. So buy this book: “Sex is not the problem – lust is” by Joshua Harris. It talks about the gift God has given us: sex and the way we pervert this gift: lust. Ok, moving on. Everyone struggles with lust in varying degrees.According to Harris there is little difference between men and women except in the type of lustful sin. The world around us is permeated with lust, our culture celebrates it, the media proclaims it and the internet is saturated with it. If I was to pick on a defining sin of our current generation it would be lust. Yet in Christian circles it is often the elephant in the room, we prefer not to discuss it, to keep it hidden.
This achieves nothing; in fact, it probably is more damaging than anything else. For it is when we feel as though we face a sin alone that we are most vulnerable. The purpose of this post then is to have a frank discussion about lust and the Biblical view on it. Despite a dazzling array of euphemisms available I’m going to be blunt but at the same time not crude with my language.
What is lust?
First things first: lust is not sex.
Sex is a God given gift to the human race. God is not ‘anti-sex’ in fact he actively encourages it by commanding the humanity to ‘be fruitful and increase in number’ (Genesis 1 v 28). Therefore our sex drive is not something to feel bad about but rather something to thank God for. We have been unashamedly created as sexual creatures.
But in saying all this Biblically speaking sex has a time and a place. And that time and that place is in a marriage between a man and a woman.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
Genesis 2 v 24
What then is lust?
Lust is craving what God has forbidden. As Piper puts it: “Lust is sexual desire minus honour and holiness.”
It is not just the obvious lustful sins of pornography, masturbation and sex outside of marriage it is also erotic literature, sexual fantasies, impure thoughts, any sexual action or thought that falls out of marriage. Also, lust does not necessarily involve nakedness. A poster of a ‘cute’ male celebrity can lead to lust as easily as a pornographic poster. Focusing on a scantily clad woman is just as wrong as looking at pictures of naked women.
What is lust not?
Lust is not being attracted to someone or noticing that they are good looking. Lust is not looking forward to sex within marriage. Lust is not having a strong desire to have sex. Lust is not experiencing sexual temptation.
What matters is HOW we think of sex. HOW we think about the opposite sex. What we DO when we are tempted by lust. Let’s say you notice an attractive member of the opposite sex, nothing wrong there, but if you start to mentally undress them then there is something wrong. Or if a lustful thought enters your mind and you dwell on it; that again is wrong.
Why is lust wrong?
A large number of people would say that there is nothing wrong with giving into our lustful desires as long as we are careful. Why is lust wrong if sex isn’t?
Lust coverts the forbidden. There is only one person you’re allowed to entertain sexual thoughts or actions about and that’s your spouse. Lust makes us grasp at what God has forbidden. It is an idolatrous desire that places our sexual desire above our ‘God’ desire. It is idolatrous because we are making ourselves God by having what God has forbidden now, instead of when he intends i.e. in marriage.
Lust cannot be satisfied. Lust is never full, it always craves more, as soon as the object of lust is obtained it wants more. All the porn in the world can’t satisfy it. You’ll never be able to sleep with enough people. As Paul writes:
“Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.”
Ephesians 4 v 19
Lust may involve our body but it still offends God.
“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
1 Thessalonians 4 v 7 – 8
What is God’s standard for lust?
Some people may think that we’re allowed some lust. A little here, not much, it can’t hurt can it? Well God sets a higher standard.
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality”
Ephesians 5 v 3
Not even a hint. No lust. Ever. None. At all.
NO! That’s impossible! I can’t do that! I could never do that!
You’re completely right. Humanly speaking that standard is unattainable. Humanly speaking we would have no hope of ever meeting God’s holy standard. But whatever made you think we were dealing on purely human terms?
How then can I stop my lustful sin?
You can’t. Put every thought of you doing so out your head. There is only one way to keep God’s holy standard.
It is through God’s grace that we can fight lustful temptation; it is through his grace that we can have not even a hint of lust in our lives, through God’s grace we can do the impossible.
What is this grace?
God’s grace is given to us as we have been freed from our sin by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. As Paul writes:
“For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
Romans 6 v 14
It is easy to say “What can I do to stop me from sinning lustfully?” We like to think there is something we can do. But the answer is that we can do nothing. Jesus has done everything for us. We are justified in his sight.
Explain this justification
Justification is one of my favourite words! It is the awesome fact that as Christians our status before God is blameless. When we repent our sins are counted as nothing. Jesus’ perfect record is ours. So, having all our sin and guilt dealt with, and being given Jesus’ righteousness, we are FREE to live for Him. His grace motivates us. The only sin we can kill is a forgiven sin.
Stopping giving in to lustful sin will not make us ‘more saved’. We will not appear better in God’s sight because we already appear perfect thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross. He rescued us from sin. And he rescued us from lust. When we fall into lustful sin for the millionth time and cry for repentance we are forgiven. The truth is that when we come to God in repentance then he forgets our sin. If you struggle with this wonderful fact try saying this:
“Blessed is the man, whose sin the Lord does not count against him”
Psalm 32 v 2
Only replace ‘the man’ with your name. So I would say:
“Blessed is Ben Mildred, whose sin the Lord does not count against him.”
Remember this. This is what Jesus has done for you.
Why bother trying to stop sinning lustfully? Why bother trying to stop sinning when we have a blank cheque? If Christ forgives all things let’s go crazy!
But what you’re missing is a process known as Sanctification. I know; another long yet still equally amazing word.
Sanctification is the process by which the Christian becomes more like Christ. As we progress in our Christian life then God works in our lives. He roots out sin and guides us towards being more and more holy. All those who are justified are sanctified – justification and sanctification go hand in had together.
Is you have truly been justified then you will want to be truly sanctified! Christians can sin but they can’t go on sinning. Christians cannot help but hate sinning. They have the Holy Spirit within them and he works to convict us of our sin and puts within us a desire to be holy.
What has this to do with lust?
We need to get our motives sorted out. We need to want to live lust free lives not because that will make us saved but because we want to live holy lives before the Lord. And above all we need to recognize that it is the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in our lives that will allow us to be without a hint of lust. We need therefore to invite the Spirit in and submit to his work.
Our sexual desires must bow before God. We must submit our sexual desires before the Spirit.
Above all we need a balance. It is not by our own works. But that does not mean that we do nothing. Yet we must not be legalistic. We are completely forgiven before God. But equally we must act towards pursing a holier life. I think this balance is best summed up in Galatians 5.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
v 24 - 25
As Christians our sinful nature has been overcome by the salvation Jesus brings. As saved beings we live in the Spirit – this is an act of God. But we are called to ‘keep in step’ with the Spirit. That requires action on our part and continued grace from God.
That’s part 1. The truth of justification and sanctification can apply to any and every sin in our life. In part 2 I’ll look at specific practical steps for dealing with the problem of lust. It is important to remember that your struggle with lust will be a daily one, you're never going to be completely free of lustful desires but through thr grace of God and the working of his Holy Spirit we have everything we need to fight against lust and triumph!
If you want/need more help on the matter then please, please, please buy “Sex is not the problem (lust is)” by Joshua Harris. It is very readable, good solid Biblical stuff and extremely helpful. Much of this post is based on that book. Only his book is better. At £6.12 it is a bargain and you can buy it instead of that lust filled book/DVD/game you were going to buy.
Just as something to think about before you read my next post here's a verse from Galations:
"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Galatians 6 v 7 – 8
Are you sowing in the flesh? Are you sowing seeds of lust? Find out more in Part 2 coming tomorrow