THE LURE AND CURE OF LUST
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Show me the man who has never looked at a woman with lust, and I'll show you a man with a white cane who was blind from birth. None but a blind man could get through life and not be captivated by God's crowning work of creation-woman. Anyone with an ounce of artistic appreciation knows there are few, if any, more appealing sites than a well formed female. This is not the conviction of dirty old men only, but it represents the mind of men of every age, place, and race; godly and ungodly alike.
Art Buchwald, the popular secular newspaper columnist, told of his experience at a Washington dinner party. He had every intention of being a perfect gentleman at this party, but the woman to his right wore a black net pajama top with a neckline that plunged down, he says, to heaven knows where, and the blouse was held up by only two tiny strings that looked like they would break any minute. He writes, "God knows we've been sinners and most men are trying to change their attitudes toward women. But when you have nothing but bare backs and cleavage to stare at during dinner, how on earth can any man keep his mind on Henry Kissinger?"
We could dismiss that as the struggle of the secular man, but it won't work. The testimony of godly men through the ages is that the female body stimulates their lust. Many women resent David for his lust after Bathsheba when he saw her bathing, and for his foolish and sinful behavior that led him into adultery and murder. Despicable as it was, most men do not despise David, for they know in their hearts that in that same situation they may have done the same stupid thing under the lure of lust. Many godly men have done the same thing, and many who haven't know it is an ever present possibility.
Charles Swindoll, one of the most popular preachers today, always makes sure there is a desk between him and the women he counsels, for he writes, "I simply recognize that being a man, temptation is always on the back burner waiting to singe me." In his little booklet on Resisting The Lure Of Lust, he writes, "Non-Christians and Christians alike wrestle with its pressure and its persistence throughout their lives. Some think that getting married will cause temptation to flee. It doesn't. Others have tried isolation. But sensual imagination goes with them, fighting and clawing for attention and gratification. Not even being called into Christian service helps. Ask any whose career is in the Lord's work. Temptation is there relentlessly pleading for satisfaction." Swindoll is saying, there is no escape from lust. There is no place to go, and no something to become, that will take you out of the range of the arrows of forbidden desire.
This goes for women as well. Jesus does not mention women lusting for men, for at that point in history women did not have the power and freedom. They were dominated by men. But whenever women have had the power and freedom to be sexual aggressors they have exhibited the same lust as men. One of the strongest examples of a lust led person in the Bible is that of Potipher's wife. She admired the handsome servant her husband had brought into the home, and one day when Joseph was home alone with her she said in Gen. 39:7, "Come to bed with me." That is what you call the direct approach, and only by the grace of God did Joseph escape her clutches.
We live in a period of time when the female is nearly, if not clearly, equal with the male in sexual lust. This is no proof it is the end of hope for the human race, however, for it has happened before. Martin Luther wrote of what was going on at the University of Wittenberg in 1544. "The race of girls is getting bold, and run after the fellows into their rooms and chambers and wherever they can, and offer them their free love." Sex was not discovered in the 20th century. It has been a major problem throughout the history of mankind, and nobody escapes the power and influence of lust. Not everybody idolizes it and make it a god, but everybody must reckon with its presence.
L. Nelson Bell, father-in-law of Billy Graham, and a great preacher and author for many years in Christianity Today, wrote on the imagination and its potential for lust. He wrote, "It is, even for the true Christian the last frontier to surrender to the cleansing and redemptive work of the living Christ." This is equivalent to saying, it is a never ending battle for the Christian. Sometimes sickness, psychological handicaps, and old age set people free from this conflict, but for the majority there is no discharge from the war of the spirit with the flesh. Martin Luther said, "If no other work was commanded than chasteness, we would all have enough to do, so dangerous and raging a vice is unchasteness."
The facts of life an history force us to recognize there is no moral majority when it comes to lust. Before Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount there was a chance for a moral majority to exist on this issue. As long as adultery was limited to an act of sex with a woman not your mate, the majority of men could be innocent. That is still true today even in our sexual revolution. The majority of mates are faithful, but Jesus changed the rules in this passage. He thrusts the majority of the human race into the camp of the guilty.
Jesus says that to look at a woman with lust, that is with a strong desire, is to be guilty of adultery. That means the millions of men and women who have overcome temptation, and have never been unfaithful to their mates, but who have looked at others with lust are guilty of adultery. This is not a pleasant message, and the result is, out of many thousands of indexed sermons, there is not one that deals with this text. Jesus is being too radical here. He apparently never read the book How To Win Friends And Influence People. It is no wonder the Pharisees wanted Him out of the picture. He just made the majority of the human race murderers by making anger equivalent to murder, and now He makes the majority adulterers by making lust equivalent to adultery.
Teachings like this totally shatter the whole foundation for legalistic righteousness. You may be able to avoid a lot of sins by legalism, but Jesus is saying you can't avoid sin. You can pretend you are really righteous because you have never murdered, or gone to bed with another man's wife, but Jesus takes away the facade and says, but look at the anger and hatred for men that thrives in your breast; look at the lust that rages there. You have cleaned the outside of the cup, but inside it is still filthy. You can plead not guilty on the basis of the external evidence, but let the jury see the movies of your mind, and you are hung. The law does not go deep enough, for it only deals with acts. Jesus goes deeper, for He deals with attitudes.
The whole point of Jesus is, that external legalistic righteousness just won't cut it. The Pharisees were destroying true religion by their hypocrisy and external show. True religion, and a relationship to God that pleases Him is one where men are honest about their sin, and seek His help to conquer it. Jesus knew what He was doing when He destroyed all ground to stand on for legalistic righteousness. He knew by these statements He was making murder and adultery, for all practical purposes, universal. Jesus had just described a stubborn man who refused to agree with his accuser. He could only insist on his innocence. Now Jesus accuses practically everyone of being guilty of adultery. The question is, will we be stubborn and fight this accusation all the way to the judgment, or will we submit, and admit our guilt? Jesus wants us to escape the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and be honest about our inner sinful nature.
A child misunderstood the seventh commandment, and recited it, "Thou shalt not admit adultery." This was the problem with the Pharisees. They would not admit to their guilt. This was David's problem. He refused to admit his guilt. This is the problem with almost everyone. We refuse to admit that our lust makes us guilty. When Jimmy Carter was president he confessed publicly that he had lust. This was no surprise, but the fact that he admitted it was the surprise. We do not like to admit that all of us are guilty. But that is precisely what Jesus is forcing us to do. He knew that everybody gets angry at sometime. He knew that everybody struggles with lust at times. We know He knew this by the way He handled the situation with the woman brought to Him who had been taken in the very act of adultery.
He said to all of those religious leaders, who in self-righteousness were ready to stone her, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Then instead of leaping out of the way to avoid the flying rocks, He knelt to write on the ground before the accused. He knew it was not a risky gamble, for He knew they were men, and men do not live that long and escape lust. Everyone of them walked away, and Jesus knew they would. For He knew they were guilty, and He knew they knew they were guilty. Christopher Sykes was right when he said, "Of the seven deadly sins, lust is the only one about which all mankind (with very few exceptions), knows something from experience."
Most everyone has had the experience of going to a restaurant with others, and when they get their order, it looks better than you ordered, and you often wish you had what they have. It is the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence feeling. It is just a part of our human nature to desire what we do not have. Lust is one of these desires. It starts at puberty, and that is when most boys begin their battle with lust. The girl next door, the attractive teacher, the objects of lust are everywhere. And now in our culture there is the added temptation of movies, magazines, and the computer. It is at this stage of the battle that boys see the female, not as a person, but as a thing. If they do not control their sex drive, and girls do not help them control it by resisting their advances, they may never learn what love is, but spend the rest of their lives under the dominion of lust.
Marlyn Monroe said, "I hate being a thing." She was a sex symbol, and a symbol is a thing. She never really felt loved as a person, but only used like a thing. If only youth could see that lust controlled can lead to love. But lust unleashed and freely expressed leads to becoming locked into an immature relationship of the sexes. Some men never know love for the person of a woman because they are locked in on lust for women. Women can never be equal to them, for women are things, and only objects of gratification. Quick sex does not build love, it destroys it. It is sex controlled that builds love.
Once a man has robbed himself of the power to relate to a woman as a person, he has robbed himself of the potential of love. He will be reduced to a life on the level of lust where self-centered pleasure is all that sex will ever mean. I have read of preachers who have been locked in at this level, and it is tragic, for they cannot love over half the human race. They can only lust, and life is so much tougher a battle without love for persons to help you in the fight against lust. It is one of life's great paradoxes that those who let lust have its way, and have sex whenever, and with whomever, lose the highest value of sex. Those who control lust, and prevent promiscuous expressions of it by keeping it exclusive, come to enjoy sex on the highest level as God intended. Lust is the wrong use of that which rightly used is love.
It is important that we do not develop negative attitudes on sex because of our battle with lust. The papers recently revealed that many of the sex offenders in our culture are not strange freakish people, but respectable professionals. They are people like teachers, pastors, doctors, and policemen. You can count on it, they are also people who repressed their lust, they refuse to admit the reality of it in their lives. Had they been honest about their lust they may have been able to prevent its dangers. The same thing has happened all through history. Many Christians leaders of the early Catholic Church did not want to admit that Mary had sex like any normal married woman, and so they developed the doctrine of her perpetual virginity. The other children in the home were cousins and not hers they said.
If artificial insemination would have existed then, the church probably would have made it a sin not to have babies that way. They could thereby eliminate sex even for marriage. This suppression of sex, and glorification of the non-sexual priest and nun led to lust overflowing its banks in a flood of immorality. The hypocrisy of pretending to be non-sexual beings has never been an effective weapon against lust. The bleeding Pharisees were called that because they frequently ran into walls and fell down injuring themselves, because they tried to avoid looking at women. This only made them more lust conscious then their non-bleeding brothers.
If we go back to the Puritan leaders who burned so many witches at the stake, we see that it was a time of sexual suppression. People were pretending sex did not exist. They put cloth over the bare legs of the tables even, and a book written by a woman was not permitted to be set along side a book written by a man. Witch burning became a popular pastime, for the respectable leaders of that society. It was because the witches had to be examined nude, and then they were burned at the stake nude. This was a motivation to find more and more witches to examine. Their refusal to deal with their lust honestly produced very dishonest and cruel expressions of it. Women are just as degraded when sex is suppressed as when it is too openly expressed. Balance is the only way to wisdom.
What is lust? It is a good thing gone to an extreme. The word for lust is epithumeo. It is a word used for all kinds of strong desire both good and bad. Desire is not evil in itself. It is a normal part of life. Lust is a desire to satisfy the sex drive outside of the boundaries that God has set. He set boundaries, not because He is a killjoy, and does not want men to enjoy His gift, but because limitations is what gives value to His gift. Sex without boundaries is like a river without boundaries. It is no longer a beautiful and beneficial gift of nature, but it is a beastly judgment of nature that floods and destroys. We all have cars and other things with engines that warn us about overfill. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and that is what lust is. It is too much of a good thing. Lust is to sex what gluttony is to the enjoyment of food. It is the sex drive trying to go beyond its rightful limits, and when it does it destroys rather than build.
Love is willing to be limited, and become exclusive, and make a commitment for better or worse. Lust wants no part of confinement, and it says for better only, and when the pleasure fades it moves on. The self is all that matters in lust. The other is only an object to be used. Lust oriented sex is strictly a me me me affair, and not an us experience. It is not true that everything you most enjoy in life is a sin. It is the excess of what you enjoy that is sin. Eating is no sin; sex is no sin, and anger is no sin. It is the excess of these that become sin. Few will argue about the lure of lust, and its power in our lives, but many question the cure, for it sounds like such bitter medicine.
Jesus takes a very radical approach to solving the problem of lust. The fact that you seldom see a one eyed, one handed man is evidence that the solution is nowhere nearly as wide spread as the problem. Only a few in history have considered that Jesus meant for us to literally gouge out our right eye and cut off our right hand. If you took it literally, the whole world would become a center for the handicapped. Normal people with both eyes and both hands would become freaks that we could only see in side shows.
The strongest Bible literalists do not take this solution literally, because it is obvious self-mutilation. This would not solve the problem at all. The whole point of Jesus is that sin is an inner problem, and so an external solution would not touch it anymore than cleaning the outside of the cup would make the inside clean. A literal obedience to Christ here would still leave you with a left eye, left handed man, and I have never read any study that even hinted that lefty's are not as lusty.
Origen, the great church father, realized the cutting off of a hand and gouging out of an eye was of no real value, and so he solved his lust problem by castration. He remained a great preacher and theologian, but his solution was not acceptable, and it was condemned by the church as out of the will of God. As universal as lust is the universal agreement is that Jesus does not want us to fight lust by literal self-surgery. But because we are not to take Jesus literally, does not mean we are not to take Him seriously. Jesus is using radical language to get our attention focused on the importance of being very serious with this matter of lust.
How do we deal with it? The answer of Jesus in these radical words is in essence-prevent it. Not the lust, for that is inevitable, but the consequences of lust can be prevented. It parallels the issue of anger and murder. You can't avoid anger, for it is part of life, but you can control it and prevent it from destroying yourself, and your relationships to others. So it is with lust. You can't avoid lust, but you can prevent it from hurting your life, and the life of others. Luther said, "You can't stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building a nest in your hair." That is what Jesus is saying here. We have a choice, and we are to choose to control those things which cause lust to lead us into dangerous actions. Whatever causes you to sin is the culprit you focus on, and you prevent that cause from having its effects. You don't let life just happen to you. You take control and chose what life is going to be.
If the eye gate is the gate that leads you to lose control, you have the responsibility to cut off that channel of temptation. You will not be relieved of that responsibility just because the world is full of pornography, and sensual TV and movies. You have a choice, and you are accountable for your choices. If you choose to open that gate and let lust lead you into sin, you were just like the stubborn man in the previous paragraph, and like him you will have to pay the bitter price for your stubborn rejection of Christ's advice.
The same principle applies to the touch gate. If your lust is stimulated by touch to the point of losing control, and yet you still touch members of the opposite sex in ways that promote it, you are deliberately toying with the fire that can consume you. Jesus says to cut it out. Cut off any activity that opens up the possibility of your lust to go out of control and do its deadly damage. Seeing and touching are the two most common ways that people are led into acts of immorality, and that is why Jesus focuses on the eye and the hand. People vary as to their sensitivity in these areas. There are Christian men who can go into houses of prostitution and witness to the women. This is rare, but the point is, some can do dangerous things without losing control. This does not mean it is an activity that most can be involved in. Each person must know what their limitations are when it comes to lust.
I am not responsible for you, nor you for me. I must know where I face risk, and make choices that cut off those things which lead me to lose of control. If a man gets turned on by taking his secretary out to lunch, he has a responsibility to cut it out. If the secretary gets turned on by it, she is to cut it out. The point is, everybody knows when lust is being stirred up, and at that point one is responsible to sacrifice the lesser for the preservation of the greater. That is the principle in Jesus' solution. You lose an eye or a hand to save the whole body.
That is the principle behind surgery, and behind the prevention of sin. It is a law of life. The lizard, or the lobster, will lose a tail or a claw in order to escape with their life. A part of the forest will be deliberately burned in order to save the whole forest. The chess player will sacrifice, not only his pawn, but even more valuable pieces to save his king. Jesus says pay the price necessary to escape the price you will have to pay if you let lust have its way. Give up part of your life to preserve the whole. Many a man has enjoyed his flirting with another woman, and so he refuses to give it up. The price he pays is sometimes the last penny. It cost him his family, his home, and his reputation. All that he most treasured in life is lost because he would not sacrifice a part. They refuse to give up the part, and ended up forced to give up the whole. We are not talking about dirty old men, but about godly people.
The Bible makes it clear that those who stand must beware lest they fall. There is nobody immune to the dangers of lust. Charles Swindoll tells of his experience.
"I remember a conference I addressed. I was getting on the
hotel elevator-alone as usual-and two women followed me on.
I smiled and said, "Hi," punched my floor, six, and said, "What
floor would you like?" They said, "Oh, six would be fine." suddenly felt a little flattered. But it was remarkable what happened between the first floor and the sixth. I had a momentary fantasy, but then God pulled a shade between the three of us, and on that shade I could read as clear as day-"Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." If we let God protect us, He will. God pulled the shade right when I really needed it."
He chose to cut out a fraction of his life to preserve the whole. He sacrificed the temporary for the sake of the permanent. He gave up the shiny case, but kept the diamond. Honestly about your lust is what Jesus demands of us. It is because this gives us the edge over the enemy. We know where we are, and we know our weakness, and so we know when we are under attack. Honesty enables you to fight the enemy on your home field. If you wait until your lust devises a plan, and you are involved with a forbidden partner, you may be at the point of no return. You avoid this by recognizing your sin does not begin in the motel room, but in your heart. If you fight it there, you can prevent the motel scene from every happening.
We do not know if Jesus had lust or not. The Bible says He was tempted in all points like we are, yet without sin. It is matter of debate, and there is no certainty, but if He did, we know He conquered it in His mind, and prevented it from leading to any sin.
The Christian does not escape sin in his heart. He is not innocent at all, for in his heart he hates, and he lusts, and he knows he is guilty of murder and adultery, but he keeps his sin on a level where the forgiveness of God covers it all, and no permanent damage is done. Once the anger or lust is allowed to become acts of sin they can still be forgiven, but then even the grace of God and the blood of Christ cannot remove the scars, and all the evil consequences that may result. David was forgiven, but he suffered the scars of his fall for the rest of his life.
Those who fall are not necessarily more lustful than those who do not. Many who live a lifetime of faithfulness to their mates have a strong sex drive, and they face the battle of lust equally as strong as those who yield. What makes the difference? It is the wisdom of obeying their Lord. They build on the rock, and so they are ready for the storm. They are not better, but they are wiser. They know Jesus is right, and so they heed His counsel, and they pay the price of obedience. They know this is the best deal that can be made.
Only you can prevent forest fires the signs use to say. Jesus is saying to us all: Only you can prevent the fires of lust from burning out of control. Sex was designed by God to build lives, and not destroy them, and so cut off, and block out, and make the sacrifice necessary to limit lust to where you can control it. The lure is real, but so is the cure, and when you keep them both in balance, sex can play a very positive role in your life, and not be a source of offense to God or man.
How was all this suppose to be helpful by being pronounced guilty? It is good because it eliminates the basis for hypocritical righteousness. You don't have to pretend you are not a sinner, and not affected by the sensual world. You are guilty of lust, and you know it, and God knows it, and Jesus knows it. Now we can get down to the serious business of preventing this acknowledged power from doing damage to lives and relationships. Love says, because I have lust, and it can hurt people that I love, I must take serious the matter of keeping it under control. Love make wise choices to cut out those things that are high risk. The lure of lust will fail when we have our focus on the love that will prevail.