Lust (Worship Leader’s Definition): Excessive love of others or other things to the point that God is rendered second in your life and heart.
So God knows how to rescue the godly from evil trials—2 Peter.
If it’s possible for a vice to get good press, lust has definitely got it over the last few decades. You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a vice more socially acceptable than lust—maybe greed. It seems to be the hallmark of a lot of our popular music and television. Everywhere you look, there are images designed to stir our sexuality and pique our interest. So how are we to live in this culture worshipfully, remaining faithful to our God and His people?
One Christian response to lust through the ages has been to offer up a list of rules as a means of escape, as if by our actions and habits we can overcome the “temptations that are common to man.” And honestly, common sense can be of help. As Victorian as it sounds, getting enough sleep, doing plenty of exercise, avoiding unhelpful visuals can make the fight against lust that much easier. Another type of response by the people of God has involved separating oneself from the culture. Monastic spirituality is an obvious example of this but there are examples all through history. I remember hearing about a branch of Pharisees in New Testament times who had the nickname ‘the bleeding foreheads,’ because, so the story goes, in walking with their eyes averted to spare them from lust, they would bump into things and hurt themselves. Rather than sinning with their eyes, they would subject their body to pain. Both of these approaches carry with them the appearance of holiness and may at times even be inspired by the Lord. It was Paul after all who said that this: Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The prize is worth the discipline for sure.
But our role model for holiness—in fact, for all of life—is Jesus. He was the one who was not overcome by evil, but overcame evil with good. And never once did he sin. It’s amazing to think that all through his youth and adolescence, all through his life, he remained faithful to God and pure in his dealings with his neighbors. And he did not accomplish this level of holiness by separating himself from the people he came to serve. The direction of Jesus the human being was not away from culture, but towards it. And this is the man we are called to follow.
What’s also interesting about Jesus is that, unlike Mohammed, he never once presented a list of rules outlining how we can manage our sin. He gives no rules on how we ought to shave and wash, no rules on what we ought to wear. His instructions are both broader and more difficult—some would say impossible—to follow. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. And the way of escape God provides, the one that Jesus’ brother James refers to, is Jesus himself. The Lord, strong and mighty, is our escape. He is our way out. He is the way, the truth and the life. And while our well-intentioned efforts to escape temptation can help, in the end it is only the Lord himself who can help us. He is our escape; He is our strategy. And we know he is trustworthy. Listen to Peter talking about Lot: “But that good man Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment. So God knows how to rescue the godly from evil trials” (2 Peter 2:7-9). It is only the Spirit of God who is powerful enough to keep us pure. And our job is to live and pray in a way that allows God’s Spirit into our lives.
Finally, what is so encouraging about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—his manifesto, if you like—is that he instructs us to live pure and holy lives: not to covet our neighbor’s wife, not to lie, to resist evil, etc. But after all these instructions on holy living, he ends with instruction on how to pray. In it, he prays, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” But he also prays, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” God knows that, until we see him and are like him, we will be making mistakes. But both forgiveness and the strength to get up again and pursue our God is found in him.
Everything in me wants to give you a list of self-help rules to succeed in this area. But honestly, the answer is found in devoting ourselves—and delighting ourselves—in this amazing, compassionate Savior. In his mysterious and powerful ways, our weaknesses compliment and amplify his strength.