Kids love to push people’s buttons. Being a brother to three sisters myself, I can spot a button-pusher from a long way away. Everyone has different buttons. And what sets one sibling off doesn’t even register with another one.
Temptation works much the same way. While everyone desires the same sorts of wrong things, each one of us is tempted with a different combination of lures.
Thankfully, God has not left us without help. He has many graces, and he also customizes his help by always providing the right grace for the right temptation. In this short series of posts, I can only highlight a few God has used to help me fight lust as a Christian dad.
In Part 1, I introduced the topic of fighting lust and encouraged 1) finding true satisfaction in Christ and 2) fighting with other believers at your church. In Part 2, I encouraged rich biblical meditation as a key strategy to fighting any temptation.
In this next installment, I want to point to one other grace God has given to help me fight temptation: find the root.
Strategy 4: Find the root
For the last few weeks, my two daughters have faithfully weeded our flower garden. At five and three, their version of “weeding” is more like breaking a few leaves. Even a poor gardener like me knows you need to find the root to truly remove a weed.
When fighting sin, we often settle for breaking a few leaves. If the weed doesn’t flower, we content ourselves that the weed is gone. But there’s more to killing sin than stopping the outward activity.
I’m convinced lust usually plays the role of the leaves and requires a root. Lust, in other words, is usually the result of letting a root sin fester and go undetected. What roots flower into lust? Let me offer three common ones.
Sinful lust is always connected to pride in some form. Jon Bloom goes as far as to say, “… the root of sexual sin is not our sex drive; it’s pride.”1
And the Apostle Paul agrees. He lists a series of sins (sexual perversions included) and roots everything in arrogant pride against God! “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God … claiming to be wise, they became fools … therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” (Romans 1:21–26)
Our rationale for committing sins of lust often sounds like this:
- “I deserve a little pleasure; life has been hard.”2
- “My wife isn’t willing to have sex as often as I want it. I’m owed pleasure and it’s right for me to get it myself.”
- “I don’t get enough love and respect around here. It doesn’t hurt anyone to try to find it by indulging this sinful habit.”
- “I work so hard and do so much. It’s not a big deal if I indulge briefly in some self-pleasure. I deserve a little break.”
- “Most guys can’t control lust, but I can. As long as I keep my pornography to one time a month, I can keep it under control.”
What is that thinking if not pride? It’s just plain arrogance. And so it follows that “the most powerful weapon against sexual impurity is humility.”
“Our most powerful weapon in the fight against sexual impurity is not a cage to hem in our depraved impulses, nor is it increased tolerance of sexual deviancy, but a profound humility. And humility is a deep realization and embrace of the truth that we are not our own. ”3
What produces profound humility? Meditation on the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s hard to use the words “I deserve” if you’ve steeped yourself in gospel realities.
- It’s hard to be arrogant when you meditate daily on the reality that God found you lying dead (Eph 2:1) and gave you life by his own death (Gal 2:20).
- It’s hard to be proud and grab at your rights when you recall that Jesus did not grasp at his rights (Phil 2:6) but laid down his life for you (John 10:11).
- It’s difficult to lust when you meditate on the words of the Apostle Paul: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Cor 6:19–20)
Anger is another breeding ground of lust. What are the things that make you angry? James 4:1–2 says sinful anger arises when one of two things happens:
- We get something we don’t want.
- We want something we can’t get.
When you get angry, ask yourself, “Am I getting something I don’t want or am I wanting something I can’t get?” Lust often fills the gaps that anger creates.
- Control: I’m angry because I want control over a project at work, my children’s behavior, a church responsibility, etc. If I can’t control what I want, I’ll fantasize or engage in lustful thinking that makes me feel in control.
- Pain: I’m angry because I don’t want to feel pain and hurt! I’ll stop feeling pain by pursuing pleasure, even if the pleasure is the result of sinful lust.
- Respect: I’m angry because I want to be respected by my wife, my kids, my co-workers, etc. I deserve respect and the pleasure it brings. I’ll take what I deserve.
The sinful response of anger looks to the external circumstances and asks God, “Change them” or “Change that!” The biblical response of self-control looks to our own hearts and asks God, “God, give me strength, patience, and humility to face the challenges you have given me.”4
When you deal with your anger properly, you kill lust before it begins.
Greed is wanting more than you’re due. Already you can hear the undertones of pride as well. Greed looks at God’s gifts and cries, “I want more!”
Uprooting greed requires a combination of savoring God, enjoying his gifts, and basking in gospel realities.
As I’ve tried to encourage throughout this little series, fighting lust is not about fighting lust. Fighting lust is about loving Jesus and finding full satisfaction in him.
Ultimately, unless you find full satisfaction in Jesus, you’ll always look to other things and people. And you’ll always be disappointed. Could it be that your greed is capping your potential for true satisfaction?
God offers you “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11) and you’re settling for a quick hit of sexual pleasure.
Enjoying his gifts.
One of God’s solutions to greed is to charge the rich not to be haughty (pride again!) and to set their hopes on “God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Tim 6:17)
In other words, one of the ways we counter greed is by tracing all our gifts to their source. A cup of coffee isn’t about the taste or the caffeine. In a very real sense, it’s about God. God is gifting you with a momentary pleasure from his very hand. And that brings a weightiness to the simplest of pleasures.
When God is in the center, in other words, the (good) things of earth grow strangely bright in the light of his glorious grace. When you enjoy God’s earthly gifts before his face, you grow in gratitude, not greed. “In the light of [Jesus’s] face, [his gifts] get brighter and better and more potent. A full look at Jesus makes his gifts come alive.”5
Basking in gospel realities.
Ultimately, the fix for greed is to look to the cross. For in the cross, in Jesus’s life and death, we have all we need for life (2 Pet 1:3). In God’s work through Jesus, we have all spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3)!
Greed grows when we neglect the cross, but steady gospel meditation results in gratitude, adoration, and worship!
The temptation to lust is our attempt to grab at one of God’s kidnesses outside of his guidelines. Sex within God’s boundaries is beautiful. Grabbing for sexual pleasure outside of those boundaries, however, always ends up feeling empty, shameful, and dissatisfying.
Finding the root not only helps us avoid the shame, guilt, and pain associated with sinful lust, but it also enters us into a life of humility, patience, and satisfaction. You may want merely to kill lust, but God is after making you a new man entirely. You may merely want to get rid of guilt, but God wants to bring you to experience the life of God.
I find the most stressful life is the more tempting sinful lust looks—particularly if I have stopped meditating on gospel truths. The moment I stop soaking myself in the gospel, my heart fills with pride. When life gets stressful, lust looks very appealing. ↩︎
The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney, page 127. ↩︎