LUST AND HOLINESS
By Larry White
Our objective is to get to heaven. So we look into the word of God and try to learn everything we can to conform our lives to the life and character of Jesus Christ so that we can make sure we make it and that nothing hinders us from reaching our goal. We can see the apostles encouraging the early Christians to do just that and warning them of things that they should look out for.
"Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us his Holy Spirit."
The will of God is our sanctification. We should possess our vessels in sanctification, not in lust.
Let us pursue this idea and ask, Why? We do not want to be just Christians, but the best Christians we can be. We need to gain "professional savvy" or wisdom.
Look at these several passages. I graph the main points here.
OLD MAN NEW MAN Blind, Corrupt Renewed in mind Lusts of the Deceit Righteousness and Holiness of the Truth Vehicle of Flesh God's Image Serving Various Lusts Washed and Renewed by Spirit Dead in Trespasses and Sins Alive together with Christ
"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard him and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the lusts of the deceit and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and holiness of the truth."
"Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the Sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of him who created him."
"Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.
But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by his grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
"And you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the Sons of disobedience, desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."
All of these passages have the same subject in common, that we should leave the world behind and grow in holiness in our Christian lives. That we should be careful to put off the lusts of our former life (old man) and make sure as a newly created man who has the knowledge and wisdom (savvy) now to live a well pleasing life unto God.
Why is this former life bad? Why do we have to be careful and not indulge ourselves? Why do these writers constantly mention lust? What is wrong with lust?
First define the term. Lust = (epiqumia) epithumia, literally over-heat, strong desire of any kind. Can be good or bad desire.
Of the passages that refer to the strong desire that is good there are three. Jesus says, "With a strong desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." [Lk. 22:15]. All the rest are of the bad sort. There are foolish and hurtful lusts, worldly lusts, fleshly lusts, and ungodly lusts.
Generally "lust" is a craving or desire especially for what is forbidden. Take Paul's experience (Rom.7) in living under the Law as an example. His experience was that living under law he had a command not to covet - but no ability to stop coveting. In fact, the command not to covet worked in him all the more desire and all kinds of lusting. The fact that it was forbidden made it all the more desirable. But in this we see that God has forbidden lusting or coveting itself.
We all have many desires both good and bad. To tell the difference briefly, a desire that is wrong is a desire that is not motivated by love for God or love for our neighbor.
Why does God forbid strong desires?
1.) It leads to sin.
"But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death."
This 10th commandment aimed right at the heart of the matter. The 7th commandment said not to commit adultery. But the 10th commandment said not to even want your neighbor's wife. This is no doubt why Paul chose this commandment to discuss in Rom.7, it is the hardest not to break. The one that exposes the heart most readily.
Jesus also dealt with this idea in Mat.5:38, "but whoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart."
So the problem in not just the sin involved here - but Jesus is saying for us to look at the condition of the heart, that is from where the whole problem stems. Clean up and get rid of the lust and you will not fall into that sin.
Many people believe that you cannot do that and as long as you do not actually do anything wrong, you can lust all you want. That is why Paul calls them the lusts of the deceit. The main characteristic of the world is deceit. It is its modus operandi. And the lie in the deceit is lust. That is why these writers were pointing to the lusts - they were saying, that is where the battle is. So you have the admonition to leave the lusts of the flesh and become holy, i.e. not driven by passions.
Lust led the Old Testament Israel to sin.
"The waters covered their enemies;
There was not one of them left.
Then they believed his words;
They sang his praise.
They soon forgot his works;
They did not wait for his counsel,
But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness,
And tested God in the desert.
And he gave them their request,
But sent leanness into their soul."
Paul mentions them also as an example that we should not lust like they did.
"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were immersed unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. But in the majority of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Now these things were our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. Neither be idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Nor let us commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us test the Lord, as some of them also tested, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the consummation of the ages has come."
The same thing can happen to us.
"For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning."
That long list of gross sins with which Paul charges the gentiles in Romans had its roots when God gave them up to their lusts. The word picture "gave them up" is like holding back an untamed horse, holding and holding until the horse will not be restrained and then letting it run. Therefore they turn away from the glory of God, and run full tilt down into corruption.
"Therefore God also gave them over to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves."
The same is true of the scoffers Peter talks about in the last days.
"... knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts."
2.) Lust is wrong because it takes away the heart.
For they shall eat, but not have enough;
They shall commit harlotry, but not increase;
Because they have ceased obeying Jehovah.
"Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart.
It will take over our heart by its deceit if we are not diligent and will lead us away from our God. Especially is this true when we first begin our Christian lives. If we do not make a clean break with the world it can eventually overcome us. Notice the Parable of the Sower.
"Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful."
False teachers know that the heart can be led away by lusts and pleasures. We must be aware (savvy) to that also.
"But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
The heart can be taken away from God also by the lusts that surround the almighty dollar.
"...useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."
To lust after the pleasures and riches of the world will take our heart right back into it and away from our God. James says we become enemies of God.
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Fleshly lusts have their seat of activity and their entrance into us through the flesh, and there is a constant battle going on there of which we must be aware and fight.
3.) Lusts are wrong because they war against the soul.
"Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul."
They war against the soul because our soul's life is spiritual, and carnal lusts drag down the heart into the mind of the flesh and that leads to death. Our old man was dead and corrupt in the lusts of the flesh - and we cannot go back to that. God has given us the victory over the world through faith in Jesus Christ. We have his life produced in us and we can win the war over lust through our knowledge of him and his power in us.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as his divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
The world is in corruption and death through lust and we have been called to come out of the world and be separate and holy. Take seriously Peter's admonition.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, Be holy, for I am holy.
But how can I stop lusting in my heart and be holy?
In a word - Faith. God has already given you the ability by the light of the life that he created in you when you were born again, and he has given you the strength through the knowledge of the truth that you have in Jesus Christ and He by that knowledge, opens your eyes so you can see what His will is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect. Believe that about yourself and stop thinking that you are a mere human. Why be carnal and walk as a man?
Let us look at the admonitions we have to overcome.
1.) Do not love the world.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God remains forever.
The person who does the will of God is the person who loves God. The person who loves God understands that the world will not last and that we are strangers and pilgrims here on this earth and the lusts will not last, they pass away. If you love God then you'll thank him for all things and be content. Trust him and quit coveting. Remember, godliness with contentment is great gain. We need to make sure that we love God and not the world. And we need to understand that we cannot love both. To love one is to hate the other.
2.) Deny the lusts; the strong desires.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.
To deny them is to regard them as not worthy of our time and interest. Our interests are spiritual and on things that are above, on eternal things. That takes a belief in who you really are and walking in your true identity before God.
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is advanced, the day has drawn near. Therefore let us cast off the works of the darkness, and let us put on the armor of the light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in beds and debauchery, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and take no forethought of the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Here in this reading you have our knowledge of the truth, "awake out of sleep", and our denying the lusts, "not giving any forethought", not be preoccupied with the flesh and slaving for it to fulfill its desires, and you have your new identity in "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ." Clothe your identity with him.
3.) If we walk in the spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Gal.5:16
Our interests are different. Our minds are enlightened to what is real and lasting. We are awake and we know what is important. When we mind spiritual things then we will not follow after fleshly things and pay homage to our lusts.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
With our hope of entering heaven and being like Christ, then the direction our lives should be taking is toward purity of heart and mind and not walking in the lusts of the flesh. That will make our hope stronger and assure us of our place with Christ - because we are growing into his likeness of character and holiness.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, OR. October 21, 1984)