The racing heart, the watering eyes, the abrupt disinterest withering the world outside. The carnivorous appetite, the volatile urge. The hungry stare. The inner burn (1 Corinthians 7:9). The dry mouth, the blinking eyelids, the jittering hands. The hidden force. The haunting whispers. The inescapable desire. The sweet slavery. The roaring drumbeat silencing music. The fight to death, a civil war. The silent suspicion of inevitable defeat; the dark desire for your downfall. Lust.
In a world coursing with sexual temptation, who can walk through unharmed? Who wants to? This enemy, so cherished and beloved by its victims, holds such a place in our affections that when God calls us to drive the stake through our passions, many ignore the threat or laugh it off.
“In a world coursing with sexual temptation, who can walk through unharmed?”
Sexual lust, even for those awake to their consciences, is often the tiger one wishes to leash but not kill. When told about chastity — an old word tasting of stale bread and smelling of their great aunt’s perfume — I’ve had decent men by worldly standards open their mouth and gasp, “How could anyone live without sex?” Air, food, water, and sexual gratification — the bare necessities of life.
Lay Lust on the Altar
Men should gasp at what God requires. William Gurnall puts the heavenly expectation vividly:
Soul, take thy lust, thy only lust, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughter, from which thou hast promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my [God’s] face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down — and all this now, before thou hast one embrace more from it. (The Christian in Complete Armor, 13)
Truly this is a hard chapter, flesh and blood cannot bear this saying; our lust will not lie so patiently on the altar, as Isaac, or as a “Lamb that is brought to the slaughter which was dumb,” but will roar and shriek; yea, even shake and rend the heart with its hideous outcries.
Our lust shrieks when injured. It roars, shakes, angers, and gives hideous outcries. But God calls us to kill it before him, joyfully, freely, now — before we take another embrace of it.
But how? cries the weary voice of many.
Help For Sexual Sinners
Perhaps you (both men and women) have tried and tried again.
You’ve cut off hands and gouged out eyes that tempt you (Matthew 5:29–30), but they regrow like Hydras’ heads. You succeed to put to death what is earthy in you (Colossians 3:5), but only for a time. You know this sin threatens ultimate harm, waging war against your very soul (1 Peter 2:11). You know to indulge is to sin against your own body (1 Corinthians 6:18), undermine your profession (1 Corinthians 6:8–9), and contradict the explicit will of God for your life (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5). But the madness returns, leaving remorse and shame.
Though I do not take Romans 7 to be describing a Christian indwelt by the Spirit, his anguished statements under the law certainly capture the experience of besetting sexual sin,
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15, 21, 24)
If you have, like me, jumped Lilypad to Lilypad in the swamps of sexual sin, hopefully I can contribute one emphasis that could make all the difference: focusing not so much on the how of sexual purity, but the why.
Highest Good in Purity
Covenant Eyes, passwords on computers, strong accountability, not kissing until marriage, daily check-ins, canceling phone internet, not living alone — I have heard (and used) many wonderful hows to make no provision for the flesh. By all means, devise a plan.
But in this article, I seek to travel further upstream. Why might we, along with Job, make a covenant with our eyes not to look lustfully at a woman (Job 31:1)? Or why with the Psalmist, should we store up God’s word in our heart that we might not sin against him (Psalm 119:11)? To avoid confessing the sin again during men’s group? To spare yourself a guilty conscience? To avoid hell?
These certainly motivate, but for lasting victory we need a bigger gun. Namely, to realize God’s highest good for sexual purity: God himself.
To See God
Did Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart so that you save yourself embarrassment at accountability group?” No. He began his sermon, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Only later does he arrive at the cutting off of hands and the warning against hell.
To see God. What have you seen of God, learned of God, loved about God lately? This remains the question for devotions.
Notice how the story ends:
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:3–4)
After all uncleanness goes extinct, a throne will stand before us, and pure eyes will have their desire: to behold him.
“Father,” Jesus prayed on the eve of his death, “I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Lust is simply the anti-prayer.
Gazing at the Sea
“If you want to build a ship,” the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said, “don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Scripture certainly tells us to chop wood and heed orders, but it also unmistakably shows us the endless immensity of the sea: our God.
“As sure as lust distorts the world, purity reenchants it.”
Abstinence, self-control, chastity, cleanness of eyes and heart — for their own sake — are too small a reward. The appropriate end of boat-crafting is not to admire vessels sitting on dry land. Not work and discipline for their own sake. God means for us to sail. He means for us to feel the sea wind in our faces, to gaze upon the headwaters of all life and beauty himself, to see sunsets we’ve never seen before — and realize far more beauty remains to be seen.
Christian, God offers you something higher: to see his glory. As sure as lust distorts the world, purity reenchants it. As lust dims beauty and hides God’s face in night; purity cleanses our vision and dawns day upon the face of Christ for us to behold him. Our eyes cannot serve two masters.
Is seeing him robed in his splendor, shining like the sun, why you desire to be pure?