How to Deal With Lust
By Brian Anderson

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell."

We live today in a sex-crazed age where unbridled indulgence in sexual passion abounds. Lust is being promoted through the most powerful media ever known to man. Our preoccupation with sex is being used by advertisers to sell their products like the toothpaste ad which states that it "gives your mouth sex appeal". Another ad sells shaving cream and declares "Take it off; take it all off." Another sells detergent nicknamed "The Stripper!" Sexual lust seems to be the uninterrupted theme of our society's entertainment. Americans have adopted the playboy philosophy - "if it feels good, do it -- anything is OK, as long as you don't hurt anyone else."

C.S. Lewis wrote "You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act -- that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us."

I think C.S. Lewis is absolutely right. We are a sex-crazed culture. And this preoccupation with our lusts has not been healthy. On the contrary it has been devastating. Today we are seeing more divorce, perversions of sex, illegitimate children, and downright misery in marriage than ever before. Just the other day I heard on the radio that 70% of the men polled recently admitted that they had engaged in at least 1 adulterous act!!

We live in a society which does not even admit guilt, let alone deal with it. In 1973 Karl Menninger wrote his book, Whatever Happened To Sin? Even an unsaved Jewish man recognized that our culture was drifting into a morass of guilt-denial. Today, with secular psychology, everyone is blaming everyone else instead of claiming to be personally responsible for their own sin. "I can't help what I'm doing. I'm a ex-addict. I'm part of a dysfunctional family. I'm a co-dependent. I'm a victim of my circumstances." Lust is treated as an illness, and not sin to be repented of. Furthermore, this kind of pop-psychology has been introduced into the church almost as much as it is in the world. Have you ever tried to count the number of books dealing with these issues in your local Christian bookstore? Next time you are there, see how many books you can find on mortification of sin!

It's no wonder, then, that our culture has renamed sin. No longer are our teenagers committing fornication -- they are "sexually active." No longer are people committing adultery - they are just "having an affair." Doesn't that sound romantic and exciting?! By the sound of it, you would think everyone would want to have one of those!

I wonder if a book as ancient as the Bible, would have anything to say about this modern issue. I wonder if Jesus Christ could teach us anything today about this modern phenomena. You know the answer to that! He has plenty to say! He says that the real problem is our own hearts -- that's where adultery comes from. He even goes so far as to say that just as being unrighteously angry with your brother is equivalent to murder, so lusting after a woman in your heart is equivalent to adultery. Christ's commands are deep and searching to the core of our being.

Let's examine how to deal with lust under two main headings:

I. Recognize The Hell-Deserving Nature Of Lust

Hell will be populated by people who gave themselves to their lusts. Jesus Christ clearly implies that if a person will not repent and deal severely and radically with their sin, they will be thrown into hell. However, if they do deal with their sinful lusts and mortify them by cutting them off and tearing them out, they will be saved from hell. Jesus repeats this again in verse 30 for emphasis. He wants us to know it is doubly true. If a person refuses to deal with sin in his life, it may be that he is not a Christian at all, in spite of his profession of faith or external works. It is natural for a regenerate person to be grieved over his sin, confess it as such and repent of it. It is characteristic of a true believer that he puts to death the deeds of the flesh. This mortification of sin is one of the expressions of the new nature and one of the proofs of salvation. Jesus is not saying that we can save ourselves by our works. He is saying that this activity is a proof that someone is a Christian.

I realize that this sounds awfully severe! Have we mistaken Jesus' teaching? Is this taught anywhere else in Scripture?

Other NT Passages

1 Cor. 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, not adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. Paul is emphatic! He does not want us to be deceived! We usually think that the person who believes that an adulterer won't make it to heaven is deceived. Paul says it's really the other way around!

Gal.5:19-21 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Eph.5:5-6 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Don't let someone tell you "don't be anxious about these things; you've made a profession of faith, you've accepted Christ, you've answered an alter call, you've been baptized. You're eternally secure and should never doubt your salvation again!" Col. 3:5-7 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.

Rev.21:8. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

What's the very first step in dealing with lust? Own your sin as deserving of hell. The first step is not simply claiming to be a fun-loving guy who can't help his playful exploits! It is not passing the buck, or blaming others. It is not admitting you have made a few mistakes, but they weren't really all that bad! No! The first step is to own the sin of lust as a sin deserving of hell! Take full responsibility for it. If anyone reading this is living a life characterized by lust, fornication, or adultery - GOD says you are on your way to an eternal lake of fire! I didn't say it - Jesus did! If you refuse to repent, that is where you will spend eternity!

II. Deal Radically and Severely with the First Motions of Lust in your Life

Jesus said in Matthew 5:29 "And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you" Jesus is speaking about radical surgery. In the Jewish culture the right eye and hand represented the best and most precious faculties -- vision and skill. Jesus chose to speak of the eye in His teaching because it is that which looked and lusted. The hand was chosen because adultery is a kind of theft. This text is not to be interpreted literally. Even if we took Christ literally, and tore out our right eye, it wouldn't solve the problem of lust because we would still have the other eye to lust with. And even if we tore out both eyes, we have a mind, and our mind is still directed by an evil heart. The problem is our heart. The heart of man expresses itself through the eyes and the hands.

Jesus is talking about the Biblical doctrine of the mortification of sin. What is it? John MacArthur, in his book The Vanishing Conscience defines it this way: "mortification is a way of life where we seek to throttle sin and crush it from our lives, sapping it of its strength, rooting it out, and depriving it of its influence." Rom.8:13 puts it this way: "for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

Just as Jesus says we must tear out our eyes and cut off our hands, so must we deal severely with the first motions of lust in our lives. This sounds kind of like amputation, doesn't it? Well, there have been many times when men have chosen gladly to have an arm or leg amputated. Why? Because they knew it was the only way to save their life. There was a story on the radio a year ago, about a man who was out in woods miles from anyone. A tree fell on his leg and trapped him. He knew that he couldn't get his leg free and that no one would ever find him way out in the woods like that. He figured he would starve to death or an animal would come along and kill him if he didn't take radical measures. So he took out his knife and cut off his leg. He then crawled to his nearby tractor and drove back to town where he was treated at a hospital. Sound pretty gruesome? Well, we are going to die eternally unless we are willing to deal radically with sin. Shouldn't we be willing to crucify our darling lusts if necessary for the salvation of our souls? We do it not to save our life, but to save our immortal souls! The reason most people are so reluctant to give up their sins is because they don't really believe in the reality of hell. No man is willing to allow a doctor to amputate if he is not absolutely convinced that it is necessary to save him from a greater loss. You must be convinced of Jesus' teaching if you are to take seriously his command! Either you must kill your sin, or it will kill you. It is painful to cut sin from your life, but believe me, it will be much more painful if you don't!

I hope that you understand that in order to deal with lust you must realize its hell-deserving nature and deal radically with it. In the remainder of this pamphlet, I want to give 7 practical directions in dealing with lust.

1. Make no provision for the lusts of the flesh
Rom.13:14 "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Don't feed the flesh! Many people believe that they can control themselves from committing a sexually immoral act, by diverting their energy away from the act into simply imagining the act in their mind. But thinking an act of adultery will not satisfy the sex urge; you will simply be pouring gasoline on a fire to try to quench it! If you are trying to fight a lust problem, don't go near stores you know will tempt you to look at Playboy or Penthouse magazine. Get rid of that software on your computer that gives you access to pornography. Be selective and careful about the books, magazines, TV, radio, CDs, and movies you view. We carefully avoid eating poisonous foods and stay away from those who are sick, but are we as careful to avoid temptation? In Mt.5:28, the word "looks" is a present participle in the Greek. It is not describing the innocent look or glance. It is possible for man to see beautiful woman and know she is beautiful without sinning. But when you gaze on her for the purpose of satisfying your sensuality or undressing her in your mind, you have crossed the line and are committing sexual adultery.

2. Abstain from lusts of the flesh
In 1 Peter 2:11, the apostle admonishes us, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." We are told to abstain from fleshly lusts. This means that we don't commit them! We are told so often today that some people just can't help committing sin. If you are a Christian, you can help it! You are no longer the slave of sin! You can abstain from fleshly lusts through the power of Holy Spirit. Notice that Peter tells them to abstain. The responsibility is theirs. We are not made holy by letting go and letting God, or waiting for God to give us a holy zap or some kind of crisis experience where we are forever sanctified. No, we must go through the painful process of cutting off right hands and tearing out right eyes!

The great Puritan-Theologian John Owen put it this way: "Sin sets itself against every act of holiness and against every degree we grow to. Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness while he walks not over the bellies of his lusts."

3. Fix your heart on Christ.
2 Cor. 3:18 states "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." Col. 3:1-3 exhorts "If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God." The power to abstain from fleshly lusts comes through a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. It is only by looking to him and communing with him that the grace to mortify sin is granted us.

4. Meditate On God's Word
Jn. 17:17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth." If we want to be like Christ, there is no substitute for getting into God's word and letting it saturate your life on a daily basis. We need the consistent intake of Scripture if we want to grow in godliness.

5. Watch and Pray
Mt.26:41 "Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Pray for grace to make the right decisions when faced with situations which could lead into sin. Pray for a holy hatred of sin. Pray that God will show you the real state of your heart, that you would trust more completely in Christ. Our prayers must include confession and repentance.

6. Exercise self-control
1Cor. 9:24-27 admonished us "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified." Self control is essential in the Christian life. We must learn to control ourselves, if we want to successfully complete the race. Thank God, that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As we walk by the Sprit, we will experience the blessed fruit of self-control!

7. Be Filled With The Holy Spirit
Eph.5:18 "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." Yield utterly to His control and depend on His power. Daily, consciously give up your life again to the Spirit of God. Turn the reigns of your life over to him and trust Him for the power needed for that day.

As you can see, there is no quick and easy way to deal with lust. But if you will set about with determination and persistency by the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death the sins of the flesh, you will see progress in holiness. Go on! Go on until you see Him in eternal glory!

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