Lust vs. Blessed are the Pure in Heart

A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 6 April 2014.

Heb 11, which lists the biblical heroes of faith, describes Moses in this way: “By faith Moses… [chose] to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (vv. 24-25). Here we have a biblical admission of something we all know is true: sin is pleasurable. It might be a temporary pleasure, but it is still often pleasurable to disobey God.

As I said, each of us already knows that from experience. With the exception of envy, all of the Seven Deadly Sins are fun. In our particular culture, perhaps no sin is seen as quite so pleasurable as Lust, which we will consider this morning.

Of all the the things that tempt us, there are few that can overwhelm us like Lust. When it comes to Lust, even little things can get us going: Prov 6.25: “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes…”

And yet in our society, the little things are often blown away by a total blitz of Lust. Our culture cherishes Lust as a virtue. An old Nike ad said: “Lust isn’t a sin, it’s a necessity…” Many, many advertisers capitalize on Lust with increasing regularity and explicitness. It’s seemingly everywhere we turn,  and it’s often portrayed as either innocent fun or nothing more than a natural biological function of the human body. But as you will see, the reality of Lust is far from that.


What is Lust? Where does it come from? Like all sins, lust begins with a God-given desire. Our desire for intimacy is real, true, good, beautiful desire. We all desire to love and be loved, to know someone else and be known by them. And we live in a world in which people are dying to be loved, and they are turning over every rock to search for true, satisfying intimacy.

Lust is an attempt to fulfill our need for intimacy apart from God. When we look to satisfy our desires on our own terms, apart from God’s instructions, we are lusting.

Lust is sin because it creates an idol — we are looking to limited, earthly, temporal things to fill an infinite need. Lust is destructive because it confuses body & soul — looks to the body to satisfy a soul need.

We all know that our culture is obsessed with Lust. But Lust is not a problem “out there” in the culture; it’s a problem “right here” in our hearts. One author wrote: the “Great Modern Lie” is that “Happiness… depends on being forever sexuall attractive and fulfilled.” And we believe that lie. Sexual pleasure and physical beauty are worshiped in our culture, and we choose our identity, clothing, and lifestyle to reflect that.

Think about it: We sacrifice huge portions of our lives to satisfy the cravings of Lust. We sacrifice our marriages, children, and careers on Lust’s altar. And we sacrifice our money. If you want to know what someone really values, watch where they spend their money:

Did you know that Americans spend more money on explicit images — in print, DVD, and online — than on all genres of music combined? More than on pro baseball, football, and basketball combined? Did you know that the vast industry surrounding explicit images grosses more annually than all the Big 4 TV networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, & FOX — combined?

Many people see lust as essentially a male problem. But that isn’t true. The distinctiveness of Lust is that almost all of humanity knows something of this sin from experience — and they know that they know. Even though it sometimes manifests itself differently in men and women, an idolatrous search of deeper intimacy, sensual pleasure, and romance is a universal human problem.

As one author put it, the sacrifices we make to the idol of Lust “may look different than [those of ancient peoples], but make no mistake about it: we shout, dance, and eventually bleed for this god, hoping for some kind of response. But the god of sexual pleasure always demands more” (Idleman, 102).


What does Lust do? Sin promises to give you everything you ever wanted, but instead it subtly takes everything you have. I remember reading years ago, I don’t even remember where: “All sin is slow suicide.”

We have become so confused about where to satisfy our desires, perhaps especially our desire for intimacy. Our spiritual & biological desires are real and good gifts from God, but they aren’t to be fed except at the right time. In this way, Lust is like the other Seven Deadly Sins. EX: gluttony, anger.

We think giving in to Lust will make things better and give us what we long for, but the truth is that it won’t. It warps our view of love: Lust tells us that we cannot have love without sex, and that sex without love is satisfiying. Both of these are lies.

As one writer put it, “Lust is not an overfunctioning sex drive. It is an underfunctioning of love.” When we feed our Lust, we inevitably develop a distorted view of what real intimacy is.

The unity of a husband and wife is a powerful creative act! It creates one flesh and new life! It is one of the most powerful ways in which we bear the image of God, and it is a life-changing act of unconditional love that should not be entered into flippantly.

But Lust’s distorted sense of intimacy is not only a false imitation, it actually prevents the real, satisfying experience. As another author put it, “Lust firebombs real love.”

Real love is a covenantal promise to understand the depths of another person and stand with them for the long haul, no matter what. Lust is the opposite of that. It makes no promise and takes no stand.

Lust makes us selfish. We are designed to live our lives for others — to serve them, honor their lives and reputations, and seek their best. But in Lust we live for ourselves, serve our own interests, and seek our own “best”. We end up using others, sacrificing them on the altar of our idol of self.

EX: No one has ever said, “I had that one-night stand so that I could make him/her a happier, healthier person!” No, that kind of relationship is only about me, my needs, my desires.

Lust sets unrealistic expectations for other people: If we are not fulfilling our desire for intimacy in God himself, then no one can live up to that. No one can be enough or do enough for long enough to satisfy your soul, and that’s a terrible, destructive burden to place on someone else.

Our cultural images of Lust are only fantasy — there is no reality behind them. EX: We see this most clearly in how our media obsessively edit photos. Look in a magazine for the natural lines on people’s faces or the shape of their torsos. Lorde last Fri. Our unrealistic images create unrealistic expectations, which in turn lead only to envy and anger when they go unfulfilled.

EX: Numerous studies overwhelmingly indicate a correlation between viewing explicit images with decreased satisfaction with one’s partner and a decrease in intimacy. Lust destroys the very desire that it is trying to satisfy.

Like all sin, the wages of Lust is death. 1 Peter 2.11 says that the passions of our flesh wage war against our soul! James 1.14-15 tells us: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.”

Lust leaves us all dehumanized, devalued, and degraded. It destroys our relationships, damages other people, and leaves us feeling either guilty, scarred, or calloused. We sear our consciences and become incapable of the very intimacy we so powerfully crave.

As one author put it:

“When we worship sex as a god, we find that it leads to the exact opposite of its divine design as a gift.
As a gift it brings connection; as a god it causes loneliness.
As a gift it brings pleasure; as a god it leads to emptiness.
As a gift it brings satisfaction; but as a god it demands slavery.
As a gift it brings intimacy; as a god, separation.
As a gift it brings unity; as a god it often causes divorce.
It is a beautiful gift and a tyrant of a god.”

What to do about lust? Like all the PEWSAGLs, this is a sin that tempts us all. Some are tempted more than others, and some handle it better than others. But none of us is exempted from the temptation to lust. Here is what we must do:

1. Don’t feed the dog! EX: loving dogs:

“Here is a problem I had as a little boy: I love dogs. I always had a dog. And I was always desirous of having more dogs.

“I walked home from school or sports practice just about every day of the week. I constantly made friends with the dogs that would literally follow me home hoping that living under my care would be a better deal for them. More attention, more food.

“I think I just about drove my mother insane with continuous pleadings of, ‘Oh, can’t I keep him? She will be easy to care for. I’ll feed the dogs’

“Mom held her ground with a forceful no. I became more fascinated with stray or potentially stray dogs. I got frustrated with Mom’s refusal to add another dog to our dog collection, which already had a terrier named Freckles.

“In despair, I asked my mom how in the world I was going to cope with this. I mean, after all, the dogs just followed me home and moved in!

“Mom’s response was a great lesson about animal husbandry, but also an ever-present help in my life with the issue of lust.

“‘Mom, I can’t help it! The dogs are just there. What am I supposed to do, anyway? What do I do with the next dog I find?’

“Mom’s reply is timeless: ‘Don’t feed it or pet it and it won’t follow you home.’” (Rowland, 183)

How do you pet the dog? How do you feed it? Think about it.

What triggers your lust? Stress? fatigue? anger? fear? certain places, situations, or people? Answer honestly, for your own sake, then start addressing your temptation there. Attack Lust at the first wink of the eye or turn of the head — or better yet, make plans now, before the temptation occurs!

Think about your thinking: Where is the line between right and wrong thinking? When does right thinking about another person cross over into feeding Lust? Dwelling on it, feeding fantasy.

Be intentional about thinking of others as human beings, not as objects or actions. Be vigilant to relate to them selflessly and not selfishly. Are you thinking about that person as a means to your own ends? Or are you sincerely wanting to serve them in the name of Jesus? Can you love someone without sex?

2. Confess our sin & be accountable to others! Lust often feels out of control or too hard to overcome. We find it to be embarrassing to talk about, and so we keep it to ourselves. Yes, sin is embarrassing, but it’s also universal! We’re all struggling with it, so why pretend that you’re not?

Let me put it another way. So often — too often — we try to solve our sin problems on our own. That’s our default setting. But 1 Cor 6 teaches us that we are not individual Christians, trying to do this on our own. Rather, we are part of the body of Christ! A kidney isn’t very good at lifting things, but an arm isn’t useful for filtering the bloodstream. We need each other.

Or to use a different analogy, we are all members of a team. Why do we pretend like we can win the game on our own? We need each other. It doesn’t work any other way.

Or as Prov 28.13 puts it, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” We all need a group of people with whom we can be courageously honest. Give someone you trust the freedom to ask you frankly about your struggle with Lust. Be courageously honest with that person. Covering our sin only adds fuel to the fire, but confession and repentance lead to the freedom of forgiveness.

3. Grow in self-control! Self-control is the wise governing of our own emotions, desires, impulses, and cravings. Self-control is not something that we are born good at, and it is not something that our culture encourages either. We are so often told to live in the moment, to follow our heart — YOLO if you’re under 25 years old. But Prov 25.28 says: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” It is a defenseless city, and even a tiny army can have its way with its inhabitants.

Unfortunately, the man who wrote those words also lacked self-control. Despite all the wisdom and success God gave him, Solomon, the third king of Israel, let his passions run out of control. 1 Kings records how Solomon turned away from God and played by his own rules. Maybe he was too smart for his own good. But his lack of self-control undermined every good thing he did in his kingdom and caused harmful repercussions that extend to this day.

Read what the Bible has to say about self-control: Gal 5; 2 Tim 3; Titus 2; numerous references in 1 Peter. Biblical self-control should not be confused with will-power! It is a gift of God, a work of his Spirit in our hearts. Heed those warnings (Scr again). Pray fervently and ask the Spirit of God to help you grow in self-control.

4. Leave the scene! Which is more valuable, potential embarrassment in a particular moment? Or the health of your soul? EX: Joseph, Gen 39. When you are being tempted to Lust, flee! (cf 1 Cor 6.12-20)

5. Get married! The Apostle Paul wrote (1 Cor 7.9) that it is better to get married than to burn with lust. For some of you — but not all, the apostle writes in that same passage — marriage is a gift of God to help with the sin of lust.

6. Be patient! When filled with desire on a date, when tempted on the internet, when encountering an attractive person: Have patience! God knows your needs, and his desire is to satisfy them! Don’t let yourself think for one moment that the fulfillment of your desires hinges on yourself. The God who made you will be the one to give you everything that you need.

Rom 8.31-32: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Remind yourself constantly: God demonstrated his love for you at the cross, and he wants you to look to him — and to no one else — for meaning and satisfaction. Be patient and trust in his promise to provide everything you need.

7. Most importantly: Ask for help! God knows how our bodies work. Better than we do! He created them! He called them very good! Our prayer should be from Ps 119: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (v. 37). And: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!” (vv. 9-10) Cry out to God, ask his Spirit to strengthen and direct you away from sin and toward holiness.


 

That leads us to 1 Thess 4.3-8, where the Apostle Paul writes something that should jump off the page to you:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

Do you see it? It’s right there in verse 7: What is the opposite of impurity? I think we would most often say that the opposite of impurity is purity, or that the opposite of Lust is love. But here the Apostle Paul somewhat surprisingly says that the opposite of Lust’s impurity is actually holiness.

Holiness is one of those words that all Christians know, but what does it actually mean? Think about how you would define it. It’s a notoriously difficult word to define, and our attempts seem so thin: purity, set-apart, perfect. But all those are just adjectives: purely what? set apart for what? perfectly what?

In the Bible we learn what holiness is largely by observation and analogy. We read of Moses’s face glowing just because he had been in the presence of the holy God. We see Isaiah trembling in heaven because of the terrifying holiness of God.  We hear about just a peak of Jesus’s holiness being manifested at the Transfiguration, and the book of Revelation gives us just a glimpse of what it will be like when the fullness of his glory is seen at his return.

The Bible uses a lot of analogies for the holiness of God: Our God is LIGHT and in him is no darkness at all. He is pure, unmixed holiness. But what is holiness itself?  The truth is that while holiness is God’s most defining attribute, we can barely scratch the surface of what it means to be holy. This is important because we are repeatedly called to be holy in Scripture. So how can we be holy unless we know what holiness is?

We are helped by the Beatitudes. In each one, someone is called “blessed.” This is another difficult word to translate well. Some commentators say that each blessing communicates to us what is “the good life,” the way of life that God commends and rewards. One writer even translates the Beatitudes as “congratulations to…”

In Matt 5.8, Jesus declares: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This should jump off the page to us too! Every single time someone sees the holiness of God in the Bible — or even comes close to it, seeing just the edges of his holiness — every single time they are terrified. It is a frightful experience that leaves the visitor in God’s presence either crying out, or dumbfounded beyond words, or wishing that the mountains would fall on them.

According to the book of Hebrews, our God is a consuming fire, and it is a terrible, fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. After the way the Bible describes seeing God, you wouldn’t think anyone would want to see him! But Jesus says the pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God.

You see, the pure in heart order things well. Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” The pure in heart don’t get distracted or sidetracked by the false promises and false solutions of sin. Their first priority is to love God, and this love for him leads them to loving others as well.

Purity of heart is the one prerequisite to seeing God. Ps 24.3-4: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” may ascend into the presence of God. V. 5 “He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

Do you see??God sees things differently than we do, he values things differently than we do, he chooses things differently than we do. That should be no surprise to us, since God is so incredibly different than we are. We rightly fear being in the presence of God because he is holy, and we are not!

But the pure in heart receive from God the blessing of righteousness! They may ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his presence because even though they are holy, God has made them holy! What we could never, ever even dream of doing on our own, God has done for us!

What does that tell us about God? Just as he so holy that we can barely scratch the surface of what that means, so also is he so gracious and so loving that we could scarcely begin to understand it if we pondered it for 1000 years. The same God who could not bear to have us in his presence because of our unholiness traded places with us at the cross. The Holy One was made unholy so that we unholy ones could be made holy. Praise be to God!


 

Do you see how purity of heart is the opposite of Lust? Lust is false worship because we are looking to something other than God for the love, the satisfaction of our desires that we can really only receive from him. Purity of heart turns our love back to God and puts him back in his rightful place above all else.

This is how he works: in Matt 6, Jesus taught: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. If we are seeking God above all else, then we will receive what we ask for. That purity of heart will be rewarded with the very thing it desires most: to be in the presence of God.

Do you want your every desire, including your desire for intimacy and love, to be satisfied? Don’t look to lust. God wants your needs to be satisfied, only in his way, his plan, his time, in himself. Fix your eyes on God and choose him above all others.

Jesus has already guaranteed to you the result of doing that: If you seek God with purity of heart, you will be blessed with the righteousness and holiness you need to enter his presence with joy instead of fear. You will remain there forever and lack nothing.

Which is better, the fleeting and destructive pleasures of Lust, or seeing God? The decision is yours.

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