I’d like to introduce you to Travis. Travis is nine years old, and he has all kinds of desires.
Travis loves cookies. But when Travis eats cookies, he doesn’t want just one cookie. He wants a whole plate of cookies.
Even though Travis is only nine, one of the things Travis really wants is a girlfriend. He sees all of the romantic relationships depicted on TV and in the movies, and he wants that too.
Travis also likes basketball, and he wants to become a professional player in the NBA. He enjoys playing the game, but the real reason he wants to play in the NBA is because he wants all the money and fame that come with playing in the NBA. He wants fans to idolize him, and he wants enough money to buy whatever he wants whenever he wants it.
There’s something else Travis desires. Travis’ older brother has a friend who is addicted to illegal drugs. Travis has heard all of the warnings about drugs, and he knows the damaging effects they can have on a person’s body…but still, Travis is curious. And he thinks he would like to try drugs just once.
Believe it or not, that’s Travis’ problem. We tend to think of lust as a vice with which only hormonal teenagers and sexual deviants struggle, but the truth is that we all struggle with lust.
The word lust is translated from the Greek word epithumia, which means “strong desire.” So, when we say that someone lusts after something, we’re literally saying that they have a strong desire for it.
But are all strong desires sinful? Of course not. I’m sure we can all think of things in our lives that we might strongly desire that wouldn’t be sinful. The Apostle Paul had some examples too.
But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ
Do you see the word “desire” in that verse? That’s the word epithumia. Paul is literally saying is that he lusts after being with Jesus. That’s certainly not a wrong desire. If it were wrong to want to be with Jesus, God would have never made it possible for us to be united with Him.
But if all desires aren’t wrong, then we need to tackle an important question.
How do we know when a desire becomes wrong?
The Apostle James gives us some help with this.
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder.
But you say, “I’ve wanted plenty of things, but I’ve never committed murder.” Most people haven’t. But murder doesn’t start with the action of picking up a weapon and killing somebody. Murder starts in the heart of a person who wants something so badly that when things don’t go his way, he lashes out to get what he wants! Jesus made this point in His sermon on the mount.
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.
The bottom line is that when you want something so badly that you are willing to do something terrible to get it—when you’re willing to sin to get what you want—that’s when your lusts have become sinful. But that’s not the only way we can tell if our desires have become wrong.
You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
James is saying that if you want something that you can’t have, and you react by fighting and quarrelling—by sinning—then your desires have become sinful.
So, here’s the summary of what we’re saying.
There are 2 ways to identify sinful lust:
- When you are willing to sin to get what you want.
- When you respond sinfully when you can’t get what you want.
God’s Word doesn’t tell us that it’s wrong to want things. It tells us that it’s wrong to want things so badly that we’re willing to sin.
Four Types of Sinful Lust
Let’s get a bit more specific about this. Remember Travis? Travis struggled with four sinful types of lust. Think about the different things he wanted. He wanted:
- A whole plate of cookies
- To be an NBA Player
- A girlfriend
- To try drugs
Each of these desires represents a different category of sinful lust.
1. Wanting Wrong Things
Travis wanted to try illegal drugs. Doing so would be clearly wrong. Taking these drugs would require that he disregard and disobey the authorities God had placed over him. These drugs would damage the body God had given him. He could become enslaved to them. Each of these statements points to the obvious sinfulness of indulging this desire.
This is probably the easiest type of sinful lust to identify. And when we recognize that we want wrong things, we should be quick to ask for God’s help to say, “No” to such things.
2. Wanting Right Things in the Wrong Amounts
Travis liked cookies. There’s nothing wrong with liking cookies. But Travis didn’t want just a couple of cookies. He wanted a whole plateful of cookies.
By eating an entire plate of cookies, Travis wouldn’t be taking very good care of his body. Aside from upsetting his stomach, the plate of cookies could cause him to gain an inordinate amount of weight. Eating the whole plate would prevent him from sharing with others.
In addition to food, there are plenty of good things we can want in wrong amounts. Sleep, relaxation, TV, video games, and time with friends are just a few examples. When we find ourselves wanting good things in the wrong amounts, it’s a good indication that we’re engaging in sinful lust.
3. Wanting Right Things at the Wrong Time
Travis wanted a girlfriend. Is there anything wrong with wanting a girlfriend? No. But how old was Travis? Nine-years-old.
My personal view is that a person shouldn’t date until he/she is ready to make a marriage commitment. (For more on this, check out my post What kind of standards ought to govern a dating relationship.) At the age of nine, Travis didn’t have any business getting serious with a girl. Desiring a girlfriend may be a right thing to desire for someone who is clearly ready to be married, but for Travis, he’s wanting a right thing at the wrong time.
And in that way, he’s engaging in sinful lust.
4. Wanting Right Things with the Wrong Motives
Travis wanted to be an NBA basketball player. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that desire. But why did he want to be a basketball player?
He didn’t want to be a professional basketball player because he wanted to be a good steward of the talents and opportunities God had given him. He wanted to be an NBA star so that he could get all the attention and possessions money could buy.
When we want things for our glory rather than for God’s glory, then we’ve engaged sinful lust and we need to take action to root out the idol that we’ve set up in our hearts.
Anytime we desire something more than we desire to serve and please God, we’ve got an idol and an opportunity to change our thinking so that we can use our minds to bring God glory.
Consequences of Sinful Lust
1. Sinful lust leaves you empty.
What’s going to happen the day after Travis eats all of his cookies? He’s going to want more. It’s the same with us. When we lust after money or fame or people or things, we will always walk away unsatisfied. We will always want more. A deeper relationship with God is the only thing that truly satisfies.
2. Sinful Lust Brings Misery
How do you think you’re going to feel if you’re constantly seeking joy and pleasure in lesser sources and never finding satisfaction? You’re going to feel empty and miserable and ashamed.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!
Everything that we could find pleasure in on this earth will ultimately pass away. And James is saying, “Your life is too short to waste it chasing after lesser things.”
Redirecting Our Lusts
Instead of seeking our satisfaction and joy in earthly, temporal things, we ought to be chasing after God. True joy and true satisfaction will only be found in a growing, deepening relationship with Him.
In his book Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis said,
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
If we’re going to get a handle on our sinful lusts, we need to begin investigating what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We need to invest ourselves more fully in our relationships with God.
We do that by spending time with Him. Listen to Him by reading His Word. Talk with Him in prayer. Hide His truth in your heart by memorizing the Scriptures. Commit yourself to obeying Him. Put Him first.
For Further Discussion
- What are some other examples of each type of sinful lust?
- What suggestions do you have for deepening your relationship with God?
- What practices or resources have helped you strengthen your relationship with God?