Do I have some huge confession to make? Am I the latest amongst the pastors and Christian leaders who shipwreck on a young beauty? Am I an outlier of wayward impulses?
No. I’m normal, wayward impulses and all.
Wayward and Normal
Lust is a term we don’t often define, but we all know what it is: an overwhelmingly intense desire for something. You can lust for anything—food (but then I suppose that’s gluttony) or other people’s success (but then that’s envy). These days, when we talk about lust, we usually are referring to sexual desire.
Lust is to sex what greed is to money. Sex is not bad, as money is not bad. But great selfishness with either (as with anything) ought to give us pause. Lust says, “More, more, more!” with no regard for anyone beyond our own self. Lust is a sin that feeds itself and grows, disregarding all costs.
And that is a very big problem indeed.
As is the shape-shifting nature of lust. It can be a second glance at a bodily form you wish to know intimately. It can be lingering in a coworker’s office. It can be mindless moments ogling online. It can be daydreaming, playing out conversations or interactions. It can be eye contact that holds the extra second.
Often lust seems like a victimless crime. Because it’s predominantly a sin of the mind and the heart, it’s often easier to hide than gluttony or sloth.
But in lust, we disintegrate.
Common and Deadly
Lust is a gaseous sin, like carbon monoxide, silently expanding to fill any space it’s given, choking out life.
Lust begins and often stays in one’s mind, or at least in one’s private life. We struggle to confess it. And the “hiddenness” of lust amplifies its corrosive effect on our souls, on our regard for other people, on our capacity to love.
In lust, we dehumanize other people. We desire to use them. We seek to meet our own physical and emotional desires without regard for others. We place our desires before another’s personhood and worth.
And this massive devaluation of people inherent in lust matters immediately—our interactions with others are marred today. And this matters cumulatively—we lose proper perspective on our place and role as we interact with others and make decisions. We attempt to wrestle control of our lives from our good Father, and then we lose that control entirely as lust takes over our lives. We lose our integrity and identity as Christ followers.
Stepping Up and Out
So what do we do to face such a hidden, damaging temptation?
1. Acknowledge lust when it comes knocking. See and name how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and why.
2. Recognize what triggers your lust. Is it a circumstance? A person? A time of day? Temptations tend along certain lines. Find them, then address them.
3. Notice your thoughts and your physical state. Your mind and body inform one another, of course. Cultivate attentiveness to both, caring well for yourself.
4. Find two or three friends who you can be brutally honest with about the ways in which you are not the person you want to be. Remember that your problem won’t surprise them much. We are all facing our own demons—we are all normal and wayward.
5. Look at Jesus. There’s a phenomenon in motorcycling called “target fixation.” In sum, what you look at is where you will go. So don’t look at that tree, or you will hit that tree. Rather, look at the path you want to travel, and you’ll roll along fine.
Read a spot in the Bible that helps you know and understand God better today, and that makes you eager to know and follow Jesus.
6. Receive grace as you face and admit your sin. If you are (successfully) tempted by lust and then carry a load of guilt around, you’re slammed twice. Know that many others bear the same load. Know that Jesus loves sinners like you (and me). Take a deep breath, acknowledge how good he is and how much you need him, and take another step toward life.
Why do you think lust is a “deadly” sin? How do you and your friends address it?
Sin. We don’t like to think about it or talk about it—unless, of course, it’s someone else’s sin. Our own sin often goes unrecognized and unconfessed, which means we see little change in our spiritual lives.
Evagrius, a fourth-century monk, created a list of eight common sins to help people be aware of them and guard against them. Pope Gregory I reduced the list to seven in the sixth century, providing us with what we now commonly refer to as the seven deadly sins: sloth, anger, envy, pride, lust, gluttony, and avarice/greed (Michael Mangis, Signature Sins). This is the fourth post in our series on these seven sins, explaining what they are, how they affect our relationship with God and others, and how we can move past them.
The seven deadly sins are not an exhaustive list, of course, but they give us a place to start in looking at our personal sin and intentionally working toward Christlikeness. And it’s in facing and confessing our sins that we find not condemnation like we might expect but rather forgiveness, grace, and freedom to live as the redeemed sons and daughters of God we were made to be.
Images by twentyonehundred productions team member Laura Li-Barbour.
Suddenly, in my mind, I’m tearing my coworker apart limb from limb. How could she get the recognition that I rightfully deserved? This was the moment when I realized that pride was a problem in my life.