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The Seven Deadly Sins - Lust
As a young girl, realizing that I had sexual desires was like a lightbulb coming on out of nowhere. I was a preteen navigating the awkwardness of puberty, still new to the concept of sex apart from movies and a short conversation I’d had with my mom in the eighth grade. Frankly, it wasn’t much to go on.
Like many Christians my age, I grew up looking at my sexuality through the lens of purity culture. The message? Don’t even think about sex until you get married. Well, that was definitely a struggle, considering that by high school, I was thinking about it all the time. At that point, I was convinced that the topic of sex should be avoided completely unless you had already tied the knot. So, I stuck to the status quo and kept my questions to myself.
The result of this, unfortunately, was a warped understanding of God’s design for my desires. I operated from a mindset of ‘I’ll figure it out as I go,’ and swung back-and-forth in my relationships between a hunger for physical affection and the fear that I’d gone too far. Sandwiched in-between was an addiction to masturbation that I’d kept hidden for years and a growing inclination to use physical intimacy as a means to check out from my insecurity and anxiety.
It wasn’t until my twenties that I finally realized I had developed a problem with lust. This devastated me — I knew full well what Scripture says about sexual immorality:
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. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
The problem, though, was that I had no idea how to get myself out of it. I felt incredibly hypocritical, especially when I prayed. The more determined I was to step away from the sin I knew I was actively participating in, the harder it was to deny the fantasy and dissociation that I had become accustomed to.
As I continued to wrestle with this, God in His great mercy led me to different teachers who were open about their own struggles with lustful behavior and the ways that God reframed their understanding of sexuality through the lens of His design. Their honesty gave me a foothold out of the cycle of condemnation I was living in and helped kickstart my own journey of sanctification from the pitfalls of lust.
What Is Lust, Really?
In reality, lust isn’t just about sex. The Oxford English Dictionary defines lust as “a sensual appetite regarded as sinful.” This mentality can be applied to almost anything: money, power, status — you name it. But why is it sinful in the first place?
Author and Bible teacher Phylicia Masonheimer explains it this way: “A lustful mind is more focused on its desire than on the consequences of that desire. It is irrational, both sensual and insensitive. Lust is focused on satisfying a want that it perceives as a need…. [It] essentially says, ‘I am god of this area of my life.’”
In other words, lust is a perversion of desire. Let’s clarify that desires aren’t bad things. God gave them to us for a reason! The longing that we experience in the flesh is intended to point us to the ultimate fulfillment of it — to God and the deep, beautiful mystery of our Creator. But lust seeks to satisfy those desires through other means, avoiding God altogether. When we give in to that tendency, the desire itself will be the driving force in our lives. We will manipulate and ultimately objectify others to gain whatever it is we’re thirsty for.
The tricky thing about sexual lust is that this objectification can be conducted in the privacy of our own minds, and no one will be the wiser. Pornography and masturbation are perfect examples of this. Sure, there may not be evident harm done, but we are still actively using the body of another person for our own pleasure. We are demeaning another image-bearer of God, mentally lessening their value [and ours] to a sum of parts. That’s why God hates this sin so much. Not only does it make a mockery of His creation, it perverts the holiness of sex, sending the message that sex is about individual gratification rather than a beautifully intimate demonstration of selfless love.
Reframing the Narrative
So, how do we deal with this?
I attempted many times to squash the impurity of my thoughts and actions, hoping that with enough willpower, I could overcome my secret sin. It didn’t work. No matter how desperately I tried, the desires were always stronger than I was. What I didn’t realize then was that I was fighting a losing battle against myself. This is because lust is a spiritual problem and needs to be fought on a spiritual level.
We do this by letting God reframe our desires rather than trying to snuff them out. Dr. Christopher West speaks to this at length through his extensive work with the Theology of the Body Institute.
“There’s another way to experience our sexual desires,” he says. “Most people think…that we only have two choices with our sexual desires: indulge them or repress them…. [But] indulge and repress are not the only two options. Christ came into the world not to condemn those with disordered sexual desires, but to restore the original order of sexual desires.”
When our desires are redeemed, we’ll begin to see Jesus at the center of them. We’ll start to recognize our desires as gifts that point us to the infinite as we pursue purity and holiness in tandem with the grace of the Father. God is faithful to make us new through the work of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27). All we need to do is press into the process. To do this, take steps to guard yourself from media, books, and situations that might cause you to stumble. Pray honestly about the state of your heart, learn the truth about your desires in the Word, and avoid isolation by staying accountable with someone you can trust, like a faithful counselor or a mature brother or sister in Christ. Then, follow the Father’s lead as you begin your journey to freedom.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21