01 Feb Lust/Self-Control: Bridled Passion
Seven Deadly Sins/Seven Lively Virtues
Lust/Self-Control: Bridled Passion
1 Kings 11:1-5 and Ephesians 4:17-24
January 27, 2019
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Last week we began our sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Lively Virtues by looking at pride and humility. This morning we consider the deadly sin of lust and its corresponding virtue self-control. Aside from lusting for a vacation in the Greek Isles, a new iPhone, a beachfront condo, always being right, being the best, having a big walk-in closet, plus an even bigger garage with a new SUV to put in it, being respected and admired, and my mother’s chocolate pie, I have never had much of a problem with lust, and I’m guessing you haven’t either.
Pope Gregory named these vices “deadly” because of their disastrous impact on the human soul, and if ever there was a killer sin, lust qualifies. Think about all the influential people who have been brought low by lust. Politicians, entertainers, sports icons, business professionals and certainly religious leaders have all had their lives and careers upended by lust. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me that people who seemingly have it all will act so recklessly. The problem is, they have it all, but they still want more.
King Solomon was like that. Here was a man who was king over Israel, following his father David to the throne. He built one of the marvels of the ancient world, the temple of Jerusalem. He was enormously wealthy, with his annual income amounting to 25 tons of gold. His fleet of ships was second to none, and he was legendary for his wisdom. There are thousands of biblical proverbs attributed to Solomon. Last but not least, Solomon had 700 princesses and 300 concubines. One thousand wives—can you imagine? Most of us do well to keep one partner happy, let alone a thousand!
Solomon is the poster child for lust. Despite his wealth, fame, power, wisdom and romance, he wasn’t content. He wanted more. And that’s what lust does. Lust is never content with what it has. It must always have more. Lust is unbridled passion that stems from an idolatrous heart. John Calvin famously wrote in his masterpiece, Institutes of the Christian Religion, that “the human heart is a factory of idols. Every one of us is…an expert at inventing idols.” And then we lust after the idols we create.
Idols are counterfeit gods. An idol is anything we seek, apart from God, to make us happy, satisfied, or fulfilled. Work can be an idol. Success or security or status can be an idol. Food, our appearance, popularity, recognition, relationships, alcohol, shopping, or being independent—we can turn anything into an idol when we elevate it to a place of ultimate importance. We might look to food to comfort us, money to make us feel secure, or sex to satisfy us. And, of course, once we believe the false promises of our idols, we have to have them, and lust is loosed.
Picture an elephant with a rider. Our emotional side is the elephant and our rational side is the rider on the elephant. The rider, our rational mind, holds the reins and seems to be in charge. But the rider’s control is precarious, because it is so small relative to the size of the elephant. Anytime the six-ton elephant and the rider disagree about which direction to go, the rider is going to lose. That’s a picture of how lust works in our lives. If the elephant is unbridled, the rider has no control at all over that all-consuming desire. And something or someone is bound to get trampled. There will be consequences.
Isn’t this exactly what we see played out over and over again? Respected people in positions of authority and power have their lives, careers and families compromised by out-of-control, lust-driven behavior. We read the headlines and wonder, “how could they be so stupid? How could they put everything at risk that way?” It’s really not such a big mystery. As with King Solomon, lust turns our hearts the wrong way, then deludes us that we can control both the lust and the consequences.
Like pride, it is easy to see lust in others and point fingers while being blind to it in ourselves. We would do well to remember the words of Jesus asking us, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye?” This sermon is not about what other people’s lust has done to damage their lives or even to damage your life with its betrayal and heartache. As with each week of this series, the invitation is to focus on how to deal with your own deadly sin, and to use this as an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and decide that today you are finally ready and willing to do whatever it takes to confront the lust in your heart. So, how do we do that? If lust is unbridled passion, we have to put the bridle on, and I want to offer four steps for how to do exactly that.
Step One: Stay Close to Jesus. The only bridle that actually controls the elephant of lust is the bridle of the Holy Spirit. As Paul says to those who are deluded by forms of impurity, “That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus” (Eph 4:20-21). Our heart must be focused and fixed on Christ who loves us, forgives us and fills us with his Spirit. Of the nine fruits of the Spirit, the last one is self-control, which is the controlling power of the will under the operation of the Spirit of God. It is the only bridle we can depend on because our own will power, apart from God, will fail us.
Lust is often associated with sex or power and in our pride, if we avoid these particular vices, we think we’re above it all. But, we’re kidding ourselves. Many of us struggle with the lust for control. Or the lust for retribution. Or for being admired or needed. In his book Seeing with New Eyes, author David Powlison offers several questions that you can ask to begin to identity and deal more honestly with the lust that lurks in your life:
- What preoccupies your thinking? What do you daydream about or enjoy imaging? What do you habitually think about in the privacy of your heart?
- What do you do to cope? What are your release valves, the things you turn to do feel better? What do you use to comfort yourself when things get difficult?
- What do you worry about or fear most? What do you need to feel safe and secure?
- What is your hope for the future? What do you trust to make you happy and satisfied?
Coping skills, dreams and hopes for the future—these are not in and of themselves bad. But, when we elevate these things to a place of ultimate importance so that we are chasing after things that are not God, lust has got hold of us and is taking us down wrong paths.
Why is it so important to identify those places where idolatry exists and is producing lust in us? Here’s the thing about lust: we think we can control the appetites in our lives, but one of the chief characteristics of lust is that it deludes us into believing we’re in control and blinds us to the consequences of our lust. As the Apostle Paul says, “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts.” (Eph 4:22)
Step Two: Avoid Slippery Places. One of the core ideas in Twelve Step programs is that to be healthy and make good choices, it often becomes necessary to stay away from the people, places or situations that put temptation in your path, that are likely to trip you up. For some people this means staying away from HBO or surfing the web alone and late at night; for others it might mean skipping happy hour or even changing your friends, if the people you hang out with are people who encourage you to feed rather than bridle your lusts. This is why change is often so hard, because drastic realignment can be necessary.
Step Three: Have an Accountability Partner. Many of us have experienced the truth that if left to our own devices, we would not roll out of bed in the dark and get our running shoes on—but when we know our jogging buddy is waiting for us at the corner, we are much more likely to push back the warm covers and get moving. Similarly, having someone with whom we are spiritually accountable can be an incredibly powerful force for good in our lives. An accountability partner needs to be someone you deeply trust, someone with whom you can be completely open about the struggles in your life. For many issues, a same-gender partner who shares your faith in Christ is ideal. A shared desire for each other’s well-being is central to this kind of relationship.
To be effective, an accountability partner is someone to whom you have given the right to ask some very direct questions of you, questions that could include something like these:
- Have you spent adequate time in prayer and Bible study this week?
- Have you given priority time to your family?
- Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
- Have any of your interactions with others been demeaning, unkind, suggestive or inappropriate?
- Have you been honest with yourself and now with me about your failings?
Step Four: Ask for Help. It might be to ask your spouse for help by cutting up your credit cards. Or admitting an addiction. It certainly means spending time in prayer, honestly before God confessing all the ways we look for meaning, comfort and security outside of Christ.
At the risk of stating the obvious, confronting the lust within us requires humility which is why we started last week with the deadly sin of pride. Pride wants us to believe that lust isn’t so bad and well, even if it is, we’ve got a handle on it. We’re no worse than a lot of people and in fact, we’re better than most. Men and women, really? Are you really going to believe that nonsense? Every one of us struggles with lust of some kind, and Jesus loves you too much to leave you wallowing in the wreckage of what your lust is doing to you. Instead, he longs for you to have freedom and to live with abundant joy. So, will you yield so that the Holy Spirit can bridle your passions? Will you embrace the virtue of self-control, so that lust cannot have its deadly way with you? Amen and amen.