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Engaging in the Battle against Lust
Tough Stuff 2015
Last Friday night, Nigel came and spoke at our college ministry. He spoke from the book of Joshua and encouraged our students about something called freewill offerings. One of the things he talked about was how the Jews on occasion would create a memorial so that they could remember a specific way God had cared for them. One such memorial was the stacking of rocks–twelve, one for each tribe, in a pile together. In an effort to apply the message, the collegians went to his house in the middle of the night, and this is a picture of what they did
Nigel, I can’t reveal who the instigators were, as that is against the pirate code, but I can tell you that I am really, really proud of them. I’m not sure how that ties into my message, I just wanted to publicly admire the desire to be doers of the Word in our college ministry. I love student ministries. It has been one of the great joys of my life to shepherd, preach, and care for the HS and college students of FBC for the past thirteen years.
Over that time, I have dealt with just about every issue in the life of teenagers–obedience to parents, planning for the future, dating and relationships, being a witness for Christ, and the list goes on. One particularly difficult topic that has been a part of my ministry since the beginning is pornography and the associated sin of lust. And I would like to start this message by saying I hate it. I hate it. I hate it because I see the effect it has on so many here at FBC. I hate it because I have seen the effects it has had on my own life. I hate it because God hates it.
We think of pornography as a recent development in the depraved mind of man, but some of the earliest forms of art, cave drawings, etc. depict acts of sex. And this really isn’t surprising since sexual sin has been around since the very beginning. In the book of Genesis alone, we see lust manifested in fornication, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution and rape. From the very beginning, the good gift of God in sex was exploited and corrupted. What we see in our culture today is an advanced form of the same sin. As we get into our Tough Stuff topic of pornography, let me set the table by dispelling some of the . . .
Misconceptions and Falsehoods about Pornography
First I’m the only one struggling with this
No you aren’t–you may feel alone because this is typically a private sin, but you are far from alone. In fact, you are in the majority. A recent survey concluded that as many as 70% of men and 30% of women view some form of pornography. And the numbers don’t get much better in the Church, where up to 50% of men and 20% of women are addicted.
Second This sin only affects young men
Again, this is false. While lust is commonly referred to as “the young man’s sin,” its influence extends far beyond this boundary. It is a struggle for young men, middle aged men, and old men as well. But in addition to this, did you know that one-third of all searches for explicit material on the web are made by women. While women are more commonly enticed by self-focused fantasy and erotic romance, viewing pornography is a very real struggle for many women.
Third Porn is confined to the computer
Almost two-thirds of all porn is viewed on a mobile device. This means that when you gave your teenager an iPhone or iPad for Christmas, you have potentially opened Pandora’s Box. It doesn’t matter if there are TV’s or computers in a bedroom anymore, any web enabled handheld device will do. And you may have great filters set up, but they can’t block the inappropriate images and videos that are all over Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat, and YouTube.
Fourth I can handle this on my own
How’s that going for you? The shame of this sin pushes you into isolation and holds you back from seeking help. Most people who are struggling with sexual sin do so alone. Too afraid of what others will think of them, they try to handle it on their own.
Fifth I will stop once I get married
I will have a wife and a legitimate outlet for my desires, and this sin will just . . . go away. This may seem like a logical assumption, but it is tragically flawed. What makes you think that if you have satisfied your lust with thousands of women in your singleness, you will be satisfied with only one woman once you are married? Marriage does not take away the sin of lust. If you struggle as a single, you will struggle as a spouse.
Sixth It’s not hurting anyone
It’s a victimless crime. No it’s not. First Corinthians 6:18 says it’s hurting you. Psalm 51:4 says it’s hurting God. No question it will hurt your spouse if they find out, or your mom if she finds out. It supports an abusive industry that exploits and degrades women. And it is shaping this generation’s expectations for sex and marriage.
Seventh I can’t beat this sin
I have tried everything, and I just can’t win. I feel hopeless and powerless to change. This is a lie designed to keep you under the tyranny of sin. If you are a believer, then dwelling within you is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. You can beat this sin. You can live in obedience.
Pornography is a real problem in our world, it’s a real problem in the church, and it’s a real problem for many of you. And in our time around God’s Word this morning, I would like to answer three questions that I hope will help you in your battle for holiness.
#1 Why is this sin so devastating?
a) It sears your conscience
Your conscience is a tool given by God to help us navigate what is right and wrong in life. According to Romans 2:15 it either defends us when we do right or accuses us when we do wrong. When you look at something inappropriate, your conscience responds much like an alarm telling you to stop. But if you continue to violate your conscience, it will become callous and hard and will eventually cease to function.
One of the most amazing inventions of the modern world is that little button on your alarm clock that gives you five extra minutes of sleep. I am not sure how they did it, but somehow they packaged five extra, glorious minutes of sleep into that thing—it’s brilliant. How many of you take advantage of those extra five minutes on a daily basis?
I love to snooze. When my alarm goes off, I routinely silence it, thus continuing to sleep. Sometimes, I even do it twice. On occasion, I have been known to snooze for an hour or more. I can always remember hitting the snooze button the first time and usually the second, but then I typically don’t remember anything after that. It’s almost as if my mind shuts off the alarm subconsciously, so that it doesn’t bother me anymore.
Every time you look at something inappropriate, an alarm goes off inside of your head, telling you, “This is wrong.” Ignoring your conscience is like pressing snooze, thus silencing the alarm and allowing you to continue. Before long the alarm goes off again, your conscience crying out, “You have a wife, you have kids.” But you shut it off. Again it rings out—“This is wrong. You must stop. You are a child of God and a minister of the Gospel. You serve a different master now.” Soon you don’t even hear the alarm–you have effectively silenced your conscience and you can sin at will. You are like those whom Paul spoke of in 1 Timothy 4:2 who have seared their conscience as with a branding iron. Many of you have damaged your conscience and this is a dangerous place to be.
b) It robs you of intimacy with God
Continuing in sin not only damages your conscience, but also hinders your relationship with God. How long can you walk in sin and stay close to Christ? First John 1 says that He is in the light, and if we are to have fellowship with Him, we must walk in the light. But if you engage in the deeds of darkness, then the fellowship is broken. It’s pretty simple–light and darkness don’t mix. You can’t expect to walk in sin and feel closeness in your relationship with God.
How intimate would my relationship be with my wife if I cheated on her every week with multiple women? Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But this is exactly what we do to God with pornography, and the soft and tender heart begins to harden as you slip into a pattern of sin. You feel distant from God and lacking in motivation to serve Him. Satan uses the guilt you feel to strip you of every radical dream you ever had, and to render you ineffective. How can I share the Gospel today, when I was looking at porn last night? How can I minister to others, when I have been living a secret life of shame? You feel disqualified from ministry, but are too scared to ask for help, and so your relationship with God becomes characterized by hypocritical and joyless duty.
c) It blinds you to other sin in your life
For those struggling with this form of lust, it becomes the dominant sin in your life. It is a Goliath, a massive enemy that they cannot beat, and all other sins are dwarfed in comparison. They don’t even register. The application from every sermon, regardless of the theme, comes back to lust. When asked, “How is your spiritual life this week?” it is always answered in regards to lust. Every time you come to the Lord’s Table, your confession of sin never makes it past your failures in this area.
It’s not because you didn’t struggle outside of lust, surely there was laziness, or worry, or impatience, or gossip, or envy but none of these hold a candle to lust, and so they are pushed into the background where they can fester and grow in the dark corners of your heart. And so instead of fighting sin on all fronts, you focus all of your energy on this one, leaving you vulnerable in so many other areas.
d) It impairs normal relationships
A single guy begins treating his female friends differently, as his view of women and sexuality is being rewritten by a pornographer. A young woman struggling with sin isolates herself from others, feeling alone and too ashamed to admit her sin. A newlywed husband expects his wife to act the way the actresses on screen do, and he is disappointed when she doesn’t fulfill his porn-fed fantasies. A daughter is devastated when she discovers her father’s porn collection.
Instead of earning his way into the bedroom with conversation and romance, thoughtfulness and care for his wife, a husband selfishly separates the physical aspect of sex from its intimate moorings in love and relationship, and begins treating his wife as an object useful only to fulfill his desires. He gives his sexual energy to others instead of the wife of his youth, and so his desire for her is decreased as she unknowingly plays second fiddle to his online fantasies. In Matthew 5:28, Jesus said that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart, which means that a man who views pornography and allows those images to flood his mind can actually commit adultery while having sex with his wife.
e) It leads to destruction
Because of sexual sin, Sampson lost his eyesight, David lost his kingdom, Solomon gave his heart away, and Demas, who according to 2 Timothy 4:10 loved this present world, forfeited his soul. What will it cost you? To continue in this sin is spiritual suicide. John Piper says, “Lust is the bait that covers the sharp hook of sin and death,” and Ed Welch wisely refers to this sin as “a banquet in the grave.”
Romans 1 says that the immoral are worthy of death. Colossians 3:6 says that it brings the wrath of God, and Revelation 21:8 says that sexual sinners will be thrown into hell. But the desire is so strong in some of you that in that moment of sin, you would trade your eternal salvation for temporary sexual satisfaction. Like Esau, who traded his birthright for a bowl of soup, so many have traded their undying souls for a fleeting moment of pleasure. This is madness–it is utter folly. But does it not speak to the tyranny and power of this sin? Some of you have taken fire into your bosom and held sin closely, toying with it, enjoying it, amusing yourself with it, and all too soon you realize that it has ensnared you. Its power dominates you, and its fire seeks to consume you. It seems so innocent at first, just a bit of curiosity, a little experimentation, or another few clicks with the mouse–but the end result is devastating.
This is why Jesus warned in Matthew 5:29 to 30 that if lust is a problem for you, you should cut off your hand. You don’t treat a festering, gangrenous wound with a Band-Aid–you cut it off. You amputate. You take radical action before it spreads to the rest of your body and kills you. Better to lose a hand than to die. Better to take radical action against your sin than to lose your soul.
Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:11 that there is a war raging for your soul. The stakes are high. And like Cain, sin is crouching at the door and its desire is to be master over you. But I implore you to consider your eternal and undying soul. It has an infinite value. Do not trifle with your eternity. Do not give your soul away for such a small price. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Many have lost their souls in the pursuit of pleasure. Do not be like the man in Proverbs 7:22 and 23, “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter . . . he does not know that it will cost him his life.”
Friends, this sin has ruinous consequences. It sears your conscience, wrecks your walk with God, damages your relationships, and seeks to drag your soul to Hell. It is devastating.
#2 Then why can’t I quit?
If pornography is this devastating, why can’t I just stop? I feel horrible about myself. I don’t feel worthy to serve God or even be called a Christian, and yet I can’t break the cycle. I find myself hiding from God–and far from seeing Him as a loving Father, I see Him as an angry Judge who is disappointed with me. I wrestle with what it means to repent and be forgiven considering the repetitive nature of my sin, and so it has led me to doubt and despair. If you can relate to this, then let me speak to you. There are two potential reasons that this sin dominates you.
a) It is an issue of conversion
Apart from faith in Christ you will never overcome your sin. Jesus said in John 15:5, “For apart from Me, you can do nothing.” You must first ask yourself, “Am I truly a child of God?” John Owen said, “A man may easier see without eyes, or speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.” The work of overcoming sin is the work of believers–and believers only. Those without the Spirit of God can turn over a new leaf or make resolutions, but there is no ability to change their heart. Only Christ can remove the sin that is within us. So maybe the reason that you can’t overcome sin is because you have never truly been born again.
Trying harder, being better, committing to not engage in porn is not the answer–you need Jesus. You need to be forgiven. You need to have your heart changed. Jesus promises to take away your sin and to remove your guilt. He can mend your broken soul. He offers grace and mercy and forgiveness to those who come to Him seeking help. Won’t you come to Him in faith and give your life to Him today?
b) It is an issue of affection
But most listening to this message have submitted their lives to Christ. The reason that Christians continue in sin is because in that moment, you love your sin more than you love Christ. That’s it, did you get that? You love your sin more than you love Christ. Every click of the mouse chooses sin over God, it chooses the passing pleasures of sin over His good and perfect promises. Sin is easy, it is fun, and it brings pleasure. And when we sin, we believe the lie that our sin will bring a higher satisfaction than what is found in Christ.
And this is the great exchange–trading the worship of God for the worship of sexual fulfillment. But instead of worshipping in the house of God, you worship in front of your computer. Instead of presenting your body on the altar as a living and holy sacrifice in the language of Romans 12:1, you instead have presented your body at the altar of the false god of sex. And like the people in Ezekiel 14:3, you have set up an idol in your heart, and every time you give yourself to that idol, it strengthens its hold over you. And the object that originally promised freedom has now bound you under the yoke of slavery.
This is the viscous cycle of lust–it never has what it wants because it never has enough. Like the leech in Proverbs 30, it says, “Give, give.” It is never happy because it is never full. It always looks past what it possesses to the object it lacks. Proverbs 27:20 says, “Death and destruction are never satisfied, neither are the eyes of a man.”
But what makes it even worse for the Christian is that all along you have multiple opportunities to abort your sin and turn back to God. There are reminders all around you–a Bible on the floor, a verse on the mirror, a picture of friends from church on the shelf. But you intentionally block it out and continue choosing sin over God. But every sin you commit is in the presence of the One who sees all and knows all. He is right there in the room with you. Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”
And after you have completed your sin, and the temporary pleasure is gone, and you return to your senses, you are forced to acknowledge that like Peter you have denied Christ. And the feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse threaten to undue you. And even though you feel horrible after you sin and say to yourself, “I will never do that again,” deep down inside you know it isn’t true. Lust is never satisfied and is always looking for “one more”. This is why Augustine said, “Lord, make me holy, but not yet.” And so here you are between a rock and a hard place, wanting to be delivered from this sin but feeling as if you are in bondage to it.
This is well illustrated by the story of Raynald III, a morbidly obese duke who lived in the 14th century, who lived a life of indulgence and ease until his little brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Instead of killing him or imprisoning him, he built a room around his overweight brother and promised that he could regain his freedom as soon as he was able to leave the room. For most people this would have been no problem, since the room had many windows and a door which was never locked. But Edward knew his older brother, and day after day he sent him an array of delicious and savory foods, and instead of dieting his way to freedom, Raynald continued to indulge and even gain weight.
He stayed in that little room, a prisoner of his own appetite for ten years, until he was finally released when his brother died in battle. Sadly, he was in such poor health that he died less than a year later. Like this man, some of you are prisoners of your sexual appetites, allowing yourself to stay in bondage because ultimately you love your sin. Second Peter 2:19 says, “For by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” You may have never admitted this to yourself, but the reason you don’t stop sinning is because you don’t want to. Having been freed from your sin by Christ, you have allowed yourself to be captured by it once again.
The Bible is a message of hope. It is a story of hope. The Gospel is good news of how Jesus takes sinners and redeems them. There is no one beyond His grace, no one past His ability to save. He is mighty to save.
#3 Is there hope?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes–there is hope. There is freedom from sin. You can be free. It is not a gimmick. It is not a 12-step program–it is a relationship with a person. In fact, 1 Timothy 1:1 says that Jesus is our hope. You are saved not to be freed from pornography, but to know Him and to experience the joy of walking with Him.
Jesus is in the business of taking broken and sinful people and making them whole. Do you have a past? Have you done things that you are so shamed by, you have never told anyone else? Have you failed in the area of sexual purity? Welcome to the club. We all have. Every person in this room above puberty is a sexual sinner.
Now listen carefully–if you are His child, then God sees you right now not as a sexual sinner, but as holy and pure. You are forgiven. You have been washed clean. Jude 24 says that we stand in His presence blameless and with great joy. We need not shrink away in sin. We need not carry its guilt or its shame. Christ already did that when He bore our sin in His own body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). And so we need not feel that we are one step away from being cut off from Him. Quite the contrary, Romans 5:20 tells us that when sin increased, grace increased even more.
Christian, look up–stop condemning yourself. Stop punishing yourself for the sin that Jesus already paid for. He looked down from the cross in John 19:30 and declared, “It is finished.” The victory is won. And Romans 8: 37 says, “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” And again I say, “There is hope. There is hope.” Jesus Christ is our hope. He is the friend of sinners, the anchor of our soul and the Great High Priest who stands in our defense. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us and that there is nothing in this universe that can separate us from His love.
And so friend, can I give you the solution to your sin? Get your eyes off of your sin and off yourself and put them on Christ. Hebrews 12:2, fix your eyes on Jesus–hold them there. Begin to consider Christ as greater pleasure than your sin. Delight in Christ.
John Piper said, “We must fight fire with fire. The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone, we will fail. We must fight it with the massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the happiness of knowing Jesus Christ.”
See Christ, savor Christ, love Christ, find superior happiness in Christ. Can this happen? Can this quench this unstoppable rebel force of your desire for sin by seeing and believing in Jesus? The answer is, “Yes,” and this is the pathway to victory. In Psalm 90:14, the psalmist said, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” And in Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy, in your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” This is a promise. There are pleasures, there is satisfaction and joy in Christ. He is the pearl of great price, and you were created to treasure Him more than you treasure sex or pleasure.
Matthew Holst said, “You cannot look at Jesus and look at porn at the same time. You have to stop doing one to do the other. A living, breathing relationship with the Savior of the world will drive porn out of your life quicker than anything else. When you turn your eyes to Jesus, there isn’t room for anything else in your heart because he fills it up.”
But this is only the first step–the next is to go to work. In His Spirit, by His power you must fight sin as if your soul depends on it. You will not be delivered overnight, and this is the problem with most people–they give up too soon. Having not seen immediate change, they despair and cave in to sin. But having sewn sin into your life so carelessly for so long, don’t think that it will be easily uprooted. You must fight. Wage war against it. Go after it with the superior satisfaction that is found in Christ.
I don’t have time to lay out a full practical plan, but here is a start. Meditate on the person and work of Christ, memorize verses that help you battle lust, obey the commands of Scripture–when it says flee from immorality, then do it. Get accountability. Get violent with your sin and cut it off. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Remove internet access. Get rid of Netflix. Cancel your subscription to Sports Illustrated. Cut off your Instagram and Twitter feeds. Go to bed when she goes to bed. And wake your wife up in the middle of the night when you are burning with lust and say, “I need your help, please help me be pure.” And ladies, don’t roll over and go back to bed.
And if you are single and you burn with passion, then beg God for help. Phone a friend. Go for a run and sprint it out. Recite Scripture to yourself. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When you fail, and you will, repent immediately–remember that your sin is paid for, fix your eyes on Christ and get right back into the fight.
I am running out of time, so let me speak to you briefly–a word to young men and women. Young person, there is no time in your life when your passions will be stronger than they are right now. Satan is bringing his full arsenal now—he is attacking you with everything he has right now, because he knows that if he can get you when you are young, then he will have you for the rest of your life.
Make no mistake, there is a war waging and you must be vigilant and keep constant watch for your soul. Sexual temptation is all around you. The desires of your flesh are paraded before your eyes and you are told that fulfillment, happiness, and satisfaction are found in sexual pleasure. And yet in the midst of this, God’s Word speaks clearly to you. The direct command of God, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:17).
Guys, there are two places you can look at on a girl’s body–their face and their feet. Get used to complimenting them on their eyes and their shoes. And remember that while married men are to be one woman men, you are not married and you are to be a no woman man, keeping yourself pure and waiting for the woman that God brings to you. “How does a young man keep himself pure, by keeping it according to thy word” (Psalm 119:11).
A word to parents–it is your God-given responsibility to teach and to train your children to understand and embrace a biblical perspective on sex. To breathe a sigh of relief because you made it through the fifteen-minute birds and the bees talk is crazy. Your kids need more instruction from you. They need to hear more and see more. Help them manage their desires. Help them figure out what is happening to their bodies and why their hormones are spiking out of control. And model for them what love looks like in the context of marriage. Be affectionate in front of them, kiss in front of them. Let them know that you love each other. We cannot bury our head in the sand and hope for the best. We need to take an active role in our children’s sexual development.
A word to spouses–men, you are commanded by God to be satisfied with the physical appearance of your wife. Proverbs 5:19 says, “Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love.” You are to have eyes only for your spouse. And while the Bible gives no ideal description of what the perfect woman looks like, I can help you with that. Go home today and take out your wedding album, and look at the woman standing next to you in all the pictures–that’s her. Purpose in your heart to desire and love her alone.
To discover that your spouse is looking at porn is devastating. You have most likely experienced a whole host of emotions, from anger to betrayal to sorrow to disgust, and even worry. If this is you, then seek to deal with your emotions in a biblical way. And can I encourage you, don’t struggle alone–get help. Seek to forgive. Fight to forgive. It is easy to focus on their sin and forget that you are a sinner too. Take steps toward reconciliation and forgive the way that Christ forgave you.
A word to those helping others–if you are involved discipling or counseling someone who is caught in this sin, then I want you to consider the command of Galatians 6:2, where we are told to bear one another’s burdens. If we are going to really help someone, then it’s not enough to just send a weekly text asking them how they are doing. We must be involved in their lives, praying, hoping, helping. We must carry some of the load. I would ask you to consider ways that you can help them to bear the burden. How can you better serve them as you seek to help them with their purity?
Well, we are out of time. Let’s pray.