Lust is a powerful and dangerous form of covetousness. It’s the sin that led King David to take the wife of Uriah and have the loyal husband murdered. It’s the sin Paul warns Timothy not to stay and fight against, but rather to flee (2 Timothy 2:22). It’s the sin Peter says wages war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and that James tells us “brings forth death” (James 1:15). It’s a sin that will be “especially” punished by God (2 Peter 2:9-10) when the end comes. For these reasons, Jesus used hyperbolic language to describe to what extent we should go in order to avoid it – tearing out our right eye and cutting off our right hand.
Jesus obviously was not advocating for self-mutilation, but He was trying to make a strong point. He prefaced His discussion on lust with the second of seven “You have heard it said” statements in this Sermon on the Mount. It’s likely He had the seventh and tenth commandments in mind, which the Jews were keen on following – externally. However, as with the previous verses on anger and murder, Jesus turns the focus inward and reveals the spirit of the Law which broadens the condemnation.
One thought on this struck me. We could sit here and complain that we have it more difficult today with the types of potential lust-inducing people, pictures, magazine, videos, etc. that are not just available, but in our faces every day from beaches to grocery stores to highway billboards to our living rooms. It’s like we live in a huge lust trap. However, there’s a truth that we need to recognize that reveals the root of the sin isn’t culture or our surroundings. Rather, it’s this: The heart of man is desperately wicked. It didn’t matter that women in those days in that culture were mostly covered – very unlike today’s culture – and yet the sin of lust was so prevalent that Jesus and just about every other New Testament author talked about it. Why? Because the root of the issue of lust lies within our discontented, selfish, proud hearts. To give in to lust is to say to God, “I’m not content with what You have ordained for me. I know what I really need, so I’m going to get it no matter the cost. I deserve to be happy, and You’re not making me happy.” Thus, our lust not only destroys our relationships with other people, it places us in direct opposition to God. Hence the strong, repeated warnings in the Bible against this sneaky, deadly sin.
The question we have to reckon with, if we truly want to learn and live the intent of Jesus here in Matthew five, is this: What do we have to cut off and cast away in order to avoid our whole body being cast into hell? I don’t know what this may look like in your life. It may be a certain show or movie, an electronic device, finding a different route or store, avoiding the mall. Whatever “fleeing” looks like for you. However, don’t stop there. The root issue is in the heart. Removing certain temptations is only somewhat helpful. If the root of lust remains in our hearts and is not replaced with contentment and trust in God’s will, the lust will simply manifest itself in a different way. Remember, too, that since lust is really a sub-sin of covetousness, the same can be said of other manifestations of discontentment and desire for non-sexual things such as money, status, food, etc.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ and its power to free us from sin is the only real solution. If you already believe it, preach it to yourself daily and continue to repent and recognize your need for the work of Christ on the cross. Run to the cross again and again until you are freed from sin either through sanctification or death. The struggle with sin, and for some it’s “especially” lust, will be a lifelong battle. Even if it seems it’s a losing battle, take heart if you’re still fighting. Final victory is assured not because of our efforts, but because of Christ. Our continued striving is evidence we believe it.
(Courtesy illustration from Prager University)