Drawn Away

Is it a sin to be tempted? Evidently not: Christ was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. (He 4:15) Then again, perhaps tempted can mean different things depending on who’s being tempted, and by what.

It isn’t a sin to be tested, merely to have sinful choices presented to us. It was in this sense Christ was tempted (Mt 4:1); He certainly had many opportunities to sin, to break God’s Law (1Jn 3:4), but He never did.

But we are tempted when we’re drawn away of our own lust and enticed. (Ja 1:14) Drawn away from what? From God, from holiness, from wisdom, purity and love. We are enticed, feeling the internal pull and attraction of sin drawing us away from the light into the darkness. This isn’t Christ (Jn 14:30): God cannot be tempted in this way. (Ja 1:13) The very suggestion of sin is repulsive to Him. (Ps 45:7)

We may not feel this is sin, to be drawn away from God and enticed; we may be confident that we aren’t in sin until our lust — the unlawful desire within us — conceives, giving birth in our hearts and minds to intent and will to pursue what’s forbidden us. After all, we’re only human.

Clearly, intending to break God’s law is sin as well (Ja 1:15a); that’s  taking disobedience to a whole new level, often resulting in outwardly sinful behavior, leading ultimately to death. (15b) Considering the consequences and long-term impact of our sin when we’re feeling tempted like this is a certainly a powerful deterrent. (1Co 6:18) This is wisdom, and the fear of God. (Pr 14:16)

Yet, by definition, being enticed by a sinful choice actually is sin if being in that state necessarily violates any of God’s laws. So, we might look at it this way: Can we be loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (De 6:5), as we’re being drawn away from God? Or does being drawn away from God necessarily imply that we’re already, in some way, loving Him less than He deserves? When our soul is fully satisfied in Him (Ps 63:5-6), what can draw us away? (Ps 73:25)

When we aren’t in deep communion with God, feeding on the majesty, whenever we’re distracted, tired, bitter or wounded, that same old primal lie that God doesn’t quite satisfy, and that something else will, beckons. Lust can then draw us even farther away, our desires becoming more pronounced and powerful, because we’re not fully satisfied in God, we’re not pursuing and enjoying Him as we ought, we’re not loving Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. That’s how we give place to the devil (Ep 4:27), offering him ground to work in us all manner of wrongful desire. (Ro 7:8)

We may choose to live our lives in unfulfilled passion, exerting a brute force asceticism in denying ourselves the pleasures of sin for a season. (He 11:25) This is certainly better than giving in to our lusts, yet there must be a better way. (Ps 63:3)

Perhaps if we seek (Mt 7:7-8), we can find the life of Christ rooting out the sin nature itself (Ro 7:24-25a), bit by bit, realigning our internal affections in God (Ro 12:2), cleansing us of the great lie in all its insidious shades and nuance, until we’re joyfully esteeming the unsearchable riches of Christ greater than any earthly pleasure. (He 11:26) Perhaps then would grace reign through rightesouness in us (Ro 5:21), and the world would not be so enticing. (1Jn 2:15-16)

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Thou Shalt Not Covet

Lust, especially for men, can be an uncomfortable topic. Finding a woman attractive and giving her more than a passing glance is commonly understood to be sin, equivalent to adultery. As men are primarily visually oriented, it’s no surprise that men struggle here; it’s the focus of many an accountability session.

Women, on the other hand, don’t seem to find the topic troublesome at all and seldom discuss it, other than perhaps in confronting men. Evidently, most of us have bought into the lie that it’s primarily a masculine concern.

But what if, as in so many other ways, we’ve made up our own definition of lust, cherry-picking verses out of context to suit ourselves, and overlooking the heart of scripture?

God clearly defines lust in the 10th commandment – Thou shalt not covet (Ro 7:7): we’re forbidden to desire what belongs to another, such that we’d wrongly dispossess them if given opportunity.

This is different than thinking it might be nice to have what our neighbor does. Clearly, if we like our neighbor’s boat and offer him a reasonable sum — this isn’t lust, it’s basic economics: there’s nothing unholy or unloving here.

The definition of lust implies it violates the law of love in some way. (Ro 13:9) So, if a man finds a woman attractive, enjoys her beauty as he would a sunset, and seeks her welfare, where’s the harm? But in entertaining a plan to entice her, knowing she’s married, he’s crossed a forbidden line. (Pr 5:20)

We must define lust in the context of God’s Law (Ro 7:7), not in the context of common sentiment. Changing the definition of sin is harmful on so many levels. Finding a woman attractive is perfectly natural and wholesome, but seeking to use or defile her definitely is: it violates Torah. (Pr 6:29)

And we must not focus simply on sexual desire; the precept relates to any unwholesome appetite: inappropriate diet (De 14:3), worldly attention and praise (Jn 12:43), materialism, the abuse or perversion of most any good thing. (Ep 2:3)

God has created us to enjoy beauty and pleasure, designing us specifically for this, and providing Himself as our ultimate satisfaction. (Ps 16:11) Unto the pure, all things are pure, but unto the defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Tit 1:15) Yet some are weak by design, some through a soul wound, some taken by false teaching. Torah enables us to sort out what’s lawful from what’s merely taboo, and Christ offers us the wisdom to know how to build up and encourage others in joyful living for God without becoming overly focused on mechanics. (Ro 14:17)

God has given us richly all things to enjoy (1Ti 6:17), yet it’s better to forego than to encourage others to violate their conscience (1Co 8:12), or to bring a reproach on the name of Christ.

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Lusteth to Envy

James asks if we think the scripture speaks in vain when it claims our spirits lust to the point of envy. (Ja 4:5) The claim stumps scholars: there isn’t a quote quite like this anywhere in the Tenach (Old Testament). Mystery calls; there must be treasure here. (1Co 2:7)

If we look prayerfully at the context, James is addressing the difficulty we all face, particularly in times of suffering, as we observe the prosperity of those around us, wanting to have what they have and be more like them. (1) To the degree we fall into lusting after the comforts of this world (2) we align with and imitate the world, alienating ourselves from God. (4) Even our prayers may become warped (3), until we’re totally out of step with God.

There’s only one way out: grace – God enabling us to see more from His perspective (6a), a gift He bestows on the humble. (6b) As He realigns our desires in holy vision we resubmit to God (7) and draw near to Him again. (8a)

So, to overcome our lust and envy James exhorts us through this claim of scripture to repent, to cleanse our hands and hearts (8b), to grieve over our wayward affections (9); it’s the path of deliverance. (10)

James’ quote of scripture then, supporting his prescription for healing, would likely be found in a description of this conflict in the godly, where this gracious remedy, this heavenly perspective, is revealed and applied. Where might this be?

Perhaps Psalm 73.

The Psalmist, evidently a godly soul, finds himself struggling with envy as he observes the wicked prospering. (Ps 73:3) Some folk seem to have it so easy, skating through life, doing as they please, everything going their way, with no thought of serving God.

Who among the godly can’t relate to this, especially as we’re suffering through no obvious fault of our own? The wicked prospering alongside us just makes it all the more painful. (12)

Who doesn’t want to prosper and be in health? We certainly wish this on those we love (3Jn 2), so we tend to expect the same from God. Yet when God chastens and corrects us as we pursue Him (Ps 73:14) we may fall into doubting and resentment, hesitating and turning back from the very things James calls us to: cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts. (13)

But even as we notice our hearts straying, we know speaking aloud in such frustration is going to offend others in pursuit of God; so few have the wisdom to navigate this one. (15) Yet, as we contemplate these things and try to hold it all in, we may find the pain unbearable. (16)

The scripture’s saying here that the spirit within most all of us struggles with unholy desire at some point, particularly as we’re being scourged by God (He 12:6), and this inevitably leads to envy, wishing others didn’t have it so good since we can’t seem to get there ourselves. Consider it a universal problem, for all practical purposes; James evidently sees the scripture proclaiming it here, as well as the remedy.

In his unbearable pain, the Psalmist is driven into God’s presence for answers, and promptly finds deliverance in a new perspective. (Ps 73:17) He observes the end of the wicked, that they’re suddenly destroyed, without warning or remedy. (18-20) Their very prosperity blinds them to the urgency of their need, and effectively destroys them. (Pr 1:32)

This insight moves the Psalmist to repent, to realign his beliefs with God once more. He’s initially grieved at his foolishness (Ps 73:21-22), repenting and appreciating once again the precious hand of God in his life. (23-24) He is then able to refocus on the treasure he has in God (25) and is delivered from his trouble. (26)

Though James’ quote isn’t verbatim from scripture, it’s faithful to what scripture indeed proclaims. He hasn’t added to God’s Word as much as he’s distilled and summarized it for us, as those prayerfully filled with the Word may wisely do. (Mt 13:52)

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Thou Art Fairer

Beauty is a mysterious, instinctive, metaphysical thing; impossible to explain or quantify, and quite outside our will. The very fact we perceive beauty is evidence of purpose in our design: we’re made to enjoy something outside ourselves.

Satan may have been, at least for a season, the most beautiful being in the universe, so beautiful that his magnificence became his downfall — as others observed and responded to him he exalted himself as a god. (Ez 28:17) Evidently, the heavenly hosts esteemed Satan even more beautiful than God, which may have been partly the cause of their fall; they’re certainly attracted to beauty. (Ge 6:4) What a powerful thing! to draw even the angels from their place. (Jud 1:6)

Yet how can the creature possibly be more beautiful, more glorious, more majestic than the Creator? How can the Creator of beauty itself be outdone by His own creation?

Of course, this would be so if God wills; He certainly might create a creature exceeding Himself in beauty, or choose to appear in a diminished form for a season, and let the creature exceed His personal appearance for a purpose. (Is 53:2) But why?

Consider how we’re influenced by spectacularly beautiful people, drawn to them, favoring them, catering to them (Ps 45:12), even coveting them. Beautiful women certainly do have an advantage; it’s often an honor and pleasure just to be around them. (Job 42:15)

But like a rich man hiding his wealth to reveal his true and faithful friends, identifying those who love him for himself and aren’t after his money, God arranges to hide His glory and majesty to reveal and expose His enemies. We should choose God because it’s right, not because He’s handsome. This, the wicked will not do.

Yet a day will come when the most beautiful Being in the universe will be Jesus Christ, more gorgeous than any woman ever born (Ps 45:2), shining forth in perfect beauty. (Ps 50:2) Once we see Him as He is, we’ll desire nothing else (Ps 73:25); to simply behold His beauty will be more than enough. (Ps 27:4)

What will it be like to be in intimate fellowship with the most beautiful Person in existence? (So 1:4) To have Him say, “Come on in and enjoy Me! (Mt 25:23) To enjoy His favor and feel His pleasure in us (Ps 45:11), it will be joy unspeakable. (1Pe 1:8)

In that day, no one who’s forsaken any pleasure for Christ will regret it, for they will enjoy deeper intimacy with Him. (Php 3:8) As it will be then, even so it is now; there’s no reason to wait, every joy in Christ is ours. (Ps 37:4) Every lust (Pr 6:25), every wrongful passion, every wonton discontent … it is answered here, in the perfection of beauty: Jesus Christ.

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To Lust

Lust is a challenging topic for all of us, especially for men; sexual addictions are much more common than we might think, even among Christian leaders. Accountability groups often fail as men confess helplessness and continue in mutual brokenness. Rather than exhorting both wives and husbands in proper marital duty, or offering any practical help for singles, Churches often drive shame into silence, resentment and bitterness. Real solutions are rare indeed.

To find healing we must [1] identify sin biblically, [2] expose the lies empowering lust, [3] find repentance to acknowledge the truth, and then [4] recover ourselves from spiritual capativity. (2Ti 2:25-26)

Lust is desire orienting our will to obtain what’s forbidden, such that (when plausible) we devise a plan to acquire it, intending to execute. (Ja 1:14-15) So, a man who’s checking out a married woman isn’t lusting until he devises a plan to entice her and commits to doing so. Guilt is about intent: what we purpose in our hearts (Mt 5:28), and nothing else.

But why do we lust? If it were just physics men wouldn’t lose interest in disrespectful, unfaithful women (Pr 30:21,23a); kept women wouldn’t flirt and seduce (Pr 23:28): the spirituality of sexuality drives lust – we’re trying to fill a spiritual vacuum. Though the wicked domineer and abuse others, decent souls seek one-flesh intimacy, love and respect; it’s built into our DNA. (Ge 2:18) Sex is a shadow, a pale reflection of the connection we all long for in God. (Ep 5:32)

When we aren’t fulfilled in either God or our spouse we’re tempted to seek elsewhere. (1Co 7:15) We fall for the lie that the stranger will satisfy (Pr 5:3), but the well is toxic. (4-5)

To heal the shallow appeal of lasciviousness we must first deal with our lack of divine intimacy (Eph 4:17-19), and begin abiding in God until this primal need for love and acceptance is being met by God at the deepest levels. (Ps 73:25) This is what we’re made for: nothing else can satisfy. (Ep 3:19)

Convinced that only God can meet our ultimate need for love, respect, security and acceptance, we recover ourselves from spiritual captivity by walking this out, ordering our thoughts and actions to reflect and align with this reality. (Ps 119:9) And as we seek, we find. (Mt 7:8) Only then may we bring the strength and health into our relationships that God intended, and be the blessings God’s designed us to be, rather than desperate, craving souls longing to be fed and nurtured.

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Lusting to Envy

God asks us an interesting question: “Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?(Ja 4:5)

Albert Barnes says of this text, “Few passages of the New Testament have given expositors more perplexity than this. The difficulty has arisen from the fact that no such passage as that which seems here to be quoted is found in the Old Testament.”

This text is evidently a commentary on the verses prior, warning us of the dangers of covetousness and lust (Ja 4:1-3), and that alliance with the world means being God’s enemy. (Jas 4:4) This implies that those who are not of God tend to have unrighteous desires, and require that we join them in this unrighteousness to be allied with them.

Scripture affirms that the natural inclination of the human spirit is dissatisfaction, such that we’re insatiable (Ec 1:8), never satisfied (Pr 27:20), continually lusting, craving things we shouldn’t. (Ro 7:7b-8a) Our inability to satisfy our own lusts tends to foster envy (Ps 73:3): a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or fortune, an ill will toward those who have more, and a desire that others be as dissatisfied and empty as we are. Envy is one of the most evil of all sins, very destructive to the soul. (Pr 14:30)

So, finding our spirits prone to lust, how do we combat this? The root cause of discontentment, lust and envy, the insatiable desire of our hearts, lies in our very design; we’re created to enjoy something vastly superior to ourselves, infinitely beautiful, infinitely majestic, infinitely good. Until we’re enjoying that, we’ll be constantly longing for it.

The most primal and basic of all lies is that God isn’t the answer to our longings. Satan began with this lie in the Garden* (Ge 3:5), and he relentlessly continues to reinforce it in the lives of all who’ll listen. (Jn 8:44) As we fall here we forsake the fountain of living waters (Je 2:13) in a dry and thirsty land, where no other water is. (Ps 63:1)

God Himself is the antidote to covetousness: He’s what we’re craving. (He 13:5) Contentment lies in enjoying God, in knowing Him, knowing that He’s enough, and being satisfied in Him. Once we realize that He’s all we’ll ever need, that He’s with us, and that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, there’s nothing more to worry about, or to lust after.

Sometimes the scripture speaks indirectly, containing and conveying truth that’s implied from other truths. It’s still a way of saying something, and those who’re hearing and seeing what’s being said directly, meditating on this, taking it into their heart, asking and seeking (Mt 7:7-8), also find these precious, implied truths. (Mk 4:24)

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