Love or lust?
At some point, it occurred to me that a man who lusts after women, would probably excuse himself, or at least reason that he lusts after them because he loves women too much. Right? Didn’t Amnon rape Tamar because he loved her? The LXX even uses the famous (and misunderstood) verb agapeo to refer to the kind of love that Amnon felt for Tamar (If you wish to understand the use of the Greek words for love, I recommend that you read Carson’s “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God”).
Let me suggest, for the sake of time and of my argument, that the love that a man has for a woman who is not his wife is not love at all. Rather, it is idolatry! It is sin! Idolatry is loving and seeking ultimate satisfaction and security in someone or something other than God. Idolatry is worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. The Bible has a name for this kind of idolatry; lust.
It is ironic that someone who watches porn, has an affair, looks at women inappropriately, or fantasizes about them in his heart, does not do so because he loves women. Rather, he does it because he lusts after them. In other words, a man who lusts after women does not love women too much but rather, he does not love women at all. (Technically he does love them, but in a sinful way. It is helpful to think about it in terms of the love of Christ vs the love that the Bible condemns. cf. 1 John 2:15).
My aim in this article is not to give you a recipe that will help you overcome lust for good. I wish I could, but I know that lust, like any other sin, is a deep problem that requires much more than a simple human solution. That’s why I want to point you to the grace of God; Jesus. He alone is capable of delivering you from this turmoil, and the superb news is that, if you believe in him, he is already delivering you, even as you read this. However, I do intend to offer some fresh (I hope) and practical insight that will aide you in this slow process of overcoming lust.
Mortification is a positive concept?
Many, like I did, think of mortification of sin (killing sin) as an exclusively negative concept (stop looking at certain images, kill the old man, put to death… etc.) Mortification, nonetheless, is also a positive concept brought about by the working of the Holy Spirit. Mortification of sin is putting on the new self as much as it is putting off the old self. Mortification is putting on the Lord Jesus Christ as much as it is starving the flesh and its desires. Mortification is presenting our members to God as instruments of righteousness as much as it is not presenting our members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness. Mortification of sin is a positive concept as much as it is a negative one. It is in these terms that I specifically address lust in this post. Therefore, in order to mortify lust, you must focus on the positive steps of mortification as much or even more than on the negative steps. Allow me to suggest that the positive counterpart of lust is love. Lust cannot be fought by forcing yourself to stop looking at porn, or by getting rid of your phone or computer. You have to exchange that lust for its positive counterpart; love.
Mortify lust with love
Here is the money. If the opposite of lust is love, then it follows that you can mortify lust with love. However, it doesn’t follow that the solution to your lust problem is to love women rather than lusting after them. That certainly is a result of the true solution, but it is not the solution itself. The kind of love that I am talking about has a different object and a very specific source.
The love of Christ
This love, its source, its object, and its result is exposed by Paul in one of my favorite statements found in his second letter to the church of Corinth. He is explaining to them why he and his fellow ministers do what they do, and behave the way they do. He is basically giving an apology of his lifestyle. His explanation is this: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:14-15). This was Paul’s motto. He lived the way he did because of what Christ had done for him and for everyone. Christ’s love for him was what controlled him. He could not help but to live for Christ because of the love that Christ showed for him.
This idea is developed further by the Apostle of love; John. After a detailed exhortation to love one’s brother, John pauses for a second and defines love: “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). A few verses later he continues to develop this concept: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (4:9).
To be clear; the love that God gave us by sending his Son Jesus to live a perfect life, die for us, and rise from the dead, making it possible for us to be justified and eventually raised with him, is the ultimate solution to your problem of lust, and to any other sin, and to anything that is wrong in this world. It is not your love for God that will ultimately free you from your sin (although it’s a part of it), but it is God’s love for you, in Jesus, that will transform the way you live, and the way you treat, look at, and think of women (cf. 1 John 4:10).
It doesn’t take more rules and commitments, it takes an experience of the love of Christ to fight and overcome lust. Stop counting the days you’ve managed to not watch porn, rather remember that no matter how many times you’ve fallen, God has forgiven you because he loved you in such a way that he sent his Son to take the punishment for every single one of those falls and even for the falls you may have in the future.
Knowing the love that God has for you in Christ, by His Spirit, is really the only thing that will help you fight lust. You might fall again, you might look inappropriately at a woman again. Sometimes you might even do it out of a subconscious habit. But nothing will motivate you to repent, confess, overcome that dreadful sense of guilt that lasts weeks, experience God’s grace and forgiveness again, and get on your feet again ready to do better on your next battle, like the love of Christ for you will!
Mortify lust with love; with the love of Christ!