We often think that “our day and age” differs significantly from previous eras. We tend to think that our day presents more dangerous and stubborn problems, requiring more complex and sophisticated solutions, from wiser and nobler people, namely ourselves. Someone has dubbed this attitude “chronological snobbery.”
But one thing puts the lie to this self deception — the continuing existence and destruction of lust.
Earlier Christians wisely included lust among the deadliest sins. For lust is the impregnated parent of all forms of sin. James explained that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15).
From the first stolen bite of forbidden fruit to the avaricious gaze of mall-bound window shoppers, lust has coursed through the hearts of men like the most poisonous venom.
Lust involves any strong desire, craving, or want that opposes the holy will and command of God. Lust perverts, twists, and defiles all that is good and beautiful, and this is particularly true with sexual or carnal lust.
For example, some people today tout homosexuality as an “orientation” equal in virtue to heterosexuality. They appeal to the “love” shared between two persons of the same gender, and on that basis, contend that equality and public acceptance must be guaranteed. To some, these sexual passions are so strong as to appear innate. Moreover, we are told that homosexual desires are private, harmless to others, and beyond the censure of society.
But if that is true, what are we to think of a passage like Romans 1:26–27? The Bible defines homosexual desires as “contrary to nature,” not an equal alternative orientation. Homosexuality is a “dishonorable passion” that “consumes” men and women, leading to shameless behavior. The strong emotional pull of lust and the affections shared between persons in a homosexual relationship — whatever those affections may be called — cannot properly be called “love.” After all, love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing” (1 Cor. 13:6), and homosexuality is wrongdoing. Moreover, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah over what today would be called “private” decisions indicates that lust is a serious social problem.
And herein is the ultimate problem with lust: Those overcome with lust “receive in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Rom. 1:27) and will face the Lord as “an avenger in all these things” (1 Thess. 4:6). God keeps “the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:9–10). Lust blinds men to the fact that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a holy God.
What is the antidote to this ensnaring, soul-destroying vice? It is the cultivation of chastity.
Cultivating chastity begins with the knowledge of God and His will. The apostle Paul captures this relationship well. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3–5). Unbelieving Gentiles are given over to lust because they do not know God. But those who do know God and His will pursue moral and sexual purity. And how can it be otherwise since God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5)?
Moreover, this knowledge of God produces weeping over vice. Consider the Bible’s description of Lot during the days of Sodom and Gomorrah: “That righteous man lived among them day after day…tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8). Lust grieved Lot. Likewise, the psalmist wept over the broken law of God in his day (Ps. 119:136). And the true disciples of Christ are the blessed who mourn (Matt. 5:4). They are also the pure in heart who will see God (Matt. 5:8). The road to chastity begins with weeping, but it ends in the beatific vision of God Himself.
Christ Jesus gave Himself to purchase a lawless people (Titus 2:14), who are then made clean in conscience, heart, and soul through faith in Him (Heb. 9:13–14; James 4:8). This is why Paul could borrow the image of chastity to describe Christ’s ongoing purification of the Bride (Eph. 5:27) as well as his own labors on behalf of the Corinthian church: “I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). When we see Christ we shall be like Him — pure (1 John 3:2–3).
Thus is the superiority of chastity over lust demonstrated. Lust works its way toward death. Chastity leads to the glories of heaven with Christ Jesus and the Father. Can there really be any doubt as to which path is best?