Does the Bible say anything about overcoming lust?In the Bible, the word "lust" is generally translated from words that mean "passionate desire." Strong and passionate desire can be positive or negative depending on the motivation behind it and the object of it. For example, a positive passionate desire for us to have would be toward God. We should be longing for God with all our hearts (Psalm 42:1–2; 73:25). Though this is a type of healthy "lust," in most situations, lust carries with it a negative connotation of passionately desiring something that is forbidden by God, most commonly sexual or materialistic in nature. Even now, the dictionary first defines lust as something sexually motivated, so that is what most of us probably think of when we hear the word in this day and age.
Any form of lust, whether for sexual satisfaction, power, money, or anything else, begins with the desires present within one's own heart. What we decide to do with unhealthy desires determines how they will or will not impact our lives. James 1:14–15 shows the negative trajectory: "But 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."
It is inevitable that we will all struggle with temptations and sinful desires—this is part of being human. Having the temptation is not a sin; we know that Jesus "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15; see also Matthew 4:1–11). Sin begins when we do not resist temptation but instead succumb to it, whether by continuing to entertain the sinful thoughts in our minds or by following the temptation with action. As believers in Christ, we have the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, enabling us to successfully resist temptation. Titus 2:11–12 says: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age."
Temptation is dangerous to entertain because it is enticing. In the Greek, this concept utilizes the metaphor of bait on a fishing line—the fish is enticed by the bait, and once he takes a bite he is hooked and it leads to his demise. When we notice temptation in our own life, we should resist it immediately, because hesitation gives an opportunity for us to be enticed and deceived, as Eve was in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1–6). Because we desire to choose good and not evil, temptation should not have an opportunity to stay once it is identified: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14; see also 2 Timothy 2:22).
As James 1 outlines, when we entertain a sinful desire rather than resist it, the desire "conceives." Lust starts as a temptation, an ungodly forbidden desire, and if left unattended, it will become something much more difficult to uproot. Instead of "just" a desire, lust may become a spiritual and mental stronghold, leading to sinful actions. In fact, Jesus made it clear that even lustful desires that are not accompanied by action are still sin (Matthew 5:27–28). Our hearts and our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and as such, they no longer belong to us. We are to live in submission to the Spirit's work, and this includes not allowing evil to dwell within us (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19).
Each one of us will struggle with wrong desires. The concept of lust, or covetousness, is addressed in the tenth commandment (Deuteronomy 5:21; Romans 13:9). Lusting after what does not and should not belong to us keeps us focused on ourselves and prevents us from loving God fully and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30–31).
As we continue to practice putting God first in our lives, we will find that it becomes easier to cut sinful temptations off immediately, leaving no room for lust to linger or have a stronghold in our lives. As we live a life of surrendered to God, we find increasingly that our every need is fulfilled through relationship with Him. Because we desire to please God, when temptation arises, we "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are to be led by the Spirit so that we will not "gratify the desires of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16–25). Take an active step to surrender to the Lord each day. Try praying Psalm 19:14: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." By exalting the Lord in our hearts, He becomes more important to us than ourselves and our own fleshly desires (Galatians 2:20). It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can have victory over the sin of lust.
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