In the previous talks, we’ve been looking at important weapons in our fight against sexual sin. We said that in order to consistently resist the downward pull of lust—we must understand that the battle must be fought on the level of our desires. God has given us desires. Those desires aren’t bad. Some of those desires are for pleasure, others are for peace and stability etc.… God made us with these desires and all of them can be met in good ways. Sexual desire is a good thing as long as it is satisfied within the context of a marriage covenant. A desire for peace and stability is fine as long as you’re not taking any idolatrous, fear-based measures to have those things in your life.
But whether its these desires or any other desire, the Bible teaches us that all of them are ultimately met in their fullest sense… in God. Our sexual desire is, in part, a desire for intimacy and our deepest needs for intimacy can only be perfectly and completely, once-and-for-all satisfied in the intimacy found in a healthy personal relationship/walk with God. Our deepest longing for peace and stability likewise are ultimately met only within the security of a love relationship with God. A desire for esteem and a sense of worth can only be fully met in what we have in Jesus Christ through the gospel.
Knowing and acting on that is important for at least two reasons. First—knowing and living out this truth is in my experience the strongest weapon in our arsenal in our fight against addiction because—it is focused on the heart of the problem—desire and because through it, we can by God’s grace topple the addictive desires from the throne of our heart and replace them with God. Second, because, as important as this is—many in the church have never heard of this. I was in the pastorate several years before I was exposed to it through John Piper. I subsequently discovered that he found it from the Puritan preachers who talked like this all the time. Hence, the need to stress it.
We also looked at biblical repentance as a crucial weapon to kill lust. We saw that repentance is a gift of God—Repentance is part of the saving work of the gospel. And repentance is not fundamentally an act of our willpower because we will not, for any length of time stop doing what we really like doing. If we love our sin, we can feel badly about it, but we will keep going back to it until God works in us a repulsion of it and a desire to leave it behind. Biblical repentance causes us to willingly run away from our sin.
But now, want to stress that our fight against lust is a battle. The Christian life is a fight. John tells us there are three main fronts on which this battle is waged by the believer, the world, the flesh and the devil. The world is this not this planet—it is a spiritual entity and Jesus says, “this world is passing away.” This world is under a death sentence. He calls Satan, “the ruler of this world.” This world the Satanic system whereby his lies are distributed. This is the media—all kinds– tv, movies, videos, blogs, websites, social media. The world includes groups like BLM. The world has infiltrated our political system and social system and educational system and even in our science and technology. This world is an idol factory, producing so many things and relationships we can use as substitutes for God.
Just about anything in this world can be used by Satan as a loudspeaker to get his lies in our heads and if these lies are not kicked out, they work death into our lives—they deceive us into having the wrong values and priorities and treasures. They deceive us into holding attitudes and prejudices we have no business having. Whether its white against black, male against female, educated vs. educated. The world has its lies embedded in all these things.
We must fight against these lies if we are to minimize the influence they have over us. We fight these lies by regularly being in the word and renewing our minds, washing out those lies and by sharpening our discernment so we can more readily recognize the lies of Satan. We fight the lies by being with brothers and sisters who will, like iron sharpening iron, knock off our rough edges. We fight the lies by tuning out, turning off, unplugging and not allowing our minds to access these lies as much.
Another front on which we fight is the flesh. This is not our bodily flesh. This is the word the New Testament uses to describe our indwelling sin and the source of our sinful desires and tendencies we all have. This is part of our fallen nature we all received from Adam. This is the part of us that actually loves the lies of this world and hangs onto them to try to get us to believe them and follow them. Our “flesh” is the part of us that loves sexual sin—this is the selfish part of us that doesn’t care who we hurt in our sin–its worth it because it feels good, it satisfies a desire. The flesh sees something in this world and, rather than enjoy it for the glory of God, we turn it into an idol and bow down to it—give ourselves to it in a way, allow it to enslave us to it.
But the flesh a black hole. Its never satisfied. It never gets enough and if we allow it to completely dominate our lives, we aren’t genuine believers and we end up in hell. On the other side of the coin, our flesh can be very religious as well—the religion of the flesh. This is the religion where, instead of looking to Jesus in moment-by-moment humble dependence on him alone for our ongoing salvation, this fleshly religion seeks to look to ourselves to live by a bunch of external rules and the religion of the flesh causes people to be very glad they are better than just about anyone else.
We must fight the flesh by killing it through self denial and humble dependence on God, daily picking up our cross. We fight the flesh by believing what God says about us—our identity in Christ rather than the lies of the devil. We kill our flesh by believing the promises of God that we are overcomers and that Satan is a defeated foe. We kill our flesh by humbly confessing our needs to God and to others. We kill our flesh by being in loving, accountable relationships with other brothers where we sharpen each other.
Finally, we are in a fight against the devil. We must believe two truths at the same time about Satan. First, he is a defeated foe and second, he is very powerful and, apart from leaning on Jesus for our strength, he will beat us every time. Revelation says “he is filled with fury for he knows his time is short.” First Peter says he is “a roaring lion seeking who he may devour.” Satan is the master architect behind this sinful world system. He plants and nourishes the lies in the media, politics, science, etc… and he empowers them with demonically empowered appeal so that our flesh will love them and be strongly drawn to them.
This is an unrelenting battle and we must fight it until we die or Jesus comes back. If you are not willing to fight, you are not a Christian because to be a Christian is to be a warrior because our Father is a Warrior, Jesus is a Warrior and the Holy Spirit is a Warrior.
The world the flesh and the devil all seek to enslave us through sins like lust and pornography but Jesus said in John 8:32 that the truth shall make you free. All of our sinful idols—things we are substituting for God—lust included, have lies underneath them that empower them.
In fact, the reason why we sin is because lust and sexual sin make promises to us. They promise not only pleasure, but also a sense of peace. Adultery promises that you will feel fulfilled as a man or that this other woman will give you what you want and deserve– what your wife does not give you. There are many lies behind each sin. Premarital sex or fornication comes with lies like, “Everyone is doing it.” Or, “She won’t think I love her if we don’t have sex.” Or, “I just can’t help it.” Those are all lies behind sexual sin—among dozens of others. In order to beat lust, we must defuse it by exposing and killing those lies by the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.
For any of you who have worked at this, you know that those lies don’t die easy and in order to kill them, we need to wage a many faceted truth-attack against them. Some sins are just harder to kill than others and because our sexuality is such a huge piece of any man, lust is tougher than most others. Let’s compare it with other sins. For instance, you may have found yourself spreading some gossip the last few days. You feel bad about this because you’ve never really had a problem with gossip in the past and so you take measures to stop it early before it can become a habit.
Ok, for a sin that has not taken hold in your heart, the only truth you may need to employ to stop gossiping is the truth of the Golden Rule. I wouldn’t want anyone gossiping about me, so by God’s grace, I’m going to pay more close attention to what I say about others—God, help me do this!” That’s your strategy against this outcropping of gossip. You commit that to prayer. You fight on that one level and –because it’s a mostly a new sin for you—you easily kill it. That’s fine for a sin like that one which isn’t deeply entrenched in your heart. A water pistol will scare off a honey bee.
But some sins are honey bees and others are fire-breathing dragons. The fire breathing dragons are those sins like sexual sin that are counterfeits of real drives and desires. They are actual drives God has placed within us but the enemy co-ops them for his destructive purposes. Bringing a pen knife instead of a sword to a fight a dragon is a good way to get incinerated.
So, when you’re fighting a “dragon”-like sin (and sexual sin is one of those) a much more powerful set of truth weapons must be employed, and they must be used strategically–in concert with one another. You must fight these powerful enemies on several fronts to combat the many ways in which they can and (in the case of strong desires) HAVE ensnared you. That’s why for sexual sins, you will not get free by just employing one kind of weapon—by fighting on one front.
You need to exchange your water pistol for an AK 47 but also bring in some heavy artillery. I use the language of combat because we MUST see this that way. Someone has said—”If we are not killing sin, sin is killing us.” We MUST believe that if we are going to live in some measure of victory. As we saw earlier, Jesus said we must do whatever we need to do to be free of lust— “tearing out your eyes and cutting off your hand.” Do whatever it takes because this is a battle for your soul!
If we don’t see what a huge-fire-breathing dragon lust is, we will not bring adequate weaponry to our fight against it. But what does that kind of comprehensive, ruthless, take-no-prisoners battle with our sin look like? Let me share with you an outline—that does not originate with me. John Piper conceived this several years ago and he has been more helpful to me than anyone in learning how to defeat sexual sin. This outline has helped a lot of people develop and employ a specific strategy in their battle with sexual sin using many different weapons, fighting on several different fronts. I have made a few modifications in the teaching, but the outline is still basically the same and it can be very helpful. To help you remember it, the author has made this outline in the form of an acrostic that spells out the word:
The first front of this battle is to: Avoid (as much as is possible and reasonable) the situations that arouse sexual desires. We all know this—its intuitive, but if you don’t do this first step, in most cases, the others will be irrelevant, because you’re already defeated. Its common sense that–in order to stop sinning sexually, the first step is to avoid places or situations where you know you will be tempted. If an alcoholic goes to a party where his old drinking friends are, he doesn’t want to be free from his alcoholism all that badly. He’s setting himself up for failure. If you struggle with lust, you need to do what you can to eliminate sexually stimulating media or situations or contexts. Most of us know what these are. It goes without saying that pornographic websites are off limits, but how about other “innocent” websites like various news sites. Stay away from any websites where lust-worthy women are regularly pictured.
Piper says this about this avoidance step in the strategy. “I say “possible and reasonable” because some exposure to temptation is inevitable. … “Avoiding” is a biblical strategy. “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22). “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). Think of it this way–if you are covered with the gasoline of sexual sin—and as men—we have all been doused with it, don’t go near a place or circumstance where you know there is a blazing fire ready for you.
With sexual sin, you don’t stand and go toe-to-toe, fighting your desires—you get the heck out of there. Joseph didn’t stand there and discuss the unreasonableness of Potiphar’s wife’s propositioning of him—he ran away from her like a scared rabbit. Lust is not a sin to challenge. There’s no swagger in our battle with lust—there is fleeing!. THAT is the response of the Holy Spirit.
The second strategy seen in the acrostic begins with the letter “N” and it stands for “Say “No” to every sexually sinful thought within five seconds. There is a “five second rule” we all know about. If a piece of food hits the ground, supposedly—not sure who made this up–we have five seconds while we can still safely pick it up and eat it. That is a gross lie, but we tend to believe it. But THIS five second rule is true—and it’s one of the most important strategies we can employ against lust. If you begin to think about how long it’s been since you had sex, or how attractive a certain woman is, or linger over a suggestive advertisement in a magazine, you cannot allow those thoughts to remain more than a few seconds. Luther says those thoughts are like birds. You can’t keep them from flying over your head–there’s nothing you can do about that. You will have these kinds of thoughts sometimes. But allowing those thoughts to build a nest in your mind and remain there is a sure pathway to sexual sin.
The answer is to very quickly, before they get a foothold, resist those tempting thoughts because as Warren Wiersbe used to say, “Sow a thought and you reap an action. Sow an action and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” That means that our destinies with regard to sexual sin are shaped by what we think about. That is right in the Bible—“as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” That can be true both in positive ways and negative and it means that your destiny is often shaped by what you allow yourself to think about.
Again, Piper says this about saying “no” to these thoughts. “… say it with the authority of Jesus Christ. “In the name of Jesus, NO!” You don’t have much more than five seconds. Give it more unopposed time than that, and it will lodge itself with such force as to be almost immovable. Say it out loud if you dare. Be tough and warlike… Strike fast and strike hard. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). This is so huge and one of the accountability questions we ask each other should be—“how’s that five second rule going for you? How faithful have you been lately in following that rule?”
The third strategy in your fight against sin in the acrostic begins with the letter “T” and it stands for Turn your mind forcefully toward Christ as a better way to meet your desires. This takes us back to our first talk. Piper is right when he comments, “saying “no” will not suffice. You must move from defense to offense. Fight fire with fire. Attack the promises of sin with the promises of Christ. The Bible calls desires “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). They lie. They promise more than they can deliver. The Bible calls them “passions of your former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14… Deceit is defeated by truth. Ignorance is defeated by knowledge.”
“It must be glorious truth and beautiful knowledge. …We must stock our minds with the superior promises and pleasures of Jesus. Then we must turn to them immediately after saying, “NO!” As we’ve been saying, it’s not just saying “no” to the inferior pleasures of sin. Its saying “yes” to the ultimate pleasures in Jesus. Again, nature abhors a vacuum. We cannot simply create a vacuum in our minds by removing lustful thoughts, we must have something to replace our sinful thoughts or they will rush right back in.
The fourth part of the strategy begins with “H.” That is –Hold the promise and pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out. Again, we see the need for substituting into our minds the pleasures we get and are promised from Jesus—in exchange out for the inferior pleasures we get and are promised from addictive sin. Those are displaced.
Again, Piper says, “Fix your eyes on Jesus (see Hebrews 12:2). Here is where many fail. They give in too soon. They say, “I tried to push it out, and it didn’t work.” I ask, “How long did you try? How hard did you exert your mind?” The mind is [like] a muscle. You can flex it with vehemence. Take the kingdom violently (Matthew 11:12). Be brutal. Hold the promise of Christ before your eyes. Hold it. Hold it! Don’t let it go! Keep holding it! How long? As long as it takes. Fight! For Christ’s sake, fight till you win! If an electric garage door were about to crush your child, you would hold it up with all your might and holler for help and hold it and hold it and hold it and hold it.”
As we said before, James promises us “If you resist Satan, he WILL flee from you.” But sometimes we must resist for …a while. This is a place to call a brother you trust and confess to him that you are resisting but you need his prayer. James says, “I give grace to the humble, but I resist the proud.” Pride is saying, “I got this—I don’t need to talk to anyone else about this.” Humility admits our weakness to others. It’s to the humble, God gives grace to overcome sin and often, the moment we humble ourselves, the temptation breaks.
The fifth letter in this strategy is E – Which stands for Enjoy a superior pleasure in Christ. Piper says, “if you want to kill lust you must fight fire with fire. Attack the promises of sin with the promises of Christ. Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason [these idols] reign in so many is that Christ has so little appeal. We default to deceit—the lies lust tells us– because we have little delight in Christ. Don’t say, “That’s just not me.” What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? Have you fought for joy?
The best way to awaken affection is to think through the glories of the gospel that tell the story of Jesus defeating Satan in the first place. Piper continues, “…You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart — more than you treasure [alcohol or] sex… If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don’t have: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). Then look, look, and look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him the way he is.”
The final letter in the acrostic is M – Move into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors. Listen again to the author. He says, “Lust grow fast in the garden of leisure. Find a good work to do and do it with all your might. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Abound in work. Get up and do something. Sweep a room. Hammer a nail. Write a letter. Fix a faucet. And do it for Jesus’s sake. You were made to manage and create. Christ died to make you “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds.
Again, we see a similar principle. It’s not just that we have to displace lustful desires with good ones that will be satisfied in Jesus. We also need to displace our tendency toward laziness with good works. The old saying is still true—”An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” Keep your mind active—take up reading good books if you don’t do it already. Ask your wife what you can do to be a blessing to her.
Remember that the fight against lust requires many different weapons. If your only one is— “try your best not to lust” you’re talking a water pistol to fight a dragon. Do you have a strategy—a plan to win the battle? This acrostic is helpful—memorize it and apply it as you fight. But even it is far from complete. It doesn’t say anything about getting support from others—a crucial weapon in our fight. It only alludes to prayer and memorizing Scripture, both of which are also powerful weapons in our fight.
The great news is this—as you practice fighting against really strong sins like lust with strategies like this one, you can transfer that strategy to any sin in your life. That means that God will use the experience you have in killing your addiction to make you more like Jesus in every area of your life and filled with his joy as your strength. Again, for review, they are:
Avoid as much as is possible and reasonable the situations that arouse addictive desires.
No to every addictive thought within five seconds.
Turn your mind forcefully toward Christ as a better way to meet your desires.
Hold the promise and pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out.
Enjoy a superior pleasure in Christ
Move into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors