Dealing With Lust - The Rest of The Story
There's been some interesting dialogue in our conversation about lust, and the discussion keeps returning to a common theme: what do we need to do to actually experience change? I shared a real life example of a friend (I'm calling him Steve), and then I invited folks to offer their suggestions:
Steve is happily married to a godly wife, he loves her, they have great sex, etc. The only problem is, Steve also finds himself attracted to another woman - a common friend they both know. He takes Mt 5 seriously, he wants to stop feeling this way, he prays, he tries to overcome his desires, etc...but it just gets worse - to the point where he's gone all the way in his mind.So that's the heat. And now I get to tell you the rest of the story.
I'm not making this up - this is real, this is the reality of sexual desire. And it's strong. Now you tell me: what does Steve need to know or do to experience change in his heart? Where does the rubber really meet the road?
In the face of this pressure, my friend Steve did something crazy. He decided he loved his wife too much to keep deceiving her about what was going on inside. So he confessed - he told her about his desires for this other woman. He told her everything. He held nothing back. And her response was amazing.
She didn't get angry. She didn't lash out. She didn't tell him never to speak to this woman again. She didn't say 'try harder'. She didn't say that he better 'fix it or else'...
Instead, she said, "Steve, I love you, I forgive you, and I am with you - you have to learn how to overcome these desires, and I am going to stand beside you and help you do that, because you are my husband, and I am committed to you."
In other words, she didn't say "I will love you because you are faithful, because you are sensitive, because you a good provider, a good leader, a good lover." She didn't say "I will love you because you get it right" (performance). Instead she said "I will love you because you are my husband (relationship). I will love you because of who you are."
Wow. How would you like a wife like that? Can you imagine being a wife like that?
Listen, this is precisely how God deals with us in the gospel - he loves us, and is with us, because of who we are in Christ: sons, not slaves (cf. Gal 4:7). If God's favor is based on what Christ has already done, then nothing you can do - not your greatest triumph, not your worst defeat - nothing can change the way he feels about you.
He loves you because of who you are in Christ.
And recognizing that reality is tremendously liberating. It frees us from our bondage.
Steve told me, "You have no idea how this affected me! When my wife responded to me this way, my heart melted! I was guilty, and instead of the judgment and condemnation which I deserved, she loved me in spite of myself, she gave me grace!"
Real grace rightly seen decimates our desires for sin. When Steve saw clearly the nature and extent of his wife's love for him (because of her commitment to him, not his own fidelity to her), it changed his heart, it tamed his lust. On a scale of 1-10, his desire for this other woman plummeted from an 8 or 9 down to a 1 or a 2.
Why? Because seeing his wife's love for him rejuvenated his own love for her; recognizing why she loved him (relationship, not performance) changed the affections of his heart. His desires for this other woman were revealed for what they were - infatuated titillation, cotton candy for the glands. He finally saw clearly just how much he already had, and it far surpassed the cheap thrills of his own imagination.
What I'm saying in all this is that we don't conquer our lust merely by trying harder (although a heart set free by love most certainly will try hard) - rather, we conquer our lust by learning to love something better, by realizing how it is that Christ loves us. We conquer our lust by seeing the grace of the gospel. That's where the desire to obey actually comes from.
That's why Rom 6:14 says "Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." That's why Jesus said "the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32). That's what you and I need, and that's what Jesus Christ offers.