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Why Can't I Seem to Beat Lust?
Seven of us were gathered in the dimly lit living room. A single sheet of notebook paper passed slowly between each person. Finally, it came to me. I scanned the numbered list then solemnly signed my name at the bottom of the page.
The "contract," as we had come to call it, was a strict code of conduct, a list of promises that each of us was vowing to follow for the coming year.
We would read our Bibles every day.
Go to church every Sunday.
Memorize a passage of Scripture every week.
Fast every Tuesday.
Share our faith with one person each week.
We wouldn't watch any movies.
We wouldn't kiss a girl.
We wouldn't drink alcohol.
And we wouldn't masturbate.
Actually, I don't remember all the promises on the list. I think there were nearly fifteen. But I distinctly remember that the vow to refrain from masturbating was number ten on the list. That promise held the particular attention of each of us.
I was eighteen years old. The other six guys ranged in age from seventeen to twenty-four. That summer we were working as counselors at a Christian leadership camp in Colorado. Carlos, Clint, and I washed dishes. Don, Brook, Jon, and Scot shuttled students in the vans. We called ourselves "The Stallions"-named after a cabin several of the guys lived in.
I can't remember exactly when the idea for the contract came up. I guess we wanted rules. We wanted to know we were pleasing God. The whole process of becoming holy seemed complicated to us, so the idea of reducing our faith to a manageable list of promises and prohibitions was appealing.
So there we were in Jon's parents' living room signing our names. After we were done, Jon took the piece of paper, placed it on the floor in the center of the room, and knelt beside it. "C'mon, guys," he said. "Let's seal our vow with prayer."
The whole thing was very dramatic. All that was missing was a rising orchestral theme playing in the background. We got down on our knees, huddled in a circle, and extended our right hands onto the sheet of paper. We closed our eyes and bowed our heads, then pledged before God to obey every rule on the list.
It was official. The contract was ratified. I felt sure that the angels in heaven must be leaning down in amazement, watching our impressive display of godliness and the sheer strength of will in the room.
A few days later, we all left for home. I was still basking in the euphoria of our religious zeal. Every generation needs men of courage, men of conviction, men of strength-men of God. I was one of those men.
The illusion lasted about two weeks. That's when I broke rule number ten of the contract.
The year that followed was a very humbling lesson in how utterly incapable I was of being righteous in my own strength. And I wrote "number ten again" in my journal more times that year than I want to think about. All my great ambitions, all my vows, all my self-efforts were revealed to be worthless.
A Defining Struggle
I can laugh now as I look back on that year under the tyranny of "the contract," but it really taught me some important lessons about the limitations of human rules and regulations to bring about real change in a person's life-especially in the area of lust.
Of course, masturbation is just one of the myriad ways that sexual lust manifests itself in our lives. Your struggle with lust might look quite different from mine. It could involve romantic fantasies, Internet pornography, or the temptation to get sexually involved with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Because the possibilities are endless, I have a simple definition for lust: craving sexually what God has forbidden.
To lust is to want what you don't have and weren't meant to have. Lust goes beyond attraction, an appreciation of beauty, or even a healthy desire for sex-it makes these desires more important than God. Lust wants to go outside God's guidelines to find satisfaction.
I've come to believe that lust may be the defining struggle for this generation. Writing two books on the topic of dating and courtship in the last five years has helped me see just how serious this problem is for a broad spectrum of believers. I've received thousands of letters and e-mails from people of all ages around the world who are struggling with sexual impurity.
The stories are heartbreaking, and they're from both women and men. They're stories of small compromises that led to serious sin and regret. They're stories of secret and anguishing battles with premarital sex, with pornography, and with homosexuality. They're stories from those who once swore to remain pure and now can't believe the depths of impurity to which they've descended.
Chelsea, a girl who found herself trapped in a web of masturbation and Internet pornography, wrote me. Her letter is typical of the desperation and frustration of so many:
I don't know who I am anymore. I am so scared.... I do what I know is wrong. I have tried to stop- really, I have. I have cried and sobbed at night. I have prayed and kept journals. I have read books. I am honestly at a loss. I love God, but I cannot continue to ask for forgiveness over and over and over for the same thing. I know I need help, but I don't know how to get it. I know that God has so much more planned for my life than this. But this sin continues to conquer me.
Can you relate to Chelsea's anguish? You try and try, but it never seems to be enough. Is there anything more discouraging than losing the fight against lust? It saps your spiritual passion. It makes your faith feel hollow. It stifles prayer. It colors your whole view of your walk with God. At moments you're so overwhelmed by shame that God seems a million miles away.
What Are We Doing Wrong?
Did Jesus die to win this for us? Is this how it's supposed to be?
No, it's not. God doesn't want you to live in an endless cycle of defeat. Chelsea is right. Our heavenly Father does have so much more planned for us than a life dominated by lust, guilt, and shame. So why don't we experience it? What are we doing wrong?
In our losing battle against lust we're often misguided in three key areas. We've had ...
• the wrong standard for holiness, • the wrong source of power to change, • and the wrong motive for fighting our sin.
My failure to uphold "the contract" was my first clue that my method for resisting lust was misguided. To begin with, it was based on my own standard of what it meant to obey God. I created a rule I thought I could follow: I wouldn't masturbate for a year.
The result was that I placed my hope in the wrong source of power to obey-my own willpower and strength. I wasn't putting my faith in God; I was putting my faith in Joshua Harris and his ability to resist temptation.
My motivation didn't help either. Though it wasn't completely wrong-part of me genuinely wanted to please God-a huge part of my motivation was to "feel" like a pure person. I wanted to be able to say I hadn't sinned. I wanted to show God how good I could be and how worthy I was.
But of course it all fell apart. After I sinned again, my motivation crumbled. I didn't feel pure or worthy of God's love. My guilt made me hesitant to pray. So I tried harder to muster the willpower to stop lusting. This only led to more discouragement and frustration. Even when I revised my standards-"I won't do it for the next nine months!"-the whole cycle repeated itself again.
Can you relate? Do you see how getting our standard, source of power, and motivation all wrong leads to ongoing failure?
I wrote this book because I've learned that I don't have to live on this treadmill. You don't have to either. God's Word shows us how to get on the path to freedom. It shows us that the key to escaping the cycle of defeat is to embrace God's standard for holiness, His source of power for change, and His motive for fighting sin.
So what is God's standard when it comes to lust? How much lust does God want us to allow in our lives?
Are you ready for this? The answer is not even a hint.
That's right. Nada. Zip. Zero.
I'm not saying this to be dramatic. I really believe it's what God calls each Christian to regardless of what kind of culture we live in or how old we are. And it's not because God is heavy-handed, or strict for the sake of strictness. It's because He loves us-and because we are His. It's because He is wise and His wisdom exceeds our understanding.
Ephesians 5:3 says:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.
We'll learn more later about why God set His standard so high. But for now, it's enough to note that God adds "or any kind of impurity" to acts of "sexual immorality." It's not just the sins of adultery and sex outside of marriage God wants us to be freed from; He wants us to eliminate any kind of impurity in our thoughts and actions. He wants us to dig down into our hearts and uproot sexual greediness, which is always seeking a new sensual thrill.
But instead of that, a lot of us have developed a diet mentality toward lust. We really want to cut back on lust because we know it's not healthy and it makes us feel bad. But like some rich, calorie-laden chocolate dessert, lust is just too tasty to resist completely. Surely God will understand if we break our diet and nibble a little lust now and then (get too intimate on a date here, watch a questionable movie there, or indulge in an ungodly fantasy).
This is the same kind of thinking behind the age-old question asked in youth groups: "How far is too far?"
Isn't just a little lust okay? You can see how our diet mentality leads us to set up a lower standard than God's. You might call it "a little won't hurt." And, hey, it sounds like a reasonable standard. Best of all, at least on the surface, it seems doable!
There's just one problem: The Bible teaches the opposite. A little lust is not okay. That's why God calls us to the daunting standard of not even a hint. This means there's no place for lust to exist peacefully in our lives. We're to fight it on every front.
Sounds exhausting, doesn't it? But if you're feeling like the bar is set hopelessly high, don't give up. That's exactly what you should be feeling....
"But That's Impossible!"
When I was deciding what to call this book, one person suggested I Kissed Lust Goodbye. My first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, had done well, he reasoned, and my new book would benefit from being tied to it. Besides, isn't that what we want to do-kiss lust goodbye?
Well, yes it is, but I didn't like the idea. It made it sound like ridding our lives of lust is an easy thing. As if it's something that everybody, if they're so inclined, can simply decide to do. But if you've tried to turn your back on lust, you know this isn't so. Lust and impurity entice us, ensnare us, and dog us even after we've sworn them off for the thousandth time.
What I like about the title Not Even a Hint is that it's clearly something only God can bring about in your life and mine. God's standard of not even a hint quickly brings me to the end of my own ability and effort. It reminds me that God's standard is so much higher than the standards I place for myself that only the victory of Christ's death and resurrection can provide the right power and the right motive needed to change me.
Willpower won't work. Only the power of the cross can break the power of sin that keeps us on its treadmill.
Despair or pride about changing won't work either. Only the motive of grace-trust in the undeserved favor of God-can inspire us to pursue holiness free from fear and shame.
In Favor of Sex
When I first told my father-in-law I was writing a book on lust, he humorously asked, "So are you for it or against it?" I laughed and told him I'm against lust and that I think there's already enough literature in favor of it! But later I realized that the message of this book is not that I'm against lust, but that I'm for God's plan for sexual desire. Yes, lust is bad. But it's bad because what it perverts is so good.
Some people have the mistaken notion that God is anti-sex. But in fact, He's outspokenly pro-sex! He invented it. What an incredible thought! Passionate sex was God's idea. He isn't embarrassed by it. Song of Songs is an entire book in the Bible dedicated to celebrating pure sex in marriage.
Part of the challenge Christians face in a lust-filled world is remembering that neither sex nor sexuality is our enemy. Lust is our enemy and has hijacked sexuality. We need to keep reminding ourselves that our goal is to rescue our sexuality from lust so we can experience it the way God intended.
The Promise of Pleasure
In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis tells an allegorical story about a ghost of a man afflicted by lust. Lust is incarnated in the form of a red lizard that sits on his shoulder and whispers seductively in his ear. When the man despairs about the lizard, an angel offers to kill it for him. But the fellow is torn between loving his lust and wanting it to die. He fears that the death of the lust will kill him. He makes excuse after excuse to the angel, trying to keep the lizard he says he doesn't want. (Are you starting to see yourself?)
Finally, the man agrees to let the angel seize and kill the lizard. The angel grasps the reptile, breaks its neck, and throws it to the ground. Once the spell of lust is broken, the ghostly man is gloriously remade into a real and solid being. And the lizard, rather than dying, is transformed into a breathtaking stallion. Weeping tears of joy and gratitude, the man mounts the horse and they soar into the heavens.
In this story, C. S. Lewis shows the connection between killing our lust and finding life. It feels as though destroying our lust will destroy us. But it doesn't. And when we destroy our lustful desire, we come not to the end of desire, but to the beginning of pure desire-God-centered desire, which was created to carry us into the everlasting morning of God's purposes.
God never calls us to sacrifice as an end in itself, but only through sacrifice on the way to great joy.
Excerpted from not even a hint by JOSHUA HARRIS Copyright © 2003 by Joshua Harris
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Part 1||The Truth About Lust|
|2.||What God Called Good: Is It Biology or Is It Sin?||31|
|3.||You Can't Save Yourself: Where Can I Find the Power to Change?||45|
|Part 2||In the Thick of the Battle|
|4.||A Custom-Tailored Plan: Where Am I Weakest and What Can I Do?||61|
|5.||Guys and Girls: How Are We Different, and How Can We Help Each Other?||79|
|6.||Self-Centered Sex: How Do I Deal with Masturbation?||97|
|7.||Half a Poison Pill Won't Kill You: How Do I Cope with the Temptations of Media?||113|
|Part 3||Strategies for Long-Term Change|
|8.||Lone Rangers Are Dead Rangers: Why Is Accountability So Important?||131|
|9.||The Sword of the Spirit: How Can the Truth Help Me Defeat the Lies?||147|
|10.||Holiness Is a Harvest: How Can I Sow to the Spirit?||161|
|Appendix||The Path of Repentance||173|
|About the Author||183|
Posted July 21, 2005
This book totally changed the way I view love and marriage. I am finally beginning to view them God's way! I wish I had read this book ages ago, and I am recommending it (and even buying it for) many of my friends!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2004
This is a good resource for young people (and even older ones) who want to learn about purity. It is a higher standard than our society is accustomed to, and refreshing to see it in print.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 24, 2004
An absolute must-read! Joshua Harris has written a great book that is sorely needed for men and women in today's sex-soaked society. What I liked most about it was the way he put the focus on the real issue with lust: the heart attitude of the person. Harris says that lust and its various forms and merely 'symptoms' of our heart attitude, and that if we want to be set free from lust, then we need a change of heart. With great insight and stories from his own personal struggle, as well as practical tips, Harris' book is one every person, male or female, should read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 29, 2003
Joshua Harris approaches the problem of lust honestly and provides practical tools for dealing with it. I would only add one more useful tool as a Catholic--that of embracing the Holy Eucharist as the actual body of Christ, thereby making it necessary to hold our own bodies as His temple. Thank you Joshua for your courage and tenacity.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.