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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phillips

Battling Lust

Every major issue that I handle in pastoral counseling is covered to some degree in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, from anger, to marriage issues, to family conflict. When we preach all of the Bible, it eventually covers everything, and if we are going to be faithful to preach God’s whole counsel, we must preach everything. This next section of Christ’s sermon is about mental purity.



Everything we read about imperative Law going forward is over and against what the Pharisees had taught. Remember, legalism is being an actuary with obedience to God. It deals with maximums and minimums. Liberalism does the exact same thing! If our righteousness is going to exceed the Pharisees, then it must be righteousness of the heart, for the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart! Jesus is following a pattern that teaches this truth: if we obey internally (at the heart level) we will obey externally. Just as dealing with anger would stop murder, so dealing with lust would stop adultery.



The Inconvenience of Purity


Jesus continues His teaching in Matthew 5:28-30 with these strong words:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell."

We are living in a world overrun with lust. Obvious is our appetite for pornography, sexually supercharged music, and “R” rated movies. Less obvious is the gateway to these appetites, which is instigated by more tolerated instigators such as “PG-13” movies, social media and the every day approach to fashion. The covert culprit of lust that we don’t often discuss is our insatiable need to feel validated, desirable and alive in a powerful way.


What is lust? Lust is pervasive desire that we struggle to contain. The very definition of the greek word "epithymeo" that is used here means that our heart is set with an angry heat of desire. Many men that I counsel with who struggle with anger, also struggle with lust. These two feelings run along the same lines and are closely linked. I believe the evidence would show this to be true for women as well. Just as anger is an emotion we don’t alway choose but must deal with through the power of the Holy Spirit, so temptation isn’t alway lust and may stop short of lust with help from the Holy Spirit. It is also often the case, however, that our struggle with lust invites even greater temptation. Sometimes due to the compromising thoughts we entertain or the entertainment we choose to consume, we are placing ourselves in the path of needless temptation, which is itself part of the sin of lust.


Jesus used the literary device of paradox in dealing with lust because He spoke about our strength becoming our weakness, and weakening our strength if we are going to be saved from lust. Jesus taught that to be strong against lust, we must be willing to weaken the strength of both our eyes and our hands. He was teaching us to first limit what we can see and then what we can do.


I find it so very interesting the lengths we are unwilling to go to for purity in comparison to what we say we believe and desire. The computer conversation with men has become the cell phone and social media conversation with men and women. A decade ago, when I would counsel with young adult men who had pornography addictions, I would ask them to leave their computers in the living room and they would say, "no way". My response was that if they weren’t serious enough about mental purity to lose some privacy, then they weren’t serious about purity. Today I have to talk to men about using a flip phone with no data, because our phones make access to temptations so much more available. This is also no longer just a men’s issue, but women are struggling with mental purity due to cell phones as well! Jesus is saying here that if we aren’t willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of purity, than we don’t truly desire purity from the heart.


Jesus taught that to be strong against lust, we must be willing to weaken the strength of our eyes and our hands.

Pondering Into Practice


It’s important that we don’t relegate lust to a simple conversation of sexuality. Lust runs on a much broader highway than just a desire for sex. If lust is a heart desire that produces rage, then the following is true…

  • We lust for attention.

  • We lust for praise.

  • We lust for desirability.

  • We lust for success.

  • We lust for material possessions.

  • We lust for power.

All of these desires fit the description of “Adultery or Idolatry in the heart”. Lust is idolatry because it is the elevation of oneself and one’s desires to the level of God’s authority. Lust becomes our authority (or God) because it demands obedience in fulfillment.


The only way to stop lust is to limit it’s authoritative voice in your mind. This is the same approach we must take with anger, which I discussed in our last message on this sermon a couple of weeks ago. We deal with anger and lust the same way, through replacement therapy in our minds. If you act out on your anger, it has devastating results. When you act out on lust, the results can be equally devastating. We must put our minds on a new and different path toward Christ-likeness. So, how are we supposed to think?


So much of our effort to deal with our behavior (or practice) first comes down to how much time we take to “ponder”. Ponder, then practice. Pondering is the beginning of practicing! This can be negative, not just positive. Your mind is going to be thinking, even if that means for us men that it is pointless thought. This is why Paul says in Philippians 4:8-9:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

We must begin with the end of this verse, because Paul is calling us to “think” or “dwell on” (logizomai), or take a mental inventory for accounting purposes. This is a practical mental health passage in Scripture actually given to deal with anxiety, but the process for controlling one’s thoughts can also be a powerful weapon in the war agains both lust and anger! Just as anxiety can affect mental peace, so lust and anger bring the opposite of mental peace. We must learn to both capture our thoughts, and move them in a Godward direction! We must learn to walk on healthy mental pathways and avoid pathways that lead to struggle and temptation.


Let's breakdown the things Paul says we ought to think on:

  • Truth

This word has to do with thoughts not hidden or concealed, or that need to stay hidden or concealed. This word causes us to ask ourselves: "Could this thought I am having be exposed without judgment?" In his book Reformed Expository Commentary, Dennis E. Johnson says,“God’s truth is God’s utterly trustworthy and accurate portrayal of reality which should help us control our minds and behavior.”

  • Honorableness or honestness

Paul is the only NT writer to use this word, and only uses it 7 times. This word really has to do with living a double-life mentally. It causes us to ask: "If my thoughts were exposed, would they contradict the respect people have for my outward reputation?" ; "If the thoughts I consistently think were exposed, would they line up with a perception of devout Godly character?"

We tend to compromise with internal rage, or lust or negativity because the rationalization is that we aren’t acting on it. Proverbs 23:7 says, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." Constant negativity of the mind becomes open and unchecked negativity of perception and reaction.

  • Justice

The Greek word "dikaios" is the root for the word righteousness. This word leads to questions like, "Are my thoughts in line with my outward righteous behavior?" Eventually, the true condition of our hearts will out.

  • Purity 

This word "pure" comes from the root for "saint" or "holy one". The idea here is thoughts worthy of and in line with someone who is set apart unto God. In Colossians 3:2-4, Paul captures this concept. This has less to do with a worldly mindset, and more to do with a Godly mindset. It causes us to question, "How much is my mental space distracted by unnecessary clutter?" Daisy chain thoughts are often what lead us into non-productive thoughts such as false narratives. Just as an oyster creates a precious pearl by encapsulating an irritating grain of sand, so we tend to encapsulate and over-value unhealthy thoughts when we hold on to them and dwell on them. What are you cherishing as a pearl, that is really just a useless grain of sand? The only remedy for gateway thinking that turns into unhealthy rut thought is the narrow gate of the Gospel that raises our thoughts in a different and Godward direction.

  • Loveliness

"Lovely" is actually a compound word from two words which translate well as “to the advantage of phileo or familial love”. In other words, "Are my prevailing thoughts to the advantage of my human relationships, in such a way that they can flourish?" This reinforces the concept of the Gospel narrative overriding our victim narratives that I spoke about in our last section.

  • Commendable 

This word means, "of good report or repute". It causes us to ask ourselves, "Am I thinking the best of someone or of a situation?" 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

  • Excellence (Virtuousness)

This is morally excellent thought, and this is where we need to key in on our thought life as pertains to what is pure. This idea is synonymous with ethical behavior. One’s ethic or "ethos" is one’s system of behavior based on beliefs. Sometimes our thoughts run differently than we declare that we are on the outside, so we must ask, "Are my thoughts ethical?"

  • Worthy of Praise

When you trace this word back, it really gives the idea of having praise and worship at the top of your mind. A very important evaluation question is this: "Can I worship God while I think these thoughts?"


The only remedy for gateway thinking is the narrow gate of the Gospel.

Captives Of Gospel Thinking


2 Corinthians 10:5 says, "Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart, and the matter of the heart is the Gospel. The idea of taking captive every thought to the obedience of Christ is the challenge of remembering Christ’s obedience applied to me! It isn’t my obedience done for Christ, because I will always struggle to keep my thoughts obediently!


Taking every thought captive to Christ's obedience means walking in the victory already accomplished by Christ for me. It is less about what I am able to accomplish, and more about what Christ has already accomplished. I don't choose victory because victory is already on offer and secured. When I am choosing, I am choosing my own way, which is the way of sin, death and destruction.



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