When Coronavirus first canceled my employment on Friday, March 13, 2020, i was terrified. I had finally met a godly, encouraging, lovely young woman (the three most essential traits in a significant other, if you ask me). I had been taking steps to earn as much money as possible to better be able to support us as we walk through life, pursuing marriage together. I had lined up an extra job for my other job’s week of spring break, and in the space of twenty-four hours, Coronavirus had canceled both of them. I went from making $900 a week before taxes to making $0.
I don’t react well to stress. I don’t. I never have. My terror at losing my job was directly related to inevitably plunging headfirst back into sinful patterns that always return in times of stress. I could live with the lack of a job; i could even live with the lack of income (i have plenty of projects to work on currently that might someday bring me income). What was hard was 1) not being confident that our marriage hopes would work out as we wanted, and 2) being stuck at home with nowhere to run in times of temptation.
Lust has been a terrible beast for me over the past 15+ years. It’s been the dragon i can’t quite slay. It’s been the demon whispering lies into my heart. It’s been the dark cloud over my head that physically shows itself through the tears running down my cheeks. It’s been one of the primary causes of the depression i’ve suffered over the past 14+ years. It’s been the thorn in my side that i’ve pleaded with God three thousand times to take away. It’s the struggle that makes me see the word “hypocrite” stamped across my forehead every time i look at myself.
And being in a relationship hasn’t made the struggle any easier. In some ways, it has made it harder. In other ways, it has made me more hopeful, because my girlfriend is willing to fight alongside me in prayer and encouragement, but in other ways, it has made it harder, primarily because it has dramatically stoked the fires described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9,
I say to the unmarried and to widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am. But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with desire.
Mutually, we don’t want to have self-control, but—mutually also and more so—we want to honor God in our relationship.
I want to focus the remainder of this post on how my lust struggle could potentially destroy my current relationship, and why i must take extra precautions against lust in my relationship. Soon, hopefully, i will write a post about the biblical wisdom behind getting married sooner rather than later, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. (Hint: it allows us to not worry about self-control and simultaneously honor God.)
There are times when i am with her when my heart screams out in my head, “Just go a little farther. You haven’t crossed any boundaries yet. See if you can get closer to the boundary. Oh, and if you do go too far, God will forgive you.” The longer we are together, the louder these voices get. The longer the absence between time together, the louder these voices get.
But an accountability partner recommended a book to me, one i had read almost seven years ago. So i reread it. And i stumbled on the following quote:
“… the logic of lust. Lust, by definition, wants what it does not have. Lust always looks past what it possesses to the object it lacks. . . . [I need] Jesus to cure [my] lust by giving [me] a heart full of grateful contentment rather than a heart that desires a woman who is not [my] wife.”Heath Lambert, Finally Free (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 165-166.
Paul wrote the following in Colossians 3:5,
Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.
I need to put lust to death now, and not say, “Marriage will solve my problem.”It won’t. Lust wants what it does not have, so if i make peace with lust now, saying, “Marriage will kill it,” then when I’m married, lust will want what it does not have, and the problem will still remain, and i’ll find myself pursuing things that are not the wife God graciously gave me. I don’t want to sin against God in this way! I don’t want to sin against my wife in this way! I must put lust to death today! And tomorrow when i awake, i must do it again!
I also can’t fall for the lie that if we just sin together, it is better than sinning alone. Whether i sin alone behind my computer–or wherever i happen to find internet access–or if i sin together with her, i am sinning. She is not mine yet. I am not hers yet. As much as my lust on my own hurts her, and as much as being together now might feel good (initially), sinning together is still lust. Until we are bound by covenant in marriage, we do not belong to one another, and i must fight the lust in my heart that says, “Partake of intimacy. NOW!” Lust wants what it does not have, and pursuing lust with her does nothing to help me kill it in my own soul. If we sin together before marriage, what is going to keep me from pursuing lust when i am married? I don’t want to sin against God in this way! I don’t want to sin against my wife in this way! I must put lust to death today! And tomorrow when i awake, i must do it again!
These thoughts are scary, keep me up at night, and make me stauncher in my conviction that lust must die!
The problem is that i have no hope to accomplish this on my own. Paul says in Colossians 3:5 to put these things to death, but he starts with the word “therefore.” If i’ve said it once, i’ve said it a million times. “When you see the word ‘therefore,’ you need to ask, ‘What is it there for?’” In this case, the “therefore” goes back to verses 1-4.
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
My hope is not in my ability to put my sin to death. My hope is not in my ability to have self-control when my girlfriend and i are together. My hope is in Christ. My hope is the Spirit He has given me. John Owen wrote,
[The Holy Ghost] only is sufficient for [killing sin]; all ways and means without [H]im are as a thing of naught; and [H]e is the great efficient of it—[H]e works in us as [H]e pleases.John Owen, “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,” in Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 57-58.
I kill sin by the Spirit (cf. Romans 8:13) when i take my focus off myself and place it on Jesus. This is why Paul begins his discussion of “killing sin” in Colossians 3 by discussing focusing on Jesus. Only when i have rightly done that can i ever hope to have victory over a particular sin.
Rather than focusing on boundaries (cf. Colossians 2:16-23), and “how far is too far?” when I’m with my girlfriend, i need to turn my attention to Jesus. I need to pray, “Lord, help me to be holy. Help me to not turn this relationship into an idol. Help me to love her selflessly. Jesus, You died for my sin. Help me to neither sin against You nor her. I want to fulfill the Law through love (cf. Luke 10:25-28; Galatians 5:14).”
This is why praying together and reading Scripture is so essential as a couple. It keeps your focus on the right object, and it grounds your desire to honor God in truth, not in man-made regulations. Christ will help us live holy lives that honor Him. We have no hope for this on our own. But when we turn to Him in prayer and Scripture reading (when we mutually “set our eyes on Him”), He will respond. This is a promise. Richard and Sharon Phillips write,
Idols never satisfy, but always demand increasingly more, constantly adding to the burdens of our lives and in the end giving nothing of lasting value.
A relationship based on idolatry can result only in manipulation and conflict. But how different it is when a man and woman come together in worship of the one true God! …
The distinction between false gods and the one true God makes all the difference in our lives and relationships. Because God meets the needs of those who trust in [H]im, a Christian relationship is one that escapes the cycle of manipulation. In the place of manipulation there is ministry. This is the approach of Christians who are finding their fulfillment in the Lord as they relate to one another. Having their needs met by God, they enjoy a relationship of service to one another. This is the dynamic that distinguishes a healthy, godly relationship from a worldly, idolatrous one. Manipulation gives way to ministry, in fulfillment of God’s two great commands to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.Richard D. Phillips & Sharon L. Phillips, Holding Hands Holding Hearts (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 62-63. Emphasis added.
In conclusion, i had a dream a few nights ago, and it further convinced me of the truth of this discussion. I need to stop seeing how close to sin i can get; i need to pursue holiness actively (which includes pursuing the mortification of sin by the Spirit!). I need to put lust to death as soon as possible, so it doesn’t enter my marriage. I need to thank God for the sensitive conscience that He’s given me, and pray that it can grow even more sensitive. I should flee sin at its first approach (like Joseph, cf. Genesis 39:12), and i must stop letting lust fester in my heart like David (cf. 2 Samuel 11:1-3).
This is a fight for my soul that i cannot grow lax in. I must persevere—no matter the cost. I must take every step at my disposal, and pray that i would lean more on the Spirit daily. He alone will give me victory. I cannot win this war in my own strength.
We can win this battle by God’s strength, brothers (and sisters).
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.