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The Apostle Paul’s Battle with Lust (and How He Overcame It)

Some years ago, my daughter gave us a set of very sharp knives as a Christmas gift. I regularly use one that has a serrated edge. It’s so sharp, it cuts through almost anything. One day, when that included my finger, I quickly applied a Band-Aid.

The next morning the skin had done its miracle work, and it was as though I hadn’t even been cut. The problem was solved. That is, until I bumped something with my finger and made it bleed again. It took days to completely heal.

I’ve found that when I think I’ve overcome the flesh—a particular sin—that it’s all wrapped up, there’s the inevitable bump that causes it to bleed again. I remember thinking how I had finally conquered my appetite problem. The moment I had that thought, the refrigerator called my name and the beast was let loose with a vengeance.

It’s the same with lust. The moment we think that we are free from its grip, it rears its ugly head.

The Apostle Paul spoke openly about his battle with lust. It seems almost sacrilegious to say that he had an issue, but scripture tells us that those we tend to put on a pedestal of purity, were men of like passions. Paul called himself the chief of sinners, and James said that lust is every man’s problem:

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. (James 1:14)

It seems that King Herod was enticed by his own lust when his eyes fell on the body of a young woman as she danced (see Mark 6:22). After which she enticed him further—to commit murder. Many years earlier, another king was similarly enticed by his own lust. This time it was by the sight of a woman as she bathed, and then lust led David by the nose to commit adultery and to also commit murder.


Impaired Judgment

Give yourself to lust and you drive drunk. It will impair your moral judgments so that you cross lines that you normally wouldn’t. Lust has brought potentates, politicians, princes, and presidents to public shame.

Lust is a sticky spiderweb, and if we get caught in its grip, it has frightening consequences—in this life and in the next. The hideous spider is always concealed, and its bite is deadly:

Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death. (James 1:15)

Early in Romans chapter 7, after Paul had addressed the subject of adultery, he talked about his personal battle with lust:

…for I had not known lust, except the law had said, thou shalt not covet. (Romans 7:7)

When David coveted his neighbor’s wife, that lustful look not only violated the Tenth Commandment, it broke the Seventh:

But I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)


Not a Problem

Before we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, there is no conflict with lust. Our wandering eyes were full of adultery, and we didn’t have an issue with it. Lust was a joyous pleasure, not a plaguing problem. But the moment we turned in genuine repentance, the battle began. The spider came out of hiding the moment it detected a struggle. A man has no problem smoking 40 cigarettes a day, until he tries to stop. That’s when war is declared, and the battle begins.

Further on in Romans 7, Paul spoke of this warfare as a clash between two laws:

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind…So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:23, 25)

The battle is between the renewed mind and the old sinful flesh. In the following chapter Paul tells us how he found victory:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

In Christ Jesus, we are set free from the law of sin and death. We are no longer caught in the web. The suffering of Jesus satisfied the Law’s demands. The debt had been fully paid. The Law no longer legally condemned us (see Romans 8:1). The Judge could now smile with pleasure, whereas He once frowned in wrath. Whom the Son set free, is free indeed.


Those Uninvited Thoughts

But how can we live in this freedom when uninvited filthy thoughts continue to invade our renewed minds? The answer is to build a resistance, using something this world despises—the fear of God.

Jesus said three breathtakingly profound words in Luke 8:17. He said, “Nothing is secret.” Many years earlier, King Solomon came to this same sobering conclusion about so-called secrecy:

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

Paul reiterated this in Romans 2:16:

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

If God is omniscient, then there is nothing secret. Nothing is hidden from His morally pure eyes (see Proverbs 15:3 and Hebrews 4:13). There has never been a secret murder, a secret act of adultery or rape. No lustful thought has ever been welcomed, that hasn’t also been seen by the eyes of God.

Jesus warned that sin is so serious in God’s eyes, that if our eye causes us to sin, we should pluck it out and cast it from us (see Matthew 5:29). This is because it’s better to enter Heaven without an eye, than to be cast into Hell with both. If believing that doesn’t put the fear of God in us, nothing will.

It is evident from his words that Paul feared God, and that was his victory over lust. He said, “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

The way to make sure you never walk into an invisible spiderweb is to have a stick, and wave it in front of you as you walk down a pathway. And the way to make sure you don’t walk into the web of lust, is to continually have the rod of God’s Law before your eyes. That’s what it means to walk in the fear of God. A judge has no power in himself. We don’t fear him as a person—we fear what he can do as a representative of the law. And God is to be feared because of what He will do with guilty sinners. Keep that thought as a living reality before your eyes, and you will be free from the grip of lust.

Don’t act like the ungodly, who ignorantly walk into the spiderweb with no thought of destructive consequences. In speaking of this sinful world scripture says:

Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:16-18)

They walk into the web, and drag the poisonous and ghastly spider along with them.


No Matter How Thirsty

The flesh is a poisoned well. Don’t drink from it—no matter how thirsty you feel. If we have a healthy fear of God, even though we have temptations, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. Instead, we will turn away, change our pathway, shut our eyes, spit out the poison, cry out to God, or run like Joseph when lust called his name (see Genesis 39:12). And if we do fall into the poisonous well, we will quickly get up and get out, confess our sins and determine afresh to walk in holiness (see 1 John 1:9).


The Real Problem

Yet with all this talk of the lust of the eyes, they’re not the cause of the problem. They are just the doorway to it. Our real problem is what’s behind the door. It’s our sinful heart. The eyes simply feed the imagination. They provide the spark for the tinder-dry forest. That’s why scripture says to “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We must do that, because we are dealing with life and death issues. Ours. Therefore, we must never fall into the subtle trap of thinking that God is somehow sympathetic to our sin. It’s clear from what Jesus said that He’s not:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

God is sympathetic to our weaknesses (see Hebrews 4:15), but not to our sin. He forbids only that which will kill us, and He has made a way for us to escape the spider’s grip:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The virtue of the fear of God (coupled with a tender conscience) will always look for that way of escape.


Our Consolation

It is humbling to come back again and again, asking for forgiveness, but keep in mind that whenever we do that sincerely, as far as God is concerned, it’s the first time we ever came. Whenever He forgives, God forgets. We have His promise on it:

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 8:12; also see Isaiah 43:25)

There are two great consolations in this ongoing battle we have with lust. The first is that it continually brings us to our knees. And that’s the safest place for any Christian. It ensures our dependence on God.

And the second consolation comes in the fact that immediately after talking about the fear of God, Jesus said:

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Fear and love are compatible. We can both tremble in fear of God, and at the same time, bask in the knowledge that He loves us. That was evidenced at the cross (see Romans 5:8). And it is because of this great love that He has made provision for those many sins that so easily beset us. In Christ we have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. We are free from the deadly spider. So believe His Word by trusting in His exceedingly great and precious promises:

…His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters, a bestselling author, and has written more than 100 books, including, The Evidence Study Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program Way of the Master, which airs in 190 countries.

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