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Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Theology of Sin: Lust, Idolatry, Pride (Part 2)

David & Bathsheba
The Bible teaches sin separates us from God. "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). One of those sins that separates us from fellowship with God is the sin of lust, i.e. "the desires of the flesh." It is one of the main reasons for the Fall because Adam and Eve thought the forbidden fruit would be more gratifying and satisfying than knowing God himself (cf. Gen. 3:1-14).

In 1 John 2:15-17, John makes it very evident that a believer is someone who does not love the world or the things in the world that are sin:
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."
John's letter is very practical and simplistic. The love of the world is the desire and pleasurable enjoyment of  all the sins that encompass worldliness and is subjective. The love of the things in the world is the desire and pleasurable enjoyment of all the sinful things that encompass worldliness and is objective. Both are contrary to the desire and pleasurable enjoyment expressed in the Bible, and produce a selfish gratification of man instead of a selfless glorification of God. Worldliness is sin (cf. James 1:15). Thus, to love the world or the things in the world is to love sin more than to love God. 

The Sin of Lust
For that reason, it is necessary to understand how important it is to avoid the sin of lust by looking throughout Scripture for biblical solutions for sinful tendencies. The Apostle Paul taught the Corinthians the Bible has the solution so we do not commit the sin of lust as others have done before us, "Now these things became our examples [the OT Scriptures], to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted" (1 Corinthians 10:6).

A Theological Definition of Lust.
Daniel Akin correctly writes a lengthy definition and explanation of lust in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology:
"A strong craving or desire, often of a sexual nature. Though used relatively infrequently (twenty-nine times) in Scripture, a common theme can be seen running through its occurrences. The word is never used in a positive context; rather, it is always seen in a negative light, relating primarily either to a strong desire for sexual immorality or idolatrous worship. In secular literature, the word indicates only a strong desire and can carry either good or bad connotations. In these instances the New International Version does not translate the word as "lust." Rather, it is translated as "desire, " "longing, " and the like. The context surrounding the word lends to this translation in such instances. However, in Scripture, as translated in the New International Version, the word is used for a strong desire that is negative and forbidden. Indeed, the unregenerate are governed and controlled by deceitful lusts or desires (Ephesians 2:3; 4:22; Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:12). 
In the Old Testament, the word is primarily used to describe idolatrous activities, although it does have sexual concerns in at least two instances (Job 31:1; Proverbs 6:25). In both, the context is negative in meaning and is accompanied by a strong warning of God's impending punishment on those with such a strong, all-encompassing desire for inordinate affections. The lust involved in the realm of idolatry involves Israel's strong desire to be like other nations, who worship their gods of wood and metal. The language of Job is especially potent in regard to sexual immorality. Job is kept from looking "lustfully at a girl" because he knows that God's plan is "ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong." In the other Old Testament instances, the meaning clearly displays an idolatrous relationship, primarily Israel's desire to be like her surrounding neighbors (cf. Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 13:27; Ezekiel 6:9; 16:26; 20:24,30; Nahum 3:4). 
Almost half the occurrences of the word and its derivatives are in the Book of Ezekiel. In every instance, it refers to Israel's idolatrous worship. An interesting display of this attitude is seen in chapter 23, where God's prophet uses the parable of two adulterous sisters, Oholah (representing Samaria) and Oholibah (representing Jerusalem). The imagery involves sexual lust but is descriptive of Israel's spiritual idolatry. Just as Oholah's and Oholibah's love was misdirected toward the officers of enemy armies, so Jerusalem's desire was for the things of her enemies. Throughout the parable, God warns of the judgment that awaits Oholah and Oholibah for their idolatrous lust. Indeed, such judgment occurred for Oholah (Samaria) in 722 b.c., when Assyria conquered her. Oholibah (Jerusalem) fell in 586 b.c. 
In the New Testament, the word moves from referring primarily to idolatry to referring instead almost exclusively to sexual immorality. While the idea of idolatry is not completely absent, the primary intention is as a strong, inordinate desire for sexual relations. This sexual immorality, however, is not intended to represent actions alone since lust occurs first as a thought in the mind. The warning is to stop the lust before it moves into the realm of action. For instance, Jesus commands that a man is not to even look at a woman lustfully (i.e., with a desire to have sexual relations with her) because that is the same as committing the physical act of adultery (Matthew 5:27-30); both are sin. 
In each of the texts where Paul uses the word, it clearly is condemnatory of sexual immorality, both homosexual (Romans 1:26-27) and heterosexual. The command from Paul is to utterly destroy those inordinate desires that most often manifest themselves in the area of sexuality (cf. Colossians 3:5). Paul continues to warn that we must learn to control our bodies and be sanctified rather than giving in to our base desires, which is characteristic of those who do not know God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
Paul is not alone in pointing out that the lustful lifestyle is characteristic of lost humanity. Peter concurs, and exhorts his readers to quit living as they did before they received Christ. He points out that lust is evidence of a pagan lifestyle (1 Peter 4:3). Also, according to Peter, lustful desires (not necessarily just sexual desires, but desiring anything more than one desires God) are a basic motivation inherent in human sinful nature (2 Peter 2:18). 
It is obvious from John's writings that our lusts do not come from God but from the world. However, we are reminded by John that the world and its desires (lusts) pass away, whereas "the man who does the will of God lives forever" (1 John 2:16-17). Here we see that our lusts are in direct violation of God's perfect will, because they usually are misdirected, moving and leading us away from God to our own selfish desires.
Our lusts have a very powerful influence on our actions if they are not caught and corrected immediately. We must remember that lust occurs in the mind and is not a physical action in and of itself. It does, however, have great potential of becoming an action—indeed a very damaging action."
Scriptural Examples and Hope.
The Bible teaches the sin of lust is not of God and should not be among God's people. Samson lusted with Delilah and lost is strength while his life ended in ruin (Judges 13-16). David lusted with Bathsheba and lost the battle and right to build the temple (2 Samuel 11). Good examples are Joseph running away from immorality (Gen. 39), and Paul who sanctified himself from ungodliness (cf. Gal. 2:20).

However, there is hope for committing the sin of lust, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Samson confessed to God (cf. Judges 16:28-30), and was deliver before his death to bring judgment on the Philistines. David confessed to God (cf. Psalm 51), and was spared a son named Solomon to be his heir as the king of Israel.

God is in the business of forgiveness and reconciliation, but God has commanded us to live in such a way to avoid the sin of lust by controlling the flesh with a Christ-centered lifestyle guided by biblical truth. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans a simple principle, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14). Remove sinful tendencies and replace them with biblical solutions. Knowing the theology of sin only increases spiritual progress for the glory of God and makes Christ greater in our lives.

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