THE LUST OF THE FLESH

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

Perhaps we are so familiar with 1 John 2:15 that we underestimate the power of these temptations. Most who have attended worship in the churches of Christ that still preach the whole counsel of God have undoubtedly heard read or quoted:

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 the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing way, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).

We usually tie this passage to Genesis 3:6 and Matthew 4:1-11. In the former verse, Eve saw that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was good for food. The more she looked at it, the more appealing it became. If ever there was lip-smacking, mouth-watering food, this was it. It was also pleasant to the eyes; hence, the desire to possess it increased. Furthermore, she had been promised that it would make her wise; all of these provided a powerful attraction.

Now any one of these temptations might have been sufficient all by itself to accomplish the devil's purpose of getting sin to enter the world, but all three of them together formed a formidable force that captured and held EveŐs attention. The Word of God ("You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die") suddenly found itself in the background of her mind. She knows the command, but she has allowed other considerations to dominate her thinking. She is pondering SatanŐs promises, and she yields to the enticements.

We have no moral authority with which to accuse her, for we have all (at some time) made the same choice. Although all three of these are powerful motivators, we want to concentrate for now upon the first one of the three listed--the lust of the flesh. Why spend time upon something that for many of us is so obvious? The reason is that what we know and what we feel are two different things. Some surprising individuals--ones who know better--have given in to the lusts of the flesh.

Many preachers can name a fellow, once-faithful proclaimer of Truth who has disgraced himself in adultery. More than one has become involved with a church secretary; one quit preaching and left the church with the daughter of one of the elders. Obviously, this problem is not one of knowledge. Occasionally, a preacher's wife has become involved with an elder or deacon--or someone outside the congregation. None of these instances should have ever occurred, but they did.

Perhaps most surprising is the spiritual descent of "a man after His [God's] own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). No one could call into question David's marvelous relationship with Jehovah. Except for introduction of his name in the book of Ruth, we do not meet David until 1 Samuel 16:13, when Samuel anoints him king. Shortly thereafter, he goes to visit his brothers and learns of the Philistine champion Goliath. The average young person would probably be impressed by the army and the challenge of the soldier; he would probably return home and describe all of the excitement to his family and neighbors, but instead David volunteers to fight and kill him! Veteran fighters did not make such a commitment.

Not only does God have a standard of judgment different from mankind's (1 Sam. 16:7); so does David. What young lad would even consider facing someone nearly twice his size--especially when the prize for victory was life and the cost of defeat death? Yet David seems unconcerned because of his perspective concerning the matter. He explained to Saul:

"Your servant used to keep his father's sheep, and when a lion or bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God." (1 Sam. 17:34-36).

If one were to consider only the outward appearances, David acted foolishly. But even as a youth, he was already living by faith. There are two ways to look at the events of this world: 1) from a purely physical and pragmatic philosophy, which relies solely upon sight, and 2) from the viewpoint that God exists and cares what happens in this world. David reasoned along these lines: "Goliath, the warrior giant, is impressive, but he is also flesh and blood. More importantly, he is uncircumcised--that is, he is not one of God's people; worse still, in taunting God's people, the nation of Israel, he has defied God Himself." On that basis the shepherd went forth to deal with the presumptuous windbag who dared to pit himself against the servants of the living God.

Only a man with complete trust in God would act as David did, nor did his faith diminish over the next several years as the jealous Saul pursued him, seeking continuously to kill him. The psalms are filled with David's complete dependence upon God; the fugitive king relied constantly upon Him for deliverance. He was not a Sabbath-morning-only Israelite; David obviously had a close relationship with his Creator. Just a few lines from one of his hymns of praise substantiate the fact:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies. The pangs of death encompassed me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears.

He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support (Ps. 18:2-6, 16-18).

Much more could be produced even from this one psalm, but this sampling is enough to provide the picture of the mature, faithful man of God. So what happened to David that he allowed himself to be enticed by the lust of the flesh? The army is at war, but David remained in Jerusalem. The problem is delineated in one verse: "Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the kingŐs house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful" (2 Sam. 11:2).

What James would later describe occurred next: "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin" (James 1:14-15a). David's lust for this woman was so strong that it took precedence over his close relationship with God, his faith, and certain facts, such as that Bathsheba had a husband. All of the king's knowledge of God's moral principles suddenly vanished. The numerous prayers he had offered to God, which had been answered time and again, became meaningless. The overriding concern was in obtaining this woman.

Many men today lament to "the other woman" that their wives do not understand them and that they have no sexual relationship at home (which is frequently not the case). Israel's king could not make such an excuse. Prior to the sin with Bathsheba the book of 2 Samuel tells us that David's wives included Ahinoam the Jezreelite, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah (2 Sam. 3:2-5). A later text says: "And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he had come from Hebron" (5:13a). David did not lack for companionship. He could have spent each evening of a fortnight with a different woman, if he so desired.

The problem was that he craved one particular woman, to whom he had no right. If the flesh won out over spiritual concerns for one so noble and faithful as David, all of us should be on guard against this powerful temptation. It is not ignorance that causes a person to commit this sin; it is willful desire and emotion.

Many young people learn the Bible very well as they mature, and they know about holiness and personal purity. But, as they begin dating, their good judgment gives way to curiosity and sexual feelings. Peer pressure in high school or college may also be a factor--not to mention the world's approval via the entertainment media. Whenever someone chooses to do wrong, the world provides ample (im)moral support.

More than one preacher's daughter has moved to Denton and eventually lived with a man outside of marriage (fornication). Although each one--after a period of time--married, there was never any hint of regret, remorse, or repentance for her shaming of Jesus Christ, who shed His blood for our redemption.

Although we have viewed this sin in a sexual context, other sins of the flesh often ensnare people. Many were surprised a few decades ago when a college president of one of "our" schools was driving under the influence of alcohol and caused an accident in which innocent victims perished. "Don't people know that getting drunk is wrong (not to mention dangerous)?" Of course they do, but desire overpowers logic.

Victory Over the Flesh

So what is the solution to the allurement of this sin, which ensnares so many who were otherwise devout? As is the case in obtaining anything worthwhile, success in conquering sinful desires requires effort.

First, we must understand thoroughly how sin works (James 1:13-15). If we would refuse to entertain the idea of succumbing to fleshly desires, we would stand a greater chance of resisting them. Jesus pinpointed the problem for us in Matthew 15:19. These things originate in the heart; for that reason we cannot retain evil thoughts: one first commits sexual immorality in his mind before doing so in reality. Paul's admonition to think on appropriate things (Phil. 4:8) is pertinent to this point. The longer one grasps the sinful notion, the more likely he is to yield to the temptation.

Second, we must remind ourselves of the temporary nature of the flesh. Once "precious flesh is greedily consumed" (Dan Fogelberg, "Make Love Stay," 1983), then what? The desire for fulfillment soon returns; such is the nature of physical appetites (both legitimate and otherwise). Fleeting satisfaction is the best that the flesh has to offer in this world, but in eternity the flesh has no value whatsoever. We often tell people who become attached to their possessions that things will not survive the earth's being burned up; neither will the flesh, for flesh and blood "cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). Our spirits, not our bodies, live in eternity. Nothing carnal will survive. We will not be feasting on sumptuous foods; no one will be getting drunk on wine or ingesting drugs. No sexual relations of any kind will occur (Matt. 22:30).

Third, as Jesus said: "Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:26b). Imagine those in torment conversing with each other. "Why are you here?" "I was a ruthless dictator responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent souls. How about you?" "There was this woman I had to have. I divorced my wife and gave up my children, along with the Lord Jesus Christ, just to possess her fleshly body." One question must of necessity perpetually echo in eternity: "Was it worth it?" How sorrowful that too late many will realize the costliness of their attachment to the bottle, the needle, or evil passions. That brief season of pleasure all these afford will be dwarfed by the spiritual reality of endless punishment.

Fourth, surrendering to evil desires furnishes Satan with ammunition to use against us. He is the accuser of righteous men (Job 1-2: Rev. 12:10); imagine what he can say about us when we begin to practice sin! To paraphrase Don McLean ("American Pie," 1971-72): How Satan must laugh with delight when he sees us forsaking our righteous and holy God for some fleshly trinket he has provided for us. None of us enjoys being laughed at--especially if we are trying our best. We feel humiliated. If only we could hear the demonic chorus of chuckles and guffaws when we choose evil over good! If we could only feel the sorrow of Heaven, the heavenly embarrassment for our shame! Would it cause us to re-evaluate the sin which has captivated us?

Fifth, we have a model that we can follow. At the outset of this article we mentioned that Matthew 4:1-11 was the second passage associated with 1 John 2:15-17. Jesus' temptation of the flesh on this occasion was turning stones to bread (v. 3). Anyone who does not think this is as powerful an attraction as others we have discussed has probably not gone without food for forty days (v. 2)! Besides, our Lord "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).

How did He resist temptation? Everyone knows that He quoted Scripture: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). This is an important point, but there are other considerations in this verse that we may overlook. First, we should note that Jesus was not merely able to quote God's Word; He was able to recall the right passage at the right time. Memorization is helpful; internalization is vital. It is not just a matter of calling forth a verse when preaching or offering an invitation; it is being able to evaluate a situation and apply the appropriate Scripture at the appropriate time to the appropriate problem.

Second, this ability requires a close walk with God. One cannot distance himself from God, the church, and fellow saints--and expect to be able to resist evil. Close and continual communication must be indicative of our lives. We ought to be conscious of God and maintain a spiritual perspective on everything that we see and hear. Events (whether large enough to affect society or small enough to be considered personal) must be evaluated in light of Christian principles.

Third, when sin calls us, we cannot allow ourselves to answer--or even think about answering. Our resolve must tell us, "No.I will not do it. I will not even consider it." How often did David regret that he had not said this to himself when he saw Bathsheba, and lust began to permeate his thoughts. Fourth, as Joseph did, we must flee the situation immediately. To linger is usually fatal. We can ponder the choices fully later; it is paramount to remove ourselves swiftly from evil's beckoning.

These steps will help prevent us from becoming entangled in fleshly sins, which (once committed) make a servant of us, demanding that we repeat them. Anyone who has allowed himself to come under the enticement of the flesh already knows the difficulty of breaking out of the pattern, whether the fight be against sexual immorality, alcohol, or nicotine. But it can be done with a recommitment to God and a resurgence of serious study, with prayers for strength, and with the help of fellow Christians.

Sin enslaves us, makes us ashamed (until we sear our consciences), and makes us fit for eternal condemnation (Rom. 6:20-21). Christ set us free before, and He can do it again--if we ackowledge our weakness, confess our wrongdoing, repent, and muster the courage to act upon the faith we once had and must now renew. A small child can be talked out of a twenty dollar bill with the offer of a shiny quarter. Let us guard ourselves spiritually lest we too agree to such a foolish exchange.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "THE LUST OF THE FLESH" (05/05/02)."


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