A. The Scriptures are replete with instructions telling us to avoid persons, objects, and situations that might lead us into sin. An example is given in 1Thessalonians 5:21-22 – "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
B. However, it is impossible for us to avoid these completely, "for then [we] would have to go out of the world” (1Cor. 5:10). What then shall we do?
C. Thankfully, there is an even better way to prepare ourselves to manage temptations, and that is to take ownership and control of our own lusts.
II. LUST: THE ROOT CAUSE OF TEMPTATION
A. Before we can consistently and successfully handle temptation, we need to understand the process that leads to temptation. That process is explained in James 1:13-15:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
B. James shows us that God is not to blame for our temptations, but rather we are at fault for our own temptations because of our own lusts.
1. No sinner can rightly claim, "I was born this way.” God did not make anyone with an innate desire for evil (Rom. 1:18-23). The Scriptures do not teach the inherited total depravity of man as Calvinists contend.
2. It may come as a surprise that James does not mention the devil as the culprit in temptation.
a. This passage does not discount Satan’s influence or his role in temptation.
i. He is identified as "the tempter” in Matthew 4:3 and 1Thessalonians 3:5. It is he who draws our attention to the object of temptation.
ii. He deceives the world by his influence (Gen. 3:1-16; Rev. 12:9).
iii. The whole world lies within his power (1John 5:19), and he is even called "the god of this world” (2Cor. 4:4).
b. James did not overlook Satan, for he gives us advice concerning the devil in James 4:7 – "Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (see also 1Pet. 5:9).
3. Instead of Satan, James shows that lust is the true parent of sin.
a. Satan cannot touch our souls when we resist him as the Lord did (Matt. 4:1-11). The problem is that we do not always resist him because we sometimes want what he offers. In those instances, we invite the devil into our hearts by our own lusts.
b. Therefore, James says that it is lust that conceives and gives birth to sin. If we want to stop sin from being born, then we must prevent our lust from conceiving.
4. Our lusts are our own responsibilities, and God holds us accountable for their outcomes.
a. The Greek word most often translated as "lust” (epithymia) simply means "desire.” However, in Scriptural context, lust is conveyed as a desire for something forbidden.
b. If we crave things that God forbids, then God will not prevent us from having them. Even so, He will judge us for partaking in forbidden things and violating His law.
c. Consider the Gentiles, whom God gave "over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that that their bodies would be dishonored among them” (Rom. 1:24). The wrath of God was revealed against them for their ungodly lusts that resulted in sin (Rom. 1:18ff).
C. The sooner we can interrupt the process of lust, temptation, and sin, the greater our success will be.
1. Success cannot be achieved by simply avoiding Satan’s influence, for Satan will not give up or stop his pursuit of our souls (1Pet. 5:8). He is "the god of this world.” He is not going away.
2. The better result will be achieved by addressing the root cause of sin, which is lust. If we do not desire evil things, then Satan cannot lure us into partaking of them.
III. THE SOLUTION TO LUST
A. If we would seek strength against temptation, then we must become like God and stop desiring evil things.
1. Notice again that James said, "God cannot be tempted by evil” (Jas. 1:13). This is because God is holy and has no desire (lust) for evil things. Evil has no attraction for Him.
2. To prevent evil from attracting us, we must also become holy in the likeness of God. This is the message of 1Peter 1:14-16:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
a. Notice that Peter spoke in the past tense when he described "the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” In other words, when we become holy children of God, we must stop wanting evil things. The knowledge of the gospel suppresses evil desires.
b. Peter used a quotation from Leviticus 11:44, which was given to Israel. Unfortunately, they did not heed the message of God, but their experience stands as a warning to us. Notice 1Corinthians 10:6 – "Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.”
3. Thankfully, we can become like God through the knowledge of the gospel of Christ. In speaking of "everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence,” Peter said in 2Peter 1:4:
For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
a. Through the knowledge of the gospel, we may become "partakers of the divine nature,” which means that we can become holy in the likeness of God.
b. This allows us to escape from "the corruption that is in the world by lust.” Once again, we see that lust is the culprit, and therefore controlling lust is essential to success.
B. Let us realize that we can control our own lusts. We do not have to desire evil things.
1. Ceasing to desire evil things is often easier said than done, but it is well within the abilities of every Christian to put away lusts. Simply stated, every Christian must convince himself by the word of God to stop wanting evil things.
2. The New Testament is filled with this simple message: Stop wanting evil things. Consider just a few of these passages:
a. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts… (Rom. 6:12)
b. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Rom. 13:14)
c. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16)
d. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24)
e. …that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit… (Eph. 4:22)
f. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Col. 3:5)
g. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. (1Pet. 2:11)
h. See also 1Thessalonians 4:3-5; 2Timothy 2:22; Titus 2:11-12; 1Peter 4:1-2.
3. Perhaps the key to success in controlling lust is to replace the love and desire for evil things with the love and desire for God and His will. Notice 1John 2:15-17:
Do not love the world nor 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 lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
A. If we succeed in preventing our lust from conceiving by carrying us away and enticing us, then we can prevent sin from being born.
B. Remember that temptation is not sin, but yielding to it is. Therefore, let us change the desires of our hearts into conformity with the knowledge of the gospel so that we will not lust for evil things and succumb to the lure of temptations.
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