“Put to death therefore your members which are on the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry...” – Colossians 3:5
Let's begin with a simple definition: lust is evil desire. That is, lust is wanting something that you shouldn't have. Moreover, it is wanting something you shouldn't want. There are reasons why some things shouldn't be had and why some things should not even be wanted. If we start from God's point of view, we see that He created mankind to be an expression of His will, His pattern, His ways. Therefore, everything we do has a symbolic significance. Our lives are first to be an expression of absolute devotion to God. This is why the Bible contains such strong warnings against idolatry. Our lives are also to be an expression of God's character in His dealings with humanity. This is why the Bible places such great emphasis on sexual purity and morality, and fair and merciful treatment of one's neighbors.
The problem with lust is that in wanting things we shouldn't want, or in wanting things we shouldn't have, we are actually guilty of wanting things that belong to others – whether God or our fellow human beings. Much has been written by others about what it means to give God first place in our lives, and how idolatry is a violation of the Lord's rights. But I want to focus on lust as a violation of our fellows, because all the posts of this blog up to this point have described how many prominent figures in the evangelical church have been guilty of violating their fellow human beings.
There is an interesting Bible passage which reads thus: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse. Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions...” – Romans 1:18-26.
Here is what I believe this passage is saying, especially when taken in its context. The verses immediately preceding this passage state that the righteous shall live by faith. Moreover, the only way to be righteous is by faith. Faith is believing something. And the faith we are to exercise consists of believing in God's revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ. But when people turn their backs on that revelation, they have nothing else to live for except their own dark, fallen lusts. Those who indulge in lusts are showing that they do not know God very well.
And this is the problem that has been displayed in many of the figures we have considered so far. From those who are involved in “Christian culture” - publishing of books, movies and music – solely as a means to get rich, to those who are interested in religion solely as a means to get political power, to those who are involved in the ministry solely to build up a religious empire for themselves – all of these people are examples of people who boast that they know God and that we should listen to them, who boast of what great teachers they are, yet who by their actions show that they don't know God very well at all. Too many leaders and so-called “teachers” in American evangelicalism are like this – they fool people into listening to them by pretending to be whole and mature, yet they are inwardly twisted and broken.
Part of the problem may be that some of these people started out well, genuinely wanting to serve the Lord in a significant way. But along the way, they came to believe that serving the Lord meant building up a big religious empire as a monument to Him, and they became hyperactively busy in their efforts. The problem lay in making themselves so busy for the Lord that they had no time to spend with Him. Moreover, they ran out of time for paying attention to themselves, for making sure that they were growing into the sort of people they ought to be. Believe it or not, the Bible places a great premium on this. Pick up a King James Bible sometimes and read how often it says in the New Testament that we are to “take heed to ourselves.” Or in other words, “Pay attention to yourself,” or as one Army drill cadence I learned says, “Why don't you check out your mind? Been that way all the time?” The lack of time spent in personal devotion and personal reflection has allowed these people to be defeated by lusts un-looked-for and unguarded.
But there have also been those who deliberately started out on an evil path as wolves in sheep's clothing, knowing good and well what they were intending to do. They have passed themselves off as great Christian teachers in order to fleece their flocks. One characteristic of their teaching has been to twist the Scriptures in order to legitimize their evil treatment of fellow Christians. Among the many forms this twisting has taken, I will examine two: false teaching regarding personal boundaries and false teaching regarding Biblical discernment. False teaching regarding personal boundaries has conned many Christians into accepting almost criminal mistreatment from church leaders. False teaching regarding discernment has given people convenient excuses to rationalize and justify their un-Biblical mistreatment of fellow Christians. These two errors will be the topic of my next post.
Note: All Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible, a public domain translation whose translators allow quotes free of charge, without sticking out their hands to collect royalties while shouting “Gimme!”