Desire is a good thing. As Christian psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson says, humans are people of desire. Jesus often asked, “What do you want?” To have no desire means you’re dead – perhaps physically but certainly in your soul. But how does desire being a good thing affect dealing with lust? How do you sort that out?

As followers of Jesus, many of us have developed a love-hate relationship with desire. It’s easy to over-spiritualize this. But in our messed-up state the part of us that wants things has been corrupted and distorted. We find ourselves desiring things that lead to destruction. And like so much in our culture, desire has often become sexualized and distorted into lust.

Oh yes, lust. That word itself may make you feel uncomfortable and your mind may immediately go to sex. But the idea of lust as the Bible speaks of it is not solely or even primarily sexual. James says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:2-3). King James says, “that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

The idea of lust is that I want what I want, when I want it, to do with it as I want, for as long as I want, for my own pleasure or gratification.

Ouch. So what does dealing with lust (sexual or otherwise) look like? And what would Jesus have to say about this?

The Corruption of Desire

What do you want in order to consume it for your own pleasure? We’re talking a lot about sexuality, intimacy, and relationships these days. So, if you’re married, do you want sex with your spouse primarily for your own gratification? That’s lust. So is watching porn. If you’re not married, are the sexual behaviors you’ve engaged in focused on your own wants? Jesus is talking about this when He said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

Desire is good. God created us with a heart that experiences longing; that’s healthy. At its root He created us to long for Him! The other longings we have are not unrelated, and they’re not bad in themselves. We desire relief, satisfaction, adventure, connection, or name any other deep hunger in your soul.

The problem is that evil has corrupted those longings. Whether for sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, spending, food, etc., addiction does not start with desiring something bad; it starts with either enjoying something good or seeking relief from pain.

Sexual desire in itself is not lust.

Simple appreciation of another individual’s appearance is not lust. But sexual desire can become lust when you allow your heart to sit with a feeling of “I want that for myself.” Lusting for your spouse is no less sinful than lusting after someone you’re not married to. Evil has so hijacked the sexual desire God built within you such that most of us have a difficult time separating healthy sexual desire from lust.

Take this out of the sexual realm for a moment. Imagine standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or seeing a glorious sunset. The deepest parts of your soul may be enraptured. You’re drawn toward the beauty. That’s tapping into your desire. But you don’t want to consume that sunset for your own pleasure; that would be both impossible and corrupting of its very beauty.

It’s the same with sexual desire. The longing to connect, the arousal in your body and soul – that’s all good, even holy. And when it turns to lust, to consume “it” for your own pleasure, the very thing you desire becomes both impossible and corrupted.

Redeeming Eros

The word eros has also gotten a bad rap and has been over-sexualized in our culture. It’s not that eros is not sexual; it’s that it signifies much more. We’re stepping into deep and even risky waters here, but stay with me.

It’s not that we want too much; it’s that we’re satisfied with things that don’t touch our deepest longings. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus did not come to squelch eros but to redeem it. As Christopher West says, “salvation begins right here – with the redemption of eros.” And Augustine wrote, “The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. . . . That is our life, to be trained by longing.”

And please don’t do a spiritual bypass here! Don’t mistake this as saying you turn off your sex drive (as if that were possible) and go live in a tent in the desert while you spend all day in prayer. Unless God calls you specifically to such a life, the point is to let your deepest desires point you to the infinite even while you live Fully Alive in the here and now, as Jesus did.

Toward Experiencing That Redemption

So how can you get there? What might it look like to cooperate with Jesus in redeeming your longings? A few thoughts.

Sobriety

If you’ve been acting out, stop. Regardless of your addiction or bad behavior, it’s got to quit.

That might look like taking extraordinary measures to stop the ruts in your brain from getting deeper by indulging in the bad behavior. Sobriety then allows space for new pathways to begin to form. If the behavior is sexual, develop an escape plan and get with others who are seeking sobriety also. This 5-Part Prescription for Sexual Healing – God’s Way will outline that pathway.

Imagine you’re in a deep hole. Sobriety means you stop digging the hole deeper. But it’s only a start.

Look Deeper

Matters of the heart take time to process. What started you down that dangerous road? Where are the wounds, lies, and empty places that still need to be addressed in your soul? What healing do you need to seek and choose?

Looking deeper will also open you to grief – the places where your longings are not satisfied. It can bring you to face the reality that some of your deepest longings are to be met in eternity.

When it comes to sexuality, these matters of the heart run deep. God built you with the need for intimacy, and sex without intimacy will never satisfy.

Consecrate Your Desires to Jesus

Opening your hands and letting Jesus sanctify your desires feels scary. What if He gives you something you don’t want? Or “deprives” you of something you’re sure you need?

But that’s the very point. Letting your own desires rule you hasn’t turned out very well, has it?

Those who have walked the adventure of consecrating their desires to Jesus can testify to how He works both gently and relentlessly. But in the process of sanctifying your longings He both satisfies more fully than you could ever imagine even while adding even more fuel to your soul to desire what is yet to come.

Your Turn: Have you been struggling in dealing with lust? What is it you want, really? What would it look like for you to let Jesus consecrate your desires?  Leave a comment below.

Want More? In this week’s podcast episode I talk with Jay Haug of Living Without Lust, about how he has experienced Jesus redeeming eros, and how he’s now helping other men in dealing with lust.

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  • It’s not that we desire too much; it’s that we desire too little. Lust, desire gone wrong, is destructive. But Jesus came not to squelch eros, but to redeem it!  Tweet that.

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