The Seductive Power Of DesireErwin W. Lutzer | January 13, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
The problem isn’t “out there.” It’s in our own homes—the homes of Christians. We invite our desires to deceive us, and when we act on them, we sin. And sin leads to death.
In chapter four of the book of James, he gives us ten commands to keep us from the sins that ensnare us. The commands can be boiled down to three over-arching directives to follow each morning before you get out of bed: Submit completely to God, resist the devil continually, and confess your sins thoroughly.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.
John Bunyan, in his book entitled The Holy War, discusses how Diabolos, who is the devil, intends to take man’s soul. Liken your heart to a castle for just a moment, and the demons are discussing how they are going to get man’s soul to let them in, because they cannot enter unless the doors are open from the inside. And one of the demons says, “We will promise things that will never be. We will tell him about things that he would like to have that he shall not receive,” and basically it is lies, lies, lies. “We will get man’s soul to let us in.”
And that’s our problem, isn’t it? You and I have a heart and that heart was designed for God. It is like a castle, but we open its doors to the enemy, and the result is very evident, and the problem is that you and I have within us traitors that want to be tempted by our enemy. And so the enemy plays on those traitors until we are defeated and we let him in.
Well, this is a series of messages titled Guard Your Heart – Sexual Purity in a Media Culture, and how necessary these messages are. You know, we live in a world in which the media is everywhere, and somebody asked me this week, “Is the media evil? Is technology evil?” Well the obvious answer is no. Technology is not evil because technology itself cannot sin, but it is weighted against us, as I mentioned in my message last week.
And this past week a staff member and I happened to be in Orlando, Florida for a conference and we visited Campus Crusade and we discovered there it’s ministry which is GMO, Global Missionary Outreach, and they are using the Internet to spread the Gospel all around the world, including Muslim countries. And hundreds and even thousands in certain countries throughout the Middle East are turning to Jesus Christ, largely because of the power of the Internet.
And so can media be redeemed and used for good? Absolutely, but it has to be redeemed out of the hands of the evil one.
In preparation for this series I read a number of different books, and one that I’ve not quite yet finished has to do with the story of a man who was deeply into pornography and how God delivered him. And we’ll make that bibliography available to you at a future time. But the amazing story is he goes into the depth of pornography today, even in the lives of children. Parents, you can’t believe what is happening to your children at the age of four or five or six who are already playing video games and are into the Internet. It is just enough to make a stone cry. So I ask you today, even though I am not going into detail about that, to just recognize that what we’re talking about is huge. And I learned that the thing that has made the Internet so great worldwide is really pornography. It has fueled it. It is what has made the Internet so successful, reaching to the ends of the earth. And you and I are supposed to live righteous lives in the midst of this.
If you were with us last week, and if you weren’t I hope you get the message, I gave you three myths that we have to overcome, three myths that we have to explode, and today I’m giving you three more myths that we need to confront and destroy.
The first myth is that this series of messages and what I am talking about really pertains to somebody outside the church, somebody who perhaps is going to be arrested this week for a sex crime. That’s a myth. I’m talking about us. Specifically I am talking about your sons, raised in a good Christian home. I’m talking about your daughters. I’m talking about our grandchildren. I’m also speaking about your husband, and I’m speaking about your wife. Rather than us thinking that the problem is out there, let’s be honest and recognize that it is within all of our hearts and look at things more or less on a continuum rather than, “There’s that person over there,” and “There’s this person over here,” because all of us are tempted. All of us struggle, and all of us at times have failed, so let us simply recognize that the problem is here and not somewhere else.
You know, at the Day of Prayer and Fasting, a marvelous time by the way, as hundreds of us gathered together to pray on Wednesday night after a day of fasting, I put a chair in front of the group, and then I asked those who were struggling with impurity to sit on the chair if they wanted special prayer. One person after another came and sat on the chair. If we’d have continued along that line and not moved on, I’m sure the rest of the evening could have simply been people coming to sit on the chair for special prayer. And then I made the statement that if we were honest, it would be very appropriate for all of us at some time to sit on that chair and say, “I have struggled with impurity.” And for some of you who do it, it may not even be entirely your fault. I’ve had a number of men tell me that their father introduced them to it. Think of that power - the power of a father over a son to introduce his child to that kind of bondage and that kind of sin.
Now to get out of it you are going to have to own it all. It’s not our responsibility of pointing fingers but to simply say that let us not be quick to judge but recognize that we’re talking about all of us at some level.
The second myth is that you can be a user and it doesn’t impact anything. It doesn’t affect anything. It doesn’t affect your relationship. “What difference does it make as to what I do in private?” It makes a huge difference and because of time I can’t go into it, but it affects your relationship with your wife, your children, your ability to lead as a father, because no father can really give free and good guidance to his son as long as he is dealing with a sin that has overcome him, a sin over which he has no victory. And so don’t fool yourself. Don’t lie about that.
And then the third myth is that we can get out of this alone. You know, those who struggle with pornography have all testified that one of the ways that they have gotten out of it is simply by finding a friend to whom they confessed, to whom they were accountable, and we’ll be saying more about that in future messages.
Well, so much for the introduction! Will you turn with me please to James 1? And that’s where this message is going. As we look at the cycle downward here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to look within our own hearts, and then having looked within our own hearts, we are going to point the way to the solution, which is, of course, our responsibility and our privilege.
So in James 1 James now gives us the cycle by which we fall into sin. It is the steps downward to death. Let me list them for you and describe them. First of all, we invite our desires to deceive us. I am going to pick it up in James 1:13. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.”
Let’s just stop there for a moment. God does not lure you into sin. God tests us and that’s why the same word temptation here is really translated test at the beginning of the letter. God tests us to bring out the best in us. Satan lures us into sin. He tempts us to bring out the worst, but you can’t blame God.
James is saying you can’t say, “Well, God, You’re the one who got me into this; You’re the one who lured me into sin.” James is saying, “You can’t do that.” But then he goes on to say, “Each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire,” in verse 14. Lured and tempted! I love the translation that says, “And he is carried away by his own desires.”
Now James here is using the word desire in the sense of lust. Now there are many righteous desires – the desire for companionship, the desire, of course, to eat, the desire for intimacy – all of those things. But what happens is Satan and of course our very own flesh, as James points out here, lures us away. Now the imagery that is used here is that of bait. When you are catching fish you use a certain kind of bait. When you are catching animals, you may use a snare. What he’s saying is that our desires unchecked by God, and if not restrained by God, lure us away. “They carry us to a different place,” James is saying, and they do, don’t they? And when you are being carried away by your desire, you are not being carried away to a place where you don’t want to go. You are being carried exactly to the place where you want to go. That’s why you put yourself in the place of temptation. It’s because you want to go in this direction, James would say. And then, of course, once you drift off, you can’t understand this very well unless you understand the meaning of the word trance where you are in such a state where you want (To quote the words of Woody Allen, “The heart wants what it wants.”) and you are in such a state that you will pursue that with all that you are, and you will be totally oblivious to God.
It’s not that you’ll hate God, as Bonhoeffer pointed out. A person in the midst of such a situation doesn’t hate God. He just forgets about God. God is blocked out. The consequences of your sin are blocked out. That is taken out of the mind and there you are, and only one thing matters, and that is the desire, which has now turned into an obsession.
So James says that the first step is we have our desires that deceive us. And then he goes on to a second step and he says secondly we act. You’ll notice verse 15 says, “Then desire, when it is conceived…” You see, desire and temptation are the ones that conspire together and there’s a live birth. And the live birth is sin. And so sin develops and the act is committed. And of course that act now leads the person to continue to watch what he’s watching. It leads his eyes, it leads his hands as to what he does, his feet as to where he goes, and all of that now is being governed as he seems to be helpless in the face of this tremendous temptation that has literally carried him away. And the next time he commits the very same sin he’s going to have to go into it deeper. There is more that is going to be needed to get the buzz that he got last time, and so the cycle will be repeated with ever-increasing consequences and great need, says James. And as it says in the book of Proverbs so accurately, “The man who does not have self-control is like a city that has been barraged and it has no walls. The city has been destroyed and there are no walls. Now all of the doors of the castle of his mind have been opened. They’ve been ripped off. The doors and even the hinges are taken off, and anything at any time comes in. So James says the first step is we are lured away by our desires. He says the second step is that we then sin.
There’s a third step that James gives and it says it leads to death. You’ll notice verse 15 says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Now the word death is used in the Bible in many different ways - sometimes physical death, the separation of the soul and body, and spiritual death, which is the separation of the soul from God. It’s used in that way, and then there’s also a deadness. Sometimes it is used in that way as well. The person becomes dead. There’s that verse that the Apostle Paul wrote in Timothy, which says, “He (or she) who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” There’s a certain numbness. There’s a certain deadness that comes now as the result of sin, and how tragic that is. And what does the person do in the midst of that? He now begins to see his sin a little bit more clearly, and all the condemnation that he has ever thought of is heaped upon him. And the devil that inspired him and cooperated with him in doing the deed now returns in an entirely different role as an accuser. “What kind of a Christian are you? You call yourself a Christian? Look at what you just did. You are scum. If you think that God still loves you, you’re totally wrong. You might as well continue down this path,” and “Who are you that you should say that you love God?” And on and on and on it goes.
So all of this condemnation brings death. And what does the person do? I’ll tell you what he does. He begins to make promises. He promises God, “Oh God, I promise you that I’ll never do this again.” If there’s anyone else who finds out about it he promises that this will be the last time, that he will indeed not do this again. He is so overwhelmed by his guilt in his deadness, but he will do it again. And he’ll do it again and again because he does not understand the depth of his need. He is thinking that by making a promise he’s going to be delivered, but you need something more than your own vow and your own promise when you are in that pit. And so the promise is made, but the problem is that it will be repeated maybe more secretly. But you can’t get out of that pit just by saying, “I’m going to promise. It’s going to be different from now on.”
And so that is the analysis as to what happens, especially when we struggle with that which is closest to us, namely our sexuality. Maybe I can put it this way. When I was out on the farm we had a gas can, and it was always said don’t ever light a match near a gas can because you know the fumes might actually light up and the gas can might explode. You and I have within us flammable material, and all that you really need is that match to be lit. All that you need is that outer stimuli and the traitor within is willing to open the gates to the enemy without, and pretty soon you are carried away almost into another world, all fully justified until you see sin as it is, and then you wonder what to do.
Well, where do we go from here? What is the answer? You know that in every message in this series I give you an assignment. Last time the assignment was to detox from the media for three consecutive days. Could I ask a question? How many of you did that? How many of you detoxed? You know, quite a few! I’ve gotten some very good testimonies from people who say how freeing it is to detox from the media.
Let me ask you another question? Did the world go on okay without you knowing about what was happening? Was there any problem with you detoxing from television, from movies? I think that everything carried on. I detoxed this week. I detoxed the previous week, and you know I’m beginning to like this detox idea to separate us from the media. That was last time.
What is the assignment this time? I’m going to give it to you in a moment, but your Bibles are open to the book of James. Would you now turn to James 4 where I believe that James now gives us an answer to what we have talked about? I wish we had time to read the beginning of the chapter but we’re going to jump in after a couple of verses. I’m in verse 6 actually. I should begin by saying He gives more grace. To you today who are struggling with sin and you have repeatedly made promises that you have broken and you think there is no help, please notice this. He gives more grace. There’s more grace in God’s heart than sin in your past. But look at this. He gives more grace and God is opposed to the proud.
Do you know that the Greek word really means that God is at war with the proud? Why is it that so many people still continue to struggle with sin? They go places where they shouldn’t go, and they swear it off and they do it again. God wants to humble them because God is at war with the proud. If you are a proud person God is not on your side until you are humble. But He does give grace to the humble.
Now, in the next verses that follow James gives ten commands, and what I’ve decided to do is to select three of those commands and we’re going to learn what they are and your assignment is going to be to implement these three commands. The first command that James gives us here is to submit to God. I’ll read the text and then we’ll go through them.
Beginning in verse 7 he says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep.” You’ve got some repenting to do. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
All right, are you ready for this week’s assignment? First of all, we must submit completely. “Submit therefore to God.” Now we normally don’t do this here at the Moody Church, but I want us to say together the words submit completely. So let’s say it together right now. Submit completely. Very good! Before you get up in the morning, taking as much time as you need, getting up earlier, and maybe you do this while you are still in bed, or maybe you do it as soon as you get out of bed, you submit to God as an act of worship. What you do is you say, “God, my life is Yours. All that I am is Yours. I give You my day with all of its busyness, with all of its interruptions and challenges, with all the emotions that I have. I now give my day to You with gratitude and praise, and I receive from Your hand the promise.” And then you quote one of God’s promises because what you need to do is to submit completely to God, especially the thing that concerns you the most, especially that habit that has you bound. Submit unconquered sin to God.
You know what the promise is here in the text? We just read it. Draw near to God and God will draw near to you. You know, God really is on your side. God really does love you. God really does want to fight for you. You draw near to Him; He’ll draw near to you. And what you are going to do is to experience God in a new way, as I’ll indicate in a moment.
So the first thing that we have to remember is to submit completely. The second is to resist continually. Let’s say those words together. Resist continually. Resist the devil and he will flee. Now he’ll be back. This was evident in the ministry of Jesus. You remember Jesus said, “Be gone, Satan,” and quoted the word of God, and it says in Luke that after Satan left Him he left Him for a time but then he returned. But what you are going to do is to resist Satan. You quote verses of Scripture. You affirm the word of God, and you say, “Satan has no authority over me,” which he doesn’t because he is totally defeated, but you say, “I will not go into Satan’s territory. I resist him in the name of Jesus.” And you resist.
I’ve told you this story before but it fits here so I’m going to tell it to you again. Many years ago I’ll never forget when Rebecca and I logged onto America On Line because that was a rather historic day – you know this thing called the Internet. And I remember now that you could type in something like going to a library and there were books. Do you remember the days when you used to have to plug in and then maybe wait five or ten minutes for a phone line and all those things? You thought that was the best of technology and since that time it has radically changed.
But now we were on America On Line. That night I had one of three (my first though) demonic dreams. It was horrific. You don’t want one. Three evil spirits in my dream, which I still remember to this day, had me up in a corner, and I felt totally and completely helpless. There’s nothing that you can do because they have control over you. You have no power to fight them. Can you imagine how happy I was when I woke up and found out that this was only a dream? Wow! What a terrible dream! You just wake up and you are shaking, and then you realize that thank God this was a dream.
This was, in my opinion, God’s special gracious gift to me because it was as clear as anything that that day that we hooked up to America On Line and that night I got the dream. God was saying, “You now have something in your home that Satan wants to use to destroy you.”
I have never forgotten that dream, and I have never forgotten the lesson that God wanted me to learn. Yes, I have seen some things at times on the Internet that perhaps I shouldn’t have, but If I am ever tempted to go into that other area or even to have some curiosity, and to type in certain words or to go to certain websites just to see what is there, I remember the dream. I have something in my home that Satan wants to use to destroy me. And my dear male friend (though I speak to the women too), do you have a computer? You have something in your home that Satan wants to use to destroy you. And I warn you. Don’t go there. Don’t worry about the curiosity thing as to what it looks like. Stay away because that demonic territory now makes it accessible. There are millions of men and women who are bound by pornography because of the Internet that now makes it accessible instantly in all different varieties and supposedly, of course, with anonymity. Don’t go there! Without compromise don’t go there! Yes, you may clap if you agree. (applause)
I have a friend, or at least I can call him an acquaintance, who was arrested for child pornography, and I remember he and I connected a couple of times a year, and we were there in my backyard, and we were talking. And he said something I would like to brand in the mind and heart of every person in America. This is what he said, talking about how he got into pornography and how it led him down the path. He said, “Once you go on that path it will take you places you never thought you’d ever go.” May I repeat that? “Once you begin on that path it will take you places that you thought you’d never go.” Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
So what do we do? We submit completely, we resist continually, and later on in another message I’ll give you some specific guidelines on what to do when the temptation actually comes, but we resist continually.
And then there is something else, and that is we confess thoroughly. Say the words. Confess thoroughly. He says, “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners. Purify your hearts, you double minded.” Now it’s not as if you can purify your own heart. But there is such a thing as the cleansing of the conscience that God does. Of course God does it, but what you and I need to do is to confess completely and thoroughly everything that God brings to our attention and then we receive not only His forgiveness. We have to insist on cleansing. You do know the difference, don’t you? “He is faithful and just to forgive us.” Many Christians are forgiven, but cleansing is the subjective word by which we not only are forgiven, but we feel forgiven, and our heart of condemnation is gone. And that’s what we need to do so that the condemnation and the guilt has been taken care of, and we give all that to God, and we receive the cleansing that is ours in Jesus.
So what do we do? Now here’s your assignment. Before you go to work in the morning either do this while you are still in bed (though it may be a means by which you wake up an hour later, so be careful) or when you get out of bed. You have an assignment and that is you submit completely, you resist continually, and you confess thoroughly.
Now can you look at me and can we say these three actions together without even looking at the bulletin, so that we know them, so that when you wake up in the morning you know what to do? Let’s say it together. We submit completely, resist continually, and confess thoroughly. That’s what you do.
In the evening I have another assignment for you, and that is you memorize Psalm 1. Psalm 1 has six verses. You know, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners… etc., etc.” You memorize that so that you know that Psalm. And don’t go to bed at night having just watched the news or having watched something that perhaps is even impure. Don’t do that. No, you have to end that, so that you go to bed with the peace of God, and then you wake up in peace as you give God your day.
Did you know that there was a study in England that indicated that preschoolers who saw violent videos before they went to bed didn’t sleep as well as those who didn’t? Boy, am I glad for such studies. I don’t know how much they cost but who would have ever guessed that that would be the result? I’m glad for these studies.
Folks, we’ve lost our minds. We’ve lost our minds. How can you sleep with all that on your conscience and in your sub-conscience?
As we conclude, first of all remember victory is a process. It’s not an event. You see, the average person says, “Boy, I want to just get alone with God and deal with this once and for all and just yield to Him and never be tempted again.” That probably will not happen. And for every person who has come out of alcoholism or drugs who stands up and says, “God just delivered me just like that and all my desires are gone,” there are nine who say, “I have struggled, and I’ve fallen, but I continue to struggle until finally I am free.” Why doesn’t God just zap us with victory? Oh, that’s a longer story, but there are things that we have to learn about the exceeding simpleness of sin that we could never learn otherwise. We’d say to ourselves, “Well, it’s no big deal. Look at how God just delivered me.” The temptation to go back there again would be powerful.
It was Mark Twain who said, “Of course I’m not addicted to smoking. I’ve quit a thousand times.” God says, “I want this person to struggle so that they prove their love for me.” God has an entirely bigger agenda than simply zapping us with victory. So the victory is there but usually it’s a process of discipline with all kinds of practices that we will talk about in future messages.
So victory is a process and not an event. Secondly, forgiveness is a gift. It’s not earned. No matter what pit you find yourself in today remember this. No matter how deep the pit, God is deeper still. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, if my sins were piled up my sins would reach heaven,” and I say that the merit of Jesus is above them and greater than those sins. (applause) Pile up your heap of sins. God’s grace is greater still. You say, “I have a mountain of sin.” God comes along and He covers the mountain with a bigger mountain. He gives grace, and all because of Jesus Christ and the power of the cross that we heard about today. The fact is that when He died, He died not just for nominal childish Little Goody Two-Shoe sins. No! He died for what Luther called damnable iniquities.
If you are here today and you are a great sinner, I’ll tell you what I have for you. I commend to you a great Savior who came to save us from our sins (applause) and to deliver us in our need.
As we conclude today we are going to be singing the song All to Jesus, I Surrender. Some of you know Christ as Savior and you need to sing that song, and all of us need to sing that song because we need to experience God’s deliverance and recognition that Jesus is our Lord. If you don’t know Christ as Savior you can sing that song and even be saved while you are singing it if you understand that He is the Savior who was crucified and rose again on behalf of your sin, and you receive Him.
Also, as we sing together there will be prayer partners up here, and if you have a need today, while we sing you can come and talk to them and pray with them because some of you need someone with whom to share your need, and they are here to help you, but first of all, let us pray.
Father, in the midst of human weakness, show your glory and show your power. We ask today, Lord, that in the struggles of life we might be reminded that your grace is sufficient and that you pour grace on the humble. May we humble ourselves in Your blessed presence even as we surrender to the lordship and the glory of Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.