Pastor Piper is fond of saying in this book and others of his that we never sin out of a sense of duty, but rather because we think, in the moment, that sinning holds some hope of a better outcome for us than not sinning. And so it is with the sin of lust. In fact, at least for us fellas, lust is a good barometer of our outlook on God, self, and the world. Whether it is having an affair, looking at stuff on the Internet, ogling a woman, or playing out a sexual fantasy in our mind, consider some of the things we tell ourselves to justify or excuse our behavior:
"I can do whatever I want." Some of us may not consider lust bad, because we don't believe there is such a thing as sin, because we don't believe there is such a thing as God, or at least a God who gets to say what is in-bounds and what is out-of-bounds. But even if we do believe in God and sin, we can still think that our own body and mind is our own to do with however we choose. And that is a form of unbelief and rebellion.
"I'm down on God." We can go through seasons where it seems God has let us down. Why, then, should we bother thinking His ways are for our best? If He's left us in the dark, why not make the best of the darkness and go take care of ourselves in His absence? This is why it is so important to help ourselves and each other to weather the inevitable seasons of spiritual dryness and barrenness, so that we keep on being faithful rather than folding it in and fending for ourselves as soon as it seems things aren't going our way.
"But it feels so good it can't be bad." Ah, this is why lust is such a tough sin for men. For we are made, by God, to be sexual creatures. So, physically, sexual behavior can feel really, really good. But good feelings alone can't possibly be our guide as to whether something is right or wrong to do, whether in a moral sense or even in a purely selfish sense. This was the first lie ever told to man, by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, that God doesn't have our best interests in mind and we are better off being free agents seeking our own pleasures. For a God who is glorified in giving and being the best, this is highly insulting.
"I'm starving for the affirmation." Just as sexual behavior can feel really, really good physically, it can also feel really good emotionally. When we are not completely satisfied in and by God, we can go looking for affirmation in all sorts of places. When we don't anchor ourselves in the truth that we are made, painstakingly and lovingly and delightfully, by God, we can look for other ways to be "the man." For us guys, lust is a tempting but ultimately unsatisfactory source for such strokes.
"The pleasure trumps the consequences." The seduction of lust can cause us to inflate the benefits and discount the costs. But, like a drug, lust gives us a temporary high and then leaves us wanting. And, like a drug, it imposes a penalty, in the form of a deteriorated ability to enjoy intimacy and appreciate healthy physical pleasure, to say nothing of STDs and divorce and heartbreak.
"Everyone's doing it." Yes, and that's bad for society, not good for me.
"Well, at least I'm not . . . " To be sure, there are gradients of lust. Yet somehow we've convinced ourselves that something as important as sexual purity is graded on a curve. Of course, the really important things in life are not governed in this way. And, speaking of curves, lust is a steep slope. We do best not going down that path.
"I can't help myself." Lust can become a form of habit or addiction, something we find so engrained that we can't see ourselves being able to abstain. Sin in general is like an imprisonment from which we cannot free ourselves. Only God can unshackle us, of sin, the guilt of sin, and the conscience to sin. This applies even and especially to the sin of lust.
I've rambled through this topic pretty messily, but hopefully you see just how intensely it intersects with the core matters of faith, self, and God. Because we are vulnerable, because of how lust-soaked our society is, because of how great God is and how great are His promises and provision, and because of how needy and broken we are, let's be careful out there. And, let us not just be reactive against temptations to lust, but actively anchor ourselves in the all-sufficient provision and pleasure that can be found in relationship with God and in the healthy relationships He has given us through which we can experience affirmation, physical pleasure, and human intimacy.