Author: Ron Graham
Mastery over Lust
—The M in James
This lesson is the third of five lessons from the letter written by James. Here in this third lesson, James shows us how to conquer our wrong desires.
1 Three evils of lust
James warns us about lusts on three counts...
(1) Lust can kill our souls. "Every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own LUST and enticed. Then when LUST has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is done, it brings forth death" (James 1:14-15).
(2) Lust destroys friendship among people. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is it not your lusts? You lust and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel" (James 4:1-2).
(3) Lust destroys friendship with God. "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss that you may spend it on your lusts. Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:3-4). Note the contrast here between the lust and the good wish or desire.
“Lust” in Greek
James uses two Greek words which are translated "lust"...
- heedonee, pleasure —in the sense of taking pleasure in things that are evil (James 4:1,3 Str 2237)
- epithumia, desire —in the sense of desiring things that God condemns (James 1:14,15; James 4:2 Str 1939).
2 Fighting against lust and overcoming
Gaining mastery over lusts is one of the "various trials" that Christians encounter. James begins his letter on a positive note: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result" (James 1:2-4).
James's view that happiness can come from enduring trials, and that the experience is good for us, may not be easy to accept, but it is true. There are many kinds of trials, however one of the most common is our struggle to master our lusts.
Where the fight begins
The fight against sin does not begin with sin itself, but rather with the WISH to sin, that is to say with LUST. (We have already seen this in James 1:14-15). If you can gain mastery over your lusts, then you shall have victory over sin.
How God helps us
One of the ways God helps us to fight lust and temptations, is by giving us "the wisdom from above". James encourages us to pray for this wisdom (James 1:5-8), and later describes this wisdom as "first pure" (James 3:13-18).
"The wisdom from above is first pure" because it starts working where our problem with sin begins — with our impure lust. Our lust is a 'wisdom' which is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" and therefore it gives birth to sin and begets all kinds of impure fruit. Therefore God's wisdom first teaches us to desire what is good and pure, and to take pleasure in the resultant "fruit of righteousness".
3 Helping each other to overcome lust
Next we see that God has also provided us with help from other people... wWe help each other. James encourages us to help each other fight and overcome lust.
(A) By turning one another away from the error of our ways. "My brethren, if one of you strays from the truth and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his ways, saves his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).
(B) By praying for one another. What James says in point (A) above, comes straight after his telling us about "the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man" (James 5: 14-18). He encourages those who are "sick" to seek restoration by asking for prayer.
I think that James here has in mind spiritual sickness, where "lust has conceived" and, likely as not, has given birth to sin. James assures us that "The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he had committed sins, they will be forgiven him" (James 5:15).
Because of this promise, James urges us: "Therefore confess your faults to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed" (James 5:16).
4 We can achieve mastery over our lusts:
We complete this lesson with the strong encouragement James gives us. "Putting aside all filthiness and wickedness of every kind, in gentleness receive the word implanted which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21). "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:7-8).