(This post originally appeared on my blog at Borrowed Light)
Warning! If I am wrong on what I say in this particular post the consequences could be deadly. So, as I hope you always do, read with discernment and test everything by Scripture.
“Flee sexual immorality...” 1 Corinthians 6:18
It has been said, and rightly so, that sexual immorality (lust, etc.) is the only sin that we are told to run away from. Everything else we are typically told to stand firm and fight—but sexual sin can become so ensnaring that we are told to run away from it. I agree.
However, I do believe there is a huge difference between law running and gospel running. One runs out of an overflow of love and grace the other runs out of fear, guilt, and shame.
In Romans 7 Paul gives us an interesting picture of what happens when the law meets sin. Verse 7-8 could just as easily have said, “For I would not have known what it is to lust if the law had not said, ‘You shall not lust.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of lust.”
Being told not to lust is almost like telling yourself not to think about penguins. Try it. Don’t think about penguins for the next 5 minutes. What happens with law running is that your focus is turned away from Christ and the power of His gospel. You start focusing on what you are NOT supposed to do and so “the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me”. Why is that? The law cannot conquer your heart of lust.
Gospel running is radically different. Gospel running is what happens when you are so blown away by what Christ has done that your affections actually begin to change. You flee sexual immorality much the same way I run away gagging from a poopy diaper.
Notice the motivator that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6. “You were bought with a price. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” I don’t think that is only Paul saying—“how dare you defile the temple”. Although, that is implied. I think Paul is saying even more. He is reminding them that Christ has purchased them and has freed them. He has conquered the power of sin and freed them from the law’s condemnation. They have the Holy Spirit living inside them. They have power to run from this sin.
Law running is simply running away from something. Gospel running is running away because of Someone and to Someone. One will kill you because it lacks power and only ends in fear, shame, guilt and defeat. The other will lead to life—because the gospel actually has power.
So if you find yourself struggling with lust it’s not a methodology problem—it’s a heart problem. You aren’t fundamentally struggling with lust because you’ve let down your guard and aren’t following your 10 steps to stay away from porn. You are fundamentally struggling with lust because your affections for Jesus are low. If you want to battle lust then do things to stir your affections. Don’t focus on trying to not lust. Focus on Christ—preach the gospel to yourself until your affections start to change and the emptiness of lust is exposed.
But you can also get arrogant with this and stop fighting sin. If you are watching sexually charged movies, magazines, etc. and exposing yourself to temptation, then your problem is that your being stupid. If you really are practicing gospel running then you won’t be having a deep desire for smut. If you’re engaging in these things its not gospel freedom—it’s false freedom. You’ve just stopped fighting sin and made it sound spiritual.
My prayer is that we flee sexual immorality not to the glory of the law and self-effort but to the glory of Jesus who redeems hearts and transforms affections.