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Lusts of the Flesh

April 1, 2007

Between Two Worlds has been doing a series on the Lusts of the Flesh with David Powlison.  He’s discussing how our own desires betray us, and how the things we want are mostly worldly, sinful things.  In question 1, he addresses our misconception of the word “lusts”:

But the term “lust” has become almost useless to modern readers of the Bible. It is reduced to sexual desire. Take a poll of the people in your church, asking them the meaning of “lusts of the flesh.” Sex will appear on every list. Greed, pride, gluttonous craving, or mammon worship might be added in the answers of a few of the more thoughtful believers. But the subtleties and details are washed out, and a crucial biblical term for explaining human life languishes. In contrast, the New Testament writers use this term as a comprehensive category for the human dilemma! It will pay us to think carefully about its manifold meanings. We need to expand the meaning of a term that has been truncated and drained of significance. We need to learn to understand life though these lenses, and to use these categories skillfully.

One of the things that opened my eyes to the biblical meaning of the word “lusts” and the meaning it has of “desires” was taking German.  In German, the word “lustig” is an adjective that describes something desirable – saying that something is “lustig” is equivalent to saying “that’s great” in English.  After seeing this word, which was surely related to our word lust, I realized that the meaning of the word “lust” in English was much broader in the past – that it didn’t include just sexual desire, but the things that make us feel good – the little idols in our lives.  The “lusts of the flesh” are any desire that can be traced back to our fallen nature.  In other words, these lusts are all our desires for anything less than God – which is a sobering thought, really.  We can’t just read about the lusts of the flesh and write them off as something we are conquering because we have our sexual desire under control – rather, the lusts of the flesh are something that we fight our entire lives, whenever we encounter a choice between obeying God and obeying the flesh.

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