The Lust of the Flesh, the Lust of the Eyes and the Boastful Pride of Life (1 John 2:16).
Pr. P. T. Thomas
True Christian life is very picturesquely presented in the Scriptures as a warfare- the life of a vigilant soldier on a combat field. Of course, Satan is our enemy. He already is a defeated foe. His doom is decreed and his prison house is prepared and ready (Matt.25:41) But God, in His infinite wisdom, has let him hold his sway on the world for a little while longer (1John 5:19) It is to try us out and give us a chance to fight against his vile tricks and get qualified for eternal rewards of glory. God wants His church to be responsible, wise and vigilant against the crafty designs of the evil one. (2 Cori 2:11) So the presence of the antagonist and the need to resist and overcome him is to be considered a God-ordained chance. It is a challenge and a chance to prove our single-hearted devotion and loyalty to our Lord in the midst of temptations.
In our spiritual warfare three battlefields pose the most subtle combat. They are: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. They emerge as the most complex arena, as they directly relate to our personal lives. The enemy becomes all the more formidable when he is an insider. The suggestions and proposals the insider makes would appear benevolent and good. Only with clear spiritual insight could we realize their true nature. Compliance with them would look advantageous in the present and even in the immediate future. But it will be disastrous to our eternal life. So, only in the light of eternity could we see the subtle snare in them.
The Lust of the Flesh
The Scriptural meaning of the word 'flesh' differs from what it means in common parlance. This calls for a Scriptural definition of the term. Rather than the physical body, it denotes the 'old sin-nature' lurking inside a believer. Sin is the inner condition of a person rather than the unwarranted actions he commits. In re-birth, this sinful nature is not totally eradicated. The sin-nature is subdued and a new spiritual nature comes in. So the two natures indwell a believer. His spirit which remained dead in sin is rejuvenated and an inner resurrection takes place. As the human spirit in him was numb and insensitive, it had no desire of its own. The soul in him played the dominant role The soul gives self-consciousness. It was the centre of his desires and decisions. As sin has corrupted the human soul, the desires originating in it naturally are sinful. As soul is the self-conscious element, its desires are self-centered and selfish. But as his spirit resurrects in re-birth, it starts brewing its own desires.
It is the spirit which makes one God-conscious. So the desires of the rejuvenated spirit are godly, divine and spiritual. While the desires of the soul are self-centered, the desires of the spirit are God-centered. The former seeks to please the self; the latter seeks to please God. This self-promoting, old sin-nature is the flesh, in the Scriptural sense. The flesh is prompted by the spirit of the world; the spirit is prompted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The flesh desires to conform to the present world; the spirit desires to conform to the world to come. The flesh prompts one to consider what the world would think of him. The spirit always prompts one to consider what God would think of him. No wonder “the desires of the flesh are against the spirit, and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other” (Galatians 5:17) This is the battle-ground of a believer.
The Lust of the Eyes
It is through the five senses that one gets in touch with the physical world. They are the five doors opening to the world outside – the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the skin. The soul gets its resources through these channels. The god of the world exhibits his wares before the soul in the most captivating way possible. Among these five portals, it is the eyes that the evil one makes use of the most. Presenting his trinkets, he would say: “Look! this one is right before your very eyes. What foolishness it is to let the ready boon slip by and gaze into the uncertain future hoping that something better might turn up. ’A bird in hand is better than two in the bush’- so goes the saying. Just see the beauty and the charm; the excitement and the enjoyment that have come handy and ready. This is the time. Health and youthfulness will not last long. You can’t stop the passage of time; but you can use it for your joy, while you may. Such golden chances won’t come one’s way very often. Luck has come your way now. Fall to and enjoy the elixir of life to the dregs!” –Thus the world would urge you with enticing offers to conform to its ways.
Almost all temptations enter in through the eyes. Eve saw that the fruit was a ‘delight to the eyes’ and fell (Genesis.3:6). Lot saw that the Jordan Valley was well-watered, chose it for himself and reached Sodom for his ruin.(Genesis 13:10-13) Achan” saw a beautiful cloak from Shinar… coveted them and took them” bringing calamity on himself and his whole family (Joshua 7:20-26). David saw Bathsheba bathing and it led him to commit adultery and murder. It brought lasting curse on his whole family (2 Samuel 11:2,15;12:10) In all these cases, it was a look that ultimately resulted in sin, curse and catastrophe. We should be very wary of our looks.
Job has given a very practical example for all of us to emulate: “ I have made covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin” (31:1) Apostle Paul has given us an exhortation in this regard: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13-NIV) Every part of our body should be consecrated to acts of righteousness pleasing to God. Rather, as Job puts it, we should make a covenant with every part of our body, bequeathing it to God and righteousness. By no means should we break the covenant and dishonor our body and anger God.
Jesus has warned us against the lust of the eyes in His Sermon on the Mount:” But I tell you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt.5:28). According to the law of Moses, it was enough that one restrained from committing any act of sin. But in the New Testament, the lustful look, the desire in itself is sin. Sin is an attitude of the inner self, not limited to actions only. We should discipline our eyes in such a way that it does not capture images which are apt to tickle the sinful passions inside.
Job’s words should be taken in its true sense: ‘…how then could I gaze at a virgin?’ It does not mean that Job closed his eyes when a virgin turned up. During Jesus’ days, there were the ‘bruised Pharisees’, otherwise called the ‘bleeding Pharisees’. They used to cover their face when they came out, for fear that they might chance to see a woman As they walked blind-folded, they used to stumble and fall, bruising their body or causing bleeding wounds. It was sheer hypocrisy. This is not what Job did or Jesus suggested. It is the lustful look, the second look, the intentional look, the long craving look, the desireful look that is prohibited.
Here we should be wary of the way of the world. The world looks for ways to boost one’s personal charm so that those who see them should take a second, intentional look. Worldly people look for ways to attract others to them and instigate a craving for them. People dress up to exhibit their supple body-shape and comeliness. Dress is designed not so much to cover up as much to expose. People are eager to go to any extent to be noticed. Expensive cosmetic surgeries, even those causing health hazards, are commonly resorted to in order to improve one’s body figure. Beauty parlours with modern techniques to change one’s complexion and shape are flourishing even in villages. Artificial decorations, expensive ornaments and gaudy dress are the order of the day. It is a pity that even those who claim to be born again believers resort to such ungodly ways and promote the lust of the eyes in the community. Ornaments and artificial paraphernalia are no longer a taboo even to believers. It is a tragic degeneration of the believing community. The standard of holiness should not be diluted. God’s standards do not change with changing times. A child of God who has entered into a covenant with every organ of his body can in no way stoop to such worldliness. Remember, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We should not grieve the Holy Spirit by decking up His holy temple as a show-piece offered to the sinful world to glut the lust of their sinful eyes. It is a pity that even we contribute our share to advance the lust of the eyes in our society.
In order to ward off foul body-smell, one may use a scent or a body- spray. One may use a cream to soothe his dry skin. One may do up his/her hair decently enough to be comely in the community. Such things fall in the category of needs. They do not come up from desires. We are to stand as models before the world. We, like salt, should influence the community we live in; not get carried away by the sinful society around us.
The Boastful Pride of Life
Man has an innate tendency to show-off. It is the nature of the common man. But a born again child of God is to be different. Every believer would willingly and eagerly join Paul saying :” May I never boast except in the cross of Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal.6:14).
But alas ! the majority of the community of believers boast in their gifts rather than in the Giver. Many renowned preachers declare what is called ‘prosperity theology’. They present God as the Greatest’ millionaire–maker’. Spiritual ministries are presented as means to gain material blessings. Those who prosper materially are branded as’ the favourites of God’- the blessed ones. So even in the congregation of the church, they boast about their possessions to claim that they are very ‘special souls to God’.
As material prosperity is taken as the mark of God’s blessings, worldliness has infected the community of believers. They build’ six- bed- roomed castles’ even though there is only one child in the family. High end limousines are purchased to perch in the porch, though they travel hardly a hundred kilometers a week along the busy, narrow road and lanes of the small town they live in. Social functions like wedding anniversaries, birthdays and marriages are grand festivities of extravagance. Even funerals are pompous events flaunting colorful flex banners and motorcades and music troupes. Even a minute granted to say a word of condolence is misused to boast of one’s own silly titles and petty offices. The pride of life seems to have intoxicated our community to such an extent that some seem to have lost sight of even propriety on a given occasion.
The extent of our failure on this battle field confronting the boastful pride of life is proved in that many of our leaders have purchased fake degree diplomas to show off their ‘scholarship’. Some who have hardly passed the secondary school level shamelessly put ‘Dr’ before their names on fliers, folders, banners, letter-heads, name boards and what not. I fear, secular law enforcement agencies may intervene to crack the whip and book the fake ‘doctors’ O ! Most of the shameful casualties in the battle-field of the boastful pride of life are the leaders of the church! May I never boast in anything else than the rugged cross of Christ my Lord, where He paid the full ransom to purchase me from eternal damnation in hell! Anything else in the whole universe is too small for a child of God to boast of.