Winning the Battle Over Lust
About the Guest
Does lust seem to be an insurmountable problem in your life? Biblical counselor Heath Lambert and businessman Jim Vander Spek have been there, and they've got good news. You can overcome lust and find freedom with God's help. Hear their stories and find out how each of them dealt with lust in their own lives.
You can overcome lust and find freedom with God’s help. Biblical counselor Heath Lambert and businessman Jim Vander Spek share their stories and how each of them dealt with lust in their own lives.
Bob: Contrary to what some people think, marriage is not a way to cure an issue with pornography. Heath Lambert says, “The cure for an issue with pornography is pursuing holiness in a relationship with Jesus.”
Heath: You’re young. You want to be married. You are not ready to win the affections of a woman if you are nurturing pornography. So, don’t be thinking about getting busy pursuing a girl. Be thinking about getting busy pursuing holiness, and Jesus, and deal with this problem so that it’s a past-tense conversation that you are having.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What can a young man do to keep his way pure—or a young woman for that matter? We’re going to talk about overcoming lust today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
You know, it occurs to me that the subject we’re going to be talking about today—we’ve got some number of guys who are tuned-in listening. Last night, this was an issue for them. Last night, they—after everybody had gone to bed—they were checking something out on the computer or watching something on the TV, and nobody else knows about it. We’re going to be talking about it today.
Dennis: And there is also a number of women, who are listening right now, who are married to a man who struggles with this—maybe single women dating a guy. They have no idea what a battle this is in his soul. And there is also another group, Bob, of moms and dads listening to us who are concerned for their sons and daughters about “How do you raise children to be innocent of evil in this culture?”—and especially around the subject of pornography.
Before I get started here, I just want to turn to our audience and just thank our Legacy Partners for making broadcasts like this possible. We have a number of folks who are monthly donors known as Legacy Partners to FamilyLife Today. You keep us coming strong on this station. I want you to know that we are grateful to God for your partnership.
I want to introduce a couple of gentlemen who have written some very penetrating books on this subject. Dr. Heath Lambert and Jim Vander Spek join us on the broadcast. Jim, Heath, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Heath: Thanks for having us.
Jim: Yes, thank you.
Dennis: Dr. Lambert is the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Did I get that right?
Heath: You got it right.
Dennis: It’s the largest biblical counseling agency in the world. You’re in over 18 countries—or actually have training centers in 18 countries. And you also part-time teach at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.
He is the Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling there. He has written a number of books, including the one we are going to talk about here called Finally Free. He and his wife Lauren have three children.
Jim Vander Spek lives in Southern California, near San Diego. He is a CPA, a surfer, and an author of the book Overcoming Lust. He and his wife Marsha have two children, and he has six grandchildren.
Bob: And I didn’t know about the surfing part. Are you still an active surfer?
Jim: I don’t brag about my surfing. [Laughter]
Dennis: Is that like the golf game? [Laughter]
Jim: I’ve been laid prone. I’m a body boarder now.
Dennis: Oh, really? [Laughter] Jim, you begin your book talking about this subject of lust and pornography with your own story. Take us back to being a businessman in your 50’s; right?—when this finally was confronted in your life.
Jim: I was not in a position where I felt that pornography or any of these things were a big problem, but they were a big problem. Lust was a big problem in my marriage. It was an issue that I could not overcome. It’s a progressive thing that’s bad. Fortunately, it wasn’t tragic; but it was causing real problems in our marriage.
Bob: Do you trace it all the way back to when you were a boy or when you were a teenager?
Jim: Yes, I trace it back to a lack of teaching—a lack of understanding. That’s the purpose of my book—is to increase understanding of lust itself. I think if anyone understands lust properly, they will learn that they can overcome it and that they don’t have to be in bondage to it because it’s not a mystery.
There is a lot of desire for people to live pure lives or free from certain symptoms of lust, but unless you go to the heart and remove lust—crucify the flesh—you do not become free from lust. That’s the goal—that’s the promise.
Bob: Describe for us: “What was your pattern?” and how it ultimately impacted your marriage.
Jim: The pattern was that I would lust and try—pretty much successfully—but I would try to eliminate behavior. I really did not think that lust was something that I could overcome. That was not a goal that was ever presented to me as an achievable goal—realistic goal. So, I didn’t even attempt that. When you misunderstand that issue, you become vulnerable. So, I was vulnerable and sinned in a way that was unacceptable.
Now, it came to a head—as I write in my book—with a group of people at our church. A close friend was caught up in pornography, and it actually ended his career. Together, with some other men there, we just started to understand, attack, and eliminate lust from our lives.
Now, the problem with lust is—once you become a slave to lust—once it becomes a habit, you have a very difficult challenge to eliminate it from your life. It takes time. I don’t—
Bob: You can’t flip a switch on this?
Jim: No, you can’t. It becomes enslavement.
Dennis: I want you to unpack the word, lust. And Heath, I’d like for you to take a pass at this as well because we’re tossing around a word that I think we assume we all know the definition of it and we’ve got a good grasp of what it means. I think that may be part of the problem. Heath, how would you define it?
Heath: Well, lust, in biblical categories, is actually a very neutral term.
It just means to desire or want something; but in the sinful iteration of the use of the term, lust is when I want something that God says I can’t have. So, I can lust for all kinds of things. I can lust for money. I can lust for position. I can lust for status. But when we talk about sexual lust, we’re talking about “I want, sexually, a person or persons that God says I can’t have.” That means I want, sexually, anybody other than my partner in marriage.
Jim: You know when I learned that I could resist lust—I could deny lust in my heart—I wanted to understand it and to describe it. So, I came up with a definition of lust that’s a little bit complex: “Sexual lust—the illicit sexual buzz is a willfully-allowed pleasurable gratification of wrongfully-directed sexual desire that takes place deep inside. It’s what Jesus called adultery in the heart.”
The first thing—“willfully-allowed”—lust is an action word.
Bob: It’s not something that just happens to you.
You open a door here.
Jim: You open a door. It’s willfully-allowed. It requires an action on your part to make it happen. The second thing is that it’s pleasurable. Unlike other kinds of sins, there is an innate pleasure in lust.
Dennis: You talk about this in your book, and you call it a sexual buzz.
Jim: Yes. Yes, I call it an illicit sexual buzz. This is really the gratification part. So, when a person lusts, it is not so much that he is desiring something, or thinking something. It is that he is acting on that desire or that thought in order to gratify it internally with a sexual buzz. All of us are confronted with thoughts, desires, and temptations. Everyone has to decide whether or not they will take it to the point where they receive this illicit sexual buzz.
Well, if you take this definition of lust and you begin to apply that—
—and you say, “Wow, I crossed the line,”—well, what I found is that I was crossing the line all the time. It was not this thing I did late at night. It was going on 24/7 in the thoughts, in the desires, in the things I was allowing my—the pleasurable buzz that I was allowing. So, I was a slave to sin; and Jesus came to set people free from enslavement.
Bob: Heath, let me ask you about—because you talk about—a little bit in your book—about your own experience in this area. Outline for us where this was an issue for you.
Heath: Yes, you know, it started for me when I was eight. A creepy uncle that I had gave me, and my brother, and my cousins a video cassette because he thought it’d be just a great idea to expose these kids to this idea. I watched it. I watched it with my brother, and I was captivated by it. It was thrilling!
I mean, I hate to admit that; but it was—as an eight year old—I looked at that, and I was hypnotized by this.
As hypnotized as I was, I knew—your guilty conscience accuses you. Mine accused me. I knew, as an eight year old, that I should not be watching this. In our guilt and in our shame, as eight year olds, we destroyed the thing. But it was this weird thing—because immediately after watching it, I felt guilty—and immediately, after destroying it, I felt regret because I wanted to see it. This uncle, that I had, had ready access to them. So, every couple of years, I would be able to see it.
Dennis: So, as a teenager, you still struggled with it growing up?
Heath: Yes, I did. In fact, it’s—the way I talk about it is I struggled a lot more with it than you would ever know by looking at my behavior because I didn’t have access to it. So, if you just watched me—from the time I was eight until the time I was, say eighteen, you wouldn’t see me looking at pornography very much—but I wanted it.
Oh, I wanted it. I would think about it. I mean, my heart was truly captivated by it.
I became a Christian when I was 14, but this was a thing that was in my heart that I just would—I just desired it. And just what happened was—as I grew in my relationship with Jesus Christ, I grew in my revulsion of this problem. I just knew I had to have help. I knew it, and I didn’t know how to do it. I’ve got me and my friends—everybody on our hall in college—it was a Christian college—you’re talking about a seminary—at a Christian college. We started to say, “We’re going to meet together, and we’re going to deal with this.”
And me and my roommates—the three of us—it turned into the whole hall meeting once a week and praying about this. Then, we’d split up into groups, and talk, and hold each other accountable; but we didn’t know what we were doing. I mean, we were 19 years old. Everybody is in the same spot as everybody else. So, nobody had any wisdom to combat the collective ignorance.
Dennis: So, all of them had been exposed to it?
Heath: Yes. Oh, yes. All of them had been exposed to it. All of them were struggling in some degree. We were fortunate—in the kindness of God—that our college wouldn’t let us have access to it; but everybody could get to it in some way or another. I just realized: “I’ve got to deal with this, and I’ve got to have some more help than just the guys who are saying: ‘Oh, we feel bad for you too. We’re in the same boat.’”
I was able to get in good accountability relationships and get good wisdom about how to deal with this problem at the level of the heart. I’m so thankful that by the time I was 22 and entering into a relationship—that would be the woman I married—entering into a relationship with her—the Lord had really changed my heart. But it was more than a decade of a struggle. It was a bigger struggle, again, than you would realize if you just watched me.
Bob: And a lot of guys who are 19/20/21/22 and struggling—the thought that they have in the back of their mind is: “When I find the girl I’m going to marry and I’m in a marriage relationship, and we’re then able to have sexual relations, that will be the thing that will flip the switch for me.”
Heath: It’s the biggest lie any boy ever told himself because—this is what we talked about lust a minute ago. Lust wants what God doesn’t give me. That’s what lust is. The logic of lust is: “I want the next thing. As soon as you give me this thing, now, I’m thinking about the next thing that I don’t have.” So, this is why guys—that give themselves over to pornography—and they think exactly what you’re saying: “I’ll get married. That’s my ticket—that’s my meal ticket to purity—is a wife.”
It will not work because you’ll get your wife and you’ll be thrilled with that for the honeymoon; but at some point, lust wants what it doesn’t have. You’ve got this woman now, and you’re going to start looking for what you don’t have sooner or later.
Dennis: So, at what point did you tell Lauren that you had had a problem.
You said when—it sounds like it was a bit of a past history that you dealt with your lust in your heart and came into marriage. Did you share with her that you had had a problem earlier?
Heath: Yes, she knew about that. We—I don’t remember the exact time that we talked about it, but I just had real conviction that I did not want to go into marriage with this as a problem. I wanted to try and deal with it. So, when I talked with my wife Lauren about it, I was glad to be able to communicate what had been a problem but was not an ongoing difficulty.
Bob: And I guess just about every boy who is getting married today needs to have some kind of conversation with his future bride about what has been or what still is an issue in his life; don’t you think?
Dennis: I think he should—and certainly, the future father-in-law needs to have a conversation with the young man as well. I say that because I think the hand-off in the wedding ceremony of—when the pastor says, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” is more than just a symbolic “Here’s my daughter’s hand. You now have the hand and her in marriage.”
You’re putting your blessing on the hand that receives your daughter.
Heath: That’s right.
Dennis: And I think one of the great needs today is for daddies to be daddies in this—talking to their sons, first of all, about these matters—Jim, like you talked about—and uncovering the reality of lust that every man deals with in some form or another. It may not be sexual lust—may not be what trips a man up—but every man has lust in his heart.
Bob: But if a dad sits down with a future son-in-law and the future son-in-law says: “Yes, I’ve wrestled with this. Here is what I’m doing. I’ve got some accountability.” I mean, that dad is going to walk away, going, “How do I know if this is safe or not?”
Dennis: Well, you’ve got to ask a few specific questions and assume nothing—
Heath: That’s right.
Dennis: —like “When was the last time?”
Heath: That’s right. The question has to be—there are two areas of responsibility here.
The first area of responsibility is with the boy who is pursuing the girl. And boy, I would say to young men, who are thinking about—I mean—“You are young. You want to be married. You are not ready to win the affections of a woman if you are nurturing pornography. So, don’t be thinking about getting busy pursuing a girl. Be thinking about getting busy pursuing holiness, and Jesus, and deal with this problem so that it is a past tense conversation that you are having.”
Dennis: I remember an interview we had early on, Heath, where we—Bob and I interviewed a woman—as I recall, who wrote a book. In the book, she said, “In the marriage bed, there is not room for three.”
Heath: That’s right.
Dennis: Now, that sounds kind of crass; but a man who brings pornography into his marriage—
Heath: Oh my goodness!—multiple—more than three—many, many woman. I mean, just harems of women that you just bring right into the marriage bed.
Bob: Jim, let me ask you about your story. Did you think, when you got married, that would be the cure you needed for your lust issue?
Jim: I did not really see the lust—the way that I was expressing it—as really evil. I created a set of rationales about what I was doing, and the way I was acting, and the way my heart was. Those rationales just stayed with me.
Bob: Your rationalizations were things like: “This isn’t hurting anybody else,” or “I’m not looking at it as much as other guys do,” or what?
Jim: There are many, many rationalizations that people give for lust, but one of them was that I was pretty much like everybody else. I had no evidence to prove that I wasn’t. I had put myself in a position—by continuing in lust /by keeping these rationales—that I became a slave to lust.
So, the one who gives himself over to pornography, like Heath was saying, or any other level of lust—and it doesn’t have to be pornography—it can be scaled way back from that. If they become a slave to lust, they have to rewire their brain / rewire their spiritual life.
They can be free from lust. They don’t need lust in their heart. It has no place in their heart and in their life. If they learn that, then, if they do lust, the Holy Spirit will convict them. They have an opportunity to please God.
Dennis: A key part of your life that ultimately resulted in you coming to grips with this and doing some business with God was Marsha became so frustrated with you and this subject that she gave you a book.
Jim: Yes, as a matter of fact, it was Fred Stoeker, who was on your program many years ago. He wrote this book, Every Man’s Battle. It was that book, really—there was one quote in that book—and he says that: “Sexual purity means that you are not receiving sexual gratification from anyone except your wife.”
I started realizing that this was something I could achieve; but I also realized, very soon, that it was not enough to deny lust. It’s not enough to fight sin. The only way that you please God is by walking in the Spirit. You have to put off some things, and you have to put on some things. When you remove this part of your life, you’ve created a void. You have to fill that void.
Jim: Now, this is where a Christian can deal with lust like no one else because they have the Holy Spirit. As they walk in the Spirit, they will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Bob: And Dennis, I think the theme we are hearing is that, if you are trying to address this issue in your life or in your marriage simply by exerting self-control or by trying to modify your behavior, you’re fighting with one arm tied behind your back. You’re going to fight it all your days. You really do have to get to the heart of this issue.
Dennis: Ultimately, you’ve got to agree with what God said about the subject.
Heath, you mentioned earlier that lust is wanting something that God said you can’t have. That really raises the issue: “Whose will are you going to obey?—your own will and your own desires?—which is at the root of lust—or are you going to fulfill God’s will, which is clearly spelled out in Scripture when He talks about a man being satisfied with his wife and not lusting after others?”
It was Jesus who said: “He who looks upon a woman with lust in his heart has committed adultery with her already.” So, there is the practical boundary we are talking about—is realizing that—and I like what you said, Jim, it’s finding pleasure with your bride—the woman God has given you—and letting that be your sole point of sexual pleasure and gratification in a marriage relationship.
Bob: Both of you men, I think, have provided some very practical help for all of us on this issue.
You’ve written books—Heath, you wrote a book called Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. Jim, you shared a lot about your own story in the book, Overcoming Lust. We’ve got copies of both books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Let me point our listeners to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, where they can get more information about both of these books.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER,”—information there about the book, Finally Free, by Heath Lambert, and the book, Overcoming Lust, by Jim Vander Spek. You can order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
We ought to say this is a real issue—a real challenge for a lot of married couples—the issue we’re are talking about today. And our commitment, here at FamilyLife Today, is try to provide practical, biblical help every day that will strengthen your marriage and your family relationships to point you back to the Scriptures / to point you to Jesus Christ as the solution to the issues that you’re facing.
Our goal, as a ministry, is to effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world, one home at a time. Our belief is that when your marriage is transformed by the power of God’s grace, that’s going to have an impact on you, on your children, on your extended family, your church family, your neighborhood, and ultimately your community and our world.
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We appreciate your partnership with us.
Today, if you can help with a donation, we’d like to send you a copy of a message that Dennis and Barbara Rainey gave at one of our I Still Do™ marriage events a few years ago—a message that talks about the importance of permanence in marriage. We’ll send you the CD as our way of saying, “Thank you for your financial support,” when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make an online donation.
Click the link at the top of the page that says, “I CARE,” and make your donation online. Or call 1-800- FL-TODAY. You can make your donation over the phone and request the CD from Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Or ask for the message, I Still Do, on CD when you write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. The zip code is 72223.
Of course, don’t forget that the I Still Do one-day marriage event for couples is coming to Chicago on Saturday, August 2nd—
again, on Saturday, August 23rd, in Portland—and then, Saturday, October 4th, in Washington, DC. There is information about how you can attend one of these upcoming events on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation about how men and women can win the fight for purity in their lives and in their marriages. We’ll talk tomorrow with Heath Lambert and Jim Vander Spek again. Hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. See you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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