Prizing Holiness in a Lust-Saturated World

Our culture thrives on sexual desire. You can see it everywhere. Clothing brands, cologne brands, hair products, movies, TV shows, commercials, and much more allure people with sex to market their products. Perhaps this is at least one reason why people in America grow up believing that un-married sex and immodesty is okay. Thus, phrase, “I can look at the menu if I don’t order” is one that is accepted by many singles—and even married couples!

So again, it is safe to say that our culture reeks of an insatiable desire for sex. But is sexual desire really a bad thing?

Sexual Desire Is Not the Problem

Sexual desire is not the problem. Neither is sex. [1] Sex is a good thing. God created it that way. In the Garden of Eden, the glory of God was to expand and cover the earth, through his image bearers, by means of sex (Gen 9:7). Therefore, sex, with all its intense ecstasy, is a good gift that God has given mankind. Through it, the glory of God spreads and fills the earth; and through it, husbands and wives celebrate their solemn covenant and love for one another.[2]

However, like all things, sin corrupts sex. That is, because of sin, people now are tempted to experience sex in a way that is “out-of-bounds”—outside the covenantal realm and union of marriage, which God originally established in the Garden.[3] Engaging in any other sexual activity, whether it be with a close relative (Lev 18:17; 20:14; Deut 27:23), with a non-family member (Exod 22:16; Deut 22:23–29), bestiality (Exod 22:19; Lev 18:23, 20:15; Deut 27:21), homosexuality (Lev 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:24–27), or any other corrupt form of sex, the Bible calls sexual immorality (Matt 15:19; 1 Cor 5:1; 6:13, 18; 7:2; 10:8; Gal 5:19).

Although the Bible is bluntly clear that various acts of sexual immorality is sinful (Exod 20:14; Lev 18:6, 14; 20:10; Deut 22:30; Prov 6:32; Jer 7:9; Hos 2:2; 4:2, 13; Matt 5:27; Rom 2:22; Jas 2:11; Rev 2:22), it is also clear that the root problem of sexual immorality flows from a deeper problem—a desire in the heart (Matt 15:19; Mark 7:21; Jas 1:15). Therefore, since sexual immorality is never the problem (although, as already mentioned, it is a problem), we must find the root, which brings forth the sinful fruit of sexual immorality. 

The Nature of Lust

Joshua Harris, quoting John Piper, says “Lust is a sexual desire minus honor and holiness.”[4] That is, lust is a desire. But notice that Piper qualified this desire with “minus honor and holiness.” Therefore, the implication is that Piper (along with Harris and myself) sees that sexual desire in itself is not a bad thing. In fact, we just saw that God created sexual desire good! It is only bad when it lacks “honor and holiness”—that is, when the sexual desire is bent towards an end outside the covenantal union of marriage.

Again, lust is first and foremost a desire. It is an idolatrous craving (Col 3:5) for the forbidden, just as Harris explains,

Lust is an idolatrous and ultimately insatiable desire that rejects God’s rule and seeks satisfaction apart from Him. God says, “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). But lust tells us that what we don’t have is exactly what we need. Lust covets the forbidden. Lust grasps for, with our eyes, hearts, imaginations, or bodies, what God has said no to.[5]

Prizing Holiness in a Lust-Saturated Culture

Therefore, how do we fight this “insatiable desire?”[6] Answer: By prizing holiness.

And how do we prize holiness in a culture that says holiness isn’t “in?” How do we prize holiness when our culture views holiness as “prudish?” How do we prize holiness when lust is everywhere in American culture? You can’t even watch public television without having to avert your eyes because some commercial is sexually charged. The way we prize—or treasure, or esteem, or praise—holiness, is by trusting that what God has promised—namely purity and holiness is better. We honor God by prizing the satisfying nature of such holiness. Where do I get this?

Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29).[7]

Therefore, the reason God wants us to turn away from the desire of lust and prize holiness is because treasuring holiness is better for us. This is Christian hedonism 101—trusting a greater and more satisfying pleasure over a lesser and less satisfying pleasure. That is, we prize holiness because it will bring us more pleasure than the fleeting pleasures of sin (Heb 11:25). Lusts’ pleasures are only instantaneous. The pleasures of God, on the other hand, are eternal. That is why Jesus says, “it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”[8] The implication is that those who do fight temptation—and pursue holiness— with radical violence will not “be thrown into hell,” but will rise into heaven for eternity.

Prizing holiness in a lust-saturated culture means filtering what kinds of movies you watch, because holiness brings forth better and lasting pleasures. Prizing holiness in a lust-saturated culture means monitoring what kind of clothing you wear in public—both men and women. Prizing holiness in a lust-saturated world means the way we date or court others of the opposite sex keeps the covenantal marriage union the ultimate goal.[9] If you are prizing holiness in dating, then you won’t dabble with dating. Marriage and intimacy are matters of fierce importance.

And the call of God upon your life is a call to radical holiness (1 Thess 4:7). Paul says that if you are walking in holiness, then you are walking in obedience (1 Thess 4:8). And we know that those who obey the Lord’s commandments, do so because they love him (John 14:15)—choosing to stand with the people of God than cave to the fleeting pleasures of sin (Heb 11:15). So, why choose pleasures that flee after indulging for a fleeting moment? Take hold of the eternal pleasures that God promises for those who prize holiness in a lust-saturated culture!

[1] See the short, but radical, book, Joshua Harris, Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2003).

[2] In addition to this, in two messages that John Piper gave (Part 1 and Part 2) at the 2004 Desiring God National Conference entitled Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, in which he asserts that the ultimate goal of sex is to know Christ more fully. These messages, along with the book: John Piper and Justin Taylor, eds., Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), are worth the time. I do not know of any other sources that have been more formative in my understanding of sex inside the marriage covenant. Piper says, “I have two simple and weighty points to make. I think everything in this conference will be the explanation and application of these two points. The first is that sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully. And the second is that knowing God in Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality,” (John Piper, “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Part 1,” Desiring God, 24, September, 2004,

[3] Because God created man and woman to be in the covenantal union of marriage, I reject the claim that same-sex “marriage” is a legitimate marriage. Rather, I follow John Piper in referring to same-sex “marriages” as “so-called same-sex marriage,” because this form of “marriage” is foreign to the Bible.

[4] John Piper quoted in Harris, Sex Is Not the Problem, 38.

[5] Ibid., 39.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Emphasis mine.

[8] Emphasis mine.

[9] For a great resource on this very topic, see Joshua Harris, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2005).