For by these He has given to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
Blame it on lust.
James the half-brother of Jesus agreed with that. “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have, so you commit murder” (James 4:1-2).
Lust: uncontrolled desires of any kind. We can lust for food, power, money, sex, pleasures, friendship, and our neighbor’s lawn mower. A desire that was not necessarily bad in itself has now broken loose and sits in the driver’s seat calling the shots.
Lives are run and ruined by unrestrained passions.
A few years ago, Pope John Paul II created a minor furor in saying that lust has no place in marriage. All the johnny-one-notes in the world who refuse to think beyond the surface of anything jumped all over that. You would have thought he’d said that a man and woman must not have sexual appetites for each other.
Lust is a killer. It drove Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Saddam, Idi Amin, and a thousand others of their ilk. Lust drove Elvis, Errol Flynn, an uncle or two of mine, and probably someone you know.
It’s a cruel task-master.
A fellow gets a little taste of power over people and suddenly the appetite for control over the masses explodes within him.
She buys a few antiques to brighten up her home. Within days, the lust to own every beautiful chair and table she sees is all-consuming.
He drops in on a men’s club in the French Quarter. Until that day, he had lived without such bawdy entertainment in perfect contentment. Now, the desire for more sex in more exotic varieties eats away at his soul.
He takes a drink. She smokes a special cigarette. They pop a few pills. And they are gone. “Gotta have more.”
Lust is the culprit.
Corruption is the result.
The Apostle Peter looks around and sees beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord who have a history, as we say. These are people who came out of darkness to the Light of Christ. They have escaped the corruption that is in the world.
Recently, reading a first-person account of the evacuation of Paris just ahead of Hitler’s storm troopers, I was struck by descriptions of roads clogged with panicky Parisians, some on foot and others driving every conceivable kind of vehicle. Inside the city, some who were unable to get away, committed suicide.
We recall righteous Lot calling on his neighbors in Sodom and Gomorrah to “flee the wrath of God about to fall.” (Genesis 19 and II Peter 2:8)
We have a pretty good idea of what it means to “escape corruption.”
But in this case, what we are escaping seems pleasurable, fun, fulfilling.
The “corruption in the world by lust” is generally speaking not of mass starvation or killer wars or deadly weather. Rather, it’s fun stuff–sex without restraints, all the money you want for any and all purposes, big houses and fine cars and no limits on your life. Think Las Vegas, Hollywood, Miami Beach.
This kind of corruption is three things:
Everyone loves food. But at what point did it become an all-consuming passion for you? When did you quit eating to live and begin living to eat?
You are happily married. But that person working in the next cubicle is so pleasant to be around. He/she thinks a great deal of you. Soon, you begin fantasizing. You’re on your way to disaster.
Back to the little Epistle of James again. Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:15).
As soon play in a den of vipers as to toy with uncontrolled desires that well up inside you.
If it’s so attractive, we must have good reasons to run from it. We do.
The main two reasons are:
Lindsay Lohan went to jail this week. Apparently, this young starlet–a gifted actress from earliest childhood–has never learned to control the urges that rise up inside her. So far, so sad. We hope something gets through to her in time to rescue her from the fate clearly lying a short piece down the road she’s presently traveling.
It’s the same road Elvis took, as did John Belushi, Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, and untold numbers of others.
We want to be like Jesus.
The best reason we can think of to turn our backs on the corruption that is caused by lust is “…that you might become partakers of the divine nature…” (II Peter 1:4). The Lord God will make us something very special if given half a chance.
What the divine nature looks like when a human is clothed in it.
In II Peter chapter 1, we are given a list of seven traits of godly believers. This is a description of the divine nature–Christlikeness–which we have been called to partake of and invited to share.
The more we become like Jesus–that is, the more we share His nature–the more like this we will look:
This refers to high standards of personal behavior. This man will be a person of integrity; the woman will be someone you can trust at all times. They are, as we say, “good people.”
The kind of knowledge God prizes is not necessarily that we know science or math; this is God-knowledge. It’s what the Prophet Hosea meant when he said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6).
No more ignorance. Paul told the Athenians the times of ignorance in the past, God has “overlooked” (Acts 17:30). But no longer. These days, he preached, God is commanding “all men everywhere to repent.”
E. Y. Mullins was a professor and president of our SBC seminary in Louisville. He used to enjoy telling of the time in the late 1800s when he was preaching at an associational meeting far in the remote Kentucky hills. Before he was introduced to preach, they called on one of the local preachers to pray. The man stood, lifted his voice to heaven, and called out, “Lord, they tell me we got us one of them high-falutin’ eddicated preachers to preach to us tonight. Lord, I thank ye that I am iggorant. Lord, make me more iggorant. In fact, make me as iggorant as a mule.”
Dr. Mullins would tell that and add, “Friends, that was one prayer that was answered before the man prayed.”
God puts no prize on our ignorance.
The Christ-like individual knows when to speak and when to sit in silence and listen. He is in control of his desires and is thus able to function faithfully in trying circumstances.
This is a patience that keeps on plugging away. Recently, an author I was reading admitted that he is flighty and tends to go from project to project. “And yet,” he said, “I am very disciplined in the matter of writing books.” Asked what made the difference, he answered, “Deadlines.”
Whatever it takes.
If “fleshliness” is what we have when man’s natural mind rules, then “godliness” results from God ruling in our lives. A godly person is one who loves the Lord, meditates on His word (see Psalm 1), and seeks to obey Him in all his ways. When acting, his first consideration is always, “What would please my Lord?”
This is what we mean when we say someone is nice. They have a mercy about them that causes them to go the extra mile, to bear with a pest, to not strike back when attacked. Their graciousness is not rooted in how they are treated by others, but in the ruling presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
One translation calls this “generous love.” Such a person can be counted on to do the loving thing in all situations.
Now, do not miss this….
Corruption is the exact opposite of these seven Christlike qualities.
Not moral excellence, but immoral impurity. We sometimes say, “He has a dirty mind.” “She can be counted on for a smutty story.” “Given an opportunity to cheat, he grabs it.” “Even when a lie is not necessary, she will tell one anyway.”
Not knowledge, but ignorance. “I don’t know” is the mantra of the ignorant. Now, we are all ignorant about some things. No one knows it all. But there is basic knowledge in the universe which God expects us all to possess. I suggest a wonderful Bible study sometime would be to go through the New Testament and see all the places that begin with “I know” or “We know.” (A couple of good places to start are II Corinthians 5 and I John 3.)
Not self-control, but self-indulgence. We do not want to deny ourselves any pleasure. We have this sense of entitlement. “I deserve the best,” we hear people say. What a shame.
Not perseverance, but flightiness. Moving from church to church, marriage to marriage, job to job, project to project, we never stay with anything long enough to complete it.
Not godliness, but worldliness. If Godliness means to be like God, then worldliness is to adopt the standards of the world. That means religion is unimportant, pleasure is everything, and people are to be used for what we can get from them.
Not brotherly kindness, but a self-preoccupied looking out for number one. “Looking out for Number One” was actually the title of a best-seller a few years back. To our shame, a number of Christians bought the book and bought into the philosophy.
Not love but lovelessness. If biblically to love means to do the loving thing, then the absence of love would mean we would do unloving things. We would want the biggest serving for ourselves, take advantage of others to get what we want, lie to achieve it, and overlook the unfortunates who need us.
In this life, the process of becoming like Christ never ends. And then one day, the Lord appears and completes the transaction in one fell swoop. Here is the way the Apostle John puts it:
Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. (I John 3:2)
Put another way: The Lord is getting us ready down here so we will fit up there.