Conquering Lust by Focusing on Pride

Peter Kreeft in his book Back to Virtue writes:

The most important thing to know about lust is how to avoid it. Since it is the most popular sin, both the most attractive and the most widespread, any workable advice on overcoming it would seem pretty rare and valuable. “Try a little harder” is about as effective as an ice cube in a furnace. What else is there?

First, remember a principle of God’s grace which we saw in exploring pride: God often withholds from us the grace to avoid a lesser sin because we are in danger of a greater sin. To avoid pride, he sometimes lets us fall into lust, since lust is usually obvious, undisguised, and temporary, while pride is not. So to conquer lust, we should focus less on lust and more on pride. Only when we are truly humble does God give us the grace to conquer lust (168).

Kreeft could not be more right. I wonder if part of the reason it seems that so many clergy struggle with lust is that they of all people are in the most danger of falling into spiritual pride and self-satisfaction. We are practically God’s fellow workers, after all. We are theologians, given the task of imparting wisdom to God’s people. I remember someone telling me once about a seminary prof or chaplain (not of our communion) who grew bored with hearing confessions of students who were struggling with lust, because it was so common. This was precisely his conclusion: that because of their “profession” as it were, because they were especially prone to thinking highly of themselves on account of their spiritual learning, God allowed them to be afflicted with a “lesser” sin in order to keep them humble. Clergy, of course, are not supposed to struggle with such things. They are supposed to be above such moral inadequacies, so it is thought.

I like Kreeft’s advice: if we want to conquer lust (which will not be completely the case until the Resurrection), focus less on lust and more on pride. Remember your place, O Theologians: it is still under God. We are not his equals, much less above him. “Humble yourselves, under the mighty hand of God,” which is to say, realize that you are never without need of God’s help. You are never “just fine” on your own. It is never safe to think that you are oblivious or immune to such attacks from the devil. If anything you are never in more danger of falling into lust than when you begin to think that you are doing “just fine.”

Of course, it would be just as foolish and dangerous for us to use Kreeft’s good advice as an excuse to indulge in what we know is born of lust and contrary to God’s will. “If God is allowing me to fall into this sin to keep me from falling into a more dangerous one, then I suppose I shouldn’t argue with him on the matter.” I doubt Kreeft would agree with this attitude. Certainly we ought to take every precaution against lust, just as we ought to do so with any other vice. “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” says the Apostle Paul.

Let us also never forget that we live under God’s grace, that by faith we stand forgiven and just in his sight, though we fall short in mortifying the sinful flesh. Satan certainly does not want us to delight in God, in His Word, in prayer, in what is good. He wants us to fail so that we will be riddled with guilt, wallowing in despair of God’s mercy. It is only by God’s grace and help that we will be able to conquer this and every vice.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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4 Responses to Conquering Lust by Focusing on Pride

  1. Weedon says:

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The problem is masturbation. The problem is not porn, per se. Simply let us learn to never allow this manner of release, and we’ll be set free from such much. God provided marital intercourse for the married; and He provides nocturnal emissions for the unmarried (or those whose spouses can not longer have intercourse). The beginning of chastity for most males is to UNlearn the lesson society taught them: “It’s okay; everyone does it.” Um, no. Christ frees us from being slaves to our bodies and their appetites. In Him and only in Him we can triumph over the old “if it itches, scratch it.” And what peace and joy lie therein! What freedom! As our first Sunday in Advent Epistle taught us:
    “let us make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.”

    A great time to break the unfortunate vice is during Advent itself – especially dedicated to a time of fasting and prayer. WE can’t do it, but God can, for – as the Apostle taught us – “I can do all things through Him that strengtheneth me.”

  2. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Rev. Weedon, I think you are spot on. In general we are not taught the virtues of self-restraint anymore, but told instead to follow our urges, all of which are completely normal and natural. Of course sexual drive is completely God-pleasing and natural, but as you said, He has given its proper outlet for expression. It is not only the secularists who encourage this, but church folk as well. I recall as a seminary student hearing a Concordia prof. (not from FW) who was visiting telling some students that there was nothing wrong with masturbation, that they should not feel conflicted or guilty about it, that the guilt was only residual from a time when people were more repressed sexually. Real helpful, guy! Talk about throwing fuel on an already raging fire!

    One would think that the secularist-psychologists would be against it, since it tends to lower self-esteem. I was glad to see that the “Ten Commandments and Guide for Self-Examination” put out by CPH or COW or whatever didn’t mince any words about it under the 6th commandment.

  3. Rev. Shane R. Cota says:

    This is an excellent and insightful post, and Fr. Weedon’s comments couldn’t contain more wisdom. Thanks to both of you.

  4. Weedon says:

    I wish there were a forum where these matters could be discussed openly and honestly for the sake of the men of the Church. They really do struggle with this, though most are too embarrassed to talk about it. I can see it now: “Confessional Conference on Masturbation.” I think Beisel should host! 🙂

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