Lust of the Flesh
What is the meaning of the Lust of the Flesh?
The lust of the flesh refers to all disorderly…
Sexual (pornography, masturbation, deviant sexual behaviour, premarital sex, extramarital sex, etc.),
Sensual (craving for food, alcohol, excess sleep, basically anything that satisfies any or all of the cravings of any or all of our five senses)…desires & appetites experienced by man.
These appetites & desires could arise within us as a result of..
- Some attraction (viz. attraction to a person of the opposite sex, or to good food, etc.),
- An inclination (homosexual inclinations, an inclination to launch into a fit of rage when one feels transgressed, an inclination to indulge in an extra-marital affair, etc.), or
- A value system (“God said nothing that goes into my body can make me unclean, so I can eat what I want“)
All appetites & desires aren’t necessarily evil in and of themselves. It is the lack of control over these, which leads to man giving in to these appetites & desires that constitute sin. The mere welling up of these desires in one’s mind does not constitute sin.
- Being attracted to a person of the opposite sex isn’t sinful.
- Indulging in a sexual fantasy involving this person is a sin.
- Entering into a sexual relationship outside marriage with this person is a sin.
- Practicing deviant sexual behavior is a sin
- The desire for food is not sinful.
- But if it leads us to gluttony or unhealthy eating habits, we can say that we have given in to the lust of the flesh.
It is only when one chooses to act on a thought or desire with an action that one commits a sin. In Galatians 5:16, Paul calls these the ‘works’ of the flesh. Work refers to something that is done/ performed. However, dwelling on a thought that is not from God also constitutes lust of the flesh. For example: fantasizing.
Lust of the Eyes
The lust of the eyes refers to unbridled materialistic pursuits; it refers to the pursuit of material things as a means to finding satisfaction in life. Such a life does not only refer to wanting the wrong things but could also be…
- Wanting the right thing but for the wrong reasons, (viz. money, but not to provide for those who are needy, but as a means of establishing one’s status in society)
- Wanting the right thing in the wrong amount, (viz. not just a car for the family, but a fleet of cars)
When one wants to own every material thing that one can ‘see’, when one spends all of one’s time, energy & attention on the pursuit of attaining these material things, it can be termed as a life where one has given in to the lust of the eyes.
Now, to be clear, God made all things for us to enjoy. Enjoying the things God gives us is not a sin. But we often find it difficult to draw a line between our wants and our needs and justify that a pursuit of a particular possession does not interfere with our relationship with God. A distinction, however, should be made of what constitutes a legitimate, required pursuit of material wealth & what constitutes a materialistic life.
Our lives can be termed as being ‘materialistic’, (i.e. controlled by the lust of the eyes) when…
- The pursuit of these takes us away from the things of heaven; when we begin to focus more on attaining earthly riches, as compared to preparing for heaven. These pursuits then take us away from the call of the Gospel in Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Further, Philippians 3:20 states
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”.
- When these pursuits divert our resources (time, energy, talent, money) away from being used in the love & service of God, His people & the work of His kingdom; when these are used to satisfy my material (sometimes even sensual/ sexual) needs. These pursuits then take us away from the call of the Gospel in Matthew 6:25-34
- When the ownership of these begins to become the yardstick by which we determine the quality of our lives & the quantum of our success. Here we live contrary to the word of God in Luke 12:15
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
- When we begin to believe that these are our possessions; when we forget that we are merely stewards & that everything we have is His & is to be used for the work of His kingdom. This attitude is in opposition to the Word of God in Psalm 24:1
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”
When we desire or possess for reasons & purposes other than what God intended these for, then we can say that we have given in to the ‘lust of the eyes’. The more we live to attain & enjoy material pleasures, the more our heart is drawn away from God, and the more the love of the world prevails, the more the love of God decays.
Now, it is important to put things in perspective, here. Being successful in one’s career or aiming for career success is not evil. In fact, attaining wealth & achieving career success might well be by-products of living a life as per the commandments of our Catholic faith.
For example, if one does his/her job diligently & in a disciplined manner, spends time on developing oneself, spends time acquiring the right personal/interpersonal skills, takes care of one’s body, mind & spirit, is willing to not be attached to job/ organization/ industry/ business in a way that will prevent this person from making the most of newer job/ career opportunities/ business opportunities, one is bound to do well in one’s career. Now these are all elements of our Christian living.
But, these pursuits turn sinful if they fulfil any or all of the criteria mentioned above. And the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-20) shows how dangerous a life spent in the pursuit of material possessions can be.
The things of the world may be desired and possessed for the use and purpose which God intended – that they be used for His glory.
Pride of Life
Some of the most esteemed theologians of the Catholic Church like St. Thomas & St. Gregory list the Pride of Life as the ‘queen of all sins‘. The pride of life refers to…
- A way of life that doesn’t acknowledge that God is the reason for me being who I am & the reason that I have what I have; a lifestyle that doesn’t acknowledge God as the source of everything, including my good deeds. This is in opposition to 2 Corinthians 3:5
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God”.
- What I want to be known as & known for by others; worldly titles (honor) & standards (of success, fame) that I derive my sense of identity & self-worth from. This is precisely what Christ speaks of in Matthew 23: 5 – 10
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah”. Here Christ is admonishing his disciples not to follow the ways of the Pharisees, who sought honor & recognition from the world.
- A way of life that doesn’t feel the need to bow down to the will & worship of God.
- A way of life that rejects all forms of human authority & subjection to them. This is in opposition to Titus 3:1
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good”.
It, is in many ways, a lifestyle lived in contempt of God & of those who have been commissioned to carry out God’s work here on earth (Church leaders, Community leaders, Government leaders, etc.).
Manifestations of the Pride of Life
- Boasting & love of self
- Self-centeredness & disregard for others; even sometimes, contempt for others
- Headstrongness & self-will that only accepts one’s views & ways as the best
- Egoistic behavior
- Disdain/ rejection for God’s precepts as enumerated by the Holy Catholic Church
Why do we generally indulge in this sin?
- Because we judge the worth of human beings & success by worldly standards
- Because of a lack of sense of self-worth & dignity (we counteract this by trying to gain the approval & adulation of the world)
- Because we have a mistaken belief that I myself (with my abilities & talents) am enough to live out the life that I need to live (one then feels no need to accept the Word of God, especially the teachings of the Church, because ‘I don’t need them‘ & ‘who are they, to teach me how I ought to live my life?‘)
It’s called the ‘queen of all sins‘ for many reasons. For one, it was the first sin of mankind.
When Satan tempted Adam & Eve in the garden, the benefit that he mentioned they would receive for disobeying God was that ‘your eyes will be opened & you will be like God, knowing good & evil‘. He preyed upon that basic human need to find worth, dignity & honour. The pride of life led to the original sin.
The Book of Proverbs in the Bible has this to say about the sin of Pride:
“when pride comes, then comes shame”
(Proverbs. 11:2), and
“by pride comes nothing but strife”
(Proverbs. 13:10), and warns us that
“pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”
It is important to state here that what this means is not that we are to cultivate a low opinion of ourselves. It means that we are not to think of ourselves as more than we actually are.
The consequences of giving in to the lusts of the flesh are grave. As the Word of God states in Romans 8:12-13:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.
Also in Galatians 5:21:
Those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
These desires, which are manifest in a life according to the flesh, will not leave us automatically. But we do not have to live in constant fear of these temptations. However, in the struggle between good and evil, man can prove himself stronger, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, who, operating within man’s spirit, causes him to bear good fruit.
The Word of God promises us that victory over these lusts will be ours.
Romans 8:19-21 –
“Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
Romans 8:11 –
We will have victory over sin and death. The resurrection of Christ is a sign and announcement of this: “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Romans 8: 9–10 –
“But you are not in the flesh. You are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you”.
We can overcome the flesh. Christ has shown us the way. It requires us to turn towards the Father. It also necessitates concrete action on our part: we need to yield to the Spirit & choose the things of the Spirit.
But importantly, we need to remember a significant step in overcoming the 3 lusts rests in us resisting sin.
Our willingness! Our choice!
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you
(James 4: 7-10)
Often our belief that we can’t manage without giving in to a particular sin enslaves us. In times of temptation we don’t attempt to resist Satan because we believe that we are bound to fall. But just as we have a choice to sin, we also have a choice not to sin.