“She came to the river and took off her clothes and stood naked, her brown body just caught by the sun. I suddenly went mad. There came to me that dryness in the back of my throat; that feeling…of wild unreasonableness which is called passion. I darted with all the force of swimming I had to where she was, and then nearly fainted, for she was old and hideous and her feet were deformed and turned inwards and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper. You have never seen a leper, I suppose; until you have seen one, you do not know the worst that human ugliness can be. This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask, and the next thing I knew was that I was swimming along in my old way in the middle of the stream – yet trembling…. It was the kind of lesson I needed. When I think of lust now I think of this lecherous woman. Oh, if only I could paint, I’d make a wonderful picture of a passionate boy running after that and call it: ‘The lusts of the flesh.’” [Ian Hunter, Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life, 40-41]
Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990), a British journalist, author, media personality, satirist, and late-in-life convert to Christ, wrote that in a letter to his father when, a journalist in India, he went down to the river to take his customary evening swim.
Rev. Dr. Robert S. Rayburn—Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington—comments . . .
That old, withered, disgusting woman became an image of his own heart that had lusted after her before he knew who she was and what she was. The object of his lust showed the nature of it: ugly, sick, disgusting . . . he spoke of the old woman as an ironic symbol of lust and its consequence; of lust as a desire that is itself leprous, ugly, deformed, repellent, and inhuman. Lust as a desire that must be deeply offensive to God as the willful repudiation of all of man’s higher and nobler instincts, as the complete divorce of sex from love and commitment, and as the objectification and dehumanization of other persons as simply the instruments of one’s own pleasure.
“The lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16) is glaringly glorified in 21st century America. From TV sit-coms to increasingly immodest women’s clothing to movies to online pornography to commercials and other advertising, we’re awash in it. The psalmist’s question seems more pertinent today than when he penned it: “How can a young man (or any man) keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119:9a), His answer: “By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9b-11).
Guarding our way calls us to vigilance. “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 103:3). The children’s song, “Be careful little eyes what you see” warns adults, too. What do we look at? To whom do we give that second glance? Of what does our entertainment consist? When we’re alone online, what web sites pull at us? “Keep a close watch on yourself . . . ” (1 Timothy 4:16a).
Guarding our way calls us to play offense: seeking the Lord with our whole heart . . . storing up his word in our heart . . . earnestly begging the Lord to keep us from wandering (good word here, isn’t it!) from his commands. Progressively, by God’s grace, our desires will turn toward the satisfaction the Lord gives and away from the fleeting pleasure of lust.
Guarding our way calls us to spiritual war—especially against the lust of the flesh. “Do not love the world or the things in the world . . . For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15a,16). Fighting against the world (and our own sinful nature!) is a protracted, major battle. Sometimes we win, sometimes lose. But by God’s sufficient grace, as we persevere in the fight, we can celebrate more victories than guiltily grieve over loses.
Remember Muggeridge and the naked woman in the river? We would be well-armed if we kept that image before us. The temptation appears enticing at first, beautiful in a provocative sort of way. But if we look more closely with eyes enhanced by God’s Word and the Spirit’s holiness, we see sin’s ugliness that offends our Father and inevitably rubs off on us. (Like leprosy, lust is highly contagious!) When our eyes are opened to see the ugly beneath the beauty, it’s time to get away to the Water of Life that satisfies forever!
To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.
. . . let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who desires take the water of life without price (Revelation 21:16b; 22:17b).