What Are You Looking At?
“‘You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own heart and eyes.’”
Numbers 15:39 NIV
The “lust of the eyes” John talks about in 1 John 2:16 is powerful and deadly. This sinful world and all it has to offer looks good. Its people look good. Its clothing looks good. Its food looks good. Its rebellion looks good! Satan is a master of disguise (2 Corinthians 11:14-15) and he knows exactly how to cloak the behaviors and lifestyles that contradict God’s character and wrap them up in one eye-catching, nearly irresistible package. “It looks good, so it must be good!”—that logic got Adam and Eve expelled from Eden, and it gets us into a whole lot of trouble today, too. So how do we resist it? How do we beat Satan’s oh-so-appealing temptations when they come at us through the lust of the eyes?
We find something else to look at.
God knows we’re visual people—He created us that way!—and He doesn’t expect us to literally blind ourselves when we’re tempted by the lust of the eyes. He only asks that we refocus on something that helps us see our eternal purpose instead of our temporary desire. For, John writes, “the world is passing away, and also its lust. But the one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17 NASB). In Numbers 15:39, God gave the Israelites tassels on their clothes—literal visual reminders to follow God, not their hearts. We have literal visual reminders, too: Maybe it’s a plaque on the wall with an encouraging Scripture; maybe it’s a quote we saw on social media reminding us that the Godly life is the best life; maybe it’s even an article of clothing like the Israelites’—a t-shirt, a bracelet, a necklace— that helps us focus on everlasting things every time we see it. Are we still commanded to put tassels on our garments? No. But the principle is excellent, and sometimes surrounding ourselves with physical reminders of God’s Word and will are exactly what we need to combat the lust of the eyes. These things give us something tangible to help redirect our attention away from visual temptations.
But sometimes, resisting the lust of the eyes isn’t as simple as, “I literally see something unholy; I’m literally going to avert my gaze and I’m literally going to look at something else instead.” Sometimes, the lust of the eyes—while perhaps sparked by some actual sight—really involves the visions we create in our minds about what our lives would be like if…fill in the blank. We see our friends’ perfect marriages and wonder why ours don’t resemble theirs. We see the new car or house our neighbors bought and wonder when our homes got so ratty and our vehicles so cramped. We see people in the world living the high life like there’s no tomorrow and we can’t figure out when sobriety and holiness began to look so unappealing. Our minds get caught up in wondrous visions of how and who we could be with just a little compromise, but fail to recognize that Satan constructed these fantasies to mask a reality that’s disgustingly, eternally ugly. Even when we do remember that the life the devil promotes is an unattainable sham, it can still be hard to tear our mind’s eye away. We need something else to look at—we need somewhere else to focus.
The Hebrews writer tells us that that something—or, rather, someone—is Jesus.
In Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV, the Bible says, “[L]et us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”—because, after all, the lust of the eyes is appealing!—“and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross” —even though it didn’t look very fun—“scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him”—not the world!—“who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (emphasis added).
How do we see the way we should go? How do we perceive the things that are eternally necessary and beneficial? Is it by focusing on the things that—though they look good—ultimately hinder and entangle? No! We see the way to Heaven—a reality so much greater than any lust our eyes or hearts could conjure—by looking at Jesus. When we consider Him—the life He lived, the death He died, the grave He conquered, and the salvation He offers—as the song says, “the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” Don’t imagine what your life would be like if you had more money: Imagine what Jesus would do with the resources you currently possess—and then go do that! Resist fantasizing about different relationships—romantic, familial, or friendly: Instead, immerse yourself in the Gospel’s perspective on Jesus’ relationships and strive to emulate His sacrificial love. The world looks like a lot of fun and, oftentimes, Christianity doesn’t—but guess whose future looks a lot more appealing? Focus on the trials Jesus endured and reflect on the glory He received—glory He’s eager to share with you! No matter how many earthly mirages you have to pass by on the way to Heaven, God’s eternal reality has the far better view!
The lust of the eyes for Satan’s world can cause us to lose sight of God’s vision for His people. That’s why it’s important that we have something else to focus on: Physically, if necessary, like the tassels on the Israelites’ clothes, but spiritually most of all, in the person of Jesus. The world’s and the devil’s way of life is appealing at first glance, but when we redirect our gaze toward our wonderful, merciful Savior, we see right through Satan’s decoys to perceive the greater beauty of God’s promises. Let me encourage you to fix your eyes on Jesus, not the passing lusts this earth has to offer. Focus on Christ in every circumstance, because ultimately, He is the one who will see us through!