As I stood and looked at the street alley beneath my feet lined with used needles, old pregnancy tests, cigarette butts, and empty bottles, I felt the weight of evil surrounding me.
This past week I had the chance to serve with a ministry in Tel Aviv called Abundant Life. They reach out to prostitutes in Israel by providing a shelter for women to come for a shower, free clothes, a haircut, opportunities for rehab, and ultimately to hear about Jesus.
We walked the streets of southern Tel Aviv distributing brochures on abortion in hopes of raising awareness and having conversations with men and women about the issue. Our leader took us through empty streets where brothels would open on each side that night to give us a glimpse of what life is like for the thousands in Tel Aviv stuck in the sex industry.
The evident brokenness and evil was heavy. But this wasn’t the first time I’ve seen these sights or experienced this weight.
The image described above is awful, but I want to paint another picture in your imagination.
It’s a typical Tuesday evening. The street next to you is lined with taxi cabs and motorbike drivers. You make your way through the crowds of people on the sidewalk as they walk home from work. The sounds of the skytrain and shop venders echo in your eardrums while you snake your way through the busiest street in the city. As you reach an intersection, you look up to your right to see the flashing lights of a parallel road one block from you. You walk towards it with your eyes focused on the circus show of lights drawing you in. The music grows louder and begins to drown out the sounds of cars and shop owners behind you as you reach the street and turn to enter.
You pause a moment and you look down the road with glowing lights, loud music, and thousands of people. You take a deep breath and venture into the street.
You just entered one of the most popular red-light districts in the world, Soi Cowboy.
Infamously known for its appearance in the movie, Hangover 2, Soi Cowboy is home to nearly 40 bars and over 1,700 male, female, and ladyboy prostitutes.
I’ve been to Soi Cowboy and to other well-known streets in Bangkok where the sex industry is glorified to its foreign customers.
Men walk in wide-eyed with smiles ear to ear as if they’re looking at a two pound steak after fasting for a week. Young adults to senior citizens wander in to have a drink and relax after the first day of their international business trip. They have money so they have power. For the right price, they can do whatever they want with seemingly no consequences or accountability.
The first time I visited a red-light district, I felt numb to what was going on around me. I had been told so much about what I would see and was bracing myself for the worst that I didn’t know how to respond when I actually witnessed it. It was a surreal experience and I still think I’m processing what I saw.
I’ve never been in such a dark, evil, God-less place in my life.
Thoughts of anger would run through my mind as I sat in those bars. How can these men so flippantly use and objectify these women with no remorse and then hop back on a plane and return to their families and normal lives as if nothing ever happened?
While I do think an element of righteous, Jesus-like anger over the evil of the sex industry is good, God confronted me with another thought as I have reflected and processed these memories over the past several months.
The root of my sin is just as hideous as the root of these men’s sin.
Although the severity and outward manifestation of my sin might look different than theirs, the origin of it is just as odious to God. Every immoral thought I’ve ever had and every time I’ve chased the fleeting pleasure of pornography stems from the same problem as these men: lust.
When we let lust into our lives, it rules us and causes us to make choices we thought we never would make.
No man wakes up one day and suddenly decides to purchase sex from a woman half his age and commit adultery against his wife. Instead, the monster of lust manifests itself in small ways in our lives and steadily grows as we continually feed it and slowly become enslaved to it.
I may think that my lustful sins are minor and that clearing the search history on my phone will clear my conscience of my actions, the roots of my sin run deeper.
As God has revealed this deep-rooted sin problem to me, He has shown me three things that have helped uncover the lies of the devil and the weight of my sin.
- Lust starts out small but is never satisfied and its appetite only grows bigger.
- When we let lust linger in our lives, it will take us deeper than we want to go into sin we don’t want to commit.
- Un-dealt with sin will always lead to further consequences.
Deception is Satan’s favorite tactic to make us fall. He tries to make us think that the temporal satisfaction of sin will last but it never does. Only Jesus provides eternal satisfaction.
May we never take even the simplest forms of lust lightly. Satan will use that foothold to slither into our lives and tear apart our friendships, families, and ultimately our faith.
Although I still have much to grow in and I recognize that my battle with lust will continue until Jesus returns or the day I die, God has been using these reminders to ground me in truth and release me from the bondage of lust to pursue freedom.
Whether its in the brothels of Tel Aviv, the bars of Bangkok, or the computer screen in front of us, lust is a deeply rooted evil that we cannot take lightly.
I pray that as this humbling reminder of the weight of my sin has challenged me, it too can challenge you to live a life of freedom from lust that God calls us to live.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)