The Jesus Revolution
Matthew 5:27-30 Being free from lust
Happy Fathers’ Day! Let’s see the hands of all the dads!
Today, to honor all you dads, we’re talking about every dad’s favorite subject—sex! Hey, it’s how you became a dad…
Actually, we didn’t pick this subject because it’s Fathers’ Day. We are working our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and here we are—today’s passage just happens to be about sex.
Last week we saw that when we follow Jesus, he frees us from anger. Jesus took the command against murder, and raised the bar and said that we shouldn’t even stay angry with people. This week, Jesus takes the command against adultery and raises the bar and says we shouldn’t lust. When we follow Jesus, he frees us from lust. He makes us pure not only in our behavior, but in our thoughts and in our hearts.
We live in a culture that is adrift when it comes to sexual mores. Forty years ago, people had sex outside of marriage just like people today do. The difference is that they believed it was wrong, and today, most people don’t. Many people today treat sex as a recreational activity, like going out to dinner, dancing, movies, or shopping. It’s no more wrong to have sex than it is to watch a movie or have dinner with a friend. The only concern is safety: don’t get pregnant, don’t contract a disease. Seen this way, sex is just another activity, a biological and physical act no different than eating, breathing, or sleeping.
But sex is moral as well as biological; we are human beings, not dogs in heat. Sex between two people involves far more than just their bodies; it also involves their emotions, it affects their relationship with each other and other people as well, it affects the way they feel about themselves and their relationship with God. One of the most misleading phrases of our day is “safe sex”. Those who toss that around are usually referring only to biologically safe sex; they are ignoring the social, psychological and spiritual consequences of sexual relationships. Wearing a condom doesn’t make sex safe; ask a young woman whose heart is broken how safe it was. They haven’t made a condom that can protect the heart. The only truly safe sex is between a husband and wife who are committed to lifelong faithfulness to each other.
In this age of sexual confusion, we have to remind people of the morality of sex. Christians have a wonderful opportunity; we can offer clear moral values to our confused and amoral culture by lovingly proclaiming and modeling the values of Jesus regarding sexuality. One person I read called us “cultural atheists”; we have to live in our culture without buying its values and practices. But let me warn you that God’s standards are higher than you think! Christ wants to produce in us a purity that goes deeper than behavior; it is a purity of heart.
Matthew 5:27–30 (ESV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Remember, this is not a new and higher ethic; this is a new relationship. This isn’t Jesus saying, “Try harder and be gooder.” This is Jesus saying, “Follow me, and I will make you a new person.” Follow Jesus and He will change you. Let’s look closer.
1. It was said: “Do not commit adultery.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ This is number 7 of the Ten Commandments. You shall not commit adultery. What is adultery? Adultery is sexual relations with a person who is not your spouse. God’s prohibition against adultery was understood to include both extra-marital and pre-marital sex.
Extra-martial sex. God expects sexual fidelity in marriage. A married person has entered a life-long covenant with his spouse and has pledged to be sexually exclusive, to share the intimacies of sexual relationship with her spouse alone for the rest of their lives. God expects that covenant to be honored.
When the covenant of sexual fidelity is broken, it usually results in a broken marriage. Adultery is one of the leading causes of divorce, and is the one reason that Jesus allowed for divorce. Adultery doesn’t have to result in divorce, but usually does. Why? Ask the rejected spouse. Sexual infidelity is such a crushing, devastating offense; the sense of betrayal and rejection is overwhelming, and often, attempts to rebuild trust end in failure.
ILL: The late Dr. Albert Ellis, a prominent psychotherapist, sexologist and author of Sex Without Guilt used the term “healthy adultery”, and counseled couples whose romantic love has faded to commit adultery to rejuvenate their relationship. Pardon me, but that’s dumber than dirt.
I’ve never met anyone whose marriage was rejuvenated by adultery, but I know hundreds whose marriages have been destroyed by it. Adultery destroys marriages and devastates people; that’s why God put it in His top ten. If you are married, God’s law forbids extramarital sexual relations.
If you are single, you might be thinking, “Whew, I’m off the hook. This is a law for married people; but I’m single, and as long as I limit my sexual encounters to other singles, I’m not violating the law against adultery.” I hate to rain on your parade, but God’s law against adultery prohibits pre-marital sex too.
Pre-marital sex. God expects not only sexual fidelity in marriage, but also sexual purity before marriage. God designed sex for marriage; that makes pre-marital sex as wrong as post-marital infidelity. This is how the Jews understood this commandment; it is how Jesus understood it; and has been the universal understanding of Christians ever since. Augustine, in the 4th century, wrote on this verse: “And let not him that is unmarried suppose that he does not break this commandment by fornication; you know the price wherewith you have been bought, therefore keep yourself from fornications.” Fornication is the old word for pre-marital sex.
The Bible says in many places that pre-marital sex is wrong; here are just four.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
Galatians 5:19-21 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Colossians 3:5–7 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.
The words “sexual immorality” translate the Greek word porneia, which refers to any sexual activity outside of marriage. This word is found over two dozen times in the New Testament. The Bible says over and over that sex is reserved for marriage, and outside of marriage it is wrong. But this is news to many today.
I meet many people who are genuinely shocked to discover that God says pre-marital sex is wrong and commands us to avoid it. I believe that it is important to understand why God says that.
ILL: A common parenting mistake is to give our children rules without giving them values; we tell them what to do without telling them why. Rules without values seem arbitrary, and often result in rebellion.
God didn’t just arbitrarily decide to prohibit certain sexual behaviors; He had good reasons for doing that. He is not a kill-joy looking for ways to ruin your fun; nor is He a sadist who created us with sexual urges just so He could forbid them and watch us squirm!
ILL: People often ask, “Why would God create us with such strong sexual desires if He didn’t want us to do it? God gave me these desires; I should fulfill them whenever I can.” The key word is “why?” Yes, God designed us with powerful sexual desires, but why? People also ask, “God made marijuana, so why not smoke it?” Well, God made poison oak; why don’t you go roll in it? God made the Grand Canyon; why don’t you go jump off? Obviously, rolling in poison oak or jumping off the Grand Canyon would result in serious bodily discomfort! That was not what God had in mind when He created either of those. And unrestrained sexual activity was not what God had in mind when He created sex.
Sex was designed by God for marriage. Inside marriage it can be beautiful; when it is practiced outside the safety and protection of the marriage covenant, it becomes destructive.
ILL: I love to have a fire in my fireplace! But if the fire gets out of the fireplace and into the walls, I hate it! Why? What is beautiful in its place becomes destructive outside of it.
God created sex; sex is God’s idea. Human sexuality is not a curse, but a gift from God, and God meant it to be good. Too often churches either refuse to talk about sex, or talk about it in purely negative terms. We may hear a tirade of warnings about the misuse and abuse of sexuality that may ultimately produce in young Christians a great deal of confusion about their desires. Let me say it clearly: God created us as sexual creatures. It is not evil for men and women to find each other attractive. Physical attraction to the opposite sex is not sin. The first time your teenage daughter comes home and mentions that there is a boy at school she finds attractive, don’t freak out; don’t lock her up for the rest of her adolescence or buy her a chastity belt! It is normal to for teenage girls to find teenage boys attractive, and vice-versa. God created sex; it was His idea. But why?
What purposes did God have in mind when He created sex? And why should sex be reserved for marriage? God has several reasons for sex.
First, procreation. Sex is for making babies. And babies need families, so God insists that sex is reserved for marriage.
Second, communication. Sex was designed to communicate love and intimacy and commitment between a husband and wife. We call it “making love” and that is what it is: an incredible expression of our love and commitment to one another. God designed it as an act of intimacy and communication. Sex is an expression of married love, the love that makes a man and woman willing to commit themselves to each other for a lifetime.
Third, recreation. Sex is intended for pleasure. Sex is God’s idea; He made it fun! Have you ever thought of all the ways that God could have designed us to reproduce? He could have just had an arm or leg drop off and grow a new person; or a woman could have a headache and then a tiny baby would fall out of her ear. When I think of some of those, I’m glad that He designed us the way He did! Sex is wonderful!
God meant it to be fun! When I was growing up, no one in church would ever admit to this. We didn’t talk about sex in church often, but the few times it came up, it was discussed in holy terms or very negatively. No one in church ever stood up and said that sex was fun. So here goes: sex is fun! So why would God put such tight restrictions on it? Because outside of marriage the fun can quickly turn into disaster. Date rape is not fun. Teenage pregnancy is not fun. Abortions are not fun. Sexually transmitted diseases are not fun. AIDS is not fun. Shattered marriages, broken hearts, guilty consciences, single parenting, lost childhoods and crushed dreams are not fun. Sex is fun—in the context of marriage, but disastrous outside it.
God’s prohibition of adultery includes these two things: extramarital and premarital sex. A generation or two ago, most people would have agreed that these were wrong; today, most people in our culture think both are ok. Here again, we are cultural atheists—swimming against the current. But Jesus not only prohibits both; He says takes them even farther!
2. But I tell you: do not lust. 28
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Once again, the issue is the heart. Jesus looks behind the behavior at the heart, and says that it is not enough to avoid sexual immorality; He doesn’t want us to lust. Jesus’ standard of sexual purity is inward, not just outward; He calls us to a thorough-going purity of the heart.
What does Jesus mean when he forbids “looking at a woman with lustful intent?” Please notice that He doesn’t forbid looking, but looking with lustful intent. These are two different things. Men, it is one thing to see an attractive woman and admire her. It is another to keep looking with the intent of desiring her.
I address the men specifically because men tend to struggle with this. Men look, and look lustfully. But lust is not limited to men; women can lust too, and it is as wrong for women as for men. And if it is wrong for a man to intentionally look lustfully at a woman, it is also wrong for a woman to intentionally draw that look. Seduction is as wrong as lust. Ladies, let me speak for all the Christian men: we want you to dress attractively (please), but not seductively. This means that you have to shop and dress with care, since much of the style today is deliberately seductive. This is another area where we must be cultural atheists—living in our culture without being squeezed into its mold.
It is one thing to admire someone, it is another thing to desire someone.
ILL: I am indebted to Richard Foster, known for his teaching on spiritual disciplines and living simply, for this distinction. He says that one of the keys to happiness is to enjoy what is around you without having to possess it. I can enjoy a book by checking it out at the library; I don’t have to own it. I can enjoy a ride on someone’s boat without having to buy one. And I can appreciate another person without having to possess them sexually.
You can and should appreciate the beauty of each person around you; but you can appreciate without possessing or desiring to possess. So Jesus is not prohibiting looking. Some early Christians took it that way and walked around with their heads down or blinders on so that they would not even look at a woman. They were constantly bruised from running into things! Jesus is not prohibiting looking.
Remember last week I said that you can’t help feeling anger sometimes, but Jesus says, “don’t stay angry”; don’t let anger simmer; don’t nurse a grudge. It’s the same with a look. You can’t help looking at an attractive person, but Jesus says, “don’t keep looking” with a sexual intent; don’t stare with lust or desire. You might see an attractive person and even have a sexual thought, but you don’t have to keep looking or keep thinking. Martin Luther said, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop it from making a nest in your hair.” Having a thought come into your mind isn’t a sin; letting it build a nest there is.
Jesus prohibits looking with the intent to lust; staring for purpose of sexual fantasy and desire. Jesus forbids sexual fantasies. I mean fantasies about someone other than your spouse; you can dream all you want about your spouse, and you should! Why are sexual fantasies forbidden?
Because our behavior comes from what we think. The most powerful sex organ in your body is your mind. If you cannot control the thoughts of your mind, you will have a difficult time controlling your behaviors. Jesus said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:19. Our behavior is a reflection of our hearts.
This is one reason why pornography is so destructive. Pornography is designed to stimulate sexual fantasies. Any time you look at pornography, you are disobeying Jesus; you are looking with the intent to lust. It fills the heart with adulterous and immoral images, and Jesus said that your behavior reflects your heart. If you are filling your heart with adulterous and immoral images, it is likely to be reflected in your behavior. Garbage in, garbage out.
It used to be that you had to go somewhere to find pornography: an adult book store, a strip club, a XXX movie theater. But today, porn is piped into your home on your TV and especially via the internet. Internet pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that has trapped millions of men, demoralized their wives (who can never compete with the fantasy), and caused many users to act out in terrible ways, including adultery, prostitution, and rape. Pornography is extremely addictive. Like a drug, it requires increasing amounts to get the same high, so porn users go from light porn to heavy porn, and eventually act out to get their high.
I want to shout to all who are dabbling with porn: DANGER! DANGER! You are playing with fire—you’re going to get burned! This is very destructive stuff, ruining lives, marriages and ministries. Don’t think that you’re strong enough to get away with it. Don’t think you’re exempt. Don’t think you can look at porn and be blessed by God. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “Don’t look at a woman with lustful intent.” Stay away from porn. We need to be cultural atheists here, and buck the tide!
I know that’s easier said than done. Porn is addictive stuff. If you are struggling with pornography, let me give you some steps to take to get free.
First, Follow Jesus and He will change you! What Jesus commands, He will empower us to do. Go to Jesus and ask for help, and do what He says! The closer you get to Jesus, the stronger you’ll be.
Second, tell someone else. The best way to drive out the darkness is to turn on the light. Sin thrives in secrecy. When you remove the secrecy and bring that out into the light with someone else, you’ll have a better chance of overcoming it. If you’re using pornography, tell someone—or several someones. We have a sexual addiction group here at Life Center that can help you.
Third, take practical steps to avoid what trips you up. If you can’t control your TV watching, get rid of your satellite or cable. If you can’t control your internet use, get a filtered internet service. Subscribe to a service like XXX Church.com that monitors your internet history and reports all suspicious sites to your accountability partners. Be smart and be ruthless.
Fourth, invite Jesus to look at everything you look at. “Let’s look at this website together. Let’s watch this movie together.” Live in His presence.
ILL: Many years ago, I was reading a suspense novel on my day off. It was a good book, a real page-turner, but it had one scene that was sexually explicit, very graphic. It lasted about 3 pages, and I was right in the middle of it, when the phone rang; it was my pastor, calling long distance! I felt my face turn red when he said his name; I was a like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar! When the call ended, I went back to the book, skipped ahead a few pages, and decided that if I ever came upon a scene like that in the future, I would skip ahead, just like I would fast-forward through a scene in a movie. To this day, I don’t think it was an accident that he called then; I think God planned it to teach me a valuable lesson: God is there. He sees what you see. If I was embarrassed to have my pastor see what I was reading, I should be even more embarrassed to have Jesus see it!
Job 31:1 says “I made a covenant with my eyes, not to look lustfully at a girl.”
Make an agreement with Jesus: whatever I look it, You are looking with me.
Jesus wants to change you and make you pure on the inside. You can never be this pure on your own. Let God make you as good as He can make you! You and I need the Lord to change our hearts, to cleanse us inside. He will! Jesus says one other thing here that indicates that we must cooperate with Him in that process.
3. What to do: ruthlessly remove whatever trips you up. 29-30
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
When Jesus talks about gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin, if it trips you up, He is speaking figuratively. If He meant it literally, most of us would be hamburger in a week!
ILL: Origen, the great church leader of the third century, mistook Christ’s meaning here and castrated himself. Men are squirming all over the auditorium! How many of you are happy that is not what Jesus meant?
What did He mean? Jesus is saying that you should ruthlessly remove whatever causes you to sin. Deal decisively with anything that trips you up. Don’t be soft when it comes to temptations. This kind of sin calls for amputations not band aids! Be hard. Be tough. If you are nice, if you molly-coddle it, if you compromise, if you hesitate, you may get tripped up. Cut it off! Throw it away! Sexual temptation is exceedingly powerful; don’t toy with it! Cut it off!
ILL: If you discovered you had a cancer, what would you do? Cut it out, as quick as possible, before it spreads. You’d be ruthless.
That’s what Jesus is talking about here: when you identify something that causes you to sin, ruthlessly and immediately cut it out of your life. Cut out porn. Cut out lustful looks. Cut out sexual fantasies. Cut out compromising relationships. Cut it out! Our culture says, “it’s ok; it’s not that bad.” We need to be cultural atheists—we must be counter-cultural spiritual revolutionaries!
I want to finish with some practical and positive suggestions. You can’t overcome lust by purely negative means. For example, you can’t stop lust by telling yourself not to think about a lustful thought.
ILL: Everyone look at the person next to you. Now, don’t think about them. Whatever you do, don’t think about the person next to you. Tell yourself, “I’ve got to stop thinking about the person next to me.” What happens? The harder you try not to think about them, the more you do.
Rather than trying not to think lustful thoughts, we simply think something else, something good. You don’t drive out the darkness, you just turn on the light. So when you have a lustful thought, the way to cut it off isn’t to sit there and say, “I won’t think about it. I won’t think about it. I won’t think about it. Darn, I’m thinking about it!” The way to cut it off is to redirect your thoughts to something else, something positive.
I have a few tricks for doing this.
If I see an attractive woman and my thoughts start to stray, I may pray for that woman, and ask God to do something beautiful in her life. It’s hard to lust after someone and pray for them at the same time.
If a lustful thought comes to my mind, I expose it to God. I say, “Lord, look at what I’m thinking right now.” Rather than trying to cover it up and keep it secret, I bring it out in the open before God.
If I have a lustful thought, I may quote these verses from memory.
If I catch myself looking at another woman, I pray and thank God for my wife.
All of these do the same thing: they redirect my thoughts. I don’t try to stop thinking the lustful thought; I simply think something else positive and God-ward.
We don’t overcome lust with negative means; we crowd it out with good stuff. Here are a few good things, positive things that help keep my heart pure.
Build your relationship with God. First and foremost, build your relationship with God. Only God can make your heart pure. There is nothing like an authentic daily relationship with God to keep your heart pure! If you could only do one thing, do this. Spend time every day with Jesus, and you will be a different person. Follow Jesus and He will change you! The closer you grow to God, the cleaner your heart will become. Get close to the Lord and let Him make you pure.
Build a great marriage. If you are married, one of the best defenses against adultery (in thought or deed) is a strong marriage. Loving Jesus will make you pure; so will loving your spouse. I would never want to hurt Jesus or Laina. When you have a great marriage, it is easier to stay pure. I tell people that you aren’t likely to steal a Volkswagen on the street when you’ve got a Cadillac at home in the garage! I’ve got a Cadillac! I’m married to the greatest woman in the world, and I know it! Focus on your marriage.
Guard your affections. Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Guard your heart. Guard your affections. Now it is a natural thing to feel attracted to certain people. Over the course of your life, you’ll probably meet hundreds of people with whom you feel a high level of affinity, or for whom you feel a physical attraction. That is natural; it is an inescapable part of our human personality and sexuality. But there are affections that are reserved for your spouse alone, and when you catch yourself feeling those for someone other than your spouse, you need to take action. I cannot emphasize this too much: be ruthless with stray affections. You ignore them to your peril! Monitor your affections, and take decisive action if you see your affections straying.
One last thing: what should you do if you have committed adultery or sexual immorality, either physically or in your heart? Is there hope for you? Yes! God can forgive you. Repent, turn to Him and admit your failure and ask His forgiveness and He will make you pure.
ILL: When I taught high school students, and we talked about this subject, often students would approach me in tears and admit their failures. Often they were riddled with guilt and despair and hopelessness. “Who would want me? I’m used merchandise. I’m not a virgin. I’m not pure. I didn’t save myself.” Their guilt and their despair were very real. I was able to assure them that the Lord Jesus would forgive them, and was able to make them so pure that it would be as though they never failed.
He can do that for you too.