Dr. Adrian Rogers once quipped, “There is no one so bad he cannot be saved & no one so good he need not be saved.” The question is: Is this true?? We live in a culture that is so much about second chances that we no longer understand or consequences. We love comeback stories where the loser becomes the winner. We naturally gravitate away from stories where cannot is the theme. I mean, we all know that even though Mission Impossible technically communicates an impossible mission that Tom Cruise, in a classic match of short-guy-who-gets-dunked-on-in-real-life-but-is-a-boss in embarrassingly unrealistic movies, will eventually pull the job off.
Why bring up the painful memory for those of you who have endured that cheese-fest? Simply because there is something the Bible clearly teaches cannot be done whether you be a Rudy or a Rambo: you can’t be good enough to get into heaven (Matthew 5:48; Romans 3:19-20). With that being said, most people in America totally miss what it means to be a Christian. The first half of Dr. Rogers’ statement resonates with most people who truly desire to offer the second chance yet the last half of Dr. Rogers’ statement cuts to the heart of Moralism. What is Moralism? It is the act or practice of moralizing. It is where the pure message of Jesus, the Gospel, is reduced to, “the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior… In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight.”[i] Moralism is simply the degeneration of a proper understanding of the Gospel.
Equating morality with the Gospel is to fundamentally misunderstand the Gospel because morality is all about what we can do & the Gospel is about what Christ has done. Salvation is when we admit what we can’t do (save ourselves), and allow Him to make us into what we couldn’t make ourselves. So is Christianity about being a nice person? No, its about being a perfect person. Jesus Himself said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). So here’s the catch: if you think you fit this requirement then you’re full of it. There’s no telling what else you lie about. But seriously, if we’re truly honest we’ll see ourselves far from what or where we should be (perfect and walking in daily obedience to God in thought, word, and deed). The difference is that the moral person looks upon their sin as ‘being human’ whereas the Christ-follower looks upon their sin as having caused the murder of the Son of God. The moral person looks on Christ’s work as an example of courage & selflessness Moralism looks in the mirror and says “I’m doing okay because in my opinion I’m doing better than those people” where is the Gospel looks at Jesus and says “He’s the only chance I’ve got.” Are you worshipping yourself or Christ? Who do you look to for deliverance? Are simply trying to do better (a sure path to self-deception), or have you turned to faith in Christ and asked Him to change your heart? If not, don’t put it off. Your heart will only grow more calloused to where you will no longer hear God calling you to repentance. Repent of self-righteousness today and turn to Jesus in faith.
*Check out the podcast for a full treatment of Moralism & the Gospel*
You don’t have to be a slick politician or a crooked lawyer to be good at lying: it just comes natural. Even though our hearts, if we’re honest, will readily admit that guilt seems to mount up the more we’re shady in our speech. The ninth commandment states, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16) but our brains don’t have to be firing on all cylinders to notice how much in our society is built on deception. We need lawyers to protect us from other people’s lawyers. We need locks to protect us from neighbors. We need agreements in signed contracts while there are still a few of the endangered species of “A-Man’s-Word-is-His-Bond” and even rarer, those willing to trust another person’s handshake as a firm gesture of good faith.
Jesus faced a similar situation in his day. Not only did He live in a time of government corruption. The great Roman Republic had degenerated into the Roman Empire: a monster that had mutated from the rule of law to an autocratic and bureaucratic monster driven by tyrants whose passion for empty entertainment was only eclipsed by their own cruelty. Did Jesus find a counterbalance in the Jewish religious establishment? Unfortunately, Jesus found some of the stiffest opposition among those who had the closest access to Scripture. Here’s the situation He faced:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (Matthew 5:33-37).
Here are a few observations…
- Jesus is not condemning commitment. Rather, He is condemning the dishonest use of oaths and contracts to get out of obligations – 5:33-36
In the Old Testament, God Himself even uses oaths! On multiple occasions God says, “As I live…” (Numbers 14:28; Ezekiel 18:3, 20:33, 33:11). Isaiah 45:23 reads, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ Even the Apostle Paul puts an entire church under oath; “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (1 Thessalonians 5:27). Isaiah 65:16 states, “he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth.”
Out of context, Jesus’ words are somewhat confusing. Warren Wiersbe explains, “The Pharisees used all kinds of tricks to sidestep the truth, and oaths were among them. They would avoid using the holy name of God, but they would come close by using the city of Jerusalem, heaven, earth, or some part of the body.”[i] In other words, the people at the direction of many of the religious leaders, had become experts in slick speech. They would parse words and syllables to make it appear like they were serious about keeping commitments but as long as they didn’t swear by God Himself they didn’t think breaking one’s word was a big deal. Craig Keener explains, “They reasoned that if they broke their oath based on any of these lesser things, at least they were not bringing God’s name into disrepute.”[ii] It seems that Jesus is slicing into their false dichotomy of “little sins vs. Big Sins.”
We slip into a similar pit in our culture. We like to categorize the so-called big sins and little sins. Before going to seed on this we should be careful not to commit the fallacy of “all sin is the same.” In one sense this is true. All sin brings guilt and warrants God’s judgment but not all sins create the same amount of devastation.[iii] For example, a mass murderer causes far more carnage and suffering than the person who has the spirit of pride and arrogance yet outwardly follows the moral and civil law. However, internal pride and external genocide both place a person under God’s judgment. Outside of repentance and faith in Christ both the murderer and the internally arrogant both go to hell.
Notice that Jesus raises the bar far above the “little sin vs. Big Sin” distinction where he commands, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). Jesus cuts to the heart of truth supplements in exposing how insane it is to intentionally make false promises by swearing by anything under the sun so long as its not by God Himself. Jesus states, “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:34-36). Jesus flays open the use of slick speech and goes to the heart of the issue: God isn’t concerned about the legalese; He’s concerned about the heart. For a Christ-follower, our word should be sufficient. We shouldn’t need to have to qualify our statements. Our character should be sufficient backing.
- Jesus’ reference to Leviticus 19:12 highlights the Old Testament teaching on the seriousness of fulfilling vows: Give God what you’re promised Him – 5:33 The word ‘perform’ (ἀποδώσεις) can be translated – ‘to give up’ as in trees ‘giving up/yielding’ their fruit (Rev. 22:2 & Heb. 12:11).
What is God worthy of in your life? He’s worthy of everything and for the one who follows Him, He is worthy of being honored in the honesty of their speech. The word of a Christ-follower should be sufficiently trusted without having to be held over the fires of legalism.
- Jesus once again assumes the role of the Old Testament interpreter – “But I say to you…” – 5:34
It’s sort of like saying, “I know that the Law says such and such but I say to you…” People would give you a puzzled look as if to say, “Who do you think you are?!” This is classic Jesus-speech where he indirectly references Himself as more than a prophet.
- Slick speech comes from hell – 5:37
Jesus’ tagline, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (5:37), exposes the sinfulness of the human heart that pull us away from commitment. In John 8:44-45 Jesus states, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” According to Jesus, speech that is not honest in form and honest in intention is inspired by Satan who is the father of lies.
So how can we apply Jesus’ teaching on slick speech to our lives?
1) Joy is found in sacrifice-intensive commitment rather than scooping off the top of others’ work.
The satisfaction of ploughing, sowing, and reaping is far more joy-filled than waiting for someone else to do all the heavy lifting and only then swooping in and scooping off the top. Napoloeon Hill said, “Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and is never the result of selfishness.” We never just slide into commitment. Joy comes from sacrifice and sacrifice requires honest commitment.
2) Our main priority is to be a witness for Christ: Small things are big things when you’re a light in the midst of darkness.
Jesus is not teaching mere moralism! Think of the insanity of a Christ-follower being honest in his or her business dealings but never making the connection to Christ. At best, someone will conclude that you’re just an awesome person. At the end of the day we’re not trying to create a wall of sticky note compliments about how great we are but become a mirror so that people can see Christ through our honesty in speech.
3) Our motivation for fulfilling commitments should be rooted in God’s sovereignty.
Some feel that they would never be able to keep a commitment to God and even any commitment smacks of pride. Yet others think that to qualify a commitment to God with an oath reeks of legalism. So what gives? James 4:13-17 provides a beautiful watershed for such reservations:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Simply put, we should place not only our sin but also our drive to achieve success under the shelter of “if the Lord wills” (Deo Volente for you scholars). Rather than being a copout, submitting our dreams and aspirations to the sovereignty of God is evidence of genuine commitment.
*Feel free to check out our podcast for a more detailed discussion of this topic:
[i] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible exposition commentary (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1996), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
[ii] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
[iii] Much thanks to Pastor Mark Driscoll for raising this very important distinction.
Divorce is the great ravager of American culture. Writing for Business News Daily, David Mielach cites an academic paper titled, “The Divorce Revolution Perpetually Reduces U.S. Economic Growth: Divorce Removes a Fourth of Head-of-Household Productivity Growth” that contains a chilling quote, “Besides population effects originating in the 1960s and 1970s, there are no other consequences of policy change that have had a greater effect in slowing economic growth than the divorce revolution.” Aristotle taught that economics is the foundation of any society. In a certain sense this is true…but Aristotle, as a pre-modern thinker, presupposed an ethical foundation that is quickly eroding in the contemporary Western world. A strong economy needs sound ethics in order to survive the ebb and flow of inevitable economic fluctuations. Cultural scholars worth their salt will recognize that a strong family unit is the glue that holds society, and ultimately the economy, together. Could it be that some economic sluggishness is merely a symptom of a sort of spiritual recession?
Economics aside, when we come to the tough sayings of Jesus there can be the tendency to want someone to tell us that Jesus didn’t mean what He clearly said. All of us want someone to plead our case. Outside of God changing our heart we even desire to be declared innocent when we know we’re guilty. We can be tempted to quickly claim grace before repentance, which must always precede receiving grace. I realize that divorce cuts deeply as it is one of the most sensitive subjects one could address. Even still, Jesus addresses divorce, which means that if we take Him seriously we must deal it as well. In Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:3-12 Jesus throws out a grenade of Truth in a divorce-happy culture:
Matthew 5:31-32 It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Matthew 19:3-11 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
Here are a few observations on Jesus on marriage:
• Jesus goes back to the beginning: First there must be a proper biblical understanding of marriage before we can rightly understand divorce – 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
In other words, you must have a standard before you can understand what is sub-standard. There must be an established law before we can make sense of what it means to break the law.
➢ Marriage is a sacred covenant between the man, the woman, God, and the community – 19:5 “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’”
Some of us remember the change from “All-girls-have-cooties” of the Little Rascals’ “He-Man-Woman-Haters-Club” to the “I-Will-Punch-my-best-friend-in-the-face if he says anything negative about her-Club.” When boys become men they view women differently. The desire for a man to pursue a woman and for a woman to desire being pursued by a man is both natural and God-given (although overly timid males and overanxious cougars often confuse the process). The Apostle Paul writes in, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). Marriage itself should mirror Christ’s love for the Church.
➢ Marriage is a knitting together of dreams, emotions, and trust – 19:6a “So they are no longer two but one flesh.”
➢ Marriage is a covenant for better or worse; not a contract for convenience or a guarantee of happiness – 19:6b “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Notice that Jesus ‘answer to the Pharisees’ end with “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” The disciples’ response is fear of committing to marriage at all!
To properly understand Jesus’ teaching on divorce, it is helpful to understand the cultural conception of marriage in His day.
Jesus’ teaching on divorce:
- A man cannot divorce a woman for any reason – 5:31
It’s clear that many we’re looking for a loophole! John MacArthur (affectionately known as “Jonny-Mac”), states, “Jesus teaching on divorce was given specifically to refute the rabbinical loopholes.” Matt Chandler cuts to the smokescreen to the Pharisaic heart in Matthew 19 with these words, “Is there any reason by which we can divorce our wives?” Now isn’t that a horrible question? Right? Did you hear it? “I want to be godly. I want to look godly, so give me the godly reason to dump this fool, to get away from this woman. How do I get out?” That’s the question. “How do I get out of this?”… God’s plan, God’s design is that two would become one flesh, and that would create an unbreakable bond, a ferocious commitment to one another that is going to…mirror God’s covenant with his people.”
In that day, there were two leading schools on divorce.
➢ School of Shammai: Divorce only allowed in cases of infidelity.
➢ School of Hillel: A man can divorce a woman for any reason.
Craig Keener writes, “the school of Hillel, which eventually won out, said that a man could divorce his wife if she burned the toast (a later rabbi of this school added, “Or if you find someone more attractive”!).” Yet Jesus didn’t get suckered into a religious-political battle. Rather, He goes back to God’s original intent of marriage.
- According to Jesus, infidelity is the exception for divorce – 5:32
Porneia includes all sorts of sexual impropriety. Which has been understood as “(a) a single act of adultery, (b) unfaithfulness during the period of betrothal (Matt. 1:19), (c) marriage between near relatives (Lev. 18:6–18), or (d) continued promiscuity.” One particular instance was Joseph’s plan to quietly end his betrothal to Mary when he learned of her pregnancy.
A proper historical perspective reveals how helpless women were in first century Palestinian Jewish culture. Since women had few legal rights they were at the mercy of hard-hearted husbands who could “divorce” them for something so trivial as burning the toast. Requiring an actual writing of divorce allowed provided women the legal option to remarry and avoid an almost inevitable life of prostitution and/or poverty.
➢ Also, abandonment by an unbelieving spouse – 1 Corinthians 7:12-15
“To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”
Outside of these very limited exceptions, Jesus’ point is simply that divorce and remarriage for any other reason is adultery in God’s eyes.
- As a last resort, a man must give the woman the legal right of respect with a documented divorce as opposed to verbally disowning her – 5:31, Deut. 24:1
Deut 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house,”
Here are a few statements on the reason why the Mosaic Law required a writing of divorce:
“The written notice (βιβλιον [biblion]) was a protection to the wife against an angry whim of the husband who might send her away with no paper to show for it.”
“a legal check upon reckless and tyrannical separation.”
“Mosaic regulation (Deut 24:1) protected woman from man’s caprice by insisting on the certificate of divorce.”
So why is there an exception clause in the Mosaic Law at all? According to Jesus, it is, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives” (Matt 19:8a). The word for “hardness” carries the idea of a heart that is “dried up (σκληρος [sklēros]), hard and tough. So then what about remarriage? John MacArthur rightly writes, “Remarriage is permitted for the faithful partner only when the divorce was on biblical grounds. In fact, the purpose for a biblical divorce is to make clear that the faithful partner is free to remarry, but only in the Lord….”
Why does Jesus reference the heart? The crux of Jesus’ gospel is a heart transformed by grace. In order for marriage to be what God intended the heart must be emptied of law-driven self-will in order to become saturated with the marriage-sustaining power of grace.
- If single, do not enter a relationship with a person not sold out to Christ & missional living: Above all else, seek after God (Mt. 6:33).
– Singleness holds massive ministry potential.
– Learn to find your source of identity in God, not another person.
– Listen to godly counsel.
– Girls: it’s ok to drop a hint but don’t stalk him.
– Guys: if you’re interested, then pursue.
- If divorced, seek to model grace & biblical values so that your children can learn from your brokenness and avoid the heartbreak of divorce.
– Let humility saturate: humility is a light that will lead you children.
– Study Ephesians 5 together.
– Use your Scars as a Story of grace.
*For a full more detailed discussion of this important topic, check out our podcast: http://www.rockymountbaptistchurch.com/media/messages/2014/2014-02-09-divorce-1.php
 David, Mielach, “Divorce is Bad for the Economy,” Business News Daily, March 12, 2012, http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2215-divorce-bad-economy.html
 Craig Mitchell, Ethics & Public Policy, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, January 2007.
 Matt Chandler, “Marriage & Oaths,” The Village Church, http://www.thevillagechurch.net/sermon/marriage-and-oaths/
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
 L.A. & Jr. Barbieri, In J.F. Walvoord & R.B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
 R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, & D. Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
 C.F. Pfeiffer & E.F. Harrison, eds., The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
 John MacArthur, “Divorce & Remarriage,” Grace to You, http://www.gty.org/resources/distinctives/dd04/divorce-and-remarriage
“I love you.” Those three words are incredibly powerful…and dangerous. In relationships, this phrase has often been used to excuse one from responsibility or to “get” something from the other person. Lust often disguises itself as true love. Lust is simply the craving for what is off-limits or out of season. God is not against sex. He invented it. Marriage is the season for physical intimacy. Picking the forbidden fruit out of season brings brokenness and regret. “But she’s/he’s so hot!” While this may be true, hell is also hot and that’s your life will be full of if you’re in a relationship founded on physical attraction alone. What should the unmarried among us do? Wait on God to fulfill God-given desires that bring joy not regret.
In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus goes deeper than merely the physical aspect of immorality where he proclaims, “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 you 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.”
There are several presuppositions that Jesus brings to the table:
- Adultery is bad per natural law, Old Testament Law, & the internal law of the conscience – 5:27
You can’t find the right person by doing the wrong thing. While God’s grace is more powerful than our sin, purposefully choosing to cheat so that God can produce a story of redemption is not called grace: it’s a dangerous presumption on God’s grace. If you’ve been tempted to cheat remember that if you truly care for the person you’ll do what’s best for them. Leading them to toss Jesus’ commandments in the trash is not what’s best for them but pointing them towards Great Healer is.
- Adultery is bad because it violates the covenant of marriage – 5:27
Affirming the wrongness of adultery is a shrewd reference to a standard. If there’s no standard there can be no violation. If there is no law, there can be no prosecutable crime. Contracts can be scrapped but covenants are sacred.
- Jesus assumes the role of ultimate authority: “But I say to you…” – 5:28
Not only does Jesus not refer to other famous teachers of the Law but He basically assumes the role of judge. For a first century, Palestinian rabbi to do such a thing was unconscionable…unless he was more than a Teacher.
So how does Jesus address the weed of lust that seems to continually crop up despite human religion’s best attempts to control it?
- Jesus extends the boundary of adultery from merely the external to the internal: Lust = heart adultery – 5:28
Jesus takes it to a whole new level where lust in the heart = adultery. Notice Jesus’ key phrase, “looking with lustful intent” – πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι. The word, ἐπιθυμέω/lust = ‘to set one’s heart on a thing’ ① to have a strong desire to do or secure something, desire, long for. So one use is simply desire, which can actually be a good desire. Here are a few examples of such uses in the New Testament:
Matthew 13:17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
Luke 15:16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
Luke 17:22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.
1 Peter 1:12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Heb. 6:11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end,
As we see, ἐπιθυμέω isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ word for bad desires. However, for something out of season or off-limits, natural, God-given desires can bring great destruction. The 10th commandment hinges on this where God commands, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). Simply put, Jesus is getting past the discussion of outward morality and goes straight to the heart. Here are a few points that we would all do well to take to heart:
So what does lust encompass? Infidelity of the heart certainly fits within the scope of what
- Adultery of the heart includes pornography and so-called “emotional affairs.”
The objection here is often, “But it’s not that big of a deal!” One rebuttal is, “If God is like us then that may be true…but He’s not like us…He is holy.” Jonathan Edwards said, “It is the natural tendency of sin and lust, to stupefy the conscience.” If this is true, and Russell Moore’s warning, “The temple prostitution of Corinth has been digitalized and weaponized,” is half-right, then it is very possible that our shock at sin is at least partially sedated. Some of us guys have heard, “You can look but you can’t touch.” That’s not loophole given by Jesus; that’s a cultural adage to keep you from getting murdered by your wife. In a popular
So what is the origin of lustful desires that seem to rage against our reason? Lusting for what isn’t ours has its roots in pride, not love. Romans 13:8-10 reads, “8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” On the contrary, pride says, “I deserve this” even when the “this” is off-limits or out of season.
It is helpful to remember several important facts when dealing with questions about lust:
- Desires for marriage, sex, & relational intimacy are not evil; they are God-given but lust is a distortion of those desires.
In his classic work, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “What we call “being in love” is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust…the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.” Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.”
- Jesus warns that the heart is the staging area for physical adultery (Mt. 5:28-30).
On the heart, Greek scholar A.T. Robertson writes, “Not just the emotional part of man’s nature, but here the inner man including the intellect, the affections, the will.” Along with this is an old rabbinical saying, “The eye and the heart are the two brokers of sin.”
Q: Is lust in the heart REALLY the same as physical adultery?
A: “All sin is equally damnable, but not all sin is equally devastating” – Mark Driscoll
Q: Why is this a big deal? I’ve always been told, “You can look but you can’t touch.”
A: Notice Mt. 5:29-30 and how quickly the eyes enlist the help of the hands and body to fulfill its lusts.
- Jesus warns that lust is never satisfied until it destroys you: Unrestrained & unchanged heart or physical adultery leads to hell (Mt. 5:29-30).
Is Jesus really endorsing pre-UFC eye-gouging allowances? Is Jesus endorsing self-mutilation? No, but Jesus is commanding cutting off any allowance of deadly lust having its hooks in us. Jesus’ command is simple: Declare war on lust. The point of the idea to ‘offend/ensnare’ is not that internal or physical adultery would offend our ‘personal preferences’ but that it would ensnare our soul leading to both physical and spiritual destruction in unending torment in hell. According to Jesus, an unchanged heart of lust places physical and emotional satisfaction (a sad illusion) in the position of God. Instead of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, lust deceives our heart, and directs our mind, soul, and strength to be poured into the illusory sinkhole of self-satisfaction.
Benjamin Nolot, founder and president of Exodus Cry and Producer/Director of the Nefarious documentary against sex slavery, recounts a sobering encounter in an article titled, Who Buys Sex? Linking Porn and Human Trafficking.
“I have seen the face of human trafficking. While filming Nefarious: Merchant of Souls–a documentary on the global sex trade–I traveled to a small village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had heard that the village was a hotspot for child sex tourism, but I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. When the dust around my vehicle settled after the long trip down the bumpy dirt road, I saw a white western man standing in front of a dilapidated shack. The man, probably in his late 40s, was bartering for sex with a child outside of a shanty brothel. My film crew and I quickly jumped out of our vehicle and began to approach the man. When he saw us, he took off down the dirt street towards the main highway and we gave chase, catching up to him just as he saddled the back of a moped taxi. I grabbed him by his shirt and stared straight into his eyes. The look on his face was one of sheer cowardice and it seemed that there was a literal film of perversion that glossed over his eyes. After I raised my voice, demanding that he never return to the village again, I let him go. As we walked back to our vehicle, I pondered what I just faced. Why was this happening? Who was this man? Why was the most lucrative business in this village child sex tourism? Then it hit me––this man didn’t wake up the day before and decide to fly to the other side of the world to buy a child for sex. Of all the men we talked with who had purchased a woman or child for sex in prostitution, there wasn’t one who didn’t have a history of viewing pornography. The deviant behavior of men in our world is not simply pathological; it has been taught to them. The hyper-sexualization of this generation has awakened an unprecedented demand for illicit sex. When men pay to view sex, they aren’t too far from taking the step to buy sex. Boys growing up in this culture form an objectified view of females at an early age. Ninety percent of them will view pornography between the ages of 8-16, with the average age of initial exposure being 11. When a young child’s fragile mind is exposed to the graphic images in pornography, it distorts his view of girls, sex, and relationships. He begins to see them as inanimate objects, devoid of humanity–a thing to be conquered instead of a person to love.”
So what should we do to counter this epidemic?
How to Wage War on Lust, Heart & Physical Adultery:
- Take steps to avoid sexually oriented material that feeds lust.
Secular culture often tells us we need a ‘release’ and this so-called release is by no means benign. When someone whispers that tantalizing opportunity, the Christ-follower can simply and humbly respond, “I am not an animal.” This seductive ‘release’ whether it be porn, indulging in a lust novel, or cheating on one’s spouse may seem like a “Free Indulgence Pass” but in reality it only provides momentary excitement in exchange for unshakeable guilty (outside of the gospel), that requires deeper and more expansive releases that ultimately lead to destruction and death. So knowing this we want to take every step imaginable to avoid what feeds the monster of lust.
But what if I’m already hooked?
- Take steps of accountability via installing software on your computer, tablets, and smart phones and/or give your passwords to your spouse.
2. Avoid alone time alone with someone of the opposite gender who is not your spouse: “Before you cheat on your spouse you have to cheat on God first” – Mark Driscoll
To the objection, “I just slipped,” Adrian Rogers once quipped, “Then don’t walk in slippery places.”
3. Meditate on specific Bible verses to reverse the damaging mental patterns created by heart adultery.
Scripture changes us. The more of it we get inside us the more the default of our thinking patterns change. If a guy has issues viewing women as meat, let us remember that she was once a little girl who played with dolls (or GI Joes if she was a tomboy). This woman is possibly a mother or wanting to be one or she may be attempting to smother grief such as brought on by a past abortion or something of the sort. One day she’ll be the age of your Mom. Then one day she’ll be grandma stage and possibly be in a nursing home gazing out the window in an existential struggle with loneliness. Men, we must allow God to so change our hearts that we view women as persons worthy of respect and not things to be used for our gratification. Women, you should find your worth and strength in God rather in the words or arms of a mortal man.
4. A changed heart precedes a plan: Cry out to God for a changed heart.
Willpower is weak; only the Gospel can break the chains. Regeneration, where God radically changes our hearts, must precede any genuine life change. Let us cry out to God for mercy and forsake the lifeless materials of self-improvement. We don’t need self-improvement; we need a Savior and His name is Jesus Christ. First John 2:17 says, “The world is passing away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
*For a full more detailed discussion of this important topic, check out our podcast: http://www.rockymountbaptistchurch.com/media/messages/2014/2014-01-26-lust-takes-love-gives-1.php
 Much thanks to Pastor Mark Driscoll for coining this useful term.
 W. Arndt, F.W. Danker, & W. Bauer, A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 371.
 Jonathan Edwards, The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 837.
 Russell Moore, “The Spiritual Consequences of Immorality,” September 5, 2013, http://www.swbts.edu/index.cfm/resources/?action=public:library.details&ID=836#.Uu_f5Sh4R7I
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), 108-109.
 A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), in Logos Library System [CD-ROM].
 See, John Piper, “How to Kill Sin: Part 1,” http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/how-to-kill-sin-part-1
 “Who Buys Sex? Linking Porn and Human Trafficking,” Covenant Eyes, October 18, 2012, http://www.covenanteyes.com/2012/10/18/why-human-trafficking/?utm_source=Pure+Minds+Online+%7C+Issue+25+%7C+October+2012&utm_campaign=PMO+Sept+12&utm_medium=email