PURITY TEST

28 Aug

Last week, I talked to you from the “Sermon On The Mount” about anger and how it could ultimately destroy.  I was rather pointed and direct. I was that way because there are some issues I believe we leave unchecked and like a forest fire, they are often left to go out of control.

Today, I want to address something else that I firmly believe has been left to go unchecked for way too long.  I want to talk about sexual temptation. The temptation for many parents right now would be to reach over and cover the ears of their children. But trust me when I say that when the church ignores it, when Christian parents refuse to address it, when we don’t talk about it because it’s “uncomfortable”

Although temptations of this nature have been strong since the fall of man, our day of permissiveness and perversion has brought an increase in those destructive influences that no society in history has had before.

2 Timothy 3:13

13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Ours is a day of unbridled indulgence in sexual passion. It seems to be the almost uninterrupted theme of our society’s entertainment. Mass media uses sex to sell its products and to glamorize its programs. Sex crimes are at all-time highs, while infidelity, divorce, and perversion are justified. Marriage, sexual fidelity, and moral purity are scorned, ridiculed, and laughed at. We are preoccupied with sex to a degree perhaps never before seen in a civilized culture.

But one of the biggest problems of our day and even in the day when Jesus walked the earth is the idea that we only deal with thing s if they are seen on the outside. That’s what I love about the Sermon on the Mount. He doesn’t deal with just the outside. He deals with the heart.

Jesus continues to take the mask off of the self-righteous externalism promoted by the scribes and Pharisees by showing that the only righteousness acceptable to God is purity of heart. Without that purity, the outward life makes no difference. God’s divine evaluation takes place in the heart. He judges the source and origin of sin, not just how it shows or doesn’t show.

“As a person thinks within himself, so he is” (Prov. 23:7)

Anger and sexual lust are two of the most powerful influences on humanity. When we allow them to run free, we soon find out that we are more controlled than in control. Every person has experienced temptation to anger and to sexual sin, and every person has at some time and to some degree given in to those temptations.

In its many forms, sexual license is destroying lives physically, morally, mentally, and spiritually. It is destroying marriages, families, and even whole communities.

Let’s look at our main text… Matthew 5:27-30

27 “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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

Now let’s look at this from the beginning:

 [27]”You have heard that it was said, ’You shall not commit adultery.’ “

In both the Old and New Testaments the word relates to any sex with anyone other than your spouse.

The law of Moses portrays adultery as one of the most despicable and heinous of sins, punishable by death.

Check out Leviticus 20:10…

10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

In strongly opposing adultery, the Pharisees appeared to be entirely scriptural. When the scribes and Pharisees told Jesus that Moses commanded them to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery, they were correct. Had not Jesus forgiven her of her sin she would have deserved stoning.

The sixth commandment protects the sanctity of life and the seventh the sanctity of marriage. Those who rely solely on what is seen on the outside break both of those commandments, because in their hearts they attack the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage, whether they do so outwardly or not. When they are angry or hate, they commit murder. When they lust sexually, they commit adultery. And when they do either of those things, they choose to despise God’s law and God’s name.

Someone once said:
Sex is like fire. In a fireplace, it’s warm and delightful. Outside the fireplace, it’s destructive and uncontrollable

Throughout the New Testament, prohibitions against sexual immorality are every bit as clear as those of the Old.

Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals will inherit the Kingdom of God .. I Corinthians 6:9

Regardless of how much a couple may care for each other and be deeply in love, sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden according to the Word of God. In every case, without exception, it is a grievous sin against God. There is no other way to interpret that.

Let’s look at I Corinthians 6 again a little further. Let’s not just stop at verse 9.

1 Corinthians 6:9-19

[9]Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10]nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11]And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. [12]”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.[13]”Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”–and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. [14]And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. [15]Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16]Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17]But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18]Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19]Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, (ESV)

The philosophy of sexual immorality is not new to our day. It was common in New Testament times, and Paul faced it full force in Corinth. His comment

“Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food” (1 Cor. 6:13)

expressed the common Greek notion that biological functions are just biological functions and have no moral significance. It was a belief many of the Corinthian believers had reverted to, or had never given up, in order to justify their sexual misconduct.

Apparently they were arguing, as do many today, that sex is simply a biological act, no different morally from eating, drinking, or sleeping.

But Paul strongly refutes that idea by going on to say,

“God will do away with both of them [that is, food and the stomach]. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body” (v. 13).

The body is more than biological. For Christians it is a member of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, and belongs to the Lord rather than to us. It is therefore never to be used for any purpose that dishonors the God who made and indwells it. Christians should have but one response to sexual temptation-running away from it.

Now over to 1 Corinthians 7

God created sex and gives it as a blessing to those who enjoy it within the bounds of marriage. Sexual expression not only is a thrilling privilege but an obligation of marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 [3]The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. [4]For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. [5]Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Not everyone understands the nature  of adultery.
Returning from Sunday school, where the Ten Commandments had been the topic of the day, a young boy asked his father, “Daddy, what does it mean when it says, ‘Thou shalt not commit agriculture’?” There was hardly a beat between the question and the father’s reply: “Son, that just means that you’re not supposed to plow the other man’s field.”

We have seen the deed of adultery. Now let’s talk about desire.
Matthew 5:28

[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.

Jesus is therefore of intentional looking with the purpose of lusting. This is the intentional continual dwelling on lustful thoughts, or the intentional selection of a particular location, like a beach, book, magazine, TV program, movie or internet site, with the desire of pursuing lustful thoughts.

Someone will surely respond, “That’s only normal and natural. I can’t help it if desires are aroused in my heart at the sight of a person of the opposite sex.” That may be true, but that does not make it right.

The process specified here is important. Looking at a woman lustfully does not cause a man to commit adultery in his thoughts. He already has committed adultery with her in his heart. It is not lustful looking that causes the sin in the heart, but the sin in the heart that causes lustful looking. The lustful looking is but the expression of a heart that is already immoral and adulterous. The heart is the soil where the seeds of sin are imbedded and begin to grow.

Jesus is not speaking of unexpected and unavoidable exposure to sexual temptation. There is no sin if the temptation is resisted and the gaze is turned elsewhere. It is continuing to look in order to satisfy lustful desires that Jesus condemns, because it evidences a vile, immoral heart.

Look beyond the immediate context to the broader one of covenant. Marriage is a covenant between two people for life, and adultery violates that covenant. When two persons agree to be husband and wife, for one to entertain thoughts of relating sexually to someone other than the spouse makes that one guilty of breaking that agreement. Jesus expects His followers to keep that agreement in both deed and attitude.

God is a God who keeps His promises and He expects His followers to do the same. When we fail to do so yet claim to be His followers, we misrepresent His character.

Although Jesus here uses a man as the example, His condemnation of lustful thoughts as well as actions applies equally to women. Women are equally susceptible to lustful looking, and even to inciting men to lust.

Parents have a responsibility in guiding the dress of their children. Godly modesty requires that we consider the implication of our dress on others.

And watch out, that also means we must take care that our own dress is unnecessarily distracting, provoking sin.

Just as the adulterous heart plans to expose itself to lust-satisfying situations, the godly heart plans to avoid them whenever possible and to flee from them when unavoidable. Just as the adulterous heart panders to itself in advance, so the godly heart protects itself in advance, praying with the psalmist:
Psalm 119:37-38 [37]Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. [38]Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.

Paul told Timothy:
2 Timothy 2:22

[22]So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 

How do we flee? At times it means physically removing ourselves from situations, like Joseph & Potiphar`s wife.

The second part of this, pursuing righteousness, takes work in advance of the situations.

Job said:
Job 31:1-11

“I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? [2]What would be my portion from God above and my heritage from the Almighty on high? [3]Is not calamity for the unrighteous, and disaster for the workers of iniquity? [4]Does not he see my ways and number all my steps? [5]”If I have walked with falsehood and my foot has hastened to deceit; [6](Let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!) [7]if my step has turned aside from the way and my heart has gone after my eyes, and if any spot has stuck to my hands, [8] then let me sow, and another eat, and let what grows for me be rooted out. [9]”If my heart has been enticed toward a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door, [10]then let my wife grind for another, and let others bow down on her. [11]For that would be a heinous crime; that would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges;

Like Job, therefore, we must make a covenant with our eyes-and with every other part of our bodies, minds, and spirits-to shun lust and pursue purity.

Many people misunderstand how to deal with desire.
A wealthy couple desired to employ a chauffeur. The lady of the house advertised, the applicants were screened, and four suitable candidates were brought before her for the final selection. She called the prospective chauffeurs to her balcony and pointed out a brick wall alongside the driveway. Then she asked the prospective chauffeurs, “How close do you think you could come to that wall without scratching my car.”

The first man felt that he could drive within a foot of the wall without damaging the car. The second felt sure that he could come within six inches. The third believed that he could get within three inches. The fourth candidate said, “I do not know how close I could come to the wall without damaging your car. Instead, I would try to stay as far away from that wall as I could.”
This candidate had a different focus. He understood that true skill in driving is not based so much on the ability to steer the car to a narrow miss as on the ability to keep a wide margin of safety.

Like the fourth candidate, there are many aspects of human nature, such as sexual temptation, that are best dealt with by keeping a wide margin of safety.

Okay, we’ve talked about deed. We’ve talked about desire.

Finally, let’s talk about deliverance.

Matthew 5:29-30

[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. 
Here Jesus points the way to deliverance from heart sin. At first His advice seems contradictory with what He has just been saying. If the problem is in the heart, what good is plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand? If the right eye were lost, the left would continue to look lustfully, and if the right hand were cut off, the left would still remain to carry on sinful acts.

Verses 29 and 30 emphasize how seriously we are to regard this problem. Anything that leads to lust should be given up. We should regard sin so seriously as to prefer to lose an eye or a hand rather than to lose ourselves in sin.

This means taking literally the basic intent of the passage, rather than physically removing the eye. The loss of one eye or one hand cannot in itself prevent a lustful look or thought. The word-picture is to emphasize deliberate, decisive action in dealing with our natural leaning to sin.

Jesus is speaking figuratively of those things, physical or otherwise, that cause us to be tempted or make us more susceptible to temptation. In Jewish culture, the right eye and right hand represented a person’s best and most precious faculties. The eye is the medium through which one is tempted to lust and the hand represents the physical actions that result from lusting. Jesus is calling us to consider what mediums we use for lusting and consider the actions that will result

Nothing is so valuable as to be worth preserving at the expense of righteousness, and ultimately, eternal life. This strong message is obviously not to be interpreted in a wooden, literal way so that the Lord appears to be advocating mutilation. Mutilation will not cleanse the heart.

The intent of these words is simply to call for dramatic severing of the sinful impulses in us which push us to evil action. Maintaining an undefiled thought life demands strict self-discipline.

.Paul tells us:
Philippians 4:8

[8]Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

A life filled with uplifting thoughts and overflowing with service will be less likely to be subject to the sins Jesus warns against.

But more than that, we must recognize the absolute necessity of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We cannot suppress our flesh alone. Willpower will not do it! Paul is careful to tell us:
Romans 8:12-13

[12]So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13]For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

The phrase that Christ uses in Matthew 5:30 about something causes you to sin/makes … stumble was often used of the bait stick that springs the trap when an animal touches it.

Anything that morally or spiritually traps us, that causes us to fall into sin or to stay in sin, should be eliminated quickly and totally.

If we know that going to a particular place, or being alone with a particular person causes us to fall into temptation, then we should plan to avoid these things in advance, and should the situation arise unexpectedly, not remain in the situation.

If we do not consciously and purposefully control what is around us, where we go, what we do, what we watch and read, the company we keep, and the conversations we have, then those things will control us. And what we cannot control we should discard without hesitation.

Obviously getting rid of harmful influences will not change a corrupt heart into a pure heart. Outward acts cannot produce inner benefits. That outward act is effective protection, because it comes from a heart that seeks to do God’s will instead of its own.

A popular proverb says,

“Sow a thought and reap an act. Sow an act and reap a habit. Sow a habit and reap a character. Sow a character and reap a destiny.”

That process perfectly illustrates Jesus’ main thrust in this passage: No matter where it ends, sin always begins when an evil thought is sown in the mind and heart.

James 1:15

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 

The consequence of not dealing with this problem is severe. In dramatic fashion, Christ has set forth how drastically we need to deal with lust and He gives us a perspective that no action is too radical given the consequences.

Jesus again sets forth the impossible standards of His kingdom righteousness. All people are murderers and adulterers. Many do not realize that they are because of the subtlety of sin and its blinding effect on the mind. Jesus does not suggest that the scribes and Pharisees, or anyone else, could deliver themselves from the propensity to sin. As always, the impossibility that He sets forth has a twofold purpose: to make men and women despair of their own righteousness and to seek His. The Lord’s remedy for a wicked heart is a new heart, and His answer for our helplessness is His sufficiency.

We must never let our piety and spiritual accomplishments dull us to our potential for sin. We must discipline the very members of our bodies. If our eyes, hands, and feet are causing us to stumble, we must take desperate measures to keep that from happening. Even if we are not in a pattern of habitual sin, we should make a covenant with our eyes in advance of temptation, to stop, to leave the scene if necessary.

If God is speaking to you about some things that need to be put out of your life, do what he says today. If God is telling you to change your visual habits, then do it for your soul’s sake and that of your family. If God is saying that a relationship must end, then do it today. Or perhaps there is some pleasure that is okay for others but is causing you to stumble, and you know it must go. If so, get rid of it right now. You cannot do it through your own willpower. Obey God with humility and prayer. Ask him for strength, and then do what He says.

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