We live in a sex saturated society. Everywhere we turn: movies, television, commercials, magazines, billboards, music industry, clothing manufactures, internet, e-mail, Facebook, even texting on our phones, we are inundated with sexual messages and with sexual innuendo. It is a culture that breeds sexual temptation. Sexuality and sexual desires aren’t wrong, they were created by God. The problem is Satan has a way of taking that which is good and slowly twisting it and perverting it into something that is dangerous because it takes us outside of what God desires for our lives. That’s what has happened in our culture. Our culture has become so infatuated with sexuality that we don’t know how to function without it. Because of our culture, the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount become very pointed.
“You’ve heard that it is said, do not commit adultery, but I tell you, whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
Jesus actually combines two of the Ten Commandments. The seventh commandment states you shall not commit adultery. In Jewish law this typically meant a man (married or single) having sex with a married woman or a virgin betrothed to be married. It was designed to protect against the violation of another man’s wife. But Jesus takes it a step further when he combines the seventh commandment with the tenth commandment, you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox or donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Jesus says it is not good enough to simply avoid the act, one must avoid the desire to participate in the act. The heart, and the desires of the heart are just as important, if not more important, than the actions which are lived out everyday. If we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. It’s more than just getting all of the commandments right. It’s about living into the ethic that produces the commandment.
Lust is more than just a glance, or noticing that someone else is attractive. Lust is dwelling upon someone else, desiring them to an extreme that you think they can satisfy your cravings, or wanting to use them to fulfill your urges. That is what makes lust so harmful and wrong. Lust is more than just imagining impure or ungodly thoughts in your mind. Lust is objectifying another human being. It is seeing someone else and instead of viewing them as a man or woman made in the image of God it is turning them into an object that can be controlled and manipulated to fulfill one’s own desires. Lust devalues other human beings. Once the other becomes an object to be used and not a person to be respected the other person becomes less than human, and thus not worthy of respect or honor as another human being made in the image of God. The question then is what can this object do for me, and not how can I serve this other human.
So what do we do? We can’t completely separate ourselves from the greater society. Instead, we have to live in the midst of a society that does not always live up to the will of God. And in this society we are called to live out the Kingdom of God and to witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God is breaking in and that ultimately this age will come to an end. Because of that, if we are to be who God wants us to be, we cannot be controlled by lust. We cannot be looking at other people and viewing them not as people but as objects to satisfy our desires. We must learn to control our bodies, and to control our minds, to not be focused on finding people or objects to fill some empty hole inside of us.
Jesus, however, goes a step further.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
Jesus actually insinuates that if you struggle with lust and cannot get the sin under control you should consider plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand. It seems extreme, but it shows the seriousness of sin. We often try to laugh off sins, but God takes sin seriously; God takes our sanctification seriously. Lust is damaging and it must be eradicated from our lives. It is so damaging that if it means we have to cut our hands off or pluck our eyes out to stop sinning then it’s worth it.
I’m not exactly sure what Jesus meant with his statement to cut off hand and pluck out eye, but it’s clear lust is not a game. It’s not a toy to be played with. Lust is a serious breach of trust against God and against others. The question is, are we going to be radical enough about following Jesus that we will go completely against our culture and remove lust from our lives? Are we serious about getting rid of sin that we will literally do whatever it takes to be holy? Because ultimately, lust is not worth dying for.