There’s no point fleeing from sin unless you flee to Christ – especially when it comes to sexual sin
Here’s the final section of my sermon on the 7th commandment preached last Sunday.
Section D: Keeping the 7th commandment
Perhaps the greatest danger to us at the end of a sermon on sexual sin is that my preaching leaves you feeling simply guilty and hopeless. Many Christians have given up the fight because they have lost hope. Matt Chandler pastor of the Village church in Texas described his own experience when he said;
I found myself running from God. I ran because if there was shame to begin with, there was double shame at the moment when I said I wasn’t going to do it anymore but then I did it. I was caught..I was stuck in shame …
Maybe the appropriate question to ask yourself when you fall into sin, as a Christian and you are truly repentant, is this one ‘How do you think God thinks of you?’ Thomas Goodwin the great puritan preacher said this:
Your very sin moves Christ to pity & compassion more than anger.
Why? Because he loves you and he never loved you because you were good. Our greatest danger is to think when you sin you think God can’t love me any more and so even as you flee your sin you don’t think you can flee to Christ.
When you struggle with sin there is only one thing and one thing alone that you need to know because of the cross God treats you as a son and not a sinner. God accepts you as a son…loves you as a son…because he has never accepted you on the basis of your behaviour but on Christ’s perfect life and his sacrificial death.
Matt Chandler says:
The marker of those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ is that, when they stumble and fall, when they screw up, they run to God and not from him.
The power to keep the 7th commandment comes not from your faithfulness to God but God’s faithfulness to you.
1. God’s faithfulness – Read 1 John 1:8-9
We very much want to end the study by reminding ourselves that God has dealt with our past failures and promised to write the commandments on our hearts by his Spirit.
Whatever your sin there is full forgiveness because of Jesus. Whatever your struggle with your sin there is a final victory because of Jesus
Our hope comes from the knowledge that God forgives and that God will change us. Even when we are unfaithful to him.
If our danger is not that we feel like giving up the flip-side, the other danger, is that we think this sermon is a call to pull yourself by your shoe laces…
You probably can control yourself not to sleep with your boyfriend, you could put the software on your computer…but what God wants to do is not give you a few practical tips but drive you to Jesus as your only hope…
2. Jesus’ faithfulness – Read Hebrews 4:14-16
The battle with sexual sin is won through a closer walk with Christ.
You might think that Jesus is the last person who can help you now and yet we are reminded in the Bible that he was made like us in every way and in Hebrews 4 we learn that he experienced every temptation common to man. Stuart Olyott writes ‘Do not think of him as unfeeling; everything you are facing, he has already faced.’
So the writer to the Hebrews urges us to go to him and ask for help and because it is Christ’s Spirit that is at work in us he is able to show mercy and offer grace to strengthen us in the battle against sin and for purity.
In today’s Spectator Magazine the author Martin Amis is quoted as saying ‘years and years ago, someone defined pornography as hatred of significance in sex. That’s what pornography does.’ Below is the third part of my sermon from last Sunday evening on the 7th commandment ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ In this extract we consider how through lust we all break this command.
C: How we all break the 7th commandment
We saw last Sunday in Jesus’ sermon on the mount that God is as concerned with how we think as much as how we act. You shouldn’t measure obedience to God’s word by what you do or don’t do but by what we would like to do or not do.
We saw that ‘You shall not murder’ is not an excuse to hate because hate is really murder in the heart. So in that second reading we had this evening (Matthew 5:27-30) we saw that ‘You shall not commit adultery’ speaks to our hearts that are full of lust. And that really matters because Jesus won’t allow us to divide the room this evening into two categories of people; the sexually pure and the impure. No, for the reality is that when it is the attitude of our hearts that are held to account surely we are all sexual failures.
Kevin DeYoung writes: The 7th commandment doesn’t just forbid adultery and pornography. It forbids every action, look, conversation, thought, or desire that incites lust and uncleanness.
To lust is to look at a person in a way that leads to sexual arousal and so again we find God’s purpose in the commandment to reveal to us that we are all adulterers in the heart.
1. Be radical
Jesus warns us what a serious sin lust is when he says ‘ 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.’
Jesus wants you to know that there is a difference between being sorry and being repentant.
Being sorry means regretting sin, being repentant means running from sin. Joseph when seduced into bed by Potiphar’s wife ran for his life. He fled the house. A friend of mine I met with to read the bible each week left his job because of a growing attachment to someone at work.
Maybe we would run from an inappropriate relationship but the bigger challenge for some of us is that we naturally have a pretty forgiving attitude to inward sins, we’re just much less concerned about the sins of the heart not least because no-one else knows about them.
The pastor who looks at pornography then preaches on purity is a dangerous person.
Not only do we sometimes simply forgive ourselves for our sin but we even use the gospel as an excuse to sin. We say well God has already forgiven me so I can sin anyway. Well it is true that the gospel does forgive sin but it is a dangerous thing to turn a truth into a half-truth because as Jim Packer has said ‘a half-truth, masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.’
The same gospel that forgives our sin also teaches us (Titus says) to say ‘no’ to ungodliness so if there is no fight for purity in our hearts is there evidence of grace in our lives?
So are you ready to take urgent and radical action in battling sexual temptation in our lives. That might mean not having a TV license or having accountability software on our computers or changing gym membership or even job. It would certainly mean stopping sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
If you are here this evening as a non-Christian I want you to know how totally amazing is the grace of God through his Son’s death on the cross he has dealt with our sin whatever our sexual sins, however we have lived, no-one is too far from God. Grace is always amazing but it is never cheap.
The sign that God is at work is real repentance.
2. Be honest
We do need each other in the battle. Married couples we need to help one another think through how to keep investing in our marriages. To help us in the battle with sexual sin we should seek support and we should make ourselves accountable. DeYoung comments ‘No one fights a war by himself, and no one will get victory over sexual sin on his own.’
3. Be real
About your own vulnerability. Recognise that if a man like King David, a man after God’s own heart, could fall into scandalous sin then why not me or you?
I don’t know why guys wouldn’t want to put some kind of software on their computers to take away temptation. Maybe you need to honestly face up to the fact that you are not ready for a relationship because you know that you could not control yourself physically and would only damage the person you were dating. Maybe you need to recognise that you are flirting in a dangerous way with a housemate.
Being real means recognising that you and I are weak and that the sexual impulse is very strong. And being real means recognising that sexual temptation sometimes comes from an unexpected direction at a time when we least expect it and in a way we’ve not gone looking for it.
King David’s adultery with Bathsheba began with David simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was at home when he should have been with his army he was on the roof of his palace when he stumbled across beautiful Bathsheba bathing on the top of a near-by building. The results of a man with time on his hands was scandal.
Preaching through a series on the 10 commandments on Sunday we reached the 7th . Yesterday I posted the first part of the sermon on the relationship between sex and marriage. Today the second part looks at God’s purpose in the 7th commandment.
What is the 7th commandment?
The seventh commandment reads ‘You shall not commit adultery’. Pretty much every Jewish adult who first heard those words of God would either have been married or engaged to be married. Every adult could expect to be married by the age of 20. So in that culture the biggest challenge to honouring God with your body was remaining faithful to your spouse. But the commandment clearly speaks against all kinds of sexual sin.
Paul in Ephesians says ‘ Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity.’ The word there for sexual immorality is porneia and refers really to any sex outside of marriage.
So why is faithfulness in your marriage so important to God?
We’ve been learning over again in this series is that each of the commandments that call on us to ‘love our neighbour’ depends upon a more fundamental commitment to ‘love God’. There is a right and necessary ordering of the commandments. It is the nature of our relationship with God that compels us to remain faithful to our spouse.
Covenant faithfulness in marriage is an expression of our covenant faithfulness to God. As God is faithful to us and as we are to be faithful to him so we are to exhibit the character of faithfulness in all our relationships, especially marriage. As his people so we want to be like him, to say to the world how great it is to have God as our God and so being faithful to our promises is part of saying thank you to God for being faithful to his.
I was at a wedding a while back, chatting to a non-Christian couple. They asked how long my wife and I had been married and at the time it was something like 10 or 11 years. One of them was surprised that having married so young we had lasted so long and then the other commented ‘it’s only the Christians who stay married.’ Sadly, in a fallen world marked by sin that is not always the case but it often is.
Our faithfulness in marriage is a reflection of God’s faithfulness we reflect God’s character as the faithful one who loves us with a never-breaking love. A husband and a wife are in their marriage to model the exclusive relationship between God and his people.
What makes adultery so serious it is both one and the same time a betrayal of a spouse and a denial of our God.
In Genesis 39:9-10 Joseph refuses to betray Potiphar by sucombing to the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He refuses out of loyalty to an earthly master. But more fundamentally he recognises that to break a human marriage is to ‘do a wicked thing and sin against God.’
The 7th commandment is given by God to protect marriages, to protect children in marriages and to protect God’s own name and reputation in the world.
Jesus and marriage
No wonder then that Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6 issues a solemn warning that it is God who joins a couple together in marriage. Through marriage they are now to be considered as one person (v.6) and therefore Jesus issues a command ‘let not man separate.’ It is not that it is impossible but rather that it is should not happen.
And the consequences for those who do break this commandment are serious. In the book of Hebrews Christians are reminded of the seriousness of honouring God with their marriages. 13:4
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Yesterday we saw that sex outside of marriage damages ourselves. Today that it dishonour’s God and we are warned judgement awaits those who dishonour God through adultery or sexual immorality.
Tomorrow’s post looks at how we all break the 7th commandment and how through Jesus we can keep the 7th commandment.
I’m preaching through a series on the 10 commandments at City Church at the moment and last night we tackled the thorny issue of sex under the heading of the 7th commandment. Below is a slightly expanded version of the first part of the sermon.
I don’t know what invention of the past 100 years has done most to change the very way in which we live. You could make a case for TV, the personal computer, the jet airplane but I wonder whether the real answer is the contraceptive pill because it has revolutionised our attitude to sex.
Sex is now – if we want it to be — something purely for recreation rather than procreation. It has for women in particular become a means sexual liberation.
So in our western culture sex is essentially now thought of as a bodily appetite to be indulged. We have lap-dancing clubs in our city-centres, brothels in the same communities as our students and pornography in our bedrooms. Women’s magazines run lead stories on how to perfect sex technique, some men’s magazines are little more than ‘soft’ porn and in the past week Birmingham’s gay pride march was officially listed as part of the City council’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
We’ve never lived in a more openly sex-mad society but as J.John has noted ‘the problem in our sex-saturated society is not that we think too much about sex, but that we think about it so poorly.’
It might be easy to think that Christianity, by contrast, is anti-sex and looking back through the history of the church there have been times when that has been the case. At best sex has been thought of as a necessary evil. One book I read on the subject this week made the point that the excesses of the Catholic church that kick-started the protestant revolution included a list of holy days on which sex was prohibited that numbered 183 days a year!
Clearly the track record of the church has not been good and yet when we read the Bible we certainly don’t find it speaking negatively about sex one entire book, the song of songs is given over to a celebration of romantic love.
In one talk tonight I can’t possibly say everything but I want to start with
A. The setting of the 7th commandment – God’s purpose for sex
In the Bible we discover that sex is a God-given gift. He is the one who has made us sexual beings. He invented sex and he intended it for pleasure. Sexual desire is therefore proper and natural and God even wrote a book about it in the Bible called Song of Songs. So no Christian should feel embarrassed by the subject.
But sex also has a context. Sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose — God intended sex to be a sign and a seal of the union of two lives.
In Genesis 2:24 we discover that marriage is the act of giving ourselves to another a) exclusively ‘leaving father and mother’ and b) without reserve ‘united to his wife’. Sex is then the bodily expression of that union ‘and they will become one flesh’.
Sex is therefore the body-language of marriage. One writer has said;
To be naked with another person is a symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment. It is one of the key ways in which we experience loving faithfulness in a total relationship
No wonder then that the Bible not only permits sex in marriage but actively encourages Christians to keep sex alive in marriage.
In Proverbs 5:19 we read
may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer —
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
And then Paul in 1 Cor. 7:3-5 reminds Christians that they should not abstain from sex within marriage.
Michelle Weiner Davis in a book entitled The sex-starved marriage has written ‘sex is an extremely important part of marriage, it offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure through which they connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy, and a sense of partnership. It defines their relationship as different from all others. Sex is a powerful tie that binds.’
And this is why sex belongs in marriage. You see it really does do something to us when we seek to separate the physical intimacy of sex from the context of marriage.
Tim Keller in the meaning of marriage writes:
Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.
So to protect yourself against the pain of giving your heart to someone who might not be there in the morning you disconnect the physical act of sex from the emotional intimacy it is designed to breed. And now here’s the problem – if you’ve practised that disconnect – if you have disabled it – what happens when one day you get married? There is a real danger that sex in marriage will not be able to do what it is designed to do.
Tim Keller expresses it this way ‘sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.’
All of the statistical evidence shows that when we separate sex from marriage through pre-marital sex we bring that delayed baggage into marriage. Meg Jay a clinical pschologist has written a remarkable chapter entitled the co-habitation effect in The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them
Living with someone may have benefits, but approximating marriage is not necessarily one of them.
She gives an example of one woman who describes her cohabiting relationship
‘A year of two into it, I started wondering what we were doing. Everything about it was fuzzy. That fuzziness ended up being the most frustration part. I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. That made me really insecure. There was a lot of game-playing and arguing. I never felt like he was really committed to me. I still don’t obviously.’
Jay concludes: Couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is what sociologists call the cohabitation effect.
Quite simply the more sex outside of marriage in a society the shorter the marriages in that same society become.
So sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose
In the next post why God has given the 7th commandment and how we break it.
A very heplful post from Justin Taylor‘s blog
For the next TWO DAYS Rid of my disgrace: Hope and Healing for victims of sexual assault by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb is available as a free e-book from the Resurgence Store
Matt Chandler pastor of The Village Church, Dallas writes of the book:
I can’t express how grateful I am that someone is tackling this subject with both a pastoral heart and an understanding of how the devastating effects of sexual assault can wreak havoc for decades after the abuse. It is an epidemic issue where resources are scarce. There isn’t a weekend that goes by when we aren’t told a gut-wrenching tale of innocence stolen, then left trying to help a man or woman make sense of the pain. I praise God for the gospel that can heal and restore and for the Holcombs that had the courage and wisdom to write this book for us.
An important post on the frightening reality of sexual sin, how to face up to it and how to overcome it.
Updated: the post on which my blog-post depends appears to no-longer be available
How should Christians respond to arguments in favour of same-sex marriage? There are many advocates for a change in the law to permit gay couples to marry. After all the argument goes ‘equality should mean equality’.
Peter Saunders chair of the Christian Medical Fellowship has written a blog post outlining Ten reasons not to legalise same sex marriage check it out and think it through for yourself.
Most persuasive for me is argument 9 – Redefining marriage will not stop with same sex marriage
After all ‘Equality is equality is equality’ is surely the foundation for the argument in favour of a change in the law to recognise same-sex marriage. IF equality is equality and IF we are to be free from ‘intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory and hateful’ positions in the debate I wonder whether advocates of a change in the law think that
1) a man should be legally able to marry his sister?
2) 3 or more parties should be free to enter into a marriage arrangement?
3) a muslim should be permitted under British law to have 3 or 4 or more wives?
Having rejected historical or biological arguments in favour of the ‘equality’ argument it seems only logical that those in favour of same-sex arguments will also be in favour of all sorts of marriage ‘arrangements’ between consenting adults.
If anyone can suggest otherwise I’d be happy to hear from them.
Trevin Wax has a great post here on how he might hope a TV debate would go on the subject of Christians and homosexuality
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