This is a sermon I preached on Lust back in July 2014. Enjoy this audio version!
If you would prefer a written version, here is my sermon outline I used.
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. 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.
- Although this is will seem like a message more directed towards men, this is equally as applicable to women
- Generally, men are more physically/visually oriented
- Women are more emotionally/relationally oriented
- Lust applies to both kinds of sexual orientation
- Just as easy to find your value/identity in another man’s affection in order to satisfy the emotional/relational aspects of your flesh as it is lust in a physically/visually oriented way
- All of that to say that even though Jesus is mainly addressing this subject from a male point of view, this topic is just as applicable to women as it is to men
- Even though the topic of this passage is sexual lust, the principles I am going to be talking about are equally applicable to any type of lust
- Our flesh lusts for sin of any kind
- This passage applies to those who are single or in a relationship or married
- Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church
- Just because you can run around all the bases, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to play by the rules
- Whatever stage of life you are in, the principles of lust can apply to you
What is Jesus’ Purpose in All of This?
We see back in verses 17-20 about how Christ came to fulfill the Law:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
In each of the following 6 sections after that, we see a pattern in Christ’s speech. What does Jesus start each of these sections with?
- “You have heard it said…” —- “but I say…” (“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you…)
“You have heard it said,” is referring to the law. In each of these 6 sections, he is quoting an Old Testament passage (with a slight exception on the very last one), and turning the common interpretation of the time completely on its head. Jesus is revealing God’s heart behind the law. He is moving beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law.
- Letter of the law – That which is literally written – “You shall not commit adultery” – that’s it.
- Spirit of the law – The true application of the law “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Example with the rich young ruler
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)
Here Jesus challenges a man who in most regards had probably obeyed the letter of the law in most ways, but moves on to the spirit of the law and challenges the man’s heart, which he knew to be full of idolatry for riches. For although the young man probably knew the letter of the law regarding idolatry which said, “I am the LORD your God … You shall have no other gods before me. (Deuteronomy 5:6-7),” he did not understand the spirit of the law which is in Matthew 22:36-40.
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:36-40)
Ministry of the Law vs. the Ministry of the Gospel
The Ministry of the Law was to reveal sin and lead us to Christ. The letter of the law – the literal written words, had no power to change our hearts. But with Christ came the Ministry of the gospel and the power that would transform our hearts through faith and cause us to want to serve God out of joy and gratitude rather than obligation and debt. Christ fulfills the righteous requirement of the law on our behalf (Hebrews 10:10-14) so that we can obey God from our hearts in the true spirit of the Law.
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." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:9-10)
Definition of Lust
Now that we have a foundation for why Jesus is saying this, let’s move on to what he is actually saying.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Lust in its simplest definition means to have a strong desire. Comes from Greek word Epithumeo/a
- Set ones heart on
- Strong desire
- Used in both positive and negative ways
- Paul’s desire to be with Christ
- Flesh’s desire for sin
But since this passage is addressing sexual lust, we need to give a clear definition of what it is and is not. What it is:
- The phrase “lustful intent” in the Greek literally means “for the purpose of lusting for her”
- The fact that the Bible calls it lustful “intent” or “purpose” means that it is first and foremost a condition of your heart and your mind
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:18-28)
From a practical point of view, we can see from this passage that lust starts as a condition of the heart that moves into your mind and into your actions.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God [in their hearts(1)], God gave them up to a debased mind(2) to do(3) what ought not to be done.
But going even prior to the heart, what caused their hearts to turn towards lust and sexual immorality. Verse 21 – Although they knew God
- They did not honor him as God (idolatry)
- or give thanks to him (covetousness)
- They became futile in their thinking
- Their foolish hearts were darkened
- God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity
Lust is an outworking of idolatry
“They did not honor him as God.” Idolatry replaces God as the center of your life with something else. Whether that be sex or lesser forms of physical affection, a relationship, or emotional fulfillment, sexual lust becomes an act of worship that worships the creature rather than the Creator. When you have those thoughts about that man or woman that you think is just “so hot,” realize that you are engaging in an act of worship. This does not mean that any recognition of beauty is automatically lustful or idolatrous.
Beauty is a characteristic of God
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. (Psalms 27:4)
Honor and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (Psalms 96:6)
O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. (Psalms 96:9) (KJV)
We are created in God’s image and carry that characteristic of beauty as well. Depending on which culture you’re raised in, you will find certain physical characteristics more attractive than others; that’s not sinful. But notice how that last Psalm defined beauty as holiness. Let your beauty be defined by your godly characteristics, not by outward appearances.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12)
Lust is an outworking of covetousness
“or give thanks to him.” Covetousness springs from not being content with God or what he has given you. Because you are not content, you seek to become content through illegitimate means like lust, pornography, sex outside of marriage, masturbation and other forms of sexual immorality. Seek and find your satisfaction and fulfillment first and foremost in your relationship with Christ. He is the great provider of all of our needs.
Are there such things as sexual needs?
How can they be legitimately fulfilled if I’m not married? I found myself asking these questions to God. This is how my conversation with God went:
God: Is there even such a thing as a sexual need?
Me: I’ve always been told that I have them.
God: Will you die if you do not have sex?
Me: It sometimes feels that way, but no I will not die.
God: Will your relationship with me be lessened in any way from not having sex?
Me: No, Jesus and Paul seemed to have pretty good relationships with you without having it.
God: So, I guess it’s not a need then, is it?
Me: I guess not.
But, I had to check God on his Word just to make sure I wasn’t just telling myself this to sound self-righteous; so I searched the Scriptures. Lo and behold, there is not one instance of sex and need being mentioned in the same verse. It is always talked about as a desire. I’m not saying that all sexual desire or physical attraction is wrong, but it is the pornea or sexual immorality that is wrong. Within the context of marriage (which is a picture of Christ and the church), sex is a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for the church
Why do I feel like it’s a need?
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where sex and sexuality are constantly forced in front of us and are elevated to be the quintessential thing that everyone “needs” to have, and as a result, our sexual desires have become disproportionate with how God designed them to be. And on top of that, we lust and watch porn or watch all these sexual movies that exaggerate these desires even more to the point that they do feel like needs. 1 Corinthians 7 talks about how if you burn with sexual desire, that you should marry.
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband... But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:2, 9)
Guidelines for identifying lustful thoughts
The Lord really laid on my heart to not only faithfully explain the doctrine surrounding this, but to also make it really practical to your everyday life. So I put together a list of guidelines to help you answer the question, “Is this thought lustful?” The only question you really need to ask is this: Is this thought loving? Am I loving this person by thinking about them in this way?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) (NIV)
- Love is patient – Is this thought born from being impatient from not having a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife? Then it’s lust.
- Love is kind – Are you imagining doing something unkind to them or something they would not want done to them? Then it’s lust.
- It does not envy – Is your thought trying to illegitimately get something that does not belong to you? Then it’s lust.
- It does not boast – Is this thought born from a desire to brag to others about what you did with that person? Then it’s lust.
- It is not proud – Is this thought motivated by pride or making yourself look better? Then it’s lust.
- It is not rude – Does this thought contain inappropriate or dehumanizing language? Then it’s lust.
- It is not self-seeking – Is this thought putting your own interests or pleasure before others? Then it’s lust.
- It is not easily angered – Is this thought motivated by anger at that person? Then it’s lust.
- It keeps no record of wrongs – Is this thought motivated by revenge or getting back at someone else? Then it is lust.
- Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth – Are you doing something wrong in your thought? Is this thought based on lies? (The fact that is a fantasy in your head or on your computer tells me that it is based on lies). Then it’s lust.
- It always protects – Are you hurting the person in your thoughts? Then it’s lust.
- It always trusts – Is this thought born from mistrust between you and the person? Then it’s lust.
- It always hopes – Is this thought born from a feeling of despair or depression? Then it’s lust.
- It always perseveres – Is this thought motivated by laziness or boredom? Then it’s lust.
- Love never fails – Are you thinking this because you failed someone or someone failed you? Then it’s lust.
If your thought towards that person can honestly meet all of this criteria, it is not a lustful thought. These criteria are also equally applicable to your actions with another person as well. Is your physical affection that you show others, the words that you say to others, is it all checked by these guidelines?
I hear some of you say, “Well, jeez, I can’t do anything, can I?”
No, you can do a lot of things, just nothing unloving. Don’t you love them?
“Well, yeah, and it’s because I love them that I want to do these things with them.”
No, you want to do these things with them because you love yourself. That’s the bottom line.
This is applicable to both men and women, as well as to both the single and married. Married people don’t get off the hook. If sex with your spouse is motivated by any of the criteria I listed above, then it is motivated by lust, and that is sinful.
How to deal with the temptation of lust
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. 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. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Jesus is being very serious when he says this, but he is not advocating you mutilate your body
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
As a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is dishonoring to God to both to use your body for evil purposes as well as hurt it intentionally. Jesus’ concern is with your heart and seeing it transformed by his grace. Even if you cut out your right eye and your right hand, without a transformed heart you would still sin with the left eye and left hand. What is causing you to sin in your life? What needs to be removed and cut off and thrown away? What is leading you down the hellish path of lust?
I’m not coming to you as someone who’s figured everything out and has it perfectly lived out in my life. I come as someone who’s screwed up so many times, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.
These are some questions you need to ask yourself:
- What causes me to sin?
- How I spend my time?
- Am I spending my time in the Word or in the world?
- Am I spending my time in prayer and communion with God? Not just talking to God but listening?
- Am I spending my time in fellowship with the church?
If I am not spending my time doing those things, then my heart is empty, and I am more likely to wander into sin.
One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet. (Proverbs 27:7)
- With what are you filling your heart? How are you spending your time? Is it glorifying to God?
- Am I at home by myself? If my heart is empty and I am at home by myself, that increases my odds of failure
- What emotional state am I in? Tired, Lonely, Depressed, Stressed? If I’m any of those things, then I have to be on guard and fortify my heart and my mind with Scripture.
It’s not only important to know what causes you to sin, but also take steps to mitigate it (Christ says to cut things off).
Practical ways to mitigate temptation
Steps I’ve taken to mitigate temptation for myself:
- Accountability Software for my computer
- I was constantly using my cell phone to sin. So I removed the internet and all apps that use internet; prevented myself from downloading new ones, and removed Facebook and other social media where people were posting things that tempted me.
- I ask people what they need prayer for, and usually they’ll ask if they can pray for me too.
Everyone’s circumstances will be different
- Maybe you need to end an unhealthy relationship
- Maybe you need to get accountability software for your internet
- Maybe you just need to be vulnerable with someone you trust
Guard Your Heart
Go back to the passage in Romans 1. What caused them to turn to lust? They did not honor God or thank God.
- Are you honoring God and making him your #1 priority, especially with your time?
- Are you giving thanks to God for all that he’s done for you?
- Are you mitigating those sources of idolatry and covetousness that would make you turn to lust?
Guard Your Mind
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Renew your minds through the reading of the Word and prayer
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:5-7)
To set your minds means having a mindset, meaning a pattern of thinking. We are thinking about all day? What are you setting your mind on? If you have a mindset of lust all day, then it should not be a surprise when you act on it that night. At the same time, we should also expect to be tempted to lust all day, which is why are told in Scripture…
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)
You may not be able to control every thought that comes into your mind, but you certainly can control whether you dwell on that thought or not. Also don’t fall into the trap of “Stop thinking about that! Stop thinking…!” You will fail at resisting lustful thoughts if simply try to think of nothing. Your mind will never think of nothing. You need to fill your mind with what is good, or it will be filled with what is not good.
Guard Your Eyes
I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin? (Job 31:1)
What does it mean to make a covenant with your eyes? It means that as long as it is in your control, you will not let your eyes look at things that will cause you to lust. People often forget that your eyes are connected to your brain. What you see will inevitably end up in your thoughts and very likely stay there forever. God foresaw this. He gave humans an incredible gift that blocks out any image from your eyes that you choose. Do you know what it is? Eyelids! He also gave you amazing abilities to “look the other way” as well as “turn your head”
Guard Your Actions
Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? (Proverbs 6:27)
Don’t flirt with sin. Don’t put yourself in compromising situations. Most “big” sins began with compromising on smaller sins that made the bigger sins much harder to resist. What starts out as lust and fantasy can turn into reality if you do not put these safeguards in place that I’ve been talking about.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is this – Are you walking by the Spirit? Are you fully submitted to God in every aspect of your life? Or are you holding a part of your life back from God? Whatever you hold back from God can be more easily tempted by the devil, your flesh, or the world to do those things you don’t want to do.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. –FACT- For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17)
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18)
We are commanded to both walk by the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit.Walking by the Spirit is an active, present verb in the Greek, meaning it is something that you do continuously. Being filled with the Spirit is a passive, present verb in the Greek, meaning that it is something that God does to you continuously. Fully submitted to God in each and every moment.
If you fall into temptation
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
Do not live in condemnation, but in grace and forgiveness. The longer you walk in your own condemnation, the more likely you are to repeat the same mistakes. The only way to live is by his grace. Repent and turn from your sin! If you sin again, repent and turn away again. Never fall into despair and constantly sin because you have constantly failed.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)
It’s very easy when preaching a message like this for it to be very heavy. Sin carries a lot of weightiness with it. But Christ’s burden is light and he calls us to take it upon ourselves. Know the price that sinning carries and can have on your walk with God, but also know that his grace and mercy will exceed anything you can ever possibly do.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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. (Philippians 4:6-8)