From a Men’s Breakfast in 2010:
“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things”
The French philosopher and mathematicians Blaise Pascal wrote:
The greatness of man is so obvious that it can be deduced even from his misery. What is natural in animals is seen to be wretchedness in man. From this we can recognize that since his nature todays resemebles that of the animals, he has fallned from a better state which in former times was more appropriate to him. Who does not feel more unhappy at not being a king except a king who has been deposed ….Who considers himself unhappy because he possesses only one mouth? Yet who would not be unhappy if had only one eyes? No one, perhaps, has ever taken it into his mind to fret over not having three eyes. But man is inconsolable if he has no eyesight (80/117-409).
We were meant to be great, but it constantly strikes us that we are not. We were meant to be immortal – and yet we are not. Thus, we are so ruined and sad over death, both our own and others.
Something has gone terribly wrong. It is everywhere apparent. To be a human being is to suffer a permanent loss; it is a confusion that follows from a thought which has just escaped your attention and which now cannot be recovered. It is to know that what you see is not quite true, but to not know how to regain the focus.
To be a human being is to be isolated and alone behind your words and deeds and to know that somehow you are not what you appear and others are not what appear.
All of human civilization, all of human action is a vain attempt to somehow repair this breach in the grandeur of our soul. We were made for something truly great – we were made for God himself! We were made to exercise dominion over the creature as lords of the Great Lord himself. We were made to live forever; to never grow old, to never die, to never suffer sickness or loneliness or death.
But we have been thrown into exile. We wander about. Our hearts are restless and wandering things. As Augustine prayed, You have formed us for yourself – God – and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.
But we miss God, we fail to seek him where he can be found. And so we fill up our restlessness with accomplishments and power; or we try to drown it out with entertainment and drugs and sex. These are things we are used to substitute for God, and as such they become little gods to us. When anything replaces the true God it becomes a false god. And false god demand terrible sacrifices, they will stop at nothing less than our complete destruction.
This morning we are going to speak about sexual purity – which is just another way of saying that we will speak about not making sex a false god.
To understand our current state and to understand how a good thing could become a false god, we first need to understand how we got here. We’ll need a short history lesson.
1. It was not supposed to be like this 1:26-30
a. We were made in the image of God
b. We were created with a profound relationship to and with God. 3:8
c. We were made male & female
d. We told to populate the earth and were given dominion
2. We are isolated as a result of the Fall
a. We sought God’s position: 3:5
b. As a result we became isolated and ashamed 3:7
c. We were cursed in all our relations 3:16-17
d. We were thrown out of Eden 3:24 and we have been restless wanderers ever since.
3. Everything is now disordered: because we are not home.
a. We are defiled.
4. Note that the relationship with God and the relationship between a man & woman were both distorted in the same event.
a. The direct effect of the curse
b. This is underscored in Romans 1:18-28
b. This is underscored in Romans 1:18-28
Note this: When our knowledge of God becomes distorted, our sexual relationships become distorted. Getting God wrong results in our getting sexual relationships wrong.
The wrong here is the same whether it is same sex, opposite sex or both sex. Hetrosexual immorality is not better than homosexual immorality. Any sex outside of a monogamous marriage involving one man and one woman is wrong. Period.
5. In our distorted and isolated condition: we have been trying to reconstruct attachments — that is, love, which is attachment to others: God and man.
a. Sexual desire is a mechanism which God has given us to impel us to intimate knowledge of and connection to another human being. Adam is said to “know” his wife, not because the biblical writers would not talk about sex, because the text is emphasizing Knowledge.
b. The first command the order of the Bible is found in Genesis 1:28 is to be fruitful and multiply – which will take a sexual connection to a woman. The foundation of the existence of all human beings was tied to this fact of knowledge between a man and woman.
c. Adam’s first words to Eve were to express a profound covenant intimacy with her: They were to belong to one-another. This intimacy was to be so profound that they were to become one-flesh.
d. Such intimacy is related held up in the Bible as a good. In fact, when God wants to express his love and concern for his people, he often uses the image of marriage. When he wishes to express the nature of sin, he often uses the image of adultery.
e. John Piper puts these ideas together very well:
Therefore, I say again: God created us in his image, male and female, with personhood and sexual passions so that when he comes to us in this world there would be these powerful words and images to describe the promises and the pleasures of our covenant relationship with him through Christ.
God made us powerfully sexual so that he would be more deeply knowable. We were given the power to know each other sexually so that we might have some hint of what it will be like to know Christ supremely.
Therefore, all misuses of our sexuality (adultery, fornication, illicit fantasies, masturbation, pornography, homosexual behavior, rape, sexual child abuse, bestiality, exhibitionism, and so on) distort the true knowledge of God. God means for human sexual life to be a pointer and foretaste of our relationship with him.
6. To repeat: Knowledge of God is tied up explicitly with sexuality. A broken relationship with God shows up in our lives with distorted sexuality. Unfortunately, we will never have a sufficient knowledge of God during this life to fully put off the ill of sexual immorality – at least as a temptation.
II. Sexual Immorality as Temptation:
I probably don’t need to tell you, but sexual immorality is a common temptation and problem for men. Pornography has made sexual immorality extraordinarily easy. It’s cheap, easy to get and seemingly anonymous. It is everywhere. It has affected the entire corporate culture – even for those who do not directly participate. Popular magazines depict things which were formally the province of pornography. Pornographers are having to work hard to find new perversions which do not merely become mundane and mainstream items of commerce.
Pornography has two basic powers:
A. First, it promises intimacy and connection to another human being. It promises an isolated man that he can become profoundly connected with another. There is a hole in the human being which can rightly be filled only with God. Sexual immorality promises that it can fill it more easily and faster and better. Pornography is not just an offer of sex, it is an offer of connection which promises to meet our most profound moments of being hurt or lonely.
B. Second, it promises sexual fulfillment in such a way that hijacks our nervous system and uses our body against us. I want to read you two quotations from William Struthers’ book Wired for Intimacy in which he discusses the effect pornography has on a male brain:
Pornographic images or inherently different from other signals. Images of nudity or sexual intercourse are distinct, different from what we experience as part of our everyday visual experience. They are analogous to the HD signal. The male brain is built like an ideal pornography receiver, wired to be on the alert for these images of nakedness. The male brain and are conscious visual experience is the internal monitor where we perceive them. The images of sexuality grab our attention, jumping out in hypnotizing a man like an HD television among a sea of standard televisions (83-84).
Because of the way that the male brain is wired, it is prone to pick up on sexually relevant cues. These cues trigger arousal in the series of neurological, hormonal and neurochemical events are set into motion. Memories about how to respond to these cues are set off and the psychological, emotional and behavioral responses began. As the pattern of arousal in response continues, it deepens the neurological pathway, making a trough.
This neural system trough, along with neurotransmitters and hormones, or the underlying physical realities of a man=s sexual experience. Each time that an unhealthy sexual pattern is repeated, and neurological, emotional and spiritual road version cars at a channel that will eventually develop into a canyon from which there is no escape. But if this corrupted pathway can be avoided, a new pathway can be formed. We can establish a healthy sexual pattern where the flow is redirected toward holiness rather than corrupt intimacy. By intentionally redirecting the neurochemical flow, the path toward right-thinking becomes the preferred path and is established as the mental habit. The path to recovery relies on the very rules that govern how the wounds were initially created. By deepening the holiness pathways, we are free from deciding to do what is right and good as they become part of our embodied nature. This is the process of sanctification (106-107).
C. In short, pornography promises answers to our spiritual and physical desires. The long-term effect upon a man is devastating. One of the seemingly odd effects of pornography is that ends up making a man not like an actual human being. The effect of pornography – indeed any sexual immorality – is to diminish the pleasure of sex. This was explained masterfully by C.S. Lewis in the Screwtape Letters. In this letter, a senior demon explains the process to a junior demon:
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage to humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.
The writer Namoi Wolf came to the same conclusion:
The reason to turn off the porn might become, to thoughtful people, not a moral one but, in a way, a physical- and emotional-health one; you might want to rethink your constant access to porn in the same way that, if you want to be an athlete, you rethink your smoking. The evidence is in: Greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity.
“For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.”
Sexual immorality robs a man of the joy of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure was created to increase the depth of knowing a single human being in a covenant relationship. When it is decoupled from its rightful place, it ends up decreasing our pleasure and joy.
In preparing for this talk, I read a portion of an interview with a rock star who essentially said that he likes pornography better than real women, and even when he is physically with a real woman his mind is in pornography.
Sexual immorality promises you a connection to another human. However, the end effect is to be further isolated; more alone and ashamed. And no, the shame of sexual immorality is caused by repression and culture. The shame comes from the fact that is sin and sin is shameful. Sexual relational with your wife is not shameful – in fact, it is a sin to refuse to have a sexual relationship with your wife (and obviously we are not talking about situations which involve physical inabilities).
III. The solution
A. There are two parts to the solution: there is the spiritual and the practical. Both of them are important. However, the spiritual aspect is the most important. Without the spiritual component, there can be no practical.
B. Turn to Colossians 3:5
Colossians 3:5 (ESV)
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
This would be the practical: stop engaging in sexual immorality. Here is a practical warning: When you read a command in the middle of a book you will almost certainly get it wrong. Paul did not start with this command. He provided an extensive theological background to this command. If you miss the theological context, you will almost certainly get the practical command wrong.
I don’t want a show of hands, but I want you to ask yourself, have you ever attempted to implement this command – or the command to stop any other sin – solely on the basis of will power and the Law? Have you ever said, “I’ll never do that again!” The answer is yes. Next question? Did it ever work? The answer is no. You can stop a behavior for a short period of time on the basis of will power, but you can never put it to death. Killing sin is the work of believers who are assisted by the Holy Spirit. If you try to put sin to death without God’s help using God’s means, you will fail.
Christ is the best, the most necessary, the most valuable. In Colossae, some people were saying Jesus is good and all, but there is something more you can do in addition to Jesus. There are actions and rituals and beliefs and what not that you can add to Jesus to get even more power. These people evidently had plans for how to put sin to death. They spoke of controlling the body. Look with me at Colossians 2:20-23:
Colossians 2:20–23 (ESV)
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Note the commands to obtain purity. We humans know that we are defiled in our exile. We know that God demands perfect purity. These people were trying to obtain purity without Chirst.
Harsh treatment of the body, controlling your body’s actions sound like good advice to kill sin. But Paul says that such things are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. You cannot kill sexual immorality by locking yourself in a box. People were sexually immoral before the Internet. Pornography certainly puts a nasty spin on an old sin, but it is an old sin.
At this point, you may be dismayed to find that you are told to put sin to death and that you can’t sin to death by physically preventing a behavior. So what are you supposed to do? The answer is in the supremacy of Christ. Jesus is better than everything. Jesus is sufficient for all needful things. Jesus is sufficient to save us from the guilt of sin – and from the power of sin.
Let me explain this plainly: Ever since Adam, we have wandered very far from home. We are strangers to God. We are enemies of God. The Bible uses remarkably painful images to describe our condition: We are heirs of wrath: we are destined to inherit the anger of God. We are excluded from the true blessing of God. We are slaves to Satan, with a chain of sin around our necks. We could do nothing to remedy this situation.
But God who is rich in mercy determined that he would personally bear the penalty for our sin and suffer the wrath which we deserved by rebelling against Him. –That isolation and loss we feel in this world is the symptom of our rebellion against God. That fear of death which men know, is the reminded that we are fast-tracked to judgment. Thus, we know that we are in rebellion against him.
So God became a man, the son of God became a man – while not ceasing to be God. Jesus perfectly obeyed the just demands of God. He then suffered the penalty which belongs to me. Thus, God ransoms me from his own wrath to save and make me a true adopted son of God.
When I am restored to God, I am heir to those things which I most deeply desire: What could be greater than to be a son of true eternal God! What could be more wonderful than inherit creation with Jesus Christ, to rule and reign with Jesus!
If this is true of me, than it must be most cherished thought! To be reconciled to God is to be my dearest joy. And it is precisely that cherishing, that treasuring, that delighting God which God uses to cure me of my sin! Purity before God comes as a direct result of delighting in God. Purity never comes out from harshly treating my body, but rather by renewing my mind after the image of the one who created me. Purity is the natural outflow of a mind set upon God.
Look down again at Colossians, we’ll read verse 1-5 of chapter 3:
Colossians 3:1–5 (ESV)
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Following verse 5, Paul gives several other commands about what to do and not do. We’ll pick up in verse 15 of chapter 3:
Colossians 3:15–17 (ESV)
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Let’s unpack this briefly: Paul says have a mind set fully upon Christ. Expect and desire to be with him. Think about Jesus. Then he says stop sinning and starting loving. Then he says, let the word of Christ dwell in you – which is similar to saying set your mind on the things above. Then he says fill your heart with prayers and songs and joy and love.
That is enormously practical advice. I want you to imagine for a moment that you have been busy reading the word, meditating on it, so much so that it springs out of you in songs and prayers. When you meet believers, you find yourself being exhorted and exhorting, encouraging, correcting, provoking one another to love and good deeds. Imagine that you by faith can hold the new heavens and the new earth here – now.
Imagine that in part you begin to partake of the fellowship with God for which you were created – that fellowship with God which was lost in the Fall and the Curse. Would that practically effect the temptation toward sin?
Imagine a man who is starving – you could get him to eat some pretty disgusting food. But take a full man, who has plenty of food – he would never eat out of a dumpster. A man who has been filled with the Spirit will not be tempted to slurp down the nasty run of the sewer. A glass of toilet water will not tempt a man who drinks from living water.
In short, a passion for Christ will protect you from a passion for immorality. There is much more that could be said, but we don’t have time.