Virtually everyone agrees that adultery is wrong. According to one survey, more than 75% worldwide agree that it is wrong.[i] The vast majority of us agree: adultery hurts marriages, it hurts children.
And yet, simultaneously, our culture encourages us to pursue our desires and fulfill our passions. But there are cracks in that approach. The #metoo movement has begun to uncover the devastating impact of some men living out this sexual philosophy.
Two thousand years ago Jesus pointed to the crack in this moral pavement. He says that our sexual offense, our sexual sin, doesn’t begin with the action, but with the heart:
“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” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Sexual sin begins with our heart and moves to our imagination and only then to our actions. There was never a person in the history of the world who committed sexual sin who didn’t initiate that sin in his heart and then his imagination.
Only 14% of women and 22% of men admit to having had an affair.[ii] And yet, If you ask Americans if they would commit an affair if they wouldn’t get caught, then 74% of men and 68% of women say they would have an affair.[iii]
And every person has at one time or another turned over in our hearts the desire to experience someone other than our spouse sexually and/or emotionally. That desire then gets turned over and played with in our minds. This is lust.
If we take Jesus seriously then we recognize that every time our heart and imagination consumes someone else intimately (whether sexually or emotionally), we defile them as image-bearers of God. Men and women alike are called to honor and respect one another as image-bearers of our perfect God.
It’s worth noting that Jesus points his accusation specifically at men. The reason for this isn’t because Jesus thinks lust is only a male issue, but to rebalance the scales. In the ancient world, it was permitted for a married man to have sex outside marriage as long as it wasn’t with a married woman. A woman, however, was not allowed such freedom.[iv] Jesus makes it clear: there are not two sets of rules in play.
Our culture tends to respond by trying to rebalance the scales toward license: whatever sexual license men have, women ought to have too. But Jesus moves the opposite direction. “Boys will be boys” is dismissed as an excuse.
On the contrary, men and women alike are called to live out holy lives that reflect the value our Maker places on every individual, not just in our actions, but in our hearts.
Is Jesus just echoing, in the immortal words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards that we “can’t get no satisfaction”?
No. In fact, the greatest twist to Jesus’ words on our desire is that he offers himself to us for consumption. Do you want to experience the satisfaction of your desires? Turn to Christ.
There was a Samaritan woman at a well who was a lot like us. She was broken spiritually, emotionally, and sexually. Her life was marked with the devastation of trying to fill her desires. But Jesus doesn’t try to fix her thinking, and he doesn’t try to convince her that she needs to stop trying to find her worth in men. He offers her the only thing that can fulfill her desire: “If you knew the gift of God” and if you knew who I am, you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water.[v]
Do you see what Jesus does? He offers water that will truly satisfy. He offers himself.
We are on a lifeboat in the ocean and we keep scooping up saltwater, only to find that it makes us more and more thirsty. Jesus invites us to his island where there are waterfalls of freshwater and he says dive in! Be satisfied!
Two chapters later, Jesus doubles down. After feeding the crowds, the crowds are hungry for more: “Sir, give us this bread always.” And Jesus responds, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”[vi]
As my friend Benjamin Vrbicek encourages in his book: “Fight for filet mignon, not hot dogs. Diamonds not gravel… pleasure not porn.”[vii] Or, as Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”[viii] In other words, if you try to feed your desires, it will never be enough.[ix] Or, as the great theologians of the 20th century, Metallica said, “Fight fire with fire.”
Are you wrestling with lust? Then you are wrestling with desire. Don’t look merely to put a cap on that desire, look for the only being in the universe who can satisfy your desire.
Fight desire with desire. Fight impure desire with pure desire; stoke your desires for the living water, the bread of life: pour out your heart in worship, feed on the Word, and experience the satisfying intimacy of God in prayer.
This is part 1 of a 3 part series:
For part 2 see: Can Lust Send Me to Hell?
For part 3 see: 9 Ways to Flee From Lust
[iv] Morris, Pillar, 117.
[v] John 4:10
[vi] John 6:34b, 35
[viii] Augustine, Confessions, 33.
[ix] Interestingly, Augustine defines sin as desires that are turned in or curved in on oneself.