Sinning Like a Christian: Lust

Matthew 5:27-30

27 “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. 28 But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.

 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

12 I have the freedom to do anything, but not everything is helpful. I have the freedom to do anything, but I won’t be controlled by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, and yet God will do away with both. The body isn’t for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 God has raised the Lord and will raise us through his power. 15 Don’t you know that your bodies are parts of Christ? So then, should I take parts of Christ and make them a part of someone who is sleeping around?[a] No way!16 Don’t you know that anyone who is joined to someone who is sleeping around is one body with that person? The scripture says, The two will become one flesh. 17 The one who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. 18 Avoid sexual immorality! Every sin that a person can do is committed outside the body, except those who engage in sexual immorality commit sin against their own bodies. 19 Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? 20 You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.

Just the other day, one of my friends on facebook shared a story about a young woman she knows who was at a Verizon wireless store with her boyfriend, and some random man came over and started taking pictures of her behind on his cell phone- one after the other.  Once her boyfriend and her dad realized what was going on, they confronted the man about it, store employees got involved, and the police were even called.  When confronted with his actions, all he had to say was that “he couldn’t believe she was allowed to wear something like that” (in reference to the length of her shorts) and that she was “asking for it.”

This occurrence represents a larger issue in our society where mainly young women are blamed for being objectified and harassed.  No woman (or man) consents to being raped, molested, or having inappropriate pictures taken without their consent, but they are still made guilty when something like this happens.  No one “asks for it.”  No one asks to be sexually harassed, and people should be allowed to wear what makes them comfortable without fear of unwanted attention or ridicule.  People should learn to control themselves.  We need to stop placing the blame.  But in all of this, the root of these evils and many more, is the sin of lust.

We have a problem in our culture of violence associated with sexuality, but this usually begins with lust.  We have a problem in our society of desire getting out of control to the point of harassment, sexual violence, and obsession with sex.  Sometimes, this is to the point where we isolate ourselves in the realm of shame over our sexual desires.  And if we continue to define sin as anything that separates us from God and what separates us from what is real and true, then lust most certainly qualifies as a deadly sin.

I have a colleague who shares his struggle with lust, sin, and the journey to forgiveness in the book, Becoming a Disciple.  Those of you who were in the study with me will remember this quite vividly.  Brent is now the senior pastor of Broad Ripple United Methodist Church and a well-respected pastor, friend, and colleague to many.  But his past reveals that he has worked hard to overcome a serious dark time of the soul.  Brent shares that he wasn’t sure when his sexuality went from that of a normal teenage boy to that of an addict, but he had been abusing pornography for a long time.  For him, it was a secret world of escape.  By day he played the part of a well-respected, church going, put together young man, but at night he hid alone in his cave.  His fake relationships peddled by porn were his sad substitute for real connection, and he became a slave to the well-hidden evil within him, and he was profoundly alone.

In reality, while Brent felt alone, he is not, in fact, alone in his struggle.  A 2014 study showed that 63% of Christian men view pornography at least once a month.  The study also found that the use of pornography seems to be accelerating among younger adults, with monthly viewing among men ages 18-30 reported at 78% (The Call, 143).

But finally, after years of his own personal struggle, Brent found the courage to walk into an unfamiliar church basement and utter these words: “Hi, I’m Brent, and I’m a sex addict.”  He was in the right meeting.  Over time, Brent began to face his sin, his fears, and come to the realization that if sin is whatever wedges its way in and tears apart, working against our God-given gravity toward real intimacy, then forgiveness is just the opposite.  Forgiveness is restoring intimacy.  It is when God removes the wedge of sin that broke the connection between God and ourselves, between ourselves and others, and between us and our very selves.  Forgiveness is reconnection.  And wholeness and healing is found in community with God and others.  We don’t overcome sin alone.

Lust, then, is a deadly sin when it gets to the point of our desires leading to shame, isolation, and separation from what’s most real and true.  It separates us from real intimacy with the self, others and with God.  Lust is a deadly sin when it leads to behaviors that harm ourselves or someone else.  At its worst, lust is when our desires have gone out of control, and we no longer take responsibility for what we are doing.  When we seek sexual pleasure and to quench our desires in ways, places, or people that we should not be meddling in, when our desires lead us to say or do things that lead to degrading others or placing the blame on anything or anyone but ourselves.  Lust is probably the most secretive of the 7 deadly sins.  If we think of lust as a sin at all, we probably consider it an ambiguous sin.  It’s “human, all too human.”  But the bad fruits of lust are: sexual assault, domestic violence, and the abuse of children, just to name a few.  These are terrible and among the most universally condemned and severely punished of crimes (140).

Today you heard a notoriously difficult saying of Jesus in the Matthew text: “But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart.  And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away!”  And please, no one get any ideas about losing their eyes or limbs here.  We do, after all, have a forgiving God.  But this text still begs the question, “who, then, is exempt from committing lust?”  None of us are free from this one!  And women, we are not exempt from this either!  Just walk into any bookstore and you’re bound to see that the 50 Shades of Gray series is still topping the best seller list!  In our culture today- in our sex-saturated, sex-infatuated culture, these words of Jesus might seem a bit excessive.

Why make such a big deal out of something that has become so mainstream, so widely practiced?  (141).  It’s as if Lust presents us with a paradox.  On one hand, our sexuality is presented to us as a gift from God and we are instructed to be fruitful and multiply, and to love and enjoy one another intimately.  On the other hand, sexuality, when used for harm, can be detrimental to ourselves and our relationships.

As with so many of the 7 deadly sins, the sin of Lust is in our perversion of the good.  How could it be that such a good, godly gift like sex could be, in our hands, such a sorrow, such a danger, such a shameful thing?  “Desire is a good, God-given thing.  Desire misdirected, misused, leads to sin” (142) .  Lust is the reminder that “God has given us good gifts like sex that enable us to participate in some of the divine creativity, and we have the power within us to abuse and misuse those gifts” (144).

In our darkest moments, we hold the capacity to disrespect one another’s bodies, we degrade and abuse one another, and we see the other as simply an object of lust, and not as a whole human being.  In our culture, we use sex to sell anything from fast food hamburgers to cell phone plans.  You can’t watch a football game anymore without seeing at least 25 advertisements where sexuality is the underlying selling point.

And not to mention, we live in a world where young women and girls are kidnapped, raped, and killed by the hundreds of thousands every day.  When I was in South Africa with my clergy colleagues, we walked through several townships where people still live in houses made of cardboard and metal, where there was very little if no running water, and the toilets were porto-potties that were in rough shape and some non-functional.  As we walked through during the bright light of day, we realized that there were not street lights to light up the areas at nighttime.  We then learned that in some of the townships, women were afraid for their lives to venture out at night to go to the bathroom out of fear of being raped.  These tragic occurrences were just a part of life every single day for the people of the townships.

The deadly sin of lust has led to victimization and violence of women and children with the sex trafficking trade around the world. Women and children being sold for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. This, despite the fact international law and the laws of 134 countries criminalize sex trafficking.  At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor.  About 2 million children are exploited every year in the global commercial sex trade.  Almost 6 in 10 identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.  Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation (equalitynow.org).  One of the largest events in the United States where sex trafficking occurs?  The Superbowl.

There is no doubt that our culture and our world is out of control when it comes to sexuality- that this gift we have been given has been turned upside down and used in sinful ways that lead to destruction of ourselves and of others, sometimes the most vulnerable.  So what can we do about it?  We can start by reminding ourselves that “God created us not for sin, but for salvation.  We have been created for eternal communion with God and our hearts are restless to engage in true love rather than love’s pale substitutes…we are called not only to name and confess our sin, but also to be free of our sin.  By the grace of God, we can get better…we can be honest about our lustful desires, but also claim that we can be free from lust with the help of a trusting community, and by focusing our thoughts and desires on higher things” (147). Christian discipleship is too demanding to go it alone.  Sometimes we need a little help from our friends and the faith community.

As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians when he addresses the controversial topic of sexual immorality, he reminds the church in Corinth that they are to know that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and belong to God.  In this case, he is reminding them that their bodies are not meant to be subject to the temple prostitution rituals of the pagans, but are set aside for God’s glory and for the experience of intimacy in a committed relationship with one person.  So today we are to remind ourselves to honor our bodies, and the bodies of others as we seek the divine, the incarnation of Jesus, in each person.

We also combat the deadly sin of lust by opening up healthy conversations within the church and with our youth about sexuality.  One of the biggest concerns in our society today is what our children are being taught about sex, and I don’t think that the church talks about it enough.  The church should be a place where we are open to talking about it.  It should be a safe space for the tough questions to be asked without judgment, for struggles to be named, and for education to be available.  In many ways, the church has failed to communicate a healthy sexual ethic to the next generation.

We also need to take responsibility in teaching our young men about respect for women and girls.  Too often I hear “blame the victim” phrases being thrown around.  When there is a rape or sexual assault, phrases such as “she asked for it,” are heard, or someone will ask, “what was she wearing?”  This needs to stop.  It begins with teaching our boys and young men respect for women, and for women to respect themselves and to know it’s okay to feel good about themselves without fear of being harassed, groped at, or attacked.  This picture was going around the other day that certainly got my attention as we continue to combat the so-called “rape culture” problem in our society:

things that cause rape

Healing from these kinds of sin begin with mutual respect, honest conversations, and sometimes realizations of our own struggles and perceptions of other people.  After all, a “disciple of Christ is someone, who, by the grace of God, has somehow been given the ethical resources to be able to look upon all the wiles of the world and say no” (149) and to “assert that all of life, even our sexual lives, are to be lived for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.”

As we wrap up this challenging series on the 7 deadly sins, we are reminded of the good news that even though we struggle and stumble over our sins and mistakes and the ways we drift from God and from ourselves and our neighbors, that God seeks to work within us to transform us and save us.  After all, “one of the great testimonials to the power of God in Jesus Christ to change people, to enable us to be more than we could have been without the love of Christ, is that we have spent all this time talking about sin!” (and I hope that we are better off for it!) (160).

We stand as living proof that we can confront our sins, name them, wrestle with them, and give them over to Jesus Christ, “who says time and time again that he came to seek and to save the lost- and he has found you and has the power to remarkably transform sinners like us into sort of a saint- that makes us all miracles- a surprising work of God (161).”  “And our sanctification isn’t finished.  God is still working on us, still transforming us, still holding up the mirror of truth to us and making us look at ourselves.  We are yet learning to see ourselves as God sees us: mired in the muck of our sin and yet destined by God to stand up and shine as blessed children of God…as he seeks to bring each one of us…home” (161).

We are works in progress.  As my friend Brent says of his journey to recovery, “I began to understand that both recovery and discipleship are about far more than stopping destructive behavior.  They’re about learning how to live the life of openness and connection that God intends for all God’s children.  They’re not only about receiving freedom from addiction or sin, they’re about receiving freedom for abundant life in relationship with God and others”  (Becoming a Disciple, 13).

God uses many tools to heal the brokenness we carry, and God is constantly at work reconnecting what sin has torn apart in every community and every individual- even the deadliest of sins that we all carry.  So know that you are not alone in the struggle, whatever it is that you struggle with.  Sit down, join the crowd, and know that we are all seeking salvation from something.  We all come seeking transformation out of brokenness, and we come to find a Savior who comes to reconcile the world unto himself, that we may be forgiven and restored children of God.  Amen.

(We had a time of healing and anointing following the sermon.)

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