I’m sure many, if not most, shrink back at the subject of sexual sin. Yet we must talk about sexual sin because it is a ruthless and deadly pandemic not only in our culture but, shamefully, in the church. And even in the church we desperately try to avoid this subject because the honest truth is that this sin is real in our hearts and we are utterly terrified of being exposed and overwhelmingly burdened by its shame. So we run and hide. We camp out in the darkness hoping that we can persist undiscovered in our habitual sexual sin.
Whether it is looking at women with lustful intent, browsing internet pornography, visiting sex chat rooms, engaging that man at the office in an emotional affair, or engaging the woman down the street in a physical affair—to these sins we willingly and joyfully return over and over again, unwilling and unable to free ourselves. But there is good news—we have been exposed. You and I have been revealed as the frauds and fakes we are by the cross of Christ. The cross announces that our sin, in its thousands of forms, is so utterly detestable before God, so deserving of infinite wrath and punishment, that the only sufficient means of atonement is the shed blood of the infinite, eternal Son of God. There is no hiding from the judgment rendered against our sin at Calvary. The verdict has been announced, and we have been found guilty of all our most secret, most vile sins. And this is good news because the gospel which exposes us as a sinner turns around and frees us from sin.
The verdict has been announced, and we have been found guilty of all our most secret, most vile sins. And this is good news because the gospel which exposes us as a sinner turns around and frees us from sin.
But what has gone wrong? What or who is to blame for the mess we are in? Matthew 15:18-20 gives us the answer. The Pharisees asked Jesus earlier in verse 2: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” The Pharisees believed that one could be defiled, that their heart could be tainted by eating with unwashed hands. They believed that by abiding by the tradition of washing their hands, by rightly performing certain tasks prior to eating, they could keep their hearts pure. This is really no different than most of our views of sin in the church. We think sin is something outside of us, something external to us. And we must keep it out by doing the right things—don’t drink this, don’t listen to that music, do come to church on Sunday, (when it comes to sexual sin) do put Covenant Eyes on your computer, don’t go to that restaurant, don’t visit that website, don’t talk to that man. We, like the Pharisees, believe that we can perform some sort of ritual that will keep us pure. But Jesus completely flips this understanding upside down.
Jesus says in Matthew 15.18-20:
Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.
What comes out of the heart defiles a person. Sin comes out of the heart because it is in the heart. Sexual sin is an external manifestation of internal realities. Our sin is not something outside of us. It is something within us. Sexual sin is a heart issue. It is not something external to be avoided. It is something within that needs to be rooted out. But our heart’s affections are so grossly perverted, so drastically disoriented that our hearts cannot be restrained in its pursuit of sin. Like water running downhill, we will find a way to enjoy, however briefly, the fleeting and empty pleasures of sexual sin.
GK Chesterton was once asked what he believed to be the problem with the world. Very simply, very succinctly, and very biblically he answered, “I am.” The problem, brother and sisters, is not your internet browser, it is not the fashion industry, it is not culture, it is not your husband or wife—it’s you.
So where and how does the course of sexual sin end? The answer depends on whom we have sinned against. In order to really understand “the sinfulness of sin” we need to remember sexual sin is primarily and chiefly against God.
The sexually immoral heart rages in rebellion against God. It renounces and despises God’s pattern for and rule over our bodies and sexuality.
1 Corinthians 6.13 declares, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Therefore, to give your body to sexual immorality is against God’s design for your body. It is a rejection of God’s design for your sexuality. By giving your body to sexual immorality, you are telling God, “Take a back seat. I am God now. I will determine how I should live and what is best for me. I don’t need you.” The sexually immoral heart rages in rebellion against God. It renounces and despises God’s pattern for and rule over our bodies and sexuality. So, again, sexual sin is primarily and chiefly against God.
But sexual sin is also against others. At its root, sexual sin is a refusal to count others more significant than yourself. All sexual sin stems from a desire to be served by others. We want our needs met, and we stoop as low as objectifying and dehumanizing people made in the image of God to placate our sexual appetites. By engaging in the act of looking at pornography, you applaud the public shaming, the objectifying and the dehumanizing, of women and men made in the image of the Most High God. You approve it. You say, “This is good. It is not good for a man to hold fast to his wife. This is good.” And your lustful gazing, your lustful pondering, Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-28, is adultery.
So sexual sin is against both the “object” of your lust and against your spouse. Your sexual sin betrays your spouse. It betrays the woman or man to whom you vowed to never leave nor forsake. It forsakes them on every level—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It leaves them at the altar while you run around seeking another to meet your needs. You reduce your marriage to a utilitarian agreement and your spouse to merely an object of your pleasure. Sexual sin is against others because you refuse to serve them but instead demand to be served by them.
Further still, sexual sin is against self. Consider these two passages:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18
He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. Proverbs 6:32
Sexual sin leaves a wide wake of destruction in its path. It ruins more than you can even imagine in the moment. Its destruction is not limited to the marriage bed. It overflows in a myriad of ways in a multitude of areas—you get short with your kids, you get lazy at work, you retreat from communing with God. And because sexual sin is primarily and chiefly against God, sexual sin leads to and is deserving of death.
Romans 6:23 reminds us that the wages of sin is death. This is no light sentence! Your sexual immorality, your adultery demands payment of your life. And yet we sweep it under the rug, put a happy face on and pretend that all is well. “Everyone struggles with lust, everyone looks at porn, plenty of “godly” people have had affairs. It’s not a big deal.” Wrong! It’s a huge deal. And you and I will die for it, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from its enslavement of us.
Only the gospel brings us a new heart and announces we, by faith in Christ, are no longer guilty of sin because another has paid the penalty for us.
And because sexual sin wells up from within a defiled, sinful heart that condemns us before God and because our sin deserves death, the remedies we often turn to are not adequate. Often, our remedies are nothing more than rituals to keep that which we perceive to be evil outside of us from getting inside of us. These efforts are nothing more than behavior modification. They do nothing to change the heart or to pay the penalty for sin. Only the gospel brings us a new heart and announces we, by faith in Christ, are no longer guilty of sin because another has paid the penalty for us. The gospel proclaims, although we were once unrighteous and deserving of God’s wrath, Christ taken our sin upon himself and has washed you and fit you to be embraced as a child of God.
This is the glorious proclamation of 1 Corinthians 6.11: “And such [sexual immoral and adulterers] were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
The gospel alone is the remedy for sexual sin. No other will do.
Only the gospel rightly orients our hearts’ affection to the One who truly satisfies—Jesus. The gospel holds up Jesus as the supreme treasure of the universe whose worth expels all other of our heart’s lesser affections. The gospel announces that the One chiefly wronged and offended by our sexual sin exhausted the wrath against our sin on his own Son. The gospel declares that though we were under the wrath of God, God has hidden our life in Christ so that all that is counted as true of Christ is now counted as true for us. The gospel alone is the remedy for sexual sin. No other will do.