Message: The Radical Nature of Our Contentment (Pt 1) | Scripture: Matthew 5:27-30 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
We turn our attention today to the issue of lust, and so pervasive is this issue in our society that it is generally accepted that, if you lust, then you ought to be free to lust however you want. This was, actually, the exact message I heard as a young 14-year-old boy at a secular basketball camp. Some of you know this story. I was raised in a strong, Christian household. I went to church where my dad was the pastor. I went to a Christian school. All of my friends came from believing families. So, a lot of the things that the world talks about regularly in society and culture, I’d never heard about.
Then, my parents did something innocent—they sent me to basketball camp, and it’s there, as a young teen, that some of my teammates asked me if I had ever looked at pornography. I remember looking at them and telling them that I didn’t know that word. And I remember all of their faces—wide eyed, jaws open, as if they had spotted a unicorn. They began asking me all sorts of illicit questions that I, obviously, had no answer for—just so that they might introduce certain concepts in my head. And then came the kicker, they said, “Man, for your own sake and happiness, when you get home, make sure you search for this, that, and the other thing.
Of course, being the 14-year-old boy that I was, wanting to fit in with my new friends, and also just out of plain curiosity, I went home, I typed in certain words, guessing at how to spell them, and for over ten years after that day, it became a challenge to undo what I had started in those brief, regrettable moments.
As much as I love basketball, I wish that I’d never gone to that camp, and yet, even still, I know that it wasn’t the camp’s fault. Those boys on my team, they weren’t blameless, but it wasn’t their fault, either. I know, as I have studied myself, that I would have found these things and given myself over to them one way or another. I know it because I craved it even before I went to that camp or met my teammates. I know it because once I found it, camps, other boys, other situations, they didn’t have to prompt me to expand my creativity in finding new forms of deviance and sin. I was doing that on my own. I know it because I loved it.
It wasn’t until a friend, who I confessed my struggle to, stopped me and pointed out the seriousness of my sin—a friend who knew I wanted to become a pastor someday—a friend who loved me enough to call me out on my issues, and to point me back not only to Jesus but to my wife, my future flock, my friends who would struggle through so many different problems in their own lives—all of them, he told me, would leave me, if I didn’t leave this destructive way of living—if I didn’t give up this duplicity of being one thing in public and being something completely else in private . Because, whether I wanted to admit it or not, this love for my sin would eventually ruin me, if not kill me. And this friend saved my life.
This is what duplicity does—especially in lust—it drives us either to ruin and death or to find desperate contentment—an unyielding hope—in a saving grace, and my desire for not only you but myself this morning is that we would let the heart’s natural instinct for duplicity drive us to a desperate contentment in Jesus and not to ruin. That we’d be sobered by the terror and pollution of sin in our lives, yes, but even more so, that we would be flooded with grace incomparable when we look to and at the cross to enable us to defeat sin’s grip over our lives. That’s my goal for us this morning—to weed out the duplicity in our hearts and fix our eyes upon our Saviour. So, would you allow me to do that with you now, as we look to our first and only point…
1) Remove and Cast Out All Sin
If able, would you please stand with me as I read to you from Matthew 5:27-30. TWoL: 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.
As I said last week, we’re in the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Christ is speaking about fulfillment. He has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and so he gives us six antitheses to show us how that law is not abolished, yet also to show us that those laws are far more than what we might have thought them to be, and how we ought to apply them in new, transformed ways in our lives. In the case of the law prohibiting murder, we aren’t called simply to avoid murder but to avoid the internalization, intention, and sinful desires that lead a person to murder.
We’re to have hearts that not only avoid murder but that are wholly freed from being angry with others or making others angry with us—causing them to feel murderous towards us—because the blessed, Christ-following life not only recognizes that our ambitions in this world have changed from temporary things to heavenly ones but also that our concern for others becomes more than about how they might treat us. Rather, our concern for them becomes about how they might, too, see and savour God—how they might be driven to the cross—and we care more about that than whatever the personal cost to us might be.
But then Jesus moves into this discussion on adultery, and I believe into a somewhat parallel issue on retaliation a few verses later, which we’ll cover next week. And he does this to draw out a little bit more how deep our sinful nature goes. It may be easy not to commit murder, but how about another, supposedly, easy one. How about adultery? This, although, more common in society than murder was—this issue of husband cheating on wife or vice versa was not incredibly pervasive in Jewish culture—at least not on record.
So, Christ chooses this issue that many in that day would have thought does not apply to them, and most of them, as Jesus brought it up, would have thought to themselves, “Aha! You’re not going to get me with this one” because to the Jews, adultery wasn’t about purity. It was about theft.
In that day, according to their interpretation of the Old Testament, the law against adultery was mostly applied by the Sanhedrin towards women. Women were seen as property of their husbands—so for a woman to sleep with a man who was not her husband, she would be seen to have committed adultery and thereby liable to death. But for a man, if he cheated with another man’s wife, it would be seen as stealing. While the woman would be killed, the man would be liable to remuneration/reimbursement. Thus, while everyone may have committed murder in their hearts by being angry at others, not everyone in that crowd would have committed adultery in their hearts by virtue of never having stolen anything or anyone.
But once again, here comes Jesus to set the record straight, and he is speaking very directly at his audience—most of whom are men, “if you look at a woman lustfully, you’ll have committed adultery with her in your heart.” Notice how careful our Saviour is with his words. He’s speaking to men, first off—“if you look at a woman.” And he’s not doing it in the context of stealing property. Rather, he’s speaking about purity. He’s not speaking about something you steal with your hands; he’s speaking about something you steal with your heart. It’s about coveting after something for fleshly pleasure, whether or not you actually possess it, and in so doing, you are liable to the same fate as those women who have actually committed adultery in your midst.
Now, just like last week, don’t get me wrong. Lusting after a woman in contrast to actually committing adultery are not the same thing—at least not in that day. In that day, one act was worse than the other—just like murder is worse than calling someone names. However, like I said in my sermon last week, Christ isn’t here to discuss the degree of severity with regards to an act that carries with it earthly consequences. He’s here to talk about eternal consequences.
And, if I might endanger myself of too much overlap here, just like last week where the root desire for murder comes from the same place as one’s desire to call someone names, the root desire for adultery comes from the same place as inappropriately desiring something or someone that isn’t yours for the sake of your pleasure and contentment. And every one of us is guilty of this in some way or another.
Here’s an example of how lust manifests itself in our society, and I’m going to make it an obvious one because of how widely it covers the spread. In one 2018 study, and I chose this study because of the astounding numbers it produced, of those surveyed, which was a large sampling group, roughly 92% of men and 60% of women ages 18 to 60 were found to have used pornography in the past month—that’s more than 9/10 men, and if you took a group of 10 men and 10 women, only 5 of them would be exempt. Of the top three porn sites, there are a total of over 5.81 billion visits per month. On only one of those sites, nearly 6 billion hours of porn were watched in 2018. The average life is 700,800 hours. So in one year, humanity consumed the totality of roughly 8,562 lives.
Brothers and sisters, these are unbelievable numbers, and they ought to grieve us deeply because, if I might borrow the words of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, they exemplify for us nothing short of the exceeding sinfulness of sin—the depth to which it’s created a rottenness in us, and I want to emphasize pornography isn’t the main problem. It is likely a problem for many in this room, but it isn’t the main problem. There are other forms of lust.
As you all know, I love tennis, and I have a tendency to browse tennis websites often for sales and deals, and recently we were in Toronto, and I was sitting beside my dad browsing, shopping on these sites. And when he saw me doing this, he leaned over and whispered to me, “don’t feed the lust of the eyes.”
You see, lust isn’t only sexual—although it is mostly, usually that, especially in Scripture. But this is also why the Bible uses the plural “lusts of the flesh” and not the singular. The late, great David Powlinson, the leading authority on Biblical Counselling puts it this way, “The human heart can generate a lust tailored to any situation . . . We are infested with lusts . . . love of [money], fear of man and craving for approval, love of preeminence or control, desire for pleasure, and so forth.” It can even be in something as innocent as shopping for tennis gear online because the root problem isn’t things nor is it pornography.
The main problem is the heart, and how exceedingly ambitious we are to satisfy and find contentment in its most carnal desires. And if we’re going to deal rightly with this main problem in order to rid our lives of all the other out flowing problems, then we have to know what sin is, namely, that it is not the action itself, the action is merely the symptom of the underlying disease, and to be rid of the symptoms, you need to rip out the disease.
It is that your heart has taken what is a good desire like sexual attraction—something that belongs as a gift from God exclusively between a man and a woman in covenant union to one another—something that is, ultimately, supposed to point you back to the intimate relationship you have with the giver of good gifts—and it (your heart) is powerful enough to lie and trick you into thinking that this good thing is an ultimate thing—that it can satisfy you, that you can submit your life to it, and that you should have it, whether you are married or not.
And not only is the sinfulness of our hearts powerful, but it is wickedly subtle in its polluting effects—in that it continues to twist us and mangle us until we are hardly recognizable to ourselves. When I think of what this looks like, I think immediately to the Gollum in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings whose possession of the ring was merely the outward action of what was happening inside—of what his desires were doing to him. He lusted after that thing so badly that he was willing to go to the greatest lengths, including starving himself and hiding in the darkness, allowing himself to become nothing but a monstrosity, in order to maintain his lust for this thing that was sucking the life out of him. And just like Gollum, it is our pursuit of that thing that gives us no life that will eventually take it from us—that will cost us not only our lives here and now but forever.
Now, Jesus didn’t have Tolkien, but he knew this deeply about sin, which is why he tells us in the next few verses that the way to avoid becoming this monstrosity is by putting to death the part that is leading you to become a monster—take out, altogether, that thing that is mangling your heart—whether it’s your eye looking at what it shouldn’t or a member of your body doing things that it shouldn’t. Why? Because the fate of one who lusts in his heart—who is pursuing that thing that leads to death will receive the same fate as the one who actually commits adultery with his or her body.
To be clear, this stumbling isn’t like a tripping over some rock and falling on the floor with the prospect of getting up and healing from your wounds. The word that Matthew uses for stumbling is meant to describe the result of an action that yields catastrophic results—its less like tripping over a rock and more like watching a plane crash into the World Trade Center—thinking that perhaps the structure will hold on only to watch in utter devastation as the whole thing comes crumbling down—as all hope is ripped from the very centres of our being. This is the seriousness to which Jesus condemns the lust of the eye and the hand, and the seriousness to which he calls us to take radical measures to cut it off before we fall into utter destruction.
And it needs to be said, I remember thinking in my struggle against pornography that even though I was doing this willingly, grace would be sufficient for me—that God has and will not reject me, if only I “repented”. “This would be the last time,” I’d say to myself. Yet, what I have learned is that this is true until it is not because if you’re using grace as an excuse for your sin—if you’re using it so that grace might abound while your true desire is to pursue the darkness of your heart, then what that ought to show you is that you don’t understand what grace is at all and that you likely haven’t received it either.
Grace isn’t meant only to save you, but to change you—to make you not only able to cut off your eye and hand if it causes you to sin but to want to cut it off—to throw it out—to burn it up, so that you don’t end up in the fire with it. Grace saturates your life with contentment in the giver of grace and not in the thing that you needed grace from. God gives freely. God gives and forgives generously. But God is also holy, and he gives grace so that you might be holy—so that you might rip even the smallest stain of sin from your midst and flee into his outstretched, almighty, protective arms.
Yet, we all know that Jesus doesn’t mean, literally, gouge out your eye or cut off your body part that’s leading you to sin. So, what is he saying? He’s saying take radical measures to ensure your contentment—to separate yourself from anything other than what God has given you and what God has ordained you to do with his gifts—to throw out or block up those websites from our computers or phones or tablets, to have others restrict us from their access even if it means not being able to access other, innocent things, in confessing your sin to someone who will take equally radical steps in helping you stay away from it, in walking away from those conversations that trigger our impulses, in running from that situation that you know will compromise your heart. Do whatever it takes to make sure you get into the kingdom of heaven—even if parts of you are missing—even if you’re limping in. For its better to live with a limp than to not live at all.
And still yet, for those of you who struggle with your lust in this room, just like I realized years ago, no matter what you do—no matter how hard you try to go cold turkey—no matter how invasive the measures you take, if your heart desires it, you’ll find a way to get it. In fact, what we come to realize really quickly is that we’re not only murderous in heart, but every one of us is adulterous too because of our lusts, and how even now we give into them—perhaps not lust for women or men, but for something else. All of us have spurned our relationship not only with our spouses but with God himself, and none of us, even now, can truly fulfill what he requires of us.
This is why Jesus’ words back in Matthew 5:17 are so crucial for us to grasp in every season. It’s not that we actually fulfill the law, though we ought to endeavour to do so as the Spirit enables, but that he fulfills the law, and we, thereby, drink from the fount of his precious blood shed for us upon that cross—blood that gives us life, blood that makes us able. And unless we fall back on this regularly—unless we preach it to ourselves on a daily basis, our hearts will forget, and they will turn back to sin.
For those of you in Jonathan’s Sunday School class right now, you will know that he’s walking through the five pedals of TULIP—the acronym that is often attributed to those who believe that when God calls sinners to himself, they cannot and do not want to resist, and that he will keep them until the end. It’s the belief that he saves us wholly by effective, irresistible grace through the gift of faith, and although Jesus predates Calvin and his followers, I believe this is exactly what he’s hinting at for us here.
“How,” might you ask? By telling us what the heart of a sinner looks like. It might, on the surface, look like a person can make a choice—choose to believe or not believe—choose to leave their lust or not leave their lust, and if we were using natural, worldly terms, they can. Nothing is physically restraining you from the choices you make, but if it were simply a matter of physical or natural ability, then we would have to say TULIP and the tenants of Calvinism are absolutely wrong—when we pray, we would be able to say, “Dear God, I thank myself for choosing to believe in you.”
But none of us, I hope, say this because it’s not natural ability that restrains us, it’s sin—and I’m not talking about sinful actions, I’m talking about the heart that is sin infested. It’s the understanding that no matter how much we want to believe that if our natures of sin were removed from us, if we were given a blank slate, we might choose righteousness—it’s the understanding that such a thing is impossible. Why? Because of the exceeding sinfulness of sin—because of what sin is—it’s not merely something that can be removed while the rest of our “self” remains.
There is no such thing as grace that comes and takes away our inclination to sin while leaving us to decide which way to go. We are either sinners plagued with hearts of sin or righteous with hearts saturated with the holiness of God. There is no in between. Sin is a description of who we are and not something that is merely detachable from us. We cannot choose to be what we are not unless someone kills what we are and puts a new life—a different life—a new heart—new desires into what once was. That, dear church, is called a new creation, and that, dear church, is what Christ is speaking of here as those called to a greater righteousness.
Unless someone comes, rips out the disease of our hearts, and implants in us new ones, the only thing we will ever choose is to sin again. To think otherwise is to underestimate and misunderstand what sin is—that we are, in the core of our beings, sinners, dead in the heart, unable to bring ourselves to life.
Moreover, to think otherwise is to underappreciate and think less of what the cross is. To think otherwise is to minimizes who Christ is, and why he is so worthy of all glory, honour, and praise. Because, you see, if he merely makes it possible for us to choose salvation, if he merely gives us enough grace so that our sinful inclinations depart from us in order to make a decision from a position of neutrality, then entire passages throughout the Bible ought to be ripped out of its spine.
The proclamation that Jesus now sits in radiance with all the enemies of the world placed under his feet as a footstool, all the claims of him as our great high priest, as our perfect and final sacrifice, as our author and perfector of our faith, as our fulfillment of all the promises that were given to those who have come before—all of those who could not fulfill those promises on their own—all of those claims would only be a half truth. Because, if we ultimately decide our own fates, we, at least, deserve part of the credit.
Yet, what this passage illumines and affirms to us in our hearts is that Jesus is no accomplisher of mere half measures. No, in order for us to fulfill the greater righteousness of this command, he must go the full mile, and he does it with the cross—that when he was nailed to that tree, so too was the assurance that our sins were nailed there with him, our names written upon his heart, and his righteousness given to us without question or reservation. He brings us out of death into eternal life. He saves irrefutably those who the Father has given him—planned from eternity past. He prevails for us where time-and-again we have, do, and will always fail.
This, then, is how we cut off sin from our hearts—it’s by gouging out our eyes that look upon our lusts and by cutting off our limbs that embrace all the things that our lusts pine after not to save ourselves but because we have been saved—because those eyes and those hands don’t belong to us—they belong to the one who has given them to us at great cost to himself—to save us from the exceeding sinfulness of our sin!
The heart is, above all, duplicitous. It tells us we can have one thing while committing ourselves to another, but don’t let that lie ruin you. Let its duplicity drive you to a desperate contentment—a desperate satisfaction in Jesus because he, himself, has come to sovereignly, irresistibly, and persistently bring you out of death into an everlasting and pure life. And because that is so, dear Christian, give no quarter to sin. Live no more according to the passions and lusts of the flesh. Put on the garment of greater righteousness by receiving the fount of blessed life, which has been given to us in Christ’s most precious blood.