Living With Your PassionsErwin W. Lutzer | May 18, 1986
Selected highlights from this sermon
Television and movies teach us that sensuality of all kinds is normal. But God’s message is one of sexual restraint—and He plainly prohibits adultery in the Ten Commandments.
The consequences of seeking sexual fulfillment can never be avoided. Even if it remains a secret, inner defilement will take hold.
So what should we do in a world that enflames our desires? Looking at the words of Jesus, Pastor Lutzer explains exactly what we should do.
Thou shalt not commit adultery, but of course we are living in a day and age when our nation is inundated with sensuality. Consequently we have things such as pornography that tell us that relationships with anyone at any time under any circumstance are okay, just as long as they are pleasurable.
And then of course we have movies that teach that the rich and famous are involved in wife swapping and all kinds of evil and sensuality. And people think that’s just the way it is. J. Allen Peterson, in his book entitled, The Myth of the Greener Grass says that there was a woman who was attending a class to learn French. She was with eleven other women and one of the women said, “All those of you who have not been unfaithful to your husband (in other words if you’ve been faithful to him) raise your hand.” Only one out of eleven raised her hand. Later on this woman was telling her husband that and he said, “Well, did you raise your hand?” and she said no. He said, “You mean you have been unfaithful?” She said, “No, I’ve been faithful.” He said, “Why didn’t you raise your hand?” She said, “I felt ashamed.” Can you imagine that? We are living in a society where people are actually feeling ashamed because they are living a life of moral purity and fidelity.
Television, that box that is in homes today, that produces messages that are so damnable! One of the writers of TV scripts said that his goal is to get people to laugh at adultery, homosexuality and incest. He said if you can get people to laugh at these things it breaks down their resistance to them. But nonetheless, regardless of what people say today, the Bible says that thou shalt not commit adultery, and that means to have a sexual relationship with a partner who belongs to somebody else.
Now what I’d like us to do today is to look at some reasons why God gave that command and why we should obey it. Why should we look at the seventh commandment and say, even though it happens to be the twentieth century that this command is still valid for today? Let me give you some reasons.
First of all, because God gave the command! Because of the command! I can imagine there’s someone here who says, “You know, I always thought that the pastor belonged to the twentieth century, but apparently he doesn’t. Do you mean to tell me that we should obey this command just because God says it?” I say to you, “Yeah, we ought to just because God says it.” Isn’t that reason enough? God says it. I believe it. That’s good enough for me. But of course today we want to pry behind God’s thinking, and we want to find out why he says what he says.
Well, let me say that God gave this commandment first of all so that there might be stability in the family. If there’s anything that a child craves, it is a mother and father who are committed to each other. Nothing causes more emotional hurt, more instability, more of a sense of the ripping apart of the security of the emotions than to know that Father has run off because he has found someone else more attractive.
But not only is it because of the stability of the family. God gave this commandment also because of our own emotional stability because there is something within us that says if we engage in sexuality apart from marriage there is an inner destruction that takes place within. The Bible says in Proverbs that adultery destroys the soul. There is something within us that dies.
Now, of course, all of us who have been pastors, and even those of us who haven’t been, know that there are people today who say, “But you have to understand; I am involved in a relationship that is meaningful to me.” I remember a woman telling me, “You mean to say that this is wrong? I live with an alcoholic. If I didn’t have this affair on the side I would have lost my sanity.” She said, “I finally find someone who understands me.” A man told me one time, “Finally I have found an oasis and now you are telling me to go back to the desert.”
Well let me simply say flat out that I do believe that there are some adulterous relationships that are very loving and caring. There’s no question about that. The problem with an adulterer is that he breaks six of the Ten Commandments in order to have his relationship. You say, “Really?” Yeah, really! Well, he certainly breaks the seventh, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but what is the first commandment? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” An adulterer is somebody who says, “I have found something that is more precious and more meaningful to me than God. I have found this relationship and I don’t care what God says. I need it.” So he certainly breaks the first commandment that says, “Thou shalt not have other gods before me.”
Another commandment says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” An adulterer pledged his allegiance in the presence of God and witnesses that he would be true to that one particular person, and of course, he not only breaks that vow, but I have yet to see a case of adultery where the person doesn’t lie to cover up his sins. And the Bible says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
Furthermore, another commandment is, “Thou shalt not steal.” Do you remember when Nathan came to David? He said, “David, you have stolen another man’s wife. She belongs to another man, and you have taken her. You are guilty of stealing, David.”
The Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother.” Almost always an adulterer dishonors his father and his mother and he most assuredly breaks the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” which says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor that which belongs to thy neighbor.” That’s actually where it begins.
Do you see now why it is that a relationship outside of marriage that is so loving and so caring and so beautiful is actually so evil? It’s because somebody who says that and lives that way has to shake his fist at God in order to have what he wants because God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The command of God!
There’s a second reason, and that is the consequences, and for this I do want you to turn to Proverbs 5 and also Matthew 5. As I prepared this message it dawned on me that I could actually preach a series of messages on it. There is so much in the Bible about adulterous living and immorality that a full series could be given, but I want you to notice it says in Proverbs 5, “My son, give attention to my wisdom. Incline thine ear to understanding that you may observe discretion and your lips may reserve knowledge. For the lips of an adulterous woman drip honey; smoother than oil is her speech.” But notice in the end, “She is as bitter as wormwood, and sharp as a two-edged sword.”
Now let me say this. Those of us who have never been hooked on drugs can at least identify with people who have that sensation because all of us understand the awesome power of sexual temptation. All of us have passions that are explosive and given the right context with the right person it’s like throwing a match on a can of kerosene, and we could understand that there is nothing that promises as much as sexual fulfillment. There is something within us that says, “If I have this relationship it really doesn’t matter what the consequences are.”
One day I happened to be flipping stations on the radio and I just caught a song. I forget the words, but the idea was something like this. “I’ll fulfill my desire today and I’ll deal with the devil tomorrow.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what the consequences are, I will do my own thing. But I want you to notice that the Bible is very clear that when we give in to our passions several things become true. First of all, there is an inner defilement, and that is one of the consequences. It says in Proverbs 5:25, “The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he watches all of his paths.” You know I think of all the things couples have done to hide their sin, the elaborate plans that they make that they might not be found out. They have had telephones tapped and they’ve had this and that, and their secret locations, and leaving in different directions and going in different cars, and all of that because they want to say, “We want to hide our sin from the eyes of men.” But notice what the text says. “The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord and he watches all of his paths.” God sees! God sees! God sees, and therefore you can’t escape the inner deadening and defilement. The text says it goes down to Sheol, and down to the grave.
I remember a young woman who was 29 years old who came to me, and she said that she was single and a virgin until the age of 29, and then she was mad at God. You know if you are 29 and unmarried that’s the time when you begin to think, “Here I am saving myself for somebody and God isn’t giving me a husband. I’ll show him a thing or two.” This young woman had a relationship with a man she didn’t even respect, and it’s very interesting. She said these words to me. She said, “You know, when it was all over it was almost as if (and she said, “Pastor, believe me. This wasn’t a voice inside of me.”) there was a voice outside of me that said, “Ha, ha, ha, ha – now you are defiled,” and she said it was probably the voice of a demon.
Now, of course, I was able to explain to that young woman that, of course, there is forgiveness in Christ, and it doesn’t mean the end of the world. Immorality isn’t the unpardonable sin, but isn’t it interesting that if there is anything Satan wants to do in our lives to cause inner defilement, oftentimes it has to do with that realm of sexuality. That’s the conscience that bothers us in the most intimate of all relationships, and there’s been a violation of the word of God, and there is that inner destruction.
You know, it’s interesting that David said, “My sin was ever before me. I thought of it when I woke up in the morning. I thought of it in the evening. I thought of it at noon. I thought of it when the telephone rang. I thought of it when a friend showed up at the door. I wondered whether or not he knew.” And there are people who have been involved in immorality who say that they are sitting in church, singing the songs of Zion, and in what they want to be a most holy moment, all those thoughts wash over their minds. There’s an inner destruction, an inner defilement that is one of the consequences.
But then the other consequence is the outer destruction, and that’s when the whole thing blows up and it gets found out and the truth becomes known. That’s what happens, and then the rejection and the hurt are beyond belief because the Scriptures indicate that you can take physical illness, “but the wounded spirit who can bear?” and the Bible says in Proverbs 6:29, “So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.” The hurts of the person rejected and all of the consequences are as bitter as wormwood, the Bible says.
I think of a friend involved in immorality who said that he had often prayed that he would die. He prayed when he would go to bed at night that he wouldn’t wake up in the morning. The hurt and the devastation to his wife and his family were unbelievable.
Now God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and in the New Testament it says that whoremongers and adulterers, referring to all forms of immorality, whether you are single or you are married, God will judge. And it can’t be overlooked because it happens to be hidden, no matter how skillfully and brilliantly it is hidden.
One day I was on a talk show in Canada, you know, one of those call-in programs where you get lots of interesting questions, and I received a phone call from someone who said this. They said, “Now Mr. Lutzer (Boy, when someone says that I know I am in trouble), what would you say in the case of a man who is married to a woman, and either because of some accident or some physical disability she’s in a wheel chair for the rest of her life? Are you really telling me that even that man can’t have an affair on the side?” He asked it in such a way as if to say, “Can you really be that stupid, Mr. Lutzer, as to say no to that?”
You know, we are living in a day and age when it seems as if our passions rule us. Right? A man has a need. He’s got to fulfill it. He can’t be true to a marriage commitment just because he can’t have his sexual needs fulfilled in a certain way. The obvious answer to that is, of course, a man like that should be true to his wife because if you make an exception for him, then what about those who are single? What about the widows? What about all the divorced people? Don’t they have sexual desires too? Does God’s word only apply in certain situations? All of the things that I’ve said about the consequences, all of the things that we have said about violating all of the Commandments apply to every single situation. Your passions lie when they tell you they must be fulfilled regardless of what God’s word says.
You know what God says about marriage. He says that the relationship in marriage is so special, and I’m so sorry that my message today is negative because the commandments are rather negative. You know, people talk about the power of positive thinking. I want to preach a message entitled The Power of Negative Thinking frankly. I’m tired of positive thinking.
Now, the point is, speaking more positively (laughter) (Sure, we throw it in for extra measure), God says that the marriage relationship is so special and so sacred that there is no condition under which it should ever be violated because it is special. That’s why! It’s not just that God wants to rain on our parade. Do you know what it’s like doing? When you commit adultery it’s like burning down a beautiful cathedral because you want to fry an egg because you happen to be hungry. You are demolishing something that God says is special all because you think that there are some needs that have got to be fulfilled. The Bible says they don’t have to be.
There are all kinds of people living in prison today for the cause of Jesus Christ who do not have any sexual intimacy at all and they are living. See, we are living in a society today where everybody says, “Well, if it’s really a meaningful relationship, and if it feels good, then do it,” but God says, “Fornicators and adulterers I will judge.” That’s God saying it, so it really doesn’t matter whether or not you get found out. God sees.
God sees first of all because of the command of God, secondly because of the consequences, and thirdly because of the compensation. Normally my points to my messages don’t all begin with the same letter, but this time they do. By compensation I mean that Jesus said that it was better. And for this I want you to turn to Matthew 5 where Jesus is speaking about adultery, and he reiterates the commandment in verse 27, and in verse 28 it says that adultery really begins in the heart. And for lack of time we are going to have to skip that, but he says in verse 29, “And if your right eye (and he’s talking now about adultery) makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than for your whole body to go into hell.” Jesus is talking about lust, and what he does is he takes the two parts of the body that are more often than not used in sexual arousal. The first is the eye – particularly for men. Even though we tell women, I’m not sure that they fully understand the extent to which a man can be aroused simply by sight. And then Jesus takes the hand. Women are often stimulated with tender caresses, usually coupled with sweet words.
Jesus said, “If your eye and your hand are causing you to fall into a pit (that’s what the Greek word means), do whatever you have to do to be removed from that temptation.” You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, he isn’t speaking literally, is he? He doesn’t mean that you should literally pluck out your eye or your hand.” No, but what he says is literally true, isn’t it? It would be better to arrive in heaven with one hand than to be in hell with two. It would be better to be in heaven with one eye than to be in hell with two. What Jesus is saying is whatever it is that is causing you to fall into a pit, deal with it drastically.
Now I’ve got to summarize a whole separate message. I give you only the outline. One day I was thinking about what it would be like to have your right hand cut off and your eye cut out, and I came to some conclusions. Let me give them to you.
First of all, it would be very painful. Just imagine without anesthetic we take someone here in the front row with a sharp knife and poke it into his or her eye and then turn it like this. That would hurt. Jesus is saying, “Whatever you’ve got to do to get rid of sexual sin, do it.”
I said to a man who was involved with a woman who was not his wife, “You’re going to have to go through a process that is equivalent to death, saying no to that person.” Whatever it is, do it. A teenager told me, “You know, just taking pornographic magazines that I had hidden in the garage and carrying them out and putting them in the garbage was painful.” He had become attached to them.
Jesus said, “Whatever you need to do to get rid of sexual sin, do it.” Change jobs. I told a man that one day when he said he was falling in love with someone at work who wasn’t his wife. I said, “Change jobs.” He said, “Oh, I can’t do that. I have a wife and children to support.” I said, “What would you rather do? Change jobs or have your right eye cut out and your arm cut off?” “Oh,” he said, “I’d rather change jobs.” I said, “You are lucky. Jesus said that you should be willing to cut out your eye and to cut off your hand, even if that were necessary, if that were needed. It hurts. Jesus said, “Do it.” And I say to you teenagers who are here today and young people, and singles, and adults, no matter how much it hurts, Jesus would say, “Do it.”
Not only does it hurt but also it is thorough. You know, once your eye has been cut out and your arm has been cut off and they’ve been in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a week, it’s a little late to say, “Is this something I should have done?” Right? Do it thoroughly. Don’t allow any thing that is causing you to stumble. If it is a relationship that has to be broken, break it as neatly as you can, but also as completely as is humanly possible.
Somewhere I read that if you are going to jump across a chasm it’s much better to do it in one long jump than in two short ones. And when you get rid of sexual sin, do it right.
Then, of course, and here’s my point, it is worthwhile. You see, if your whole body has to be preserved because of the cutting of a hand, let’s suppose you hand has cancer or gangrene and the doctor comes along and cuts that off, you are thankful that the rest of your body has been preserved. So Jesus is saying, “It is better.” Now let me interpret that for you. Let’s suppose that we had someone up here today in a wheel chair with his hand cut off and his eye cut out. Let’s suppose he’s a young person. He intended to be a baseball player. He intended to be an airplane pilot. All of his dreams have been dashed to the ground because he had all of these expectations for his life and now they haven’t worked out. There’s disappointment and bitterness, and here’s the point. Jesus is saying, “It is better to go through life with unfulfilled desires and shattered dreams and to do that which is right rather than to fulfill those desires outside of the will of God. It’s better for that young woman who desires marriage and intimacy, and all of them do as men do, and let’s not laugh about that desire. It is built in by the creator.
It’s better to go through life frustrated without intimacy, without that closeness that you desire. It’s better to go through life unfulfilled and frustrated and be a friend of God and be able to look everyone in the eye than to fulfill those desires outside of the will of God. Jesus said it is better. Better! It is not ideal maybe but better! That’s what Jesus is saying.
Now the real bottom line is simply this. There may be those of you here who have either in your past been involved in immorality or even now maybe. The question I have to ask you is how are you going to respond in light of the fact that you have now heard this message and sin has been pointed out to you? That’s a very important question. How will you respond? It will show to me the state of your heart. Will you lie?
I remember a woman who accused her husband of committing adultery. She had pretty good evidence. Now sometimes false accusations are made. That’s true, but she had pretty good evidence but not exactly conclusive evidence. Her husband denied it. Oh yes, it’s true that he was with this other woman. Yes, it’s true that he was in her apartment, but they didn’t do anything. Now if you can believe that I assume that you’ll also accept a check drawn on the bank of the Mississippi River. “Oh yeah, that’s right, we didn’t do anything.” In fact you know what the man said? He put up his hand and said, “If I am lying, may God smite me dead.” That’s pretty good evidence that he’s telling the truth. Wouldn’t you think? A couple of months later when the evidence began to accumulate he admitted that when he put up his hand and said those words he was lying through his teeth.
So I said to the wife, “Well, after it all came out did he ask your forgiveness?” “Well, kind of!” Kind of! Kind of? Think of how hard that man’s heart was. Kind of! That man should have been on his knees weeping and begging for forgiveness. Kind of! The hardness of heart!
The Bible says in the book of Proverbs that a man who is involved in adulterous relationships should be tied by the cords of his own sin. He becomes so blind that blindness becomes second nature and he adds sin to sin. Sin on top of sin! Sin to cover sin! And on and on it goes and his heart becomes harder and harder and harder.
Now it’s interesting that scholars have told us that when David committed adultery he maybe held out for a year before he was willing to confess. Hardness of heart happens very easily once you are involved. But it’s interesting that finally David came clean and he was willing to confess his sin.
And I find this amazing because nobody has gone to greater lengths to try to cover his sin than David. I mean he told some lies. He killed a man. He did all of this to cover his sin, yet the whole thing came unraveled, and you might almost say that David is famous because of his adultery. I mean there are people who don’t know anything about David, but they know that he committed adultery. His cover-up didn’t work very well, but finally when he came clean and he cast himself upon God’s mercy and his grace, he poured out his heart and said, “Have mercy upon me, oh God, according to thy loving kindness, according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies. Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” Finally when he was cleansed and forgiven and restored and in fellowship with the living God again he said in Psalm 32, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity and in whose spirit there is no wrath.” He said, “When I kept silent my bones waxed old through their roaring all the day long.” In other words, “I was under the weight of guilt.” But then he went on to say that after he was forgiven and restored he was able to sing again and God’s guidance came back again into his life. He says, “Thou shalt guide me,” and so all of that was taken care of when David finally, finally came clean.
So let me tell you that immorality is not the unpardonable sin. There is grace; there is forgiveness; there is mercy and there is cleansing for those who are willing to come clean in humility and brokenness and honesty before the living God.
Father, today, we realize the passions of the flesh and how misleading they are. We understand the power of temptation, and we pray with all earnestness as you taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And we think today, Father, of those who may be struggling with their past. We pray that you will enable them to put that behind them, to repent, to be cleansed, to be free, to be forgiven and restored because we know that you are a God of restoration and a God of forgiveness and we are reminded of the words of Jesus to the woman taken in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” We think of those, Father, who perhaps have been living lives of duplicity and lies to cover sin. We pray that you might break into their lives today that in all honesty they might come to you for cleansing and restoration and forgiveness. Do that, Father, we pray. We ask that you will enable all of us to walk before you in righteousness and holiness and freedom. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.