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Winning the battle of the mind

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 5:27-30

Dios te bendiga! Estoy contento de estar aqui con nuestra.

Thus I began my sermons in Cuba last week: “God bless you. We are very happy to be with you.” And we were, for God did marvelous miracles before our very eyes. Each time I was privileged to preach the gospel, the pastors extended an invitation for people to come forward to trust in Christ. And people filled the entire front of the sanctuary and down the center aisle as well. Sunday morning Jeff Byrd and I were two of eight pastors helping to baptize 156 people in a lake outside Camaguey. I’ll never forget the first person I baptized—a young woman with only one leg. Or the oldest: an elderly woman who came up out of the water and said into the heavens, “Now I have died with Christ.”

She was right. When we follow Jesus, we die to the old life and live only for the new. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us how to live this new life, the biblical worldview, the life of a disciple. Today he deals with sexual sin and adultery.

Is this an issue for us?

40 million American adults have visited a sexually-oriented site on the Internet. Children spend 64.9% more time on pornography sites than on game sites. Annual rental and sales of adult videos and DVDs top $4 billion. The average American teenager views 14,000 sexual references on television each year.

The incidence of adultery has risen 50-70% in the last decade in America.

The problem is clear, and real. How do we win the battle of the mind?

Refuse adultery of body (v. 27)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery’” (v. 27). Here our Lord quotes the Seventh Commandment, cited specifically in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18.

From the very beginning, God made clear to his creation that sexual activity within marriage is normal and good. In fact, he commanded it: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it'” (Genesis 1:28).

But God also made very clear that sex is his gift for marriage. Extramarital sex is always wrong.

“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. If a man sleeps with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law, both of them must be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you” (Leviticus 20:10-14).

“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22).

Premarital sex is as wrong as extramarital sex:

If a man accuses his new wife of violating her virginity before their marriage, “and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

“If a man happens to meet in town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Sex is God’s gift for marriage. We are to refuse all adultery, of any kind. We are not to engage in sexual activity until we are married, and then with our spouse alone. This is the clear word and will of God.

Refuse adultery of mind (v. 28)

1. How do we keep this commandment? How do we resist sexual temptations, especially in a culture which so surrounds us with them every day? To refuse adultery of body, first refuse adultery of mind.

Aristotle: “What is a crime for a person to do, is a crime for a person to think.” Jesus proves that this is so.

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v.28).

The “I” here is emphatic—Jesus is asserting his own divine authority. This is just as much the command of God as the Seventh Commandment.

“Anyone”—regardless of religious title, status, or significance. No exceptions are granted here.

“Who looks at”—no problem so far. The sin is not noticing a woman or a man. The sin is not the first look but the second. Luther was right: you cannot keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.

“A woman”—not specifically a wife, though this is implied. But adultery of the mind can be practiced with any woman, or with any man.

“Lustfully”—”who looks at a woman for the purpose of lusting.” Barclay translates the phrase, “Everyone who looks at a woman in such a way as to waken within himself forbidden desires for her.”

“Adultery with her in his heart”—the “heart” includes the intellect, the emotions, the will. The place from which actions find the origin. The source of all that follows. When we poison the mind, we poison the body. We poison the headwaters, which pollutes the river which flows out from them. The heart becomes the life.

Refuse the thoughts before they become actions. It will never be easier to refuse lust than when it first appears to your mind.

Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”

Proverbs 6:25-29: “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.”

David’s sin started in 2 Samuel 11:2: “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful….”

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

What if you cannot? What if there is an area or activity in your life which continually leads you into lust of the mind? Luther was picturesque: If your head is made of butter, don’t sit near the fire. Here’s how Jesus advises us: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (v. 29).

The “right eye” was considered the better of the two (cf. 1 Samuel 11:.2, Zechariah 11:17), as is the “right hand” in verse 30.

If it “causes you to sin”—the phrase means specifically the stick in a trap which holds the bait; when the prey touches the stick, the trap snaps shut. So it is with the eye, the trap which baits the mind.

What are we to do with a sinful “eye?” Rabbinic hyperbole was a common teaching technique in Jesus’ day. The rabbis would teach a deliberate exaggeration to make a point. It is so here. Taken literally, one leaves the left eye with which to view lustfully. Take both eyes, but a blind man can still think sinful thoughts.

Jesus’ point is simple: rid yourself of anything which causes lustful thoughts in your mind. Premium channels on cable or satellite television; cable or satellite television; or even television. Use Internet pornography filters on your computer, or even get rid of the Internet itself. I have known of men and women who have changed their working relationships to avoid such temptation, and admire them for their courage in doing so. Do whatever you must.

This is spiritual surgery—amputating the diseased limb to save the life of the patient. In this case, the soul. Because the malignancy is spreading.

Another illustration follows: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (v. 30).

The right hand was indispensable for work in the ancient world. People typically saw the left hand as a symbol for evil, so they used it only for the most menial and demeaning tasks. Even today in many places in the East, to gesture to someone with the left hand is obscene.

Jesus’ point: get rid of anything you cannot control sexually. Anything which is causing you to lust must go. No matter how valuable you think it is. You would amputate your hand to save your life. So you must here.

Do it now.

1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”

2 Timothy 2:22: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

These are commandments from our holy God who is also our loving Father.

Conclusion

We have dealt today with a sober subject, but one which proves the continuing relevance of the Sermon on the Mount to life today. Refuse adultery of the body, extramarital and premarital sex. How? By refusing adultery of the mind. How? By refusing anything which leads you to such mental sin. Now.

Let me close with this fact: you cannot obey the teachings of this text alone. You were not meant to. There is not one word of the Sermon on the Mount which can be fulfilled in human ability. We must have God’s help to do God’s will.

So ask Jesus to deal with the source—your heart. Ask God to forgive your every sin, and claim his cleansing and renewal: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Then stay close to Jesus. Stay connected to the source of your power by praying and worshiping all day long, communing with Christ: “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). When your enemy is shooting arrows at you, you’ll stay behind your shield.

Keep your mind focused on God: “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God … Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:1, 5). And you will have the victory of God.

When we first come to faith in Christ, we want our lives to be pure, moral, holy. We know how crucial it is that we stay right with God and moral in our thoughts and actions.

But, over time we become more and more engaged in the fallen world around us. We become more accepting of the world’s standards, its culture, its practices. And its sins. We become successful in the world’s eyes, and we begin to see with those eyes. We forget that it is our relationship with a pure and holy God which is the only power which sustains us, the reason for all our true success.

We become like the spider in the fable which began his web at the top of an old, abandoned barn. He dropped a single line from the highest beam of the roof, and began to spin his web from it. Over time his web became larger and larger, and caught for him more and more food. He became happy, then complacent, proud of his success. One day he noticed that single thread running from his web up into the darkness above. “I wonder why that is there,” he thought to himself. “It doesn’t catch me any food.”

So he climbed up to that single thread and cut it. And slowly the entire web came tumbling to the ground.

Let us pray.