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TEXT: Matthew 17:15-19
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes Everything #29: Uncleanness
For fifty years many Americans have been worried about the sexual revolution. Up through the mid-1960's, most people paid lip service to chastity before marriage and fidelity in it. Not everyone lived up the standard, but there was a standard.
When I was a boy, 'nice girls' didn't do certain things, and if they did, they kept it to themselves. Some married men cheated on their wives, of course, but it was not acceptable behavior, even if they had a bumpy marriage and his wife did not meet all of his 'needs'. Divorce was stigmatized at the time, and pornography was against the law. I know television does not portray life as it really is, but it does reflect the values of the people who watch it. Compare an episode of I Love Lucy or The Dick Van Dyke Show to the average sitcom on the air today. Other than 'color', what's the first thing you notice? I notice the vulgarity, and a big part of this is sexual. Our beloved brother Richard Wiley summed it up very well, when he said,
In my day, you couldn't say 'pregnant' on TV; now they show how women get pregnant!
Who can argue with this? We all know it's true, and it is not limited to premium cable packages or late night TV. You can see it 24 hours a day on TV, the Internet, magazines, billboards, everywhere.
The media is partly to blame; it does pander to our lower nature. What a disgrace! American minds are filled with smutty material every day and night in order to sell toothpaste! It is beyond me how the advertisers can live with themselves. To demean women and break up marriage and enslave young men and all to push your product. Paul was right-
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
As much as we'd like the blame Hollywood and Madison Avenue for what they'd done to us, we have to be honest. Why do immoral images and stories and lyrics appeal to us? It is because we ourselves are immoral. Thank God, not everyone is, but most people are. Not everyone is in bondage to sexual lust, but how many of us are untouched by it?
Depending on your personality and circumstances-not to mention Providence-lust works it's way out in different ways. Some men get all they want at orgies, others keep it between the ears. To turn men of, some women wear clothes a size too small, others wear no clothes at all.
We mustn't equate things that are different. Looking at a woman a little too long is not the same thing as molesting a child. But, allowing for differences in degree, they're both unclean. They're both putting the gift of God to a bad use. Most adult bodies and minds are made for sex, but they're not made for fornication or adultery or the other kinds of immorality we can all think of, but I don't care to name.
The fact of uncleanness needs no proof. Whether it's the defining sin of our time, I cannot say, but it's surely one of them. Whether it's more prevalent than pride, anger envy, or gluttony, I don't know, but it's way up there! Immorality is a widespread sin and a very deep one.
Many people know this, and not all of them are Christians or even religious. They know promiscuity is a major health risk; they know sex can become an addiction; they know infidelity breaks up families; they know pornography exploits young women; they know kids-and even babies-are subject to crimes unspeakable.
Uncleanness is a medical problem, a criminal problem, a psychological problem, a sociological problem, but when we open our Bibles we find it's worse than all these things. It is a spiritual problem, one that disfigures the Image of God in us, hinders our fellowship with the Lord, and, when unrepented of, has never-ending consequences. Paul says-
Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry. On account of these things the wrath of God is coming.
It would be comforting to limit this wrath of God to earthly judgments, but it is not easy to do, and not what Paul does. John says the Kingdom of God that is yet to come will be full of all sorts of people, from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue, but others will be shut out, including, Revelation 22:15-
The sexually immoral.
THE WRONG SOLUTION
Lives and destinies are at stake; we have to turn away from the lustful ways of the world to the pure and faithful ways of God. But now do we do it? Diagnosing the disease is not enough! We've got to treat it and cure it. Or else.
What's the cure for sexual lust?
Let's start with what it isn't (though most people, including most Christians think it is). Law is not the answer, and by 'Law' I mean both human law and the Law of God.
Social mores, the cops, the courts, and the media can do some good. Laws can be passed against indecency and enforced to some degree; dirty movies can be pulled from theatres and the studios can censor themselves. Parents can teach their children about chastity model the joys of fidelity. The schools can teach basic morality, and perversion can once again be stigmatized. If all this seems impossible to you, it's because you're too young to remember, these things were in place fifty years ago, and they worked to some degree. Not perfectly, of course, but they were fairly effective.
The problem with these laws and customs, however, is they don't get to the heart of the matter. I wish Christians would stop wringing their hands about immorality and get to the real issue which is.
Lust. Sexual lust is in not in the world or even in our hormones. It is in our hearts and it will not be curbed until our hearts are changed!
The Law can't do this! The Bible says it can't (especially in Romans), and if you need confirmation, talk to a Christian young man in its grip. Tell him what he's up to is sinful and wrong and disgusting and damnable, and he won't say a word in his own defense. He agrees with everything you say; he hates it more than you do, and feels guilty and polluted, powerless, and without hope. He agrees with the Law of God and with the standards of his church. But for all this, he can't find the power to be chaste!
He may pray his guts out, seek help, join a recovery group, resolve and swear to do better, and for a time he does. But before long, he's right back at it. As Paul says, the Law tells him what to do, but it doesn't enable him to do it.
If the Law of God doesn't give you the power to live in purity, how silly it is to look for the power in human rules and programs and Promises?
[At this point I want to say something about The Promise Keepers and Alcoholics Anonymous. AA is a secular society with religious roots. The Promise Keepers, on the other hand, is distinctly Christian. But, for all this, AA has a far better grasp on the Gospel than the PKs do. Here's why: The PKs confess they aren't the men, the husbands, the fathers they ought to be. But by making seven promises and relying on God and the help of their brethren, they're going to be from now on! This is the ancient heresy of Pelagianism, now known as self-help!
The people in AA used to believe all this themselves, but after quitting a million times, only to fall back into drinking, they wised up. Their first step toward sobriety is to admit they are powerless over alcohol and only by turning their lives over to God will they ever find freedom].
This is why AA works, outwardly, I mean. Still, it doesn't get to the heart because its Higher Power is unfocussed and it's Gospel is not spelled out. The hope they offer to people in bondage to sin is exactly what the Gospel provides! To drinkers, drug-addicts, gamblers, sex maniacs, and yes, to Recovering Pharisees as well!
HOW THE GOSPEL DOES IT
How does the Gospel make us sexually clean? Let's remember that, for most people, it doesn't effect the change fully or all at once. It can do this and it has in a few cases, but most of us have to grow in chastity, become purer by the day and not in one day.
To answer this, we have to take a step back. Why do people crave sex? Puberty creates an appetite for it, but that's not the problem. There's nothing wrong with sexual desire, including what unmarried people feel. The problem is giving into it in unlawful ways. Why do we do that? I thought of five reasons.
The first is personal significance. You see, I'm somebody because I can get girls! Losers can't, but I'm no loser. Men often think of quantity: the more women you've had, the more manly you are. I suppose some women feel this way, but most do not. Yet, even though they'd rather have one good man than a hundred flings, the desire is the same. I want to be somebody, and I will be somebody if I can snag man, get married, have kids, and so on.
The Gospel eliminates this craving. It says you are somebody because God loves you, because Christ died for you, and because the Holy Spirit lives in and with you. Am I a loser or a winner? I'm neither one: I'm a child of God, a brother of Jesus, a Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel provides true significance and exposes the unworthiness of Looking for love in all the wrong places.
The second is pleasure. All good sexual intercourse is pleasurable, and outside of marriage gives it a extra tang. It's the sweetness of forbidden fruit; the freshness of a new partner, the kick of a new perversion.
Are the pleasures real? They are, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. But, for a young child, so is splashing in a mud puddle. The Gospel gives him something better than that! It gives him a pool or a lake, an ocean, or whatever you like to swim in most. It gives pleasures that are solid and will last and are consistent with a good conscience and self-respect.
Unbelievers often think of us as killjoys, as people worried sick that others might be having a good time! There is truth in the accusation, and we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for being this way. The Gospel supplies a far deeper and richer pleasure than anything our unsaved friends know about. Instead of harping on sin all the time, we ought to harp on the forgiveness of sin! Instead of making sex a dirty thing, we ought to tell them it's a clean thing, a thing God loves so much that He wants us to have only the best sex, which means one man, one woman for life.
The third is intimacy. We're all born alone and with a keen sense of our aloneness. The sex drive, in part, is the attempt to connect to someone else, to obtain a shared life and to dispel loneliness. Marriage is designed to meet this need, but, even the best marriage can only go so far. We need more than a wife or a husband: we need God Himself.
God is what the Gospel gives us. He becomes our God and become His People, and more than 'His People', we become His Bride. He gives the intimacy fornication, adultery, and the others promise but cannot make good on.
The fourth is simple relief from the pressures of life.
I don't have to draw you a picture on this one, do I? People look at pornography and retire to fantasies or pick up others in a bar to escape their guilty and scary and meaningless lives. The Gospel says your guilt has been atoned for, your fears are understood and will be dispelled in time, and your life has meaning because you're a member of the New Humanity.
ONE LAST THING
One more thing needs to be said, and because I couldn't think of where to put, it tacked it on to the end! The Gospel changes our sex lives by creating the church, a caring community where you can discuss your problems without being slammed for them; where people will understand you, pray for you, and counsel you from the Word.
This means we have to be 'real'. People have icky desires and do dirty things, and it's not only other people! All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. If your problem is not mine, then my problem is not yours! But we all have weaknesses and temptations and sins-and some of them are awfully stubborn.
The Church is not a sanctuary; it's a hospital. Everyone is sick and every one is called to give what help he can and to give it without contempt. God help us to be His people. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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