One area I consistently find sexual sin rising from the waves of self-despair and imposted condemnation (if many of those I am engaged by are anything to go on) relates to Matthew chapter five and verses twenty-seven and twenty-eight:
'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.'
One of those who brought this to me came and told me that he had read a website where he had been informed that because he fantasised about a person when engaged in a solo sex act (SSA - nicer than the 'M' word methinks if only because it stops people from sniggering: Mind you the "W' word appears to cause less of a snigger and more offence, so my label of SSA is a more gentle path to labelling the act, innit?) that he was committing adultery and was destined to go directly to hell without even passing 'Go!'
So what pieces of the puzzle do we have on the board:
Adultery - the seventh commandment (Ex 20.14)
Lust - the act of looking upon something with a view to desiring it, or wanting to make it ours, that trumps the plain old coveting of the tenth commandment (ex 20.17). More than just wanting what someone else has: It has a sexual possessive air about it. After all I might covet your fast car but I wouldn't lust after it (unless we'd like to redefine autoeroticism that is!)
I recall a lecture where we were told that what this what this passage really meant contextually was to act in such a way as to get the focus of that lust to lust after them in return. I have seen this where one man has so engaged with a woman that the result was to 'make her fall in love with him and leave her marriage partner and family for him.
Covet is a possessive but lust is possessive that seeks to break bonds and attachments (often it breaks covenanta) to make what they want their own: Oddly those who lust after people often become serial sexual offenders and beget in those they have won over, and subsequently discarded, the same mindset too! It is a cancer that kills stable society and familial relations!
Now Jesus engages in some really joined up thinking here and brings forth some extremely smart comparisons as He seeks to address the people before Him using adultery as the focus.
Can you imagine it? I can:
'Stand up all those who have never committed adultery,' says Jesus; and up stands all the self-righteous who look down upon the self-acknowledged sinners and sneer.
'Now if you have never lusted after someone sexually, keep standing,' Jesus continues, 'Otherwise sit down with the adulterers!'
'Yeah, so much for the looking down your noses at us, you're just the same as us sinners after all!' cry those already sitting!
Jesus is telling people that before the action is taken there has to be some thought process. This is why, if we follow on with the next couple of verses, that we find Jesus calling us to regard the eye, for this is what sees the object of our potential lust and the hand, which acts once the eye has seen it. Jesus is taking the absolute limit of penalty when He talks about cutting off the dodgy members. He's saying, 'Before you get to the 'chop it off' point, how's about you stop, think, and stop doing it?'
Let's let Him have the microphone shall we?
'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.'
The parallel verses of Matthew eighteen adds 'foot' to the mix:
'If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.'
And in the parallel passage (we use the shorthand // to show it's a parallel - just thought I'd mention it) that is Mark 9. 43-47, we find:
'And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,'
What we have here is Jesus telling people to have some understanding of the elements involved in sin, and here we mean 'lust' in particular, but 'sin' is what we are concerned with and here we develop something quite universal.
Sin comes into being because we 'see' something and then 'move' towards that something so that we might 'touch' it (or have it touch us). Jesus is doing more than just laying down the law; He is trying to get us to think about things!!!
Now if you are not married and you lust after a woman who is not married you are not, under my categories yesterday, committing adultery. How can you be, neither of you are married to another and so the breaking of the covenantal relationship that is part of adultery is missing.
There is potential for someone to be a fornicator here but as they're not having a sexual relationship the label fornicator might also be considered to be wrong too. But Jesus is telling us that doing the act and thinking about the act are one and the same thing so can we make that decision to keep wrong as being limited to the 'act' rather than include the 'thought'?
When I was a Pentecostal there were many pastors around me who would complain about, 'The jolly idiot in the car ahead!'
They would come and sadly tell me that, 'The jolly computer was broken!'
One day I turned to one of them, a really smug and self-satisfied, pious individual, and asked them why the hadn't said that, 'The f***ing computer was broken,' or look at the 'B**tard idiot in the car ahead!'
Their (shocked) response was, 'Oh, but I would never say that, I never swear!'
But of course they did, they just swore in their head and published jolly for public consumption to make them look like they were 'holy'! Do you, or someone you know, do that I wonder?
So here is the bottom line: If you think about committing a sin then potentially you are only a short step away from committing it. But if upon reaching that place you decide to distance yourself from an action that would be sin, and to consider Paul's words from Romans 12.2:
'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
So here's the bottom line with this one:
If you lust after someone, that, like coveting is wrong: It has to be because that's what the Bible says.
If you engage in SSA then you engage in SSA - just like so many people I have encountered - that's obvious really!
BUT if doing that damages a covenant relationship between you and another person then it is wrong.
If it leads you into looking at images or imagining situations that are wrong; if it leads you down a path where thoughts are beginning to lead you to committing stuff. If it is so controlling of you and your thought life and your actions that it is, like most sin, not a release but something that binds you in chains and debilitates you: Stop it.
If it takes your eyes of of the cross and leads you away into places, practices and thoughts that damage others: Stop it.
We are all, generally speaking, sexual people. We have needs and urges and stuff. But if in fulfilling them we damage others, damage relationships or cause ourselves to become someone we would not wish to associate with were it someone else: The wake up and remedy it.
If you believe the idiots out there who tell you that creating an imaginary focus for your sexual releases, don't give them any credence: They are as wrong about that as they are about this 'sexual sin' condemning you immediately to hell!
If you find a site which is ready to condemn you to hell at the drop of a hat - IGNORE it!
If you find a site which is more focussed on sexual sin than it is about being a disciple, assume they have a bigger problem than you with sex, and IGNORE them!
If you are more concerned with hell (and not going there) than you are about being a follower of Jesus, the Christ, then get yourself into a proper fellowship and get yourself in the company of true believers - PICK UP YOUR BIBLE and READ IT, PRAY IT, LIVE IT!
If you struggle with sex and sin and stuff: Join the club, everyone has something they struggle with! Join a church and get yourself sorted by being with people who will love you and care for you and correct you gently. (That;s the Bible way of doing stuff!)