by John Ortberg
The God who made sex doesn't frown on sexuality‑not when it's "righteous sexuality"
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus delivered some strong words about what it means to be righteous sexually. I want to point out five commitments that flow out of His teachings that can help lead us to righteousness as sexual men and women.
In Matthew 5, He says: "You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 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. 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. 27‑30, NIV).
Commitment #1: Confession I must acknowledge my own fallenness as it relates to my sexuality. Each of us must commit to ongoing confession in this area. Jesus is speaking to some who are super‑religious types. They thought you could divide the human race into two categories: adulterers‑‑those who have problems sexually‑‑and non‑adulterers, people like me, with no problems. And Jesus said, "You've heard that it was said, `Don't commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus is not saying it's wrong to find someone attractive or desirable. That's part of being human. The word that's translated "lust" here is epiphemaho, which means mismanaged sexual desire or fantasy or intent. And, of course, who hasn't done that?
Imagine how offended the religious leaders were when Jesus told them they had problems with sexual righteousness. Jesus is not saying, well, if you've committed adultery in your heart, you might as well go ahead and do it physically, because one's just as bad as the other. You see, physical adultery includes everything that's wrong with lusting in the heart plus more‑‑deceit, betrayal, the breaking of a promise, damage to family, deep hurt to a spouse. Jesus' point is if you think you're sexually perfect and need no repentance because you've avoided committing physical adultery, think again. It runs deeper. Whose sexuality is marred by the fall? Everyone's. So we have to make a commitment to acknowledge our fallenness and confess it to God.
Maybe you're tempted to try to escape from your spouse by fantasizing about somebody else. Maybe you're keenly aware that we live in a society that idolizes sexual attractiveness, so you find yourself too attached to the need to appear sexually desirable. Or perhaps you're jealous of someone who is more attractive than you, or you find yourself flirting inappropriately to prove your attractiveness.
Maybe you have difficulty with pornography. Maybe you're a businessperson, and when you travel and you're alone in hotel rooms, you watch adult movies. Maybe you've had an affair. Maybe you struggle with some form of sexual addiction. Maybe you struggle with homosexual feelings. Maybe right now you're drifting toward disaster in one way or another. You've been playing games, but the truth is, you've already crossed some lines that you shouldn't have crossed. We all need to acknowledge the truth to God. And remember: God loves to forgive
In verses 29 and 30, Jesus makes these very strong statements. "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away...And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away."
Jesus is not recommending self‑mutilation as a form of sin management. He is showing the absurdity of the way the scribes and Pharisees understood righteousness. The religious leaders would say something like this: "The law is satisfied as long as you avoid sinning." That's one of the ways they defined righteousness. And you may remember, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says at one point, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (5:20).
The Pharisees did have righteousness. But they were very non‑righteous from Jesus' perspective. Their idea was, as long as you haven't sinned, you're righteous. Therefore, if looking at a woman might cause you to sin, just don't look at a woman.
They took this very seriously. In Jesus' day in Jerusalem, when a woman left her house, she was required by law to wear two veils and a hairnet with ribbons so that her features could not be recognized. They figured if a woman walked outside with an uncovered face and her hair down, men might go hog wild. And if a woman didn't observe this, her husband could legally divorce her.
Jesus is saying, with some humor, "Well, if the way to be righteous is not to look at a woman, why not go all the way? If your eyes are the problem, just gouge them out." But, of course, your eyes are not the problem. The problem lies in your heart, your innermost being‑‑your thoughts, desires and intentions.
Commitment #2: I must accept and be grateful that God made me a sexual person. In Matthew 19:4, Jesus says, "Haven't you read...that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female'?" In other words, He is saying, "Don't you understand? God made human beings as male and female‑‑God made sex." God brought Eve to Adam, and Adam's response was not, "I'll bet she's got a wonderful personality." Remember what Adam said? "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. Yeah, God!"‑that's what Adam said. Be grateful for God's gift. For some, that may be hard. Some of you have been victims of incest or abuse or trauma, and you may need to talk to a good Christian counselor about it.
We need to get to the point where we can say honestly, "Thanks, God, that You made me with a body. Thanks for giving me the capacity for oneness within the covenant of marriage"‑‑for God has chosen that sexual relationship be reserved for the covenant of marriage. Righteousness, as Jesus defines it, is not simply the avoidance of sin. The ultimate goal is to become the kind of person who, when you look at someone of the opposite sex, sees what Jesus sees. And when you extend a hand, you'll touch and embrace as Jesus would touch and embrace. That's what righteousness is.
Commitment #3: Keep God's standards. First Thessalonians 4:3 says, "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality." This means I will reserve a sexual relationship for the permanent commitment of marriage. God intended sex to be for a husband and wife who have committed themselves to each other permanently, because only in the context of a permanent commitment can permanent intimacy be safely expressed. When there's physical intimacy without a permanent commitment, somebody's going to get hurt. Restrict sexual relationships for marriage, and, beyond that, relate to those of the opposite gender the way Jesus would.
Make this commitment before you get into situations where you're going to be tempted to break it, because if you wait until then, you've waited too long. You're not going to make it. The pressure to go the other way on God's standards is so intense in our society that if you have not decided ahead of time, it's not going to happen.
Commitment #4: Maximize your marriage Maximize your marriage by serving and loving your spouse in your whole relationship, including your physical relationship. Paul words this strongly: "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife" (1 Corinthians 7:3‑4).
These are amazing words. Sexual fulfillment within marriage, which God designed, is so important to God that He actually calls it your duty. That's the word Paul uses. Paul says your body belongs to your spouse. A wife's body belongs to her husband, and a husband's body belongs to his wife.
Make a commitment to maximize your marriage. Maybe the wife requires a rich, multifaceted connectedness in lovemaking. She needs for the two of you to be bonded, not just physically but emotionally. She craves an intimate, gentle, cherishing oneness of soul and spirit if there's going to be sexual connection. It may be that the husband simply requires geographical proximity. He's a much simpler creature. As long as you're in the same space‑time continuum, he's all set. Learn to talk with each other. This is part of your duty to maximize your marriage. The Bible says you're called to be one flesh. And when you sign on for marriage, you're making a promise that you're going to move toward that goal as best you can.