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How to Pursue Sexual Purity - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 5:4b

  • 2009-10-18 AM
  • Ephesians
  • Sermons


Most of you are aware of the story of Augustine, the great father of the church. He was Bishop of Hippo, a city in North Africa, in the late 300's and early 400's after Christ. Perhaps you've even read his 'Confessions', which is the most famous of his writing – basically a lengthy prayer addressing his testimony to God. It's not only one of the greatest works of Western literature. It is also a deeply moving account of God's work in his heart.

What you may not know is that before his conversion, Augustine was absolutely enslaved by sexual sin and lust. Listen to what he writes: "Bound as I was, not with another man's irons, but by my own iron will. My will the enemy held, and thence had made a chain for me, and bound me. For of a forward will, was lust made; and a lust served, became custom (or habit); and custom not restrained, became necessity. By which links, as it were, joined together a hard bondage held me enthralled." Those are poignant words, a description of the slavery of his sexual sin, but Augustine of course was freed from that slavery by the work of Christ in his heart. And later, he wrote this in his 'Confessions' about those sins that had been so much a part of his life before Christ. He writes: "How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose. You drove them from me, You who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, You who are sweeter than all pleasure."

Augustine found deliverance from the slavery of craving and sexual lust by finding his joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And the same is true for all of those who've come to know God through Christ. But although we may be free with Augustine from the slavery to sin, that doesn't remove the reality of the constant battle and struggle with sin and temptation, especially in this area of sexual sin. We need to be properly armed with the right resources in order to fight sexual sin and to pursue moral purity, to pursue moral likeness to Jesus Christ.

That's what Paul's teaching us how to do in Ephesians chapter 5. Let me read it for you again, Ephesians chapter 5. We're looking at the paragraph that begins in verse 3 and runs down through verse 14. "But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light, for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, 'Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'"

The theme of this section is in verse 8: "you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light." Paul is teaching us how to walk worthy of our new position in Christ in the second half of this letter. And in this section, he's telling us that if we are going to walk worthy of Christ and what He has done in our lives, then we must walk in the light. And in the context, he means we must walk in sexual purity. In fact, in this passage our Lord provides us with several practical strategies that are absolutely essential in our daily battle for sexual purity.

We've looked at a couple of them already. Let me just remind you of them. First of all, the first practical strategy we discovered together is that we must adopt God's standard of moral purity. We must adopt God's standard of moral purity and we see that in verses 3 and 4. Paul addresses several categories of sexual sin in these verses. He addresses sexual sins of action in verse 3, the two words 'immorality' and 'impurity'. Together, those words mean that God forbids any sexual acts except the honorable enjoyment of a sexual relationship in marriage. Paul discusses sexual sins of thought in verse 3 in the word 'covetousness'. Covetousness in this context, in the context really of Ephesians, is all sexual desire to have someone other than your spouse. There are sexual sins of speech, verse 4. 'Filthiness' – that refers to that which is obscene. 'Silly talk' – that's crude sexual humor, crass sexual jokes. 'Coarse jesting' – that's more sophisticated. That is innuendo and double entendre. Those are the six sins that Paul spells out.

And then regarding those six sexual sins, Paul gives us God's standard of moral purity. Look at verse 3: "they must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints." In other words, there must not even be a hint of those sins in our lives. That's the standard. If we're gonna overcome the sexual sin in our lives, then we must forget our own low standards of what's appropriate and we must adopt God's standard which is absolute purity – not even a hint of these things in our lives. Ultimately, the standard after which we are to strive is the standard of Jesus Christ Himself. In First John 3:3, it says that if we're anticipating Christ's return, "all who have this hope fixed on Him purify themselves, even as He is pure." That's the standard.

Folks, when we fail, we need to confess that sin, we need to deal with it, but what we can never do is lower the standard. We can't get used to a different standard, excuse our sin. The standard is always absolute moral purity like that of Jesus Christ and that is what we must strive after our entire lives and never give an inch. We will fail. We will not reflect perfectly the moral character of Jesus Christ in this life, but we must never, ever lower the standard. When we fail, we must confess that sin and strive yet again to pursue the standard of likeness to Jesus Christ.

Now there's a second practical strategy that we've discovered together. Not only adopt God's standard but, secondly, use the Biblical means to moral purity. Now the last time we studied this passage together, I gave you a brief list of the wrong means of pursuing moral purity. Let me just remind you of them briefly. We can try to deal with sexual sin and temptation in ineffective ways. Here are a few of them: compromise, practicing legalism, isolating ourselves in hopes that that's gonna somehow protect us from the influences of others, not remembering that Jesus said the sin springs up from our own hearts, praying for sudden, miraculous deliverance from all temptation, thinking that marriage alone will get rid of all sexual temptation, focusing our entire spiritual energy on defeating one sin in our lives instead of realizing God wants us to grow up in all areas. Instead of using all of the spiritual disciplines and tools God has given us to grow up, we concentrate every bit of our energy on one issue. Trying to avoid personal responsibility and trying to shift the blame. Those are all wrong and ineffective ways to deal with sexual sin.

So what are the legitimate ways? What are the means of pursuing true sexual purity by God's standard? Well, we had just begun to examine the Biblical means to sexual purity last time. I just introduced you to the first one. Let's look at the Biblical means. What are the tools, what are the resources at our disposal for dealing with sexual sin in our lives? Well, there are a number revealed in Scripture. Only one of them is found here in Ephesians 5 and I just mentioned it to you last time as we finished our study. It's found at the end of verse 4. Verses 3 and 4 are a unit, one sentence. He lists six sins, says don't be involved in those, let there be no hint of them, the end of verse 4, "but rather". That's a strong adversative in the Greek and it stands opposed to the other sins, all those sins. In the place of those sins, "let there rather be giving of thanks." In place of the six sexual sins of action, thought and speech, Paul says, 'I want you to be in the habit of giving thanks to God.' So here is the first Biblical means of pursuing sexual purity: it's develop a habit of thanksgiving.

Now at first glance, that may be surprising to you and it may not seem like it's much help. I mean, after all, how can thanksgiving help in the battle with sexual sin? Well, let me ask you a question. Where does sexual sin begin? What lies at the root of all sexual sin? It's covetousness in the heart, verse 3 says. It's lust or craving in the heart. That's where all sexual sin begins. And what is covetousness? What is sexual lust? It is craving for, longing for what I do not have. What is giving thanks? Giving thanks is expressing gratitude to God for what I do have. And so, it really is the perfect antidote to where sexual sin begins.

Let me show you how this idea of giving thanks is often contrasted with temptation and sexual sin. Look here in this passage. Verse 4, he says I want you to give thanks instead of these sexual sins. Verse 5: "For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man…" And then listen to how he identifies the sin of sexual coveting. He says the person who's guilty of that is an idolater. Now think about that for a moment. You have in one short section, you have the giving of thanks contrasted with idolatry and sexual sin. That should spur a thought in your mind because there's another passage where those sins are linked as well.

Turn back to Romans chapter 1. In Ephesians 5, Paul says covetousness, sexual craving, is idolatry and that produces sexual sin and that's the opposite of thanksgiving. He says the same thing here in Romans 1. Look at verse 21: "For even though they knew God (he's talking here about all human beings, humanity, this is the progression of human sin. He said even though they knew God, that is, they knew about God from His revelation, verse 20, that is His revelation in nature and, in chapter 2, His writing on the conscience His law. They knew God - that is, they knew there was a God, they knew certain things about God), they did not glorify Him as God or give thanks." You ever seen that, has that ever stood out to you? Right in the middle of this section of terrible sins, he includes "they didn't glorify God and they didn't give Him thanks." Now watch what happens. Out of that (verse 21 goes on to say), "they became futile in their speculations, their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and (here's what happened) they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and animals and crawling creatures (in other words, idolatry)." So you have 'they weren't thankful' and that lack of thanksgiving produced idolatry. And what does idolatry come along with? Look at the next verse: "Therefore (verse 24) God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator."

What I want you to see is in both contexts, Ephesians 5 and here in Romans 1, covetousness (that is, lust) and idolatry are linked and they stem from a lack of thanksgiving. Here in Romans 1, failing to give thanks is the equivalent of failing to glorify God which led to idolatry and that idolatry produced sexual sin. When you put it all together, this is what you get. Failing to give thanks leads to all kinds of idolatry including sexual covetousness. And so doesn't it make perfect sense then that giving thanks is the antidote to sexual lust and covetousness because it's the opposite. On one end of the spectrum, you are craving and longing for that which God has forbidden you and which you do not have. Its opposite virtue is to have a truly grateful heart to your Creator for what He has given you. And so it is the logical antidote to sexual lust and covetousness. So to overcome lust then, we must become a genuinely grateful people. Giving thanks is the virtue that is to replace lust or covetousness in the heart. This means that we need to develop a life of thanksgiving. I can promise you this. If you are overcome with lust and craving in your heart, you are not a thankful person. You have not developed a habit of gratitude to God for what He has given you because the two cannot coexist in the same heart.

It also means that giving thanks to God is something you need to do at the very moment of temptation - thanking God when you're tempted sexually. In that moment of temptation, thank God for Christ. Thank Him for grace. If you're married, thank Him for your spouse. Thank Him for marriage. Thank Him for the beauty of married love. If you're not married, thank Him for God's providence in your life, for His faithfulness, for the fact that He will in His time meet your needs. Giving thanks is a Biblical means to fighting the lust that is in our hearts.

Now in this passage, it's the only means that Paul gives us, but there are other means. There are other resources that God has given us in the Scripture to battle sexual sin and temptation. Because this is such an issue in our culture, I think it's right that in the rest of our time together this morning, we step back from Ephesians 5 and I want us to briefly survey a few other Biblical means in other places in the Scripture for dealing with the battle of sexual sin and temptation. The first one we found is giving thanks, developing a pattern, a habit of giving thanks to God.

A second means for pursuing sexual purity is properly use the Word, properly use the Scripture. It's important that you understand the word 'properly' because we often misuse the Scripture. Understand this – that in temptation, the role of Scripture, the role of the Bible is not a mantra that you can just recite mindlessly. It's not a magic formula. If you just recite a verse, the temptation's gonna flee and leave you. The Bible also is not merely something that you get into your mind to distract your mind from the temptation. You might as well read names from the phone book if that's all you're trying to do.

But Scripture does play a very important role. Remember now, if you step back for a moment and think about Scripture overall, Scripture is crucial in our sanctification, that is, our growth in holiness - absolutely crucial. Psalm 119, verse 11: "Your Word have I treasured in my heart (not just memorized, treasured in my heart), that I may not sin against You." John 17:17, Jesus prays, "Sanctify them (Lord) by means of the truth; Your word is truth." Jesus says, 'God, make My people holy progressively by means of their knowledge of the truth of God.' Acts 20, verse 32, Paul says to the Ephesian elders: "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace (that's another word for Scripture), which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." First Peter 2:2 – "long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it (by the Word) you may grow."

Listen. You can come to learn the Bible more deeply and not grow. You can approach it academically. You can fail to meditate on it and fail to seek to obey it. So you can misuse the Bible. You can come to a deeper understanding and not grow spiritually, but you will never grow spiritually without a deeper understanding of this book.

But the Scripture serves an even more specific role in temptation. If you weren't here when we went through our Lord's temptation, went back to Matthew 4 on Sunday night a number of months ago now, I encourage you to listen to it and rehearse how our Lord responded to temptation. But I want to make the big point and that's this: in response to Satan's temptations, the three that are recorded in the gospels, Jesus turned to in every case His deep understanding of passages He had studied and learned and meditated on and memorized from Deuteronomy 6 through 8. He used means to repel the temptations that are available to us all. He used the Scripture.

That's what Paul says later in this book in Ephesians, isn't it? When he's talking about the armor of God, he says I want you to take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. In other words, properly used, the Scripture is a sword that we can wield at the moment of temptation and it will enable us to unmask the deception of Satan, including the deception that's involved in sexual sin.

Think about it. What happens when we are led off into sin is that we are deceived about the truth. We're deceived in our thinking about the truth. For example, we come to the conclusion that there is true joy and satisfaction found outside of God. Well, guess what? James 1 says: "Every good and perfect gift comes (what?) down from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning." There's nothing good outside of God. That's a lie and the Scripture can unmask that lie.

Or consider another one. We can be tempted to believe in a moment of temptation: 'You know what, I can be involved in sexual sin and it really won't have that far-reaching a consequence. I can just, this time, scoot past.' Listen to how the Scripture unmasks that lie. Turn back to Proverbs, Proverbs chapter 5. Proverbs chapter 5 and verse 3, Solomon tells his sons: "For the lips of an adulteress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword (she's, she'll cut you like a knife). Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold of Sheol (the grave)." Solomon says don't even think that it's gonna be something easy, that it's something you can slide past. It will destroy you.

You see how the Scripture unmasks the lies of temptation. 'Oh, it's just a little thing. It doesn't matter.' Look over in chapter 7, verse 21. Solomon comes back to this: "With her many persuasions (he's talking about now a young man entrapped by an adulteress, with her many persuasions) she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him. Suddenly he follows her as an ox (it's like an ox) going to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, until an arrow pierces through his liver; as a bird hastens to the trap and he does not know that it will cost him his life." Listen. The Bible unmasks temptation's lies and it helps us see the reality – in this case, the reality that sin will cost you. There are serious consequences for sin. Verse 27: "Her house is the way to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death." Scripture does that. It's like a sword that if you learn the passages that deal with sexual sin, you can unmask the lies when temptation says, 'Oh, it's not that big a deal. It's okay. God doesn't want you to have something good. There's good found outside of God' and on and on the lies go. You learn the Scripture in the moment of temptation, having thought about that Scripture, having meditated on that Scripture, having memorized that Scripture, you can wield it like a sword to defend yourself against the onslaught of sexual temptation.

There's a third means for pursuing sexual purity: pray, pray. Don't pray for miraculous deliverance from all temptation; instead, pray for help in the temptation. This is what our Lord urged His disciples to do. Turn to Luke 22. Luke 22, it's in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. Verse 39 of Luke 22 says they went to the Mount of Olives. His disciples followed Him. Verse 40: "When He had arrived at the place (here at the Garden of Gethsemane), He said to His disciples (listen to this. He knows what's coming. He knows what's about to happen. He knows that they're going to be caught in fear because He's gonna be taken and He says this to them), 'Pray in order that you may not enter into temptation.'" Now the temptation is coming. This isn't a prayer not to be tempted at all. It's a prayer not to be sucked in the temptation, not to be destroyed by the temptation. And Jesus says, 'Pray that you may not enter into temptation.' He says it again in verse 46 when He comes back. By the way, His own prayer is a great model of this because He's praying that the Father would, would preserve Him through that incredible suffering of the next day, including being separated and especially being separated from the Father. Verse 46, He comes back and He said to them, "'Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray in order that you may not enter into temptation.'"

Listen. This is what we ought to pray every day. This is what our Lord taught us in the Lord's Prayer. You remember Matthew 6:13? Remember the final request? Out of six requests our Lord taught us to pray, number six says, "Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Every day of your life and every day of my life, we should get up and we should say to God, 'God, do not allow me to get into circumstances today in which I will fall. Protect me from myself. Protect me from my sinful heart. Protect me from those outside of myself who would do me harm. But instead, lead me into a holy life. May I grow in my sanctification and my knowledge of You.' We ought to pray that every day.

But in the moment of temptation, we should pray as well. What should we pray? If you find yourself tempted, how do you pray that you enter not into temptation – that is, that you not be sucked into the temptation when it comes to sexual sin? Here's how you can pray in the middle of temptation: ["God, thank You for making me a sexual creature with sexual desires. I don't ask that You remove my desire, but that You help me to please You with it in my thoughts and actions." Or here's another: "God, You made me for true and lasting pleasure. Fill me with confidence that You have good things in store for me, something much better than what lust and sin has to offer." Or: "God, thank You for beauty and my ability to appreciate it. That person is very attractive, but help me to look on that person with purity. I don't want to covet and lust. Help me to view him or her as a person made in Your image and not as an object of my lust. God, I'm tempted to look to lust for comfort right now. Please help me to find my comfort instead in You." ]* Those are great prayers. Talk to God about the struggle and seek His help in temptation. Pray that you do not enter into temptation.

There's a fourth means for pursuing purity and it's very practical as well: run, run. Scripture is full of advice to run from sexual sin and temptation. Look at First Corinthians chapter 6. The believers in Corinth, of course, lived in a cesspool of sexual sin. And to them, Paul has this advice. First Corinthians chapter 6, verse 18. You're in a culture where you're gonna be sucked into this whole deal. "Flee immorality (run from 'porneia', from all sexual acts of sin. Get away!). Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body." Run.

Paul gives the same advice to his young son in the faith, Timothy, in Second Timothy chapter 2, verse 22. He says, "Now run from youthful lusts (that is, the cravings that go with youth) and pursue righteousness and faith and love and peace instead, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." Run.

Sometimes that means we should literally run. Of course, the classic example of that is (whom?) Joseph, who literally left his outer cloak in the hands of Potiphar's wife and ran, the Scripture says, and got him out. Sometimes it literally means running. There are times when the best way to deal with temptation is literally to leave the place of temptation.

Other times, running means staying away from the places of temptation. In Proverbs chapter 5 as, as Solomon deals with his sons, he says to them regarding the house of the woman who is open to sexual sin, verse 8 of Proverbs 5: "Keep your way far from her and do not go near the door of her house." Stay away. Run away from it.

Running from sexual sin also sometimes mean taking steps to make it hard to sin. Proverbs, excuse me uh, Romans I should say, Romans 13, verse 14 says this, says it this way: "make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Make no provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts. Literally translated, we could say it like this: 'Don't set a table for your sin.' Don't set the table to make it easy to partake of sin. Get rid of your access to it. Richard Baxter, the great English Puritan pastor, says: "Keep as far as you can from those temptations that feed and strengthen the sins which you would overcome (listen to him). Lay siege to your sins and starve them out by keeping away the food and fuel which is their maintenance and life."

What does running from sexual sin look like in real life? Let me give you a couple of very practical illustrations. Run from a situation where there's a sudden temptation. If you're at home alone and temptation comes, leave the home. Get out of the house if that's where the temptation is. If it comes from another person in a private place in, in the workplace or some other place, don't walk away. Run away. Stay away from people and places that tempt you to sexual sin. If a person's too friendly, then stay away from them, avoid them. And by the way, another safeguard is tell your spouse. And if you need to, change jobs. Run. That's the Biblical advice. Don't make provision for your sin. Don't set the table to sin. Cut off all easy access. In other words, make it hard to sin.

I can tell you as a pastor this is very frustrating for me at times. You know, people will come and say, 'You know, I, I'm having a trouble with sexual sin' and I want to help them, but when I find out what they're doing, it's like you're setting the table for sin. Let me give you some very practical ways to cut off the access to sin. If your struggle comes from television, then lock out all the TV channels where you're tempted to sin and let your spouse have the password and her alone or him alone. Or cancel the TV channels that are a source of temptation. Ladies, if, if you're tempted to read novels and to fantasize about a relationship with a different man than your husband, then get rid of the novels, Christian or otherwise. Get rid of the magazines, all of them. If, if your temptation comes after your spouse is in bed, then go to bed when they go to bed. If the problem is the internet, then put the computer in the middle of a public room and have your spouse set the password so you don't know it. Get software that provides accountability like Net Nanny or Covenant Eyes. And if you're still tempted to sin, then get rid of the internet. You say, 'Oh, you know, you're not living in the modern world. You can't live in the world without the internet.' Listen. You better be willing to get radical with your sin. As John Owen, the great English Puritan, said: "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." You need to be willing to take radical steps in your fight with sin.

You say, 'Is that Biblical?' Let me show you how Biblical it is. Turn back to Matthew chapter 5. Our Lord Himself couldn't have made it any clearer. In verse 27 in the Sermon on the Mount, He addresses the issue of adultery and He addresses the issue in verse 28 of lust: "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (the next verse, look at what He says). If your right eye makes you stumble (makes you caused to sin), tear it out and throw it from you; for it's better for you to lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble (or sin), cut it off and throw it from you; for it's better for you to lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

You know what Jesus was saying? He's not saying be an ascetic. He's not saying there's something to be gained by plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand. You can do those things and still have a sinful heart. His point is this: be willing to get radical in dealing with your sin. Getting radical may mean getting a different job if the temptation is a person at your workplace. Getting radical may mean changing careers if your job provides you with too many opportunities to sin and you're often giving into it. It may mean getting rid of the internet or getting rid of television altogether. It may look like the main character in the film 'Fireproof' who, because of internet pornography, demolishes his computer and throws it in the trash. You know what Christ is saying, what this is saying to us is stop coddling your sin. Stop setting the table to sin. Do everything in your power to get rid of the access, to cut off the exposure, to starve it out where it has no fuel. Don't talk about 'I just can't overcome it' if you haven't been willing to get radical in, in cutting off the fuel for your sin. Be killing sin or it will be killing you.

A fifth means for pursuing purity is rehearse the tragic consequences of sexual sin. Rehearse, that is repeat to yourself, remember the tragic consequences of sexual sin. You see what temptation does is it always gives us the, the pleasure side. It always shows us the beautiful side, the attractive side - there is pleasure in sin. Instead, Scripture shows us the ugly side, the consequence side of sin, the tragic consequences. In Second Samuel chapter 11, we read about David's sin with Bathsheba. David, at that moment, focused on the pleasure of sexual sin, but read the rest of Second Samuel and you'll see the tragic consequences. There is a cover-up, an act of murder, a dead child, a rebellious son who copied the father's sin, a life on the run. Listen. God forgave David, we read about that this morning, but there was a lifetime of tragic consequences for his sin. Think about that before the temptation comes. Rehearse the consequences of sin.

The Scripture does this over and over again. Look at Proverbs chapter 5. Solomon again to his sons, he's trying to warn them and he says, 'Listen. Remember where this leads.' Verse 8: "Keep your way far from her, do not go near the door of her house, or you will give your vigor to others (think about the consequences), your years to the cruel one; strangers will be filled with your strength and your hard-earned goods will go to the house of an alien; and you groan at your final end, when your flesh and your body are consumed (perhaps a reference to sexual diseases); and you say, 'How I have hated instruction! And my heart spurned reproof! I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to my instructors! I was almost in utter ruin in the midst of the assembly and the congregation.'"

Chapter 6, verse 25. He continues the warning and, and the consequences: "Do not desire the adulteress' beauty in your heart, don't let her capture you with her eyelids (with her, how she uses her eyes to seduce). On account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, an adulteress hunts for the precious life. You can't take fire into your chest and your clothes not be burned. You can't walk on hot coals and your feet not be scorched. The one who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her will not go unpunished." Remember that before the temptation comes.

Wayne Mack, in his excellent book 'Sweethearts for a Lifetime', actually suggests writing out the consequences of sexual sin. Remember, for example, that sexual sin violates your spouse's trust, that it undermines all areas of your relationship, that it destroys God's design for marriage, that it puts you at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, that it cultivates a pattern of lying and deception, that it sears your mind with images that will last a lifetime, that it produces nothing but guilt and no real satisfaction. It destroys the trust all around you including your children. It influences them to justify their sin by your example. It robs you of a clear conscience. It produces real guilt before God. It robs you of assurance of salvation and it even raises serious questions about the reality of your faith. It alienates you from God. It opens you to the discipline of the church and it exposes you to the severe discipline of God Himself, including sickness and even death. Make that list and read it often and remember that what it's promising you is absolutely false.

Number six: enjoy the gift of married love. Here's another Biblical means for avoiding sexual sin. Enjoy the gift of married love. If you're married, actively pursue finding your joy and satisfaction in your spouse. Solomon in Proverbs 5 makes this point to his sons. Verse 15 of Proverbs 5: "Drink water (and in these beautiful images in a culture where it's very barren and water was precious, he says drink water) from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be (literally) intoxicated always with her love."

Paul says the same thing in First Corinthians chapter 7. He says the physical relationship in marriage is a protection against sexual temptation and sin. Look at First Corinthians 7, verse 2: "because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband (in other words, to guard against immorality). The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you (that is, to sexual sin) because of your lack of self-control." Paul says the physical relationship in marriage is a gift of God and part of its purpose is to guard against sexual sin. Listen. You cannot, as a Christian man or woman, go for months and years without that aspect of marriage being in place if you're married and not sin against God. Not only are you sinning against your spouse. You are sinning against God. It's part of what God has put in place to guard and protect us.

If you're unmarried, pursue marriage. Look down in verse 8: "But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I." Paul in this context is talking about the gift of singleness and the gift of marriage. Some have the gift of singleness. Some have the gift of marriage. He says if you don't have the gift of singleness (verse 9): "if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." Listen. Marriage won't take away sexual temptation, but it is one means that God uses to guard and protect us from sexual sin.

There's one more means for dealing with sexual sin and it's the most important of all. If you don't use this means, let me just put it this way. If you don't use this means, none of the others I've given you this morning will benefit you at all. The final Biblical means for pursuing sexual sin is this: look to Christ alone, look to Christ alone. Listen. God's standard of sexual purity is an impossible standard. It's Christ and His purity. It's just not possible to get there through our own strength. I don't have the kind of power in myself and neither do you to reach that standard. We need God's grace. We need the gospel. We need the power of Jesus Christ. So this standard drives us back to Christ. It drives us back because we fail, don't we? We fail. We think as we shouldn't think. We speak as we shouldn't speak. And sometimes, even Christians act as they shouldn't act. And we come back to Christ and back to the cross and back to the gospel seeking forgiveness because He paid for that sin in our place. He poured out His life to earn forgiveness for that wretched sin.

When we come back to Him, I love Ephesians chapter 1. We studied it together, Christ's role in the great drama of redemption. Verse 7 says: "In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our acts of rebellion, according to the wealth of His grace." We come back to Christ for forgiveness.

We also come to Christ for help in the middle of temptation. You realize you can do that? Hebrews chapter 4, verse 15 says: "We have a high priest who can sympathize with us because He was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin." And therefore, the writer of Hebrews goes on to say: "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Listen. You can have help in Christ in the time of temptation if you'll go to Him. He's a high priest who understands. He faced every kind of temptation you and I've faced, but without sin.

We also go to Christ for sanctification. We look to Him for our progress in holiness, in becoming more sexually pure. You know, as Christians, I grew up in a church where I was taught to think that, you know, you, you believed in Christ for salvation and then you kind of moved on, you were on your own after that. That isn't Scriptural. The truth is without Christ, we cannot grow in our sanctification. You remember what Jesus said to His disciples in John 15? He was talking about the vine and the branches: 'I am the vine. My life flows to you. You're the branches.' And He says in the end of that passage: "Without Me you can do (what?) nothing." That means you cannot make progress in, toward moral purity without Jesus Christ - can't be done. You can try all these other means all you want but, if it's outside of Christ, you will not make progress. "Without Me you can do nothing." And He's talking in the context about being pruned and bearing fruit.

First Corinthians 1:30 – "By God's doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us… sanctification." Christ isn't just our redemption. He's our sanctification. Galatians 2:20 – "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I (I'm not the one living, so how do I live)… I live by faith in the Son of God." That's the Christian life. I am living by faith in the Son of God. Ephesians 5: "Christ loved the church, gave Himself for her so that He might sanctify her." Ephesians, or excuse me, Hebrews 2:11 - Christ is called the One "who sanctifies." Understand this. You were saved by faith alone in Christ alone and you will grow in holiness and moral purity by faith alone in Christ alone.

In his classic work on sin and temptation, the English Puritan John Owen taught that if in our own strength we try to do this, he says: "It is the essence and substance of all false religion in the world." Why? He said because when our fight with sin is "carried out with man-made schemes, it always ends in self-righteousness." All the other means of pursuing sexual purity will absolutely fail us if we try to do them with our faith in ourselves - in our will, in our strength, in our resolve, in our promises. Our complete faith and trust must be in Christ alone as we use these means.

Now very briefly as we close our time, and I'm sorry I've gone long this morning, but to aid you in your continuing struggle with sin, let me just recommend a couple of resources to you. First of all, there's a new and more readable version of John Owen's classic 'Sin and Temptation'. It's edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor and it is much more readable. Owen is like a surgeon with a scalpel in dealing with the sin in our hearts. He will be a great help to you as he has been to me. Another book for you or maybe someone else that you know who's struggling, a book called 'Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave' by Ed Welch – very helpful on this issue as well. It talks about how this kind of sin becomes idolatry in the heart.

Let me end with this. What do you do if you've already failed? What do you do if you've failed? Well, if you're not in Christ, your only hope is the gospel, your only hope is in Jesus Christ. In First Corinthians 6, Paul says to the Corinthians you were all, you were involved in sexual sin in the past: "Such were some of you; but you have been washed, you have been cleansed, you have been justified by faith in Jesus Christ." Listen. Jesus Christ can change you. He can change your heart. He can free the slavery in which you find yourself, but only He can do it. If you'll come to Him and you're willing to turn from your sin and embrace Him by faith, He will change you. He will set you free. He Himself said, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

If you're a believer and you've sinned, there's grace and pardon for you as well. Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion." If you're willing to turn from that sin, confess it to God, turn from it, you will find God's compassion. First John 1:9 – "He's faithful and just to forgive us our sins."

Meditate on the two psalms David wrote after his sexual sin – Psalm 32 that I read this morning, Psalm 51. Mediate on those. Study them. Pray them back to God and remind yourself of what David wrote in the psalm we read this morning, Psalm 32:5 – "I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'; and You (O God) forgave the guilt of my sin." Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your grace to us in Christ. Thank You that You have given us such wonderful resources. O God, help us to use the means You've given to us to pursue sexual purity in a dirty world. But Father, remind us that those means are only effective when we do them looking to Christ alone to change us and to give us grace. Thank You, O God, that there was One who lived through His entire life without a single thought of sexual sin, without a single word of sexual sin, without a single act. Father, may we find our strength, our hope, our forgiveness, our freedom in Him and in Him alone. We pray in Jesus Christ's name. Amen.

* This helpful material comes from a book that we can no longer recommend because of its author. For that reason we have deleted the specific reference to the author and book title.