Tag Archives: lust

War of the Soul: Sin’s Greatest Weapon (James 1:13-15)

Introduction: Something Small Can Be Deadly

How many of you have ever wanted a snake as a pet? Probably not many of you. Most of us do not like snakes because we recognize how deadly they are, don’t we? Not very long ago, I was researching the world’s most deadliest snakes, and I came across many of the familiar ones: the rattlesnake, the viper, and finally the black mamba. 

The feared Black Mamba is found throughout many parts of the African continent. They are known to be highly aggressive, and strike with deadly precision. They are also the fastest land snake in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 12 mph. These fearsome snakes can strike up to 12 times in a row. A single bite is capable of killing anywhere from 10-25 adults. The venom is a fast acting neurotoxin. The victim experiences a tingling sensation in the mouth and extremities, double vision, tunnel vision, severe confusion, fever, foaming at the mouth and nose, and depending on the nature of the bite, death can result at any time between 15 minutes and 3 hours.¹

But they are so small. People who die from their bites are not expecting to die from their bites. People go into areas their not supposed to, and unknowingly, BAM! They get bitten. It’s ironic how something so small can be so deadly. In our passage tonight, James the brother of Jesus, warns us about something very small that can be very deadly—our own desires. We probably don’t think about our desires very often, but it is our very desires that cause our temptations. Our desires are the source of our temptations, and if nothing is done about them, there are deadly consequences.

The Text: James 1:13-15, ESV

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

I. The Goodness of God During Temptations (v. 13)

You’ve probably noticed that I have not included verse 12 in with this passage. In your translation, it is likely that v. 12 is part of the paragraph containing verses 13-15 also.  I haven’t included it in this part of the passage because it is a verse that serves as a pause or reflection on James’ previous thought. He had just finished talking about enduring trials (1:2-11), and now he is beginning to talk about temptation and personal sin. So for this sermon, it is better to start where James starts his new thought, and that is in v. 13.

I want us to notice first that James talks about the goodness of God during our temptations in v. 13. And the idea here is that God cannot be responsible for our temptations because He is a good God. James writes first a word of warning and of comfort: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

James presents a scenario of a man who is being tempted and blames God for his temptation. But James says that nobody has the right to say that, or to blame God for temptation because “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot tempt and entice you to sin because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil—He doesn’t face temptations. He doesn’t have the impulse or desire to sin, He’s perfect and completely holy. So then, James says, because God is good and cannot be tempted with evil, “he himself tempts no one.”

Not once have your temptations ever come from God. Not a single time in the history of humanity has God ever tempted any person to sin. All that comes from God is completely and entirely good, because He is good. James writes about that in the next passage: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (vv. 16-17).

God cannot be tempted with evil and tempts no one because He is a holy God. The Scriptures testify:

“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)

“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” (Psalm 99:9)

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

I think we realize at this point that God is good, but why would James feel like it’s necessary to tell us that God is good? Why does James feel the need to remind us that we can’t blame God for our temptations because He is a good God? I think he has a twofold purpose in mind:

1) So that we understand who is truly responsible for temptations. He is going to spell out later in this passage that we are ultimately responsible for the temptations that we face. But notice how James is eliminating the possibilities of who could be responsible for temptation. Already, he has excluded Satan—he’s not even listed. And he has just said that God cannot be responsible for them. This serves a great purpose: the only one left on the list for being responsible for sin is us.

2) So that we understand that God is good—He wants to help us through temptation, not cause us to stumble into them. Adam tried blaming God and refusing to take responsibility didn’t he? God inquired of Adam and Eve for why they ate from the tree which God commanded them not to—and their response? “The main said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Adam blamed the woman. Listen to Eve’s excuse: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v. 13). Eve blamed Satan. For once in the history of the universe a woman was wrong, can you believe that? I saw a sign once that said “ALL MEN GO TO THE LEFT, BECAUSE THE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.” Just joking of course, but only a little.

The point is, since the beginning of humanity we have not taken responsibility for our sin—but listen: do not doubt the goodness of God during your temptations. He is a good God that is for you, not against you, and wants to provide the “way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

II. The Source of Our Temptation (v. 14)

We’ve seen that God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations, so what is it that causes our temptations? Why are we always slipping up on the same old sins? Why are we being tempted to sin all the time as believers? And why are temptations so frequent? James answers: “[But] each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (v. 14).

The source of our temptation is our own desire. James tells his readers, instead of God being responsible for temptation, “each person is tempted . . . by his own desire.” It’s desire. Desire is the culprit. Desire is problem. Desire is the root and the source of our temptations. The problem is within us—it’s not on the outside, but buried within our innermost beings.

Notice James says that “each person is tempted,” meaning that everyone faces temptations. You can bank on that—you will face temptations. If you didn’t, there’d be no need for this passage of Scripture whatsoever. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe what happens in temptation. Notice the language he uses here: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

Desire is the problem, but what happens in temptation is that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. The Greek word for “lured” here is exelkó, literally meaning to be “dragged away.” It was used to describe when game (whether fishing or hunting) was lured away from its path to bait. So we have the picture of an animal that is dragged away from its usual path to bait that it thinks it needs. Similarly, the Greek word for “enticed” here means to “set a trap.”

So here you have these powerful Greek words that describe a man being dragged away and falling into the trap of sin. And why do we become lured into sin and fall into it’s trap? Well go back to the fishing metaphor that James is using. When you fish, you bait a hook. Before you drop the line in, you cover the hook with a jig and bait—it is so that the fish sees it as something he needs (food) and he goes after it, seeking satisfaction for his hunger. When he bites the bait, we jerk the pole and snag him—lift him out of the water where he dies and then he fries in fish grease so that we can eat him (if you like fried fish, that is).

It’s the same way with sin in our lives. It looks like something we need—it looks like something we need to satisfy us. Sin never appears to be dangerous, did you know that? Temptation never says, “Don’t do this. This will disgrace the name of God and hurt your witness. This will damage your relationship with God.” No, it sounds more like, “This will be fun! This won’t hurt! No one will ever know. Just do it.”

Our desires are deceptive, and it’s important to realize that our desires are the thing that pulls us in. It’s imperative to realize that the real problem is our own desires. Another Greek word for desire here is “lusts,” it is that passionate longing for sin that we sometimes experience. This is because we’ve been born into this world as sinners—naturally inclined to sinning against God. But if we’re born again, we have new natures and no excuse for continuing in the same sins.

But why has this been so important to know? Because we must recognize what the problem is before we can solve it or do anything about it. About a year ago, my office began to give off an awful odor. I looked everywhere for the source of smell. I cleaned the floors, took out the trash, and searched every corner—still nothing. Around this time we had recently been given a new puppy, and obviously he hadn’t been house trained, for I soon discovered the source of the smell. Behind a small guitar stand in my office lay a pile of hardened, old, dog droppings. That’s what the smell was! I cleaned it up, and soon my office was finally bearable. But you see, I couldn’t take care of the problem (the stench) without identifying it. And it is the same with our temptations—we can do nothing about our temptations until we discover what the real problem is: our own desires.

III. The Course of Our Temptations (v. 15)

We’ve already seen that God is a good God who doesn’t tempt us, and we’ve just seen what the source of our temptations are, but what’s the problem with letting our desires have their way? What is really at risk here, if anything? James answers again: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15)
Our desires, if we welcome rather than resist them, lead to destruction. James uses another image here (as in v. 14) but one of birth. He pictures desire as conceiving and then giving birth, but then giving birth to death. Really, a horrifying image to think about. James has in mind the person who actively responds to his sinful desires. It is a person who has allowed his desires to conceive. And we understand this. It takes effort to conceive a child doesn’t it? It’s never, “Oops, how did that happen?” That’s what James has in mind here. He’s talking about somebody who does nothing about their desires. They welcome rather than resist those desires and then they conceive.

Once conception takes place, then what’s the next step? Birth. So follows James picture here. Once desire has had its way, it gives birth to sin. It doesn’t give birth to satisfaction like you think it does, it doesn’t give birth to pleasure, or prestige, or power—it gives birth to sin. Once birth takes place, then what? Growth and death. And so follows James’ image. He says that once sin has “fully grown,” once it has matured, it brings forth death. That’s where sin ultimately leads—that’s what James is warning us about (Rom. 6:23).

If you do nothing about sin, it will only get worse and worse and ultimately lead to death. Do you know how an avalanche works? What causes one? An avalanche occurs when the snowpack — or the layers of accumulated snow — on the side of a mountain is in some way disturbed, leading to a fracturing of the top layer and a downward torrent of a large mass of the snow. Snow builds over time—it’s not moved, it just builds on top of more snow. Once it gets too heavy, if falls, sometimes killing many people each year.

That’s the way it is with our desires for sin. When our desires grow, when we do nothing about them and they just get worse and worse, then they give birth to sin and then sin brings “forth death.”

IV. How to Fight the Desires (selected Scriptures)

As we’ve unpacked this passage of Scripture verse by verse, James has taught us several things. First, God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations. Second, our desires are—and always will be, the source of our temptations. Third, if our desires are welcomed rather than resisted, great destruction can take place—even death. But finally, I want us to look at a few practical ways we can fight those desires. If desires are the problem, then our desires need to change and they need to be fought. So how can we do this?

1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).

2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.

3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.

Conclusion: Enchanting But Deadly

For years, workers and visitors flocked to the sight of silvery dust flakes that floated to the floor in a mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. There was a steelworker, Joe Gutierrez who wrote about it. He says that “the snow danced in August.” It was beautiful and enchanting, but it was soon discovered that it was asbestos floating in the air. “Everybody breathed it,” Joe writes. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers.

“Can’t walk too far now. I get tired real fast, and it hurts when I breathe sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job,” he says. Sin is enchanting, sin is pretty and attractive, but it can be a killer. Are you taking the steps necessary to overcoming these desires? Are you avoiding tempting situations? Are you submitting totally to Jesus Christ?


1. Iakhovas. “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes.” List Verse. March 30, 2011. http://listverse.com/2011/03/30/top-10-most-venomous-snakes/

 

You’ve Got Questions: Tearing Out Our Eyes and Cutting Off Our Hands? (Matt. 5:29-30)

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we read, “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” (Matt. 5:29-30). Very powerful language there. Jesus tells His followers that if their right eye or hand causes them to sin against God, they should remove it and forcibly cast if from them. Why? Because according to Jesus, it’s better to lose their eye (or hand) than to lose their own soul in hell. In the context, Jesus is talking about lust and the urgency of taking action against it, because the cost of doing nothing about it is far more expensive than taking whatever measures necessary to eradicate it from our lives.

So then, we know from the context that Jesus isn’t demanding literal amputation—we know Jesus better than that, and we know the Bible better than that. But His logic makes perfect sense—it’s better to lose a little than a lot. It would be far better for His followers to lose their eye or hand than to lose their own soul in hell.

Should we resort to chainsaws to eradicate lust from our lives? Understand first, that for Jesus’ audience, the right side was seen as more valuable—how many of you are right handed? Likely the majority of you. Most people are right handed, and because of this, they do everything with their right hand. You write with your right hand, hold drinks, spoons and forks to eat, toothbrushes to clean your teeth, use your cellphone, and many other things. If you’re right handed, that’s your dominant hand—it’s more useful and valuable to you than your left.

Jesus is saying that if even what is very valuable to you causes you to sin, then it should be cast away and removed from you. The reason why is because of the high cost of doing nothing about it. It will cost you far more to do nothing, than it will to do something about removing the sources of temptation and lust from your life. Pornography might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away forcibly. Sexual relations before marriage might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away from you. Whatever it is that is causing you to sin, even if it is valuable to you, should be cast away from you!

But even further, if Jesus’ audience actually followed His figurative language literally, if they did gouge out their eye and cut off their hand, would this completely take care of the problem? No it wouldn’t—where does Jesus say that adultery takes place? In the heart (Matt. 5:28).

Jesus is saying that, yes lust happens in the heart, but outside sources can and will contribute to it. And if there are sources in our lives that are causing us to lust, we need to take radical measures against them. Jesus’ point here is that it is urgent that action is taken against lust, because it could lead to God’s judgment. If nothing is ever done to conquer lust in your life, then you don’t view it as very serious. If you don’t view sin as serious, then it is very casual to you. If you see it as casual, then you will likely do nothing about it.

Perhaps a short story from church history will illustrate this point. Origen, who was one of the early church fathers, took this command literally and emasculated himself, but immediately found out that he still faced temptations. Ironically, he later wrote, “[The believer] amputates the passions of the soul without touching the body.”¹


1. Cited in Davies, W. D. and Allison, Dale. C. Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 79.

 

Anomaly: Lust, the Lethal Infection (Matt. 5:27-30)

Introduction—Bitten on the Railway

A railway brakeman spent four months in the hospital of Sedalia, Missouri. This was because he was bitten by a tarantula on the tip of his middle finger on his right hand. At the time he felt a sharp twinge of pain, but paid no more attention to it until the finger began to swell. Soon the whole hand and arm were swollen to three times their natural size. Bit by bit the doctors amputated the affected finger, but the wound refused to heal. Finally the entire hand had to go. It was only after 29 amputations that the surgeons were able to stop the spread of the poison. Even then they considered it nearly miraculous that he recovered at all, because the poison had gone through his system.¹

Imagine how you would react in this situation. Likely, you recognize the deadliness of a tarantula’s bite, and if you were in this situation, you’d get help immediately. This is because when you recognize the deadliness of something, you will go to great lengths to avoid it. Think about the urgency of treating a cold versus cancer. Or about the urgency of treating a scab versus an open wound. In our passage of Scripture, Jesus describes something very deadly. Something that is far more deadly than a tarantula bite. Jesus talks about lust in this passage, and teaches us that radical measures should be taken against it because of how deadly it really is.

The Text: Matt. 5:27-30, ESV

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 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. 30 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.”

I. The Deed and the Desire (vv. 27-28)

First, the person who lusts for someone already commits adultery in their hearts. Notice first in the text that this is what Jesus says. He shows that the person who lusts has already committed adultery in the heart: “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” (vv. 27-28).

A. The Deed

Jesus quotes the seventh commandment as we all know (Exod. 20:14). This was a prohibiting sexual relations outside of marriage, primarily by a married person. If someone married had sexual relations with anyone besides their spouse, it was known as the act of adultery. The punishment for adultery, like many other sins, was death—both for the “adulterer and the adulteress” (Deut. 22:22; Lev. 20:10).²

Because of the fatal consequences of adultery, the Proverbs are replete with commands against adultery:

“He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Prov. 6:32).

“Keep your way far from her [the adulteress], and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).

Perhaps the most vivid description is in Proverbs 6:27-29:

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.”

Jesus’ audience, the Jews, would have understood adultery to be a serious sin, deserving of serious punishment, and carrying terrible consequences. They would have been especially familiar with the famous story of shame and regret that we all know, as told by the author of 2 Samuel—the story of David and Bathsheba. This grievous sin committed by Israel’s greatest king, this shameful act done by the man after God’s own heart, who penned the larger portion of the most beautiful book in the Bible, the Psalms.

We read in 2 Samuel 11 that David “saw from the roof a woman bathing” (v. 2), and then “he lay with her” (v. 4). From this, she became pregnant (v. 5), and David had Uriah (a commander in his army) deceitfully murdered (v. 17). Jesus says in the first verse of the passage, “You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery” (v. 27). He is saying, “You know this commandment.” They knew about David’s fall. They knew about the commandments. Especially the Pharisees and scribes—boy did they know the commandments. Do you recall when they were willing to kill the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11)? They knew the commandments, but apparently they didn’t actually know the commandments, or they would have easily understood Jesus’ next statement.

B. The Desire

Jesus says that even the person who lusts after another person has already committed adultery with them in their hearts: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (v. 28). Jesus speaks with authority, as the one who has come to fulfill the Law (v. 17), and says “But I say to you.” He is not saying anything different, He is not contradicting God’s commandments, but He is putting His word above the traditions of men and revealing the true intent of the commandment (which the people obviously misunderstood).

So what does Jesus say about lust? “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus says that looking at a woman with lustful intent is adultery in the heart. Why is that? Because, according to Jesus, sin happens in the heart before it happens physically. Before physical adultery is committed, internal adultery has already happened.

Now, just because Jesus says that looking at a woman with lust is adultery, it doesn’t let women off the hook. It doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Jesus doesn’t have mere men in mind here, neither does He specifically women—the point is that adultery happens in the heart by lust. That could be applicable to anyone. It could be lust for the opposite sex, or it could be lust for the same sex (Rom. 1:26-27).

Jesus isn’t saying that a desire for the opposite sex is wrong. God hardwired us to desire the opposite sex. The Song of Solomon illustrates this better than any book of the whole Bible. Listen to the way Solomon admires his bride:

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead” (4:1).

And his bride desired him as well:

“His mouth is most sweet, and his is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (5:16).

So there’s nothing wrong with desiring the opposite sex—the problem is burning with uncontrollable sexual lust in the heart. That’s where the problem is. The problem is in the heart. Adultery takes place in the heart before it does in the bedroom or the backseat.

It’s because the heart is who we really are. God says that the heart is what He really looks at (1 Sam. 16:7). What goes on in the heart is what’s really going on. It’s who we are: “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man” (Prov. 27:19). It can’t be trusted: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). So the person who lusts after another has already committed adultery in his heart. That’s the principle Jesus is communicating.

You’ve got a problem with pornography? It’s happening in your heart. You’ve got a problem with lusting after girls? It’s happening in your heart. You’ve got a problem with lusting after men? It’s happening in your heart.

You know, there’s a silent killer very active today. He’s a repeated offender. He kills 400,000 people each year.³ And when you find out who he is, it’s too late. Can you guess his name? His name is heart disease. There can be many symptoms—shortness of breath, chest pain and tightness, constant leg cramps, and other symptoms. It results from clogging and plague build up in your arteries—your vital veins. And it becomes deadly when that clogging reaches your heart. Why? Because your heart is what keeps you alive! It pumps blood so that your body can function correctly. It’s fatal when clogging happens in the heart. Heart attacks that cause death most often happen because it’s in the heart—it’s deadly because it’s in the heart.

That’s what Jesus was saying here. Lust is deadly because it’s in the heart. That’s the first thing we need to recognize. Dealing with the sin of adultery and sexual immorality begins by identifying its source. But is there anything that can be done about it? That’s what Jesus talks about next.

II. The Deliverance (vv. 29-30)

Second, it is urgent that action is taken against lust, because the cost is very high. Notice that not only does Jesus define adultery by saying that it is lust, but listen to what He says concerning dealing with lust:

“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. 30 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” (vv. 29-30).

Very powerful language there. Jesus tells His followers that if their right eye causes them to sin against God, they should remove it and forcibly cast if from them. Why? According to Jesus, it’s better to lose their eye than to lose their soul. He says the same thing about the right hand.

Of course, we know from the context that Jesus isn’t demanding literal amputation—we know Jesus better than that, and we know the Bible better than that. But His logic makes perfect sense—it’s better to lose a little than a lot. It would be far better for His followers to lose their eye or hand than to lose their own soul in hell.

So what is Jesus talking about? Should we resort to chainsaws to eradicate lust from our lives? Understand first, that for Jesus’ audience, the right side was seen as more valuable—how many of you are right handed? Likely the majority of you. Most people are right handed, and because of this, they do everything with their right hand. You write with your right hand, hold drinks, spoons and forks to eat, toothbrushes to clean your teeth, use your cellphone, and many other things. If you’re right handed, that’s your dominant hand—it’s more useful and valuable to you than your left.

Jesus is saying that if even what is very valuable to you causes you to sin, then it should be cast away and removed from you. The reason why is because of the high cost of doing nothing about it. It will cost you far more to do nothing, than it will to do something about removing the sources of temptation and lust from your life. Pornography might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away forcibly. Sexual relations before marriage might be valuable to you, but you should cast it away from you. Whatever it is that is causing you to sin, even if it is valuable to you, should be cast away from you!

But even further, if Jesus’ audience actually followed His figurative language literally, if they did gouge out their eye and cut off their hand, would this completely take care of the problem? No it wouldn’t—where does Jesus say that adultery takes place? In the heart.

So is He contradicting Himself? No, for lust happens in the heart, but the eye may contribute to lust happening in the heart, and so can the hand. Jesus is saying that, yes lust happens in the heart, but outside sources can and will contribute to it. And if there are sources in our lives that are causing us to lust, we need to take radical measures against them. Jesus’ point here is that it is urgent that action is taken against lust, because it could lead to God’s judgment. If nothing is ever done to conquer lust in your life, then you don’t view it as very serious. If you don’t view sin as serious, then it is very casual to you. If you see it as casual, then you will likely do nothing about it.

And this is a sobering biblical truth: if you do nothing about sin, if you do not repent, then you can safely bet that you’re not saved. John Owen captures this well: “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Concerning the cost of doing nothing about lust that leads to adultery, I read a shocking statistic recently. It read:

“In America adultery is no longer a crime in half the states, and in the others adultery is seldom, if ever, prosecuted. But sexual straying from marriage remains a costly, if not criminal practice. According to a recent estimate, the typical adulterous husband invests almost $26,000 over a four-month period in conducting an extramarital affair. Once his wife discovers his philandering, he can count on another $5,000 in legal bills, plus a $1,800 deposit on a place to live after she ejects him from their home. Apart from its immorality, adultery is a terrible investment. Only 5 percent of men and women who leave their marriages for someone else actually end up marrying that person.”4

Doing nothing about lust is far more costly than getting it out of your lives. Doing nothing will cost us far more than doing something. 

Conclusion: Practical Steps to Fighting Lust

So what can we do about it? Well, Jesus tells us to take whatever measures necessary.5

1) There is freedom through the gospel. For Christians, there is good news. Through the gospel, God has given us a new heart! We don’t have to be enslaved to lust. We can be free because He lives in us. He gives us the power daily to overcome sin, we must simply access it. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, and Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Live by God’s power each day and you won’t have to worry about falling into lust all the time.

2) By God’s power, we must guard against the first tiny thought of evil. We must allow God to make us sensitive to the tiniest speck of evil that floats around us. This happens by soaking up the Word of God—allowing the Bible to dictate our thought life. We’re going to have these thoughts from time to time. It’s impossible to be sinless. But let’s heed Martin Luther’s advice: “It is impossible to keep the devil from shooting evil thoughts and lusts into your heart. But see to it that you do not let such arrows stick there and take root, but tear them out and throw them away.”6

3) We must avoid the occasions of temptations. In other words, in battling lust in the heart, it is pointless to think you can overcome the battle if you thrust yourself into what causes you to lust. F. B. Meyer says, “It is useless to ask God not to lead us into temptation if we thrust ourselves thither.”Stay away from the sources of temptation. Maybe it’s an attractive coworker—don’t be alone with that person. Maybe it’s the internet—don’t invite temptation. Maybe it’s with your boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t ask for tempting situations.

We have seen today that the person who lusts for someone already commits adultery in their hearts, and that it is urgent that action is taken against lust, for it could lead to God’s judgment. If you have been bitten where you commute by the venomous spider of lust—don’t ignore it. Do something about it. Or you will end up losing a lot more than you’d like to lose. Give lust an inch and it will take you a mile. Will you go to whatever lenghts necessary to eradicate lust from your life, however radical it may be? So many people are enslaved by it, don’t let it be you—through the power of God, you can be the Christian who overcomes lust. You don’t have to let it rule you.


1. Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. (Rockville, MD: Assurance Pub., 1979), 138.
2. There is little evidence in Israel’s history that this was ever actually carried out. Still, the penalty of death was to show the severity of the crime, and God’s moral standard of holiness.
3. Kahn, Joel K. 4 Silent Signs You May Have Clogged Arteries. (Reader’s Digest: Dec. 2013) and WebMD, Coronary Artery Disease.
4. Cited in Larson and Elshof. 1,001 Illustrations That Connect. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 257. Yount, David. The Cost of Adultery (knoxnews.com. November 29, 2004).
5. This list is adapted from F. B. Meyer’s practical steps to purifying the mind in How Then Can We Purify the Desires of the Mind? on http://www.preceptaustin.org.
6. Davies, W. D. and Allison, Dale. C. Matthew: A Shorter Commentary (New York, NY: T & T Clark, 2004), 79.
7. Ibid.