Sexual Sin Begins in the Mind
But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Today we continue our examination of Question 139 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?” The second part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are… all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel.” Last time we looked at the different kinds of sexual sin, and how each one dishonors God and brings shame and harm to man. This week we consider how sexual sin begins with our thoughts.
In the verse quoted above, our Lord Jesus illustrated how the law of God was never meant to be merely an outward regulation of behavior, but it was to be embraced and internalized in the heart. A man who loved God’s law in his heart should be appalled at the thought of looking lustfully at a woman, for he would perceive the ugliness of such a sinful use of his eyes and the heinousness of such an objectification of the body of the woman, and he would rightly recoil from the thought of such a wicked corruption of God’s good creation. Seeing how far the vast majority of men (and women) are from what should be a knee-jerk response to the notion of sinful sexual thoughts and desires should be a cause for mourning among the people of God.
Yet, such mourning should not be done in despair but in hope, for it is precisely in our recognizing, admitting, and sorrowing over our sins that God forgives us and renews us to repentance (2 Cor. 10:7). For this reason the Catechism draws out the implications of the commandments in order that we can discover and expose any unseen sinful thoughts and attitudes, so that we can admit & be sorry for them and beseech God for the grace to fight against them. Accordingly, the first thing we need to be searching our hearts for is uncleanness in our imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections. Uncleanness for the Christian is moral not ceremonial and refers to that which is unchaste, lewd, or improper. We must not allow ourselves to imagine, daydream, or think of sinful sexual images or encounters. When these images begin to come into our minds we should immediately stop them and put into practice Phi. 4:8, and think and meditate on things that are noble, pure, lovely, good, and virtuous, for this kind of activity lifts up the mind with goodness, thereby pushing out evil thinking.
As sinners we desire sin, but as Christians we are able to resist temptation and turn away from evil. Thus the Scriptures assure us, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Every believer is able to turn away from sinful temptations even in his thoughts because God’s Spirit dwells in him. And Scripture assures us that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Joh. 4:4).
Since we are able to control our thoughts we have no excuse to allow ourselves to engage in corrupt or filthy communications or light & impudent behavior. The childish double entendre where we say something that conveys a hidden, sexually provocative message, dirty jokes, sexting, and other forms of juvenile delinquency should have no place in the life of a mature Christian. “Wanton looks” is to convey lust for sexual activity with the eyes. In the 17th century the word wantonness was scandalous and insulting. Today we consider wantonness a positive and we call it “sexy” or “hot.” Nearly every magazine or billboard has a person looking out wantonly at the viewer. The multi-billion dollar pornography industry is built upon wanton looks and immodest apparel. The result has been a hyper-sexualization of society at every level, bringing with it such destruction and perversity that it would take several more articles just to cite the statistics. Suffice it to say that God’s Law proves itself to be life, and its violation, death.