One of the great biblical truths that was recovered in the Protestant Reformation is that, in order to be saved from sin or, in our case, in order to be set free from sin, the Law of God and what it says about our sin must first do its powerful work, by God’s grace to help us know and experience our sin for what it is in God’s sight. The Law also causes us to see God’s condemnation of our sin and that puts the fear of God into us over it and gives us a Holy Spirit-wrought sense of great urgency to be free of our sin.
In other words, the Law of God must reveal to our hearts (not just our minds) the depth and seriousness of our sin problem. The Bible teaches that only after that work of the Law is done in our hearts, can the gospel then do its work to reveal the solution to our sin problem—the cross of Christ. Paul says this in Romans 3:20, 20 … through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Unless the Law first confronts your heart with the utter wickedness of sexual impurity, there can be no repentance.
That’s a theological way of talking about it but we all know this from common sense. Ray Comfort who wrote the book “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” describes the role the Law must play in revealing our need of Jesus as it relates to our sin. He uses a parachute the illustrate and says that–in order for a person to open their parachute when they are plummeting through the air, they must FIRST actually be aware that they are in free fall and will soon splat on the ground. Its only when they understand that, that they will pull the ripcord and find rescue from their fall. The same is true for repentance from sin. Unless we know and believe in our hearts that our sin has put us in a dangerous condition, you will not seek out the parachute of gospel salvation through Christ.
We must first see our sin for what it is—how God views it and, by God’s grace, when he reveals that to our hearts and we emotionally own that, that alone will, by God’s grace, cause us to call out savingly for a Savior. If we don’t see that sin is destroying our souls, then we will not sense the need of the miraculous, liberating work of Jesus. To put it another way, if we see our sin—sexual impurity or ANY sin– as just a pesky problem that it would be nice to be rid of, then we don’t need a Savior, we just need a bit of self-improvement. But if I am utterly convinced that my sin is something God hates and, apart from a liberating miracle in my life, could indicate that I am destined for eternal torment, I just won’t sense the deep urgency I need to seek out a Savior in a way that will free me from my sin
This is why evangelistic appeals like Joel Osteen gives that are aimed at making you a better person or giving you a fuller, richer life or healing that pesky conscience that makes me feel bad, those appeals can never produce real Christians. They produce false converts because Jesus didn’t come and die on a cross to make me a better person or give me a richer, fuller life. He came, first and foremost, to rescue me from the wrath of God that me in my sin, fully deserve.
Real converts and real freedom from sin in believers are produced when the Holy Spirit reveals to people the biblical reality and blackness of their sin, when he convinces them that they are fully deserving of God’s condemnation and there is only one way to be spared this, Jesus and his sin-atoning, sin-liberating death on a cross. THAT truth can produce a true convert and THAT truth must first be internalized before believers trapped by sin can be liberated. The apostle Paul calls that “the LAW.
Because I want to see God work in my life and all our lives, I want to begin our treatment of sexual impurity the same way the bible does. We need to follow the biblical model of dealing with sin that produces REAL conversion for the sinner and for the believer, REAL and radically changed hearts.
So, let’s begin by looking at some texts from the bible that express God’s LAW as it relates to sexual sin as a healthy warning to all of us. Brothers, it’s important for us to remember that all of the verses I am going to read are written to people who are professing Christians. These are professed believers who would have heard these letters read in a church worship service. So, this is aimed at people who claim to know and love Jesus. In the New Testament, these LAW texts are in the form or warnings about the eternal consequences of continuing on in unrepentant sin.
First, the apostle Paul, after giving a teaching on sexual sin, says this in First Corinthians 6:9, “9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,” That’s pretty clear. Living with unrepentant sexual sin that you are not deeply grieved about/troubled by is not consistent with being a believer. And those who are living in habitual, unrepentant sexual sin, have no good reason to be sure they will go to heaven. Paul is clear that hell is the eternal destination much more consistent with this kind of unrepentant sexual sin. And, as he frequently does in the contexts of the kinds of warnings, he says in verse nine, “Do not be deceived.”
Why does Paul make this command so often in contexts like this in the New Testament? It’s because he knows that people who claim to be saved and are living by God’s grace can often distort that. We can easily fall into the trap of not seeing our sin with the grave seriousness that should accompany it. When he says, “Do not be deceived” he’s broadly saying–this, “Don’t believe the lies that men often tell themselves when they are in sexual sin whether unrepentant pornography or any other sexual activity outside of wedlock.”
These are lies like, “Yeah, I’ll stop this someday.” Or “Everyone is doing it—God can’t be all that serious about it—he’d have to throw all the men I know into hell if he was serious.” Or “Porn isn’t that bad, it’s not like I’m actually committing sexual sin with a real woman.” Or “I know I am sinning, but God is full of grace and he understands how weak people are in this area” Or, “I’m in my sexual prime—I can’t NOT do this. It’s impossible for me to stop!” Or anyone of a 1000 other lies we so easily convince ourselves to believe. Paul is commanding us–DO NOT believe those lies! God is blood earnest about this. If you are unrepentant in your sexual sin and you die in that hardened condition, you show that you were not a genuine believer and you go straight to hell and experience eternal torment at the hands of a holy God.
Another LAW type warning for professed believers is in Galatians 5:16 where Paul commands us “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. …19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul is telling us that when we sin sexually, the Holy Spirit who lives within believers is at war against those sinful desires—he cannot and will never peacefully coexist with them. He hates them. The representative works of the flesh Paul lists here include 16 specific sins and four of them, 25%, are specifically sexual sins. Sexual immorality—pornea, a broad term that covers all sexual sin. Impurity refers to sexual sin, specifically our impure desires and the way we look at women.
Sensuality is a lack of respect for what is right and good and any kind of sexual indecency—specifically any public flaunting or it—like sexting or making sex tapes. Finally, orgies, or sex parties. Those who are unrepentant of these sins will go to hell because they are showing by their unrepentant behavior—regardless of what they SAY, that they prefer the things of this world to the LORD and so, God in his judgment will give them what they want–eternal torment apart from him.
Paul commands in Colossians 3:5-6, “5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” The picture of God’s wrath is like it’s a train coming down the tracks and those who are unrepentant in sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire—those people are, by their sin, tied down on those railroad tracks and the wrath of God that is headed their way will one day crush and destroy them unless they repent and get free from those tracks on which the wrath of God is running on. John Owen says it this way, “We must be killing sin or sin will be killing us!”
Jesus says in Matthew chapter five, “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.” There’s nothing ambiguous about that. Jesus is saying that sexual lust that is unrepentant in a person who claims to be his disciple, if it goes unchecked, will cause us to be violently thrown into hell.
And Jesus says in effect, “And because I don’t want you to take this warning lightly—because this is so serious—because this is so hard to overcome, I am commanding you to do the most radical things you can think of to help you be free of whatever brings to you temptation to this sin. Getting rid of whatever it is that causes you to sin—whatever media or other source. Purge it from your life because it’s better to go into heaven minus those things than keeping them and ending in eternal torment in hell.”
Paul says in Galatians 6:7-8, “7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Paul is saying that there are certain laws in the spiritual realm that you cannot violate, just as there are certain realities about the physical realm. In an agrarian culture, he uses an illustration from the farm. He is saying in effect, you know that if you plant beans, you are going to reap beans.
That is an inviolable law—there are no, zero exceptions to that. Bean seeds don’t produce carrots, they produce beans—every time! It’s the same way in the spiritual realm. If you sow to your flesh—your old sinful nature you inherited from Adam– by indulging its sinful desires in an unrepentant way, you are sowing what always—every time eventually produces, corruption or spiritual destruction. God is not mocked—he will never be a God you can sneer at in your sin as if to say, “Yeah, God, I know you hate this, but I like it, so that’s too bad—someday, I will quit this.” God is not someone we can play games with, telling him we’re sorry for our sin when we are really not sorry, just feeling bad because he knows about it.
Finally, let’s think about another kind of warning text. Hebrews 12:14 says, “14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Unfortunately, this verse would come as a surprise and as unwelcome news to too many evangelical churches. But it couldn’t be more clear. Without personal holiness, no one will see the Lord. If you are not personally holy—becoming more and more like Jesus, you are not going to heaven. This is NOT the holiness that, for the believer, is legally ours through our justification and our union with Christ.
That holiness is a fixed thing based on our legal standing in Christ. Genuine believers don’t have to work at that or strive after that—it’s a free gift of grace. The author of Hebrews is saying that the holiness without which no one will see the Lord, is personal holiness that is something to be strived after. Let’s read it again. “14 Strive for peace with everyone, and [strive— the verb strive covers both peace and holiness] for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” There will be no, zero people in heaven who did not strive for and manifest personal holiness on earth.
Now, personal holiness is not perfection. Personal holiness is growth in our conformity to Christ and his holy character. A holy man is one whose life, even in the midst of his sin and many failures, is slowly, gradually being conformed to look more like Christ. He increasingly loves what Jesus loves and hates what Jesus hates. What breaks Jesus’ heart, increasingly breaks his heart. What thrills Jesus, increasingly thrills him. A good question is–Why is this person holiness we must strive after not optional but mandatory for entrance into heaven? There are many reasons, but let’s look at one of the main ones from Ephesians chapter one.
Paul writes in Ephesians 1:3-4, “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…” Do you hear what God is saying here? God chose us in Christ before he even created us—for the purpose of being holy and blameless men. In other words, central to God’s purpose in choosing us to be his own through the blood of his Son is this—he chose us to be holy and blameless. Do you hear how crucial, how absolutely non-negotiable this is to God?
Living an increasingly holy life is NOT an option for the believer because a so-called believer who is not growing in personal holiness is failing to fulfill one of the main purposes for which God saves a sinner. And he called us to that life of holiness even before this world was created. That’s how basic, how fundamental, how essential personal holiness is to the life of the believer.
The challenge in citing all these texts in 21st century evangelicalism where we seldom hear this kind of hard preaching is—we wonder if it’s necessary to go over these verses since so many churches don’t bother with them. Let me just share two texts that reveal a central aspect of God’s character that underlie these truths. If God is really like what these two verses make him out to be, then these grave warnings about personal holiness are perfectly consistent. The first text is Hebrews 10:29-31. This is addressed to professed believers who, through their habitual and unrepentant sin are in rebellion against God.
The author writes, “29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The author is saying that if we are living in habitual, unrepentant sin, we are trampling on Jesus and what he has done for us on the cross because he died on that cross to make us holy/sanctified. If we are habitually unrepentant of sexual sin, that is communicating to him, “I don’t care that you suffered and died and endured the wrath of your Father to make me a holy man. I’m going to sin the sins I want to sin!” He writes to professed Christians, “…it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The intention is transparent and that is—to put the fear of God into believers. That’s a good thing because a healthy fear of God causes us to walk before God in reverent awe, not rebellious thumbing our nose at God.
In chapter 12, the author, again addresses to professed believers in verse 28, “28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.” If our theology of God does not include the fact that he is a consuming fire to be related to in reverence and awe, then it’s not biblically accurate. We must never allow the glories of God’s grace within the New Covenant in Christ to obscure the fact that our God is a consuming fire who hates sin and commands his men to walk in sexual purity.
Before we close, I want us to look at one more group of texts. These texts give us another very important reason why we must not walk in unrepentant sexual sin. That reason is—because God has done miraculous, incredible, and amazing things to equip believing men to live in victory over unrepentant sexual sin.
Paul tells us in Second Corinthians chapter nine, verse eight, “8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” This verse answers the question—how much grace does God give the believer and what does it enable us to do—how does it enable us to live? Here’s Paul’s answer. God can make ALL grace to keep us from sin and deliver us from sin—ABOUND to us. That means that he has the capacity to give all the grace we need to ABOUND—to be far more than enough for us. The purpose of him giving us this abounding—far-more-than-enough is so that we might be completely, totally sufficient to abound—do far more than the normal person in terms of good works no matter what it is and no matter when he calls us to do it.
That is—God gives us far more than enough grace to do far more good works than the normal person would do in any area at any time. Ok, the barest minimum of what “good works” is to maintain sexual purity. If sexual purity as a good work takes this much [five feet high] grace, God is able to make far more grace than is necessary [25 feet high] to make us more than sufficient to do whatever he calls us to do. That’s the promise we have from him. How do you suppose that should impact us if we are trapped in sexual sin or impurity? The answer is—we should understand that we don’t have to be, and God will give far more grace than is necessary to make us free from it.
A more familiar promise is in First Corinthians 10:13, Paul says, “13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” To paraphrase that, Paul is saying—Don’t think the level of sexual desire or temptation you are experiencing or have experienced is anything unusual—all men have experienced this or could have experienced this. Don’t believe the lie that your sexual temptation is more than you can handle because God is faithful. If he were to allow you to experience more temptation than you can handle, then he wouldn’t be faithful which means he wouldn’t be God. Don’t think your sexual desires or temptation are inescapable or is impossible to break. God will not only give you grace in general ways to get you out of your temptation, he will actually provide a specific means of grace—an escape hatch whereby you can escape it. There is no excuse ever for sexual impurity.
The combined impact of these texts is 1. —God hates sexual sin; it is not consistent with being a Christian. Those who practice it unrepentantly are eternally hell bound because, among other reasons, God saved us to be holy men of God who reflect the character of Christ. 2. For those who struggle with sexual sin, the problem is never with God or what he provides because he has given us more than enough of his grace and spiritual power to not just be free from bad works like sexual sin but to abound in good works. When temptation to sexual sin does come, God is faithful to give us ways to escape them.
Tonight, look over those texts and ask God to make them real to your hearts. Ask him to press in on your heart these truths so that your heart will be in the right place—prepared for the liberating truths of the gospel by the Law of God. The Law that reveals to us the depth of our problem and our deep need for his help in setting us free. If we don’t feel this desperate need, this burden, this sense of urgency to walk in holiness and increasing levels of sexual purity, the rest of these teachings will just run off your heart like water off a duck’s back. Ask God to use these hard to hear truths that communicate God’s Law or warnings to prepare your heart to rightly receive the sin-liberating truths of the gospel we’ll be giving for the rest of our time.
For those who are not taking these warnings seriously, James 4:8-9 is a good place to stop. He says, “8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” We’re going to look more at what that means as we go along, but this is a text all of us need to be meditating on if we are not taking our sexual sin seriously. If you are not living in sexual purity and are not feeling wretched, and filled with gloom, I question whether you are a believer.
Finally, if you have not received Christ, maybe God has used this time to convict you of your need for Jesus as Savior, as the only hope for you to escape the eternal judgment of God. If that is you, find an elder or anyone you know and trust here and they will help you to know what to do next. Don’t delay—this may be your one chance to repent of your sins and receive Christ as Savior. The Bible says, “Today is the day of salvation.” [ 2 Corinthians 6:3]
May God give us the grace to see our devastating need for Jesus to walk in holiness before him and living in increasing victory over our sexual sin for his glory and our joy.