So, I clicked on ESPN.com this morning to check the sports headlines when suddenly **BAM** I was hit with a photo of a male and two female athletes, apparently in the buff with legs and arms cleverly positioned. The photo caption:
“It’s OK to look: A lifetime of athletic ambition makes some bodies better than others. See for yourselves.”
Apparently, this is a preview for the “Body Issue” of ESPN Magazine (presumably their alternative to the annual “Swimsuit Issue” in Sports Illustrated).
So is it really OK to look and admire these sleek, ripped, and oiled bodies? It’s no accident that two athletes in the cover photo were female, despite the fact that most sporting events on TV feature male athletes. My flesh wanted to look, but my spirit (conscience) was screaming out, “Whoa, hold on there just a minute. This isn’t cool. It’s a lie. Don’t even think about clicking on that link!”
I am reminded of the sermon I preached on sexual purity at last Saturday’s Exposing the Heart men’s conference. The world is sending a message loud and clear: “Come. Look. Enjoy. Drink your fill. Don’t let anyone else stop you from being happy.” Today’s headline at ESPN only confirms this. But God sends a very different message of purity – for His glory and for our joy.
In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus gives three dimensions to sexual purity:
1. The External (Matt. 5:27). Quoting from the Ten Commandments, Jesus reminds us of God’s command “You shall not commit adultery.” Sex is not bad in itself. After all, God invented it. Satan can only twist and distort it. But God created clear sexual boundaries for our protection and joy. As Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Adultery is not merely an “affair” to be shrugged off and laughed at like David Letterman. It is a serious breaching of the marriage covenant, an offense that will be reckoned by the Holy Judge Himself.
2. The Internal (Matt. 5:28). As awful as adultery is, Jesus says there is a sin perhaps even more dangerous, because it is far more subtle. It is a sin we face every day: lust. Christian counselor Stuart Scott defines lust as “nothing more than evil desire looking for fulfillment. It is only looking for self-satisfaction … Lust is welcoming and continuing in the evil desires of the flesh, rather than resisting them and fleeing from them by turning to God and what is right.” ESPN says, “It’s OK to look at these photos.” Jesus says, “Looking is adultery of the heart.” As difficult as it may be, we must fight every day not to look with lust. We must develop pure relationships (1 Tim. 5:2) and avoid every form of evil (1 Thess. 5:22). God’s will for us is sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3).
3. The Eternal (Matt. 5:29-30). Jesus puts lust in perspective for us with a call to radical action. Searing your conscience and giving in to sin is a dangerous sign that you may not be saved. Sin may be pleasant for a while, but it only leads to death and eternal torment in hell. It doesn’t deliver what it promises. Far better to give up your pet sin and change your lifestyle (alter your commute, cancel that subscription, cut off that relationship, miss that TV show, or whatever it takes) rather than stumble into sin and jeopardize your soul. Stop making excuses. Know your sin, and fight it to the death. Cast yourself on God’s grace, and take extreme measures.
As Solomon said, “I have discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her” (Eccl. 7:26). In this life under the sun, opportunities for lust abound, but Solomon reminds us they are all mere traps, set to kill.
Thankfully, we have a pure and sinless Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Never once did Jesus have a lustful thought. He was tempted to lust (Heb. 4:15), but He never, ever gave in. Because Christ was sinless, He was qualified to become the spotless Lamb of God and take away the sin of the world. God punished Him for our lust, and gave us Christ’s righteousness in its place. (2 Cor. 5:21) What an exchange!
So before you decide it’s “OK to look” at the ESPN Body Issue or any other occasion for lust, remember the trap. Remember the marriage covenant. Remember that eternity is at stake. Remember what Christ did for you.
As our love for God grows, may we begin to see sin for what it really is, and stop finding it so attractive. May we instead see that God’s glory and His moral boundaries alone can offer true joy.