There is a television show called “Brain Games” that conducts all sorts of fascinating experiments designed to reveal the interesting ways that our brains process reality. One of the experiments is called the rubber hand illusion. In the rubber hand illusion, a person’s brain is tricked into transferring feeling and response into a rubber hand. Check it out.
The rubber hand illusion shows the powerful ability of the brain to take something it sees or imagines, and make it a part of you. If your brain can be tricked into thinking that a rubber hand has feeling, imagine what pornography does to our psyche. Sin is psychological long before it is physical.
Given the rubber hand illusion, it should be no surprise as to the radical solution Jesus offers in dealing with lust.
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. 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.
There is a sense in which Jesus’ statement is much like the rubber hand illusion. Jesus is using hyperbole. No one is going to lose a hand, but this verse still hurts. It hurts because we realize that lust is a common problem in our sexually charged culture, image-driven, culture. We live in a society in which pornography is normalized, and then Jesus says this! But his statement is important because:
- We are all affected by pornography. Male and female. Young and old.
- If your brain can connect with a rubber hand, think of how pornography connects you to a fantasy – to something that is not emotionally or sexually real. There is plenty of data that points to how pornography rewires the brain. Sex is designed by God for a deep connection between husband and wife. Pornography takes all that God has designed and connects it to a screen. Because of pornography we are losing the ability the connect intimately with our spouse.
- Pornography is not only short-circuiting our intimacy with others, but it is short-circuiting the church’s connection with God. Couples are lacking intimacy. The church is lacking holiness.
As shocking and radical as Jesus’ statement seems, if we can take it to heart we may see a lot of marriages saved as intimacy is restored. If you take Jesus’ statement seriously, you may learn to enjoy your spouse like never before.
So how does pornography short-circuit intimacy? In the next couple of posts, I want to glean from Jesus’ statement on lust in Matthew 5:27-30 and share four ways pornography short-circuits intimacy.
Ask the wrong question, live the wrong answer
When it comes to sex, our culture conditions us to ask the question, “How far is too far?” That’s the wrong question.
The context of Jesus’ shocking statement about lust is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is inviting people to follow Him. In doing so they will move past religious legalism into real life change. He can take broken people (Matthew 5:2-11) and transform them into salt and light (5:12-15) who become His witnesses in the world.
His way is not a new way. His way is about returning people to God’s intention. In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus teaches the He is not doing away with God’s commands. His followers are to fulfill them.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Jesus then gives 6 examples of how his followers will fulfill God’s commands (5:21-48). Each example is introduced with the formula, “You have heard it said … but I say to you.” Jesus’ statement on lust is the second of the 6 examples.
The problem with God’s commands is not in what was said. The problem is in what humans do. We like loopholes. We like to explore the technicalities, ask questions, create exemptions and exceptions. The adultery command is a marquee example of how people take God’s plain command and create loopholes.
Where’s the man?
There is a story in John 8 in which religious leaders throw a woman down at Jesus’ feet and then bring an accusation against her. “This woman has been taken in the act of adultery.” We are familiar with Jesus’ response. He begins scribbling in the sand and then he says, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone at her.”
But have you ever read that story and wondered, if she was taken “in the very act of adultery” where was the man?
The reason there is no adulterous man brought to Jesus in John 8 is because the religious leaders had created so many loopholes in the command that adultery was a problem for women, not men.
A man could be married, but have mistresses. Adultery was regulated to sleeping with another man’s wife. As long as a woman was not married, she could be your mistress and that was not considered by some to be adultery.
There is even an example in some Rabbinical writing that a man’s daughter was blamed for the adulterous actions of a man because she was so beautiful. It’s no mistake that they brought to Jesus an adulterous woman but not an adulterous man. Adultery was her problem, not his.
Jesus closes the loophole
In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus closes the loophole by internalizing adultery. As long as someone can self-righteously point a finger at others, adultery is her problem, his problem, but not my problem. But if the fulfillment of the command is in not committing adultery with her “in his heart,” adultery is not about what others do, but about what is going on within yourself.
You and I look for ways to avoid a command. Jesus desires for us to fulfill it. These are two very different approaches.
When it comes to sex, the question of “How far is too far?” is the wrong question. How far can I go and not commit adultery … that’s a terrible approach to God’s command.
Aren’t you glad that when you’re flying in a plane that the pilot doesn’t ask the tower, “How low is too low?”
Aren’t you thankful that your doctor doesn’t ask you, “How sick is too sick?” Are you more interested in a doctor who wants to help you be well or in one who wants you to be less sick? Take your pick!
In making adultery a female problem the men of Jesus’ day were a LONG way from when Moses first gave the adultery command in Exodus 20. How does that happen? It happens with the approach of avoidance rather than the approach of fulfillment.
“How far is too far?” is an avoidance question. With avoidance questions the line is always moving. Culture pushes the line. Comparisons move the line. Personal choices blur the line.
“You have heard it said.” So what have you heard said when it comes to sex? Who or what draws the line for you?
- Is it your seemingly uncontrollable sex drive? Your line is justified with relief.
- Perhaps you blame your activity with pornography on a spouse that doesn’t satisfy.
- Is it that the two of you are not getting along right now?
- Some would point to the sheer availability of pornography.
- Is it what you’ve seen or heard others do?
Who or what draws the line for you? How far is too far? That’s avoidance.
“But I say to you.” Now let me show you how different the questions are with fulfillment. Instead of “How far is too far?”, fulfillment asks:
- How can I sexually behave in a way that pleases God?
- If God created me with sexual desire, how does He intend for me to control and satisfy those desires?
- How can I restore sexual intimacy?
- How do I sexually, emotionally, spiritually, and intimately connect or reconnect with my spouse?
The question is not “How do I avoid adultery?” That’s avoidance. The question is “How do I satisfy my God given sexuality within the boundaries of God’s command?” That’s fulfillment.
Pornography short-circuits intimacy because we live in avoidance rather than fulfillment. The line is always moving in a self-justifying direction. If you’re asking the wrong question, you’re living the wrong answer.
This post, one in a series, originally appeared at BrianBranam.com. See below for a sermon Branam recently preached on this topic.