Some time ago I was reading about a popular current topic and saw the following reply in the comments section:
“[I]t has long mentioned that Jesus not once mentioned sexual immorality, outside of that divorce is ONLY acceptable in adultery. The only thing that could be addressed as ‘sexual immorality’ in the Gospels is here…[Matthew 19:11-12]”
Of course, the topic was homosexuality and comment above was used in support of the practice.
I did not engage in a lengthy reply to the comment at the time for a couple of different reasons. One is, I didn’t have the time to respond. Another is, I don’t believe my comments would have been received well or in the right spirit by the people posting on that particular blog. I posted a benign reply noting Matthew 15:19 and moved along.
So, I want to use this post as a response to the issue of Jesus and morality.
Jesus vs. the Bible
To begin, it’s worth noting that people making comments of these type generally seem to hold a certain set of beliefs related to Jesus and Scripture:
- Jesus superseded the “Old Testament” and made it null and void;
- Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the Gospel and becomes the only standard for salvation; and
- Other parts of New Testament are considered outdated and are therefore excluded.
Not only do these presuppositions made it hard to discuss many Biblical topics, but these views are also wrong. This views attack the canon of Scripture and the overall authority of Scripture.
In reality, the words Jesus speaks in the Bible are incredible, but all of God’s word is incredible. We should desire to obey the things Jesus says, but we should also desire to obey all of God’s word. This doesn’t diminish or downplay the work or authority of Jesus – not at all. In fact, honoring all of God’s word honors Christ.
Here’s one piece of Scripture to think about related to this:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)
This post isn’t really to fight the battle for the canon of Scripture, so I’ll move on from this point. But it is worth noting.
What I want to do is to address the issue of Jesus and sexual immorality. I’ll try to do that by making several points below.
Jesus and Repentance
After Jesus was tempted by the devil and then baptized by John the Baptist (to mark the start of His ministry), His ministry on earth began. The first message He gave is recorded in Matthew 4 and Mark 1:
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)
Jesus’ first sermon called for people to repent. He could have delivered any message He desired. It could have been, “I’m here,” “I’m love,” or any number of things, but He chose to remind us of our status as sinners. Was he calling out any sin in particular? No, He was simply reminding us of our need for a Savior.
No matter where we are on the theological scale, we try to minimize sin, don’t we? If we’ve been totally forgiven and understand God’s grace, we often minimize how horrible our sins are because we are forgiven. And if we’re fond of a particular sin, we try to move the boundaries of sin to excuse our behavior.
Jesus and John the Baptist
John the Baptist also came preaching a message of repentance and this message even reached high into the government:
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matthew 14:1-4 ESV)
This message led to his head being chopped off and presented on a platter.
Yet, of this man Jesus said,
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:1 ESV)
So, are we to believe that Jesus simply tolerated this John the Baptist guy’s behavior even though he called out Herod for his immoral behavior? Or should we take away that Jesus, through His affirmation of John the Baptist was also affirming John’s message of repentance – even repentance related to moral behavior? It’s obviously the latter. Jesus regularly provided scathing rebukes of the self-righteous and it’s clear that John the Baptist wasn’t in that category.
Jesus and Negative Confirmation
Growing up, I was familiar with my parents’ style of parenting – the things they liked or didn’t like, the things they wanted me to do or didn’t, etc.. At times there were specific things I was told that I could not do. But if I really wanted to do those things, I would really specific and then after I was in trouble, I would argue those specifics. My parents had not specifically forbid certain things, but I tried to split hairs and argue the difference.
This line of reasoning is is what I call negative confirmation. If my parents didn’t specifically say I could do something, then it was confirmation for me that I could do it. But this line of logic is wrong. I knew the guidelines my parents had for me and I knew their intentions. I also knew if I started making excuses, that I was trying to violate the spirit of their rules for my own gain.
At times, we do this with God and His word. We look for the loophole rather than trying to please God from a pure heart.
We need to remember that Jesus is God. He is part of the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As such, Who He is – His essence, His character, etc. – is God. Therefore, the things that please God are always going to please God and if they please God, then those things will please Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The same goes for sin.
Because Jesus doesn’t specifically mention something as sin, it doesn’t mean it’s now fine to do. In fact, though Jesus came to fulfill the Law and to further develop the Law, He also said:
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18 ESV)
If our sense is that Jesus has relaxed a standard, then our “sense” would be wrong.
Jesus and Adultery
The store of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is one that resonates with us for many reasons. In this story, we read about a woman – guilty of committing adultery – brought by the scribes and Pharisees to stand before Jesus. But instead of receiving the death penalty (and instead of being trapped by the crowd), Jesus instructed the one without sin to cast the first stone. Of course, all have sinned, so the crowd was stymied and sent on its way. Finally alone with Jesus, He tells the woman that she is not condemned by Him either.
But instead of focusing on the last words of Jesus at that scene, “and from now on sin no more,” many of us use this encounter as a pass to sin. Instead of realizing that she had sinned, but was forgiven by Christ and instructed to repent, we use this passage to pass judgment on others (the “self-righteous”) and to justify our own sin.
There’s a lot of room in this story to criticize those bringing the woman to Jesus and their motives, but regardless of their actions, Jesus isn’t providing a cover for sin. No, He says, “from now on, sin no more.” She received great mercy that day, but she didn’t receive permission to continue her sinful lifestyle.
In Scripture, adultery is also used as a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and the unfaithful. Jesus described those around Him who didn’t believe, or who lacked faith, as adulterous:
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. (Matthew 16:4 ESV)
“But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be…’How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like a prostitute, because you scorned payment. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband.'” (Ezekiel 16:15-16,30-32 ESV)
These passages – from the Old and New Testaments – obviously demonstrate how God feels about adultery and sexual immorality. These examples are given in the Old Testament context of God and His people and in the New Testament of Christ and His bride. How then can we desire to practice something that God has spoken so strongly against?
Jesus and Scripture
In the ESV translation of the Bible, there are four verses where Jesus speaks specifically of sexual immorality:
But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32 ESV)
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19 ESV)
And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9 ESV)
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit,sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. (Mark 7:21-22 ESV)
These references to sexual immorality are an obvious acknowledgment by Jesus Christ that there is indeed still the sin of sexual immorality. Jesus isn’t sweeping anything under the rug or ignoring a sin. He’s not saying, “I love you, but go ahead and sin anyway.” No, He’s identifying certain sins.
But also notice He’s not just pointing out sexual immorality.
Evil thoughts. Murder. Adultery. Theft. False Witness. Slander. Coveting. Wickedness. Deceit. Sensuality. Envy. Pride. Foolishness.
When I read those verses, my first reaction isn’t to point my finger at someone else, it’s to point the finger at me. I do those things. I am a sinner. By my actions I rage against a holy God – and I claim to love Him!
So, this should have an effect on me when speaking against sin in the world. I should first recognize that I am one of these sinners and then recognize once again God’s great mercy toward me. Then, my heart will be prepared to address others.