How Far is Too Far

By Marc Engelhardt

Continuing the recaps from Christ in Common (the discipleship class that focuses on Foundation, Worldview, and Practice), we get to the section that many people in the class eagerly awaited: “How far is too far?” We didn’t get into this topic much until this point because I think part of the desire to know how far is too far is to have some sort of control and to make more law. Rather, the route we took builds on itself and shows us that this is about what works out best for us and those around us because of how God created the world to work, not some sort of wrong/right, sin/sanctified, punishment/blessing scheme. So, notice that this recap should not be taken out of the context of the rest of the recaps thus far, otherwise it can easily come across as a bunch of “do this and don’t do that” law.

As we have studied sex from the perspective of Scripture, it has become clear that sexual things entail more than just the act of personal procreative physical engagement. We have also seen that when sex is separated from marriage, the beautiful bonding that takes places during sex can be very harmful to us and our well-being physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. The Sexual Revolution has lied to us and now leaves us in the position of trying to understand how far is too far before we start changing our reality for the worse.

To answer this question, we look to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27-30. Jesus says that looking with lustful intent is adultery. Yikes! Jesus says just looking is a sexual act. To unpack this a bit, we need to understand “lust” and “adultery.”

Lust is desire. In this context, it is specifically sexual desire. It is a more appropriate word for how our culture tends to use the word “love.” The Sexual Revolution was sneaky with this one. Love sounds really good. After all, love is good, and Jesus tells us to love God and love our neighbor. John even tells us in 1 John that God is love. So the Revolution uses the word love a lot. But try putting the Sexual Revolution’s definition of love into any the ideas mentioned above from Scripture and it just doesn’t fit. Most of the time when the Sexual Revolution is speaking about “love,” what it means is “lust” because it is speaking about sexual desire being fulfilled. Love in the sense of lust does exist in Scripture, primarily found in the book of Song of Solomon as we saw in earlier sessions. That love/lust is portrayed to us there in an example of marriage as God ordained and designed it.

Next is “adultery.” Adultery is sex with anyone other than your spouse. In its technical sense, it is to be married and then to have sex with someone other than your spouse. You may think that this is a loophole for single people and that Jesus isn’t speaking to them as well. But we must remember the earlier sessions and that Jesus intended sex to be part of marriage and not separated. Having sex with someone bonds those two people together and is supposed to be done when they are one household and the community they are part of recognizes their oneness. That’s full on marriage according to Scripture. Sex isn’t marriage, and marriage isn’t just sex, but the two also aren’t to be separated. So, single people are not to be having sex at all, and if they do, the first person they bond to should be their only one. If not, adultery is occurring, even if in a sort of odd preemptive way. No loopholes.

So, Jesus says that the moment anyone has lust for anyone other than his or her spouse, they have committed adultery. Then in verses 29-30 he makes clear the gravity of sexual sin as he says it is better to remove your eye or hand and go through life crippled rather than to have either draw you into sexual sin. He makes a very strong point rather graphically, and what he says is that is better to deny yourself than to cause yourself or others to sin.

How far is too far, then? Jesus says just looking is dangerous and that the moment lust occurs we have gone too far. That means that “how far is too far” is a bit contextual for every person, but it also means that for most situations too far is a lot less than our culture (and we) want to hear. Momentary kisses, hugs, and holding hands might be fine for a 40-year-old couple, but for a pair of 16-year-olds, sitting on the couch too close to each other might be a problem.

What Jesus says in Matthew helps us with our worldview when it comes to “how far is too far.” First off, if looking can bring on sexual sin, then it can bond you to that at which you are looking. That’s an important one to remember for everyone. Next, at the point lust begins, it is too far. It’s very contextual, but also very counter-cultural. We can also surmise that lust for your spouse is a-okay, but we have to remember the earlier sessions so that even then it should not be in a consumable way.

Also, there aren’t any loopholes. Adultery applies to any sexual bonding with more than one person. And on the flip side of all this, be mindful how you present yourself to the world because you may be causing others to sin. That’s real contextual too, and there is a whole lot of wiggle room between a burlap sack and making every curve and crevice of your body visible.

This session really has a lot of day-in, day-out practicality. It’s been said repeatedly thus far, looking matters. “Just looking” affects us and our relationships.

Parents, would you watch what you are watching while in the same room as your kids? Why does being an adult suddenly make graphic scenes okay?

Next, single folks, when dating, think long term instead of fulfilling immediate desires.

And younger people, would you do whatever it is you are doing while in the same room as your parents?

2 thoughts on “How Far is Too Far

  1. Well, Marc, judging by the shortage of comments and feedback you receive pertaining to your expositions on human sexuality and God’s word, it would seem few readers have much to say, given the personal and private nature of such topics. We all know what God commands, we all love the Lord, and we are all familiar with Matthew 5:27-30. Most of us raised as Christians know the difference between right and wrong, and we understand that we are sinners saved by grace. We know that sexuality should be part of marriage, and outside of marriage it is fornication and adultery. Be as it may, addressing a room full of married Christian couples is one thing. Explaining it to a room of 15 and 16 year olds is quite another.
    As a 15 and 16 year old high school student, I did my share of looking at the girls and women, not gloating or in a disrespectful manner, but privately admiring and even feeling the pangs of desire. I felt I was in control nevertheless, but still….like others my age, girls and boys alike…we looked again and again. I dated through high school, and engaged in kissing and petting, but it seemed we mutually agreed to not go “too far.” And we didn’t. In the late fifties and very early sixties, most girls did have morals, in my experience. I cannot speak about today. It is likely very permissive given the number of single mothers in our society at this time.
    I realize the boundaries are gone today in many respects, much of it due to the “Sexual Revolution” of the mid-sixties and seventies. Our society has become more sexualized, and less morally restrained. However, I think the Lord, in Matthew 5:27-30, was talking about looking in a lustful way, not just looking per say. I think it is not possible to be free of sexual thoughts on the part of any boy, girl, man or woman of any age in any time, on the face of this earth. God knows this, and He calls us to restrain our passions. I do not think it is sinful for a couple in love to kiss, hug, hold hands, or think about one another, and romance need not be viewed as sin. But the boundaries are there and God admonishes us that passion can also be a curse if we do not let reason and wisdom guide us.

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  2. If I might be so bold as to add another comment, Marc, I read your article again, and I fully appreciate your insights. You are to be complimented for bringing to the table issues which few pastors are comfortable enough to discuss these days. I think you are attempting very adroitly to remind Christians that God’s word on sexuality needs to be obeyed. Our society has become very much debased, and we as Christians are no longer shocked or dismayed. We are almost resigned to the declining moral values we see every day. When one is no longer shocked, it is evident that a certain desensitizing has taken place in the human mind. Just as people actually get used to violence, almost accepting it as a natural phenomenon, we can also be tuned out to unrighteousness and immorality. That is what Romans 1 addresses. We are individually and collectively held accountable by God. When we give assent to the prevailing values of a pagan society, shrugging at the profane and debased things around us, we are in a sense rendering agreement or tolerance. God’s word teaches us that great empires given over to debased minds and immorality will, in fact and in time, be destroyed. When Rome was at the peak of its power, crowds went to the Coliseum to find pleasure in blood sports, and sexual immorality was the accepted norm. Most Romans believed the power of the empire was unchallenged, and in their arrogance, defied the lessons of history. God brought them down just as people given to debased living are held accountable. In some respects, we might conclude that our beloved country has become Rome.

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