Every Thought Captive

Deeply Changed

“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."

Matthew 5:27-30

One of the most deceptive and destructive lies that attack both Christians and non-Christians is the lie that God is not good and, therefore, His ways will not ultimately lead to our joy and flourishing. This lie was the essence of the serpent’s original temptation in Genesis 3:1 when he asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” It was an assault on God’s character as he called into question God’s goodness and the truthfulness of His Word. The first sin resulted from Adam and Eve being deceived into believing that God isn’t good, His Word isn’t true, and the good life is not found in listening to and obeying Him. It is the same for us today, as sin can be traced back to not trusting God’s goodness. Martin Lloyd-Jones once said, “Happiness is the great question confronting mankind. The whole world is longing for happiness, and it is tragic to observe the ways in which people are seeking it.”

It is often easy to stumble into one version of this lie when it comes to how we read, think about, and present the commands of Scripture. This version of the “God is not good” lie manifests itself when we wrongly interpret His commands as a list of dour rules we have to check off the list so God will be happy with us but that ultimately does not guide us into a meaningful and full life. However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not giving us a list of rules to follow that rip us away from an abundant life, but an invitation to true flourishing and happiness as we are changed by a relationship with the God who is good, loving, and gracious. This is why He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

One of the main principles that Jesus establishes in the Sermon on the Mount is that righteousness, what it really means to be a good person and therefore thrive as a human, is not just about our actions but about what is in our hearts. If we are being honest, we all know it is possible to do morally good actions but to either not do it for the right reasons, to hide our real motives, or to fake being nice or pure when deep down we are angry or lustful. What Jesus teaches is that true morality, goodness, and righteousness are not about externally following a list of rules but about clinging to and imitating God out of love for Him and others. In other words, for Jesus, righteousness is relational and comes from the inside out.

In verses 27-30, Jesus applies this concept to the real-life example of adultery and lust. When it comes to the area of human sexuality, it is common to believe that “as long as I don’t have sex outside of marriage, then I am righteous.” However, Jesus radically raises the bar when He claims that lustful thoughts are equal to adultery in the sense that if you boil down adultery to its essence, it begins with lust in the heart. While they have different worldly consequences, they are in essence the same thing. True goodness does not just maintain physical purity but also purity of thought that people might never see. This humbles us because when we look under the surface, we might find ourselves guiltier than we think we are or than we externally project ourselves to be.

Our current culture’s response to that is to reject God’s original design for human relationships, marriage, and sexuality, and we are suffering the consequences. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Fire is an amazing gift as it provides warmth and light. However, when fire exceeds its boundaries, it causes destruction. The same thing is true of human sexuality. When embraced and enjoyed in the way in which the Giver and Maker of these good gifts designed them to function in the context of a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, the gift of sexuality brings blessing. When we doubt His goodness, we use His good gifts in a way that He did not design them to be used, which ends in disaster.

Whether we find ourselves humbled by Jesus’ teaching or caught up in the current of our culture, what do we do? Jesus gives an extreme answer in verses 29-30 to demonstrate how serious we are to take sin in our hearts and lives. God hates sin because He loves people, and sin kills people, so Jesus uses deliberate overstatement to emphasize the importance of pursuing purity.

The truth is that by God’s standards, none of us are pure. We desperately need a Savior, and the good news of the gospel is that the same one, who got up on a mountain and proclaimed the importance of heart-level purity, would later go up to another mountain to lay down His life on the cross so that impure people could be forgiven and made pure by His sheer grace. Jesus is the only pure person to ever live, and the good news of the gospel is that He took our impurity and covers us in His purity. And only when we are captured by the sight of His love and how much it cost Him to cleanse impure people will we actually begin to be changed into the kinds of people who are pure and loving from the inside out and, therefore, people who truly thrive.

To paraphrase an illustration from Dallas Willard, if I go to visit Boston, I do not have to worry about avoiding London or Paris. This is obviously because going to Boston took care of not being in London or Paris. Similarly, when I value and love people because I’m filled with the love of God, as demonstrated in Jesus (Romans 5:8), these things that Jesus describes in verses 21-47 are naturally the result. I don’t have to worry about not being angry or not lusting when I increasingly become a person who is filled with God’s love. My best efforts cannot produce that; only a relationship with Jesus can. This is the result of being soaked in God’s love. If we are soaked in God’s love, then godly actions and behaviors will follow.

In the end, overcoming temptation is not a matter of self-control and strong will but a matter of being deeply changed by God’s love in the gospel.

“To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
To hear His pardoning voice,
Changes a slave into a child
And duty into choice.”

About the Author

Photograph of Will Washington

Will Washington

Ministry Leader of High School

Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Will grew up in Dallas and is a graduate of Highland Park High School, the University of Oklahoma, and Dallas Theological Seminary, where he earned a Masters in Christian Education. Before joining PCPC in 2017, Will served in the youth ministries of several churches, as a counselor and Program Director at T Bar M Sports Camp, as a Bible teacher at Cornerstone Crossroads Academy, and as the Executive Director of Armour Up Ministries. In ministry, his passion is teaching God’s Word in the context of relationships, and seeing Scripture fuel a love for Jesus and His mission in someone’s heart and life. He is also passionate about the Oklahoma Sooners.