How can we have victory over sin? Matthew 5 has a passage that has confused many people over the years, but I think it holds a key in having victory over sin. In verse 21, Jesus repeats one of the ten commandments and then seems to elaborate or heighten the command to if we have hate someone, we have committed murder already. In verse 27, Jesus repeats the command of not committed adultery and then does the same thing saying, “You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Understanding this passage is hard, and it really causes us to think about sin differently. Sin here doesn’t seem to be the action but a state of our heart. So, how is your heart? And what does that mean? How does it relate to sin?
I think Jesus wants us to understand sin differently, and He wants us to go all the way back to the beginning. Why? Because many questions we ask are first addressed or touched upon in the first three chapters of the Bible. They start the story and begin to answer many of our questions.
One question that is answered is the origin of sin. When we define the answer, most people describe it as rebelling against God. Another helpful way to understand it is that by taking the fruit from the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve stopped trusting God’s definition of good and evil and decided to define what was good and evil on their own. This past week, my wife and I were watching a video from Tim Mackie at the Bible Project that further drew out this idea, and I think it helps us understand what Jesus means in Matthew 5 and also sin in our own lives.
So in Genesis 3:6, we get the clue to the sin, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
What happened here? Eve saw the fruit, desired it, and took it. We often see the taking of the fruit as the sin, but in reality, sin started with her heart, she saw it and desired it. This becomes a pattern for sin throughout the entire Bible. Another easy and clear example of this is in Judges 14 when Samson sees Timnah and desires her as his wife and then takes her.
Another example is the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. David sees her on the roof, desires her, and takes her. Not only is this a sin, but it begins a spiral effect where David continues in more sin. Can you think of any more biblical stories where we see this same pattern? I bet you can identify it quickly. Can you identify it in sins that you commit?
When we begin to see this pattern for our own sin, we can start to fight it properly. Why? Because like Jesus was telling us in Matthew 5, the root of sin is not the external behavior but the desires of our hearts. Jesus then goes on in verse 29, saying this really obscure statement, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” So what’s the key to overcoming sin? Removing the problem, and the problem is our heart.
Luckily, the Bible doesn’t leave us hanging here either. Jesus has come to give us a new heart. Check out Jeremiah 31:33, “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” and Ezekiel 37:26-27 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.”
Jesus fulfills these prophetic promises, He has brought the New Covenant (check out my favorite New Testament Letter, the book of Hebrews for more on that). He has come to give us a new heart, and it happens through receiving the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises to all those who follow Him. When we sin or when we struggle with sin, we don’t look to just stop the external behavior, but we look to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. So when you sin, identify what you’re looking at and what you are desiring and ask Jesus to help give you a new heart in those areas. If you need help, reach out to your pastors, your Life Group leader, or any believer that is a little further in their spiritual journey than you.
In His Name,