As I strolled out on to the back porch at my Mom and Dad’s old farm house and turned to head down the steps into the yard I looked up at the bird feeder that was hanging from one of the rafters, there was no bird there looking at me, but there was a snake. It was a big snake and it and I were gazing directly into each other’s eyes with less than a foot between us. But not for long! There was no romantic spark for either one of us so it didn’t take me long get to the bottom of those six steps. Lickety-split, I was gone!
After I checked my drawers, and I’m not talking about the ones in the kitchen, I ran to the shed and grabbed a hoe. With it I pulled the snake from the rafters and shortened its life span by a few inches, if you know what I mean.
John Wesley often insisted in various sermons that one should “flee from sin as from the face of a serpent.” This was actually a quote from an apocryphal Jewish wisdom text called Ecclesasticus or Sirach, which Protestants had deemed non-canonical but useful for study and devotion. The full verse reads, “Flee from sin as from a snake; for if you approach sin, it will bite you. Its teeth are lion’s teeth and can destroy human lives (Sirach 21:2 NRSV). Wesley wasn’t one to downplay sin, and he certainly didn’t encourage anyone to get cozy with it. No one in their right mind would if they knew the deadly snake that it is.
Sin, however, usually doesn’t reveal itself for what it is until its prey is firmly within its grasp, slowly being choked to an eternal death apart from the presence of God, leaving ecclesial and societal destruction in its wake. The Bible tells us that the evil comes in the guise of something good, something mesmerizingly beautiful, and something appealing to one’s pride, lust, and greed. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul, there chastising the Corinthians for their tolerance of those who preach a different Jesus, teach a different spirit, and proclaim a different gospel (v. 4), warns that the ministers of Satan, those often lauded as “super apostles” (v.5), masquerade as ministers of righteousness as Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (v. 13-14). In other words, sin and Satan may not really look bad, even though they really are bad, very bad.
2 Peter 2 warns that these prophets entice unstable people through desires of the flesh, lust and greed, and promise “freedom” while they themselves are slaves to their own pride and sinful passions. Jude as well warns of those who pervert grace into an excuse for licentiousness, self-indulgence. Both Peter and Jude also tell us that in some way they also end up denying the one true God and the redemption he has wrought in Jesus Christ, perhaps by relativistic syncretism and a disdain for atonement theology. Yet somehow they have a way of making it all sound harmless, good even, something enjoyable and a source of wisdom. Such is the deceitful and ultimately deadly nature of sin as Paul highlights in Roman 7:11, and it all starts with a little whisper. “Did God really say?” (Gen 3:1). It all begins with a questioning of what God has said. Then it quickly moves to a flat out denial of the seriousness of the consequences for disobedience to God’s commands, “You will not die.”
Make no mistake about it, illicit sex is at the top of Satan’s devious device list, which is why you see warnings about it in virtually every New Testaments vice list, and he has perverted it masterfully to deceive the Church and to corrupt society. Undoubtedly, here is where some will not only object, but stop listening altogether. They will move on to someone who will tell them that it’s not really that big of a deal. Sex is a private matter after all, and there are much bigger fish to fry, like poverty. False dichotomy is one of Satan’s most potent wands in his dastardly bag of tricks. He gets us to separate things that are meant to be held together, Grace from faith, faith from works, love of God from love of neighbor, to name a few. In the case of sex he separates the private act from its very public ramifications.
It becomes quite public, however, when two young men enter into mortal combat by the lockers in the hallway when rumors begin to spread that someone’s girlfriend has been cheating on him. What goes on behind closed doors becomes all too public when a motel room becomes a crime scene after a jilted lover turns murderer. Just go give blood or go to your county health clinic for a doctor’s appointment, and you’ll find out real quickly, that your private life is a matter of public health and safety. Once when I was between jobs, I went to the county health clinic to get treatment for an infection. The questionnaire I had to fill out made it quite obvious that my sex life wasn’t as private as it’s made out to be, and it also became quite obvious that any sexual activity outside of chastity or monogamy between one man and one woman is considerably risky. Is it really a private matter when you consider single mothers who are raising their children without their father, if they’re even sure who the father is, and if they do know quite often he’s referred to simply as the sperm donor? What about these kids? Is the emotional distress and hardship, and yes even the poverty and many times imprisonment all that “private”? How is it private when tax payers end up footing the bill for abortions, the vast majority of which are performed as a means of birth-control, and then end up having to go to the Supreme Court to keep from having their first amendment rights infringed? Doesn’t sound private to me! Moreover, a person may view pornography in the “privacy” of their own home, but the people on the other side of the camera aren’t being very private and I would say are actually being manipulated and exploited very publically. And some of us know all too well how publically and destructively it can affect our lives and the relationships that matter most. It doesn’t seem all that private when I’m standing in line at the grocery counter and have to divert my child’s eyes from the scantily clad women on the magazine cover offering “the 10 best ways to please him in bed”. Moreover, the debate over homosexuality, with the legislation and the lawsuits and Supreme Court decisions, not to mention the very public “pride” parades, has taught us anything, it should have taught us that sex is not just a private matter. It has very, very public ramifications, and the propaganda of the sexual revolution despite all its promises of freedom has brought incredible bondage and destruction that is anything but private.
It started out small, with just an innocent little whisper challenging the integrity of God’s word. Questioning its meaning is one thing, but rebelling against its authority is another. Rebellion is made all the easier by the lie regarding the consequences of it. “It not that big of a deal.” Sin isn’t really deadly after all.” “You just misunderstood; this really isn’t bad at all.” We buy into the lie that sex is our own “private” sex toy rather than the good gift of God to be used according to His instructions. We find ourselves mesmerized by the attraction, the glimmer of beautiful eyes, oblivious to the reality that behind those lying eyes is actually snake eyes, indicating that this is anything but your lucky day. The Church is always tempted to try to catch the eye of a watching and leery world through compromise, but all we will end up with is snake eyes (See Karen Booth’s book “Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution). For a while, for some, it may feel like a match made in heaven, but in the end all will know that they were sleeping with the enemy all along. Nevertheless, we don’t have to be fooled, because we don’t have to be ignorant of the enemy’s devices.
Instead of being lured into getting cozy with the enemy, the desires of the flesh that wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11) and our churches, flee from them as from the face of a deadly serpent, and take up your cross and the sword of the Spirit and “put to death” those things that seek to rob us of abundant life with God, beginning with sexual immorality (Colossians 3:5).