The Evil of Tolerating Sin (Revelation Sermon 5 of 49)
April 02, 2017 | Andy Davis
Repentance, Sexual Immorality, Omniscience of God, Marks and Purposes, Church Dysfunction
Please turn in your Bibles to Revelation 2:18-29. Today we will be working through this letter to the Church at Thyatira.
We are blessed to have some very talented medical people in our church. We had a great day at the health fair yesterday. I am so grateful for all those of you who gave your time, and for the ability to use the knowledge that God has given us to bless the community. About seven or eight years ago, at the church picnic, this medical knowledge was specifically focused on my wife, Christi. She had been having some neurological symptoms, and had had an x-ray and an MRI of her neck. Some of the medical experts among our church members looked at the results and noticed what looked like a degenerative disc disease and a necking-down of her spinal column, such that it looked like an hour glass. It led us to take very seriously what was going on in her body. The neurosurgeon gave us this diagnosis, this prediction of the future: “100% chance of total paralysis without surgery.” That is the kind of prognosis that you listen to — 100% chance of total paralysis if she does not have corrective surgery. Obviously, we got corrective surgery, and then another one after that, and the Lord protected her ability to walk.
I am thinking this morning about the gift that we have here in Durham, frequently called the City of Medicine, of the technology that we have to make such predictions and prognoses, and then provide therapies to treat what is discovered. Here in the City of Medicine, right next to the Research Triangle Park, we have all manner of noninvasive diagnostic tests — x-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, heart catheterizations, EEGs, EKGs — methods of diagnosis that eliminate the need for more invasive measures to tell us what is going inside of us. It could be something very serious, life-threatening, such as a brain tumor that could result in death if not treated; or it could be a blockage in a major artery that needs to be addressed by a cardiologist; or it could be something a little less serious, perhaps pain or other symptoms; and through these noninvasive techniques and machines, it is possible to make a diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Psalm 139 begins with these amazing words, “O Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar.” The Lord has a comprehensive knowledge of each of us. Everything. He knows when we sit and when we rise. He knows our actions, what we are doing all the time. Not only that, He knows our minds and our hearts behind those actions. Everything. At the end of the Psalm, the psalmist invites the very process that God is doing already, saying, “I want You to do this.” “Search me, O God, and know my heart. And try me and see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
This letter to the Church at Thyatira brings us to face a very serious topic, that of secret sin, sin that is in the heart of individuals in the church. Secret sin is not obvious, not open or easy to see. We are confronted in this text with a Lord and Savior, the same one whom David was talking about in Psalm 139, who searched him and knew him so many centuries ago. He says the exact same thing to the Church at Thyatira: “I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will give to each of you according to what you have done.” He has eyes of blazing fire and feet of burnished bronze; He is looking at us, searching us, and He knows us.
The issue of secret sexual sin is a very troubling one. It is not the kind of thing I would choose, if I were a topical preacher, to say “I think that's what I want to preach on,” but I can tell you from pastoral experience, it is very much what I need to preach on, among other things. Secret sexual sin is a serious problem in the life of the church today. It is not a minor problem. Many of you are trying to run your Christian race with weights dragging behind you, as though you are running a marathon with cinder block weights tied to a belt around your waist; you are making very little progress, and you are exhausted and discouraged, and you are assassinating your assurance of salvation. It may cause you to wonder to some degree if you are even a Christian. Maybe some of you are in that category because of what you are doing in secret.
I yearn and I have prayed over the last several weeks, especially the last number of hours, that this would be a day of being set free. As Hebrews 12 says “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” and especially one witness in particular, this holy Jesus, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burning bronze — since you are living your life in front of Him — “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race that is marked out before you.” That is what I long to see happen for you today.
More than that, to the whole church, though not every one of you is in this category, there is still a message for you in this passage. It says, “Now to the rest of you who are not involved in this sin…” In our church covenant, we promise to watch over one another in brotherly love, to care about what is happening in each other's lives. Therefore, this is a call to get involved — men with men and women with women in discipleship, parents with their children at deeper levels than you may be going currently — to protect one another from sexual sin. This is a serious message.
My desire is to fill you as best as I can with a proper mixture of fear and hope. I do not know what you individually need the most right now. Some of you really need fear and this Scripture will give it to you, or should give it to you if you will heed its warning. There is a holy fear that leads to holy living. We should fear sin. We should fear Jesus’ reaction to sin. But we should not fear as those who have no hope. There are promises — if we listen, if we repent, if we overcome, we will be richly blessed. I want to mediate these things to you — fear of sin, blessings for repentance. Although we are talking about secret sins, which by definition are not obvious by your faces — I do not know what is going on, what you need — my desire is that the Word of God will be unleashed in your life to set you free.
II. How Jesus Describes Himself: Eyes of Fire, Feet of Bronze
Jesus begins this letter to the church at Thyatira in verse 18 with a self-description. Look what He says: “To the angel of the church of Thyatira write: ‘These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.’”
This is an awesome description. As with all of these seven letters, it is incredible that Jesus is speaking to the church. He is describing Himself. He begins here by emphasizing His deity: “These are the words of the Son of God.” His open appeal to deity emphasizes His right to judge and speak these words to us. He has the right to do this. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He is your creator and He will be your judge. He has the right to talk to you like this.
Usually in these seven letters, Jesus identifies Himself to the church by some aspect of the vision that John had in Revelation 1, but here it is a little different. He uses a term here, “the Son of God,” that you do not find in Revelation 1. There He is described as one “like a son of man.” But here we see Jesus who is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, and He has a message of purifying power and judgment to give to this secretly sinning church.
He describes His own eyes, “eyes like blazing fire,” which gives a sense of the perfect holiness of Jesus by which He pierces through their secrecy to know everything they are doing. The eyes are His source of information, knowing who you are, what you're doing. The fire reminds us that our God is a consuming fire. It points to His holiness. Habakkuk 1:13 says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong.” Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
The secret sinners, the ones who are learning Satan’s so-called deep secrets in Thyatira, are thinking, “No one sees me, no one knows what I am doing,” but Jesus has eyes of blazing fire. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “‘Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord, ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” At the end of Revelation when Jesus comes to destroy His enemies, He uses this exact same description. Revelation 19:11-13: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire and on His head are many crowns.” That is the way he deals with His enemies.
He also describes His feet as glowing like burnished bronze, as though heated in a furnace. This brings the image to mind in Revelation 19:15: “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty,” a terrifying picture of Jesus with perfectly pure feet trampling out wickedness.
III. How Jesus Commends the Church with an Impressive List: Deeds, Love, Faith, Perseverance, Growth
First, Jesus speaks words of commendation to this church at Thyatira. He says in verse 19, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” This is really a very impressive list.
He commends their hard work, their deeds flowing from love and faith. Unlike the church at Ephesus, it seems this church has not forsaken their first love. He commends their love: They love Him, and they love one another. He commends their genuine faith in Christ, at least those He addresses toward the end of the letter. As a whole He speaks to believers, the ones who are living out their faith. By their vision — their sight of the invisible spiritual world (that is what faith is, the eyesight of the soul) by which they see Jesus as Savior, the future, the coming judgment — they have a genuine faith. They are not dead in their transgressions and sins. He commends their service and their perseverance: They are working hard, serving one another with servant hearts. We do not know much about the persecutions they might have endured there in Thyatira, but we can guess they were of the same sort that were going on in the other six of the cities. But they were persevering through those trials. He commends, very strikingly, their growth and development: They are doing more now than they did at first. 2 Peter 1 says, “… these qualities are yours in increasing measure.” Living things grow, and these believers were growing, this church was growing.
IV. How Jesus Judges the Church: Toleration of Jezebel the Immoral
It is hard to imagine that a church with such a comprehensive statement of commendation from Jesus Christ could have a fatal flaw at its heart. On the surface, everything looks good. That is what makes all of this so scary. It is vital for us as 21st century churchgoers in America to hear this and look beyond the surface. A toleration of sexual sin, and the secret pattern of illicit sexual activities effectively nullifies all of these good things. That is the problem here, the issue of toleration. That is what He presses in; that is how He judges the church.
Look at verse 20: “Nevertheless, I have this against you.” Reading those words gives me pause. Do you not feel the weight of that? How serious it is that Jesus would have something against you. Let that press into your heart — “I do not want Jesus to have anything against me.” I am not claiming that we can be sinless and perfect in this life, but I yearn for it, don’t you? Don’t you hunger and thirst that Jesus would have nothing against you? Start with an hour: “O Lord, let me live my life for one hour that You would have nothing against me. My heart and my actions. Let me live that kind of life for the next hour by the Spirit.”
The Danger is from Within, Not from Without
But He says this in verse 20: “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” There is a deadly danger from within. It is not like Smyrna, where there is external persecution coming from the authorities, with the threat of imprisonment. Here, it is coming from within. There is an outward, worldly influence, certainly, but Christ is speaking of a heart wound, a cancer within.
The problem is that the church was tolerating it. The letter is addressed to Christians, so it could be that there were individuals dabbling in the sin who were tolerating that within themselves, thinking it was okay — but it was not. Beyond that, even those who were not involved were tolerating those who were; they were not performing church discipline, what they should have done to keep the church pure. This is hard for many in 21st century America to hear: We love and celebrate tolerance. We get excited about the unbelievable levels of evil and wickedness that we can tolerate and be fine with that do no seem to move the needle, that we are kind of chill and cool about. That is not God’s plan for the church. We are called on to be the light of the world. We are called on to be salt in a corrupted world. If the salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless. We must care, not tolerate.
The Threat: Sexual Immorality Taught by a Woman Prophetess
The threat in the church of Thyatira was sexual immorality, secret and hidden, being taught by a woman prophetess. She was alluring and enticing some of Jesus’ blood bought children into immorality; they were being led astray by her. This sexual immorality was undoubtedly linked to the old patterns of pagan religion. It was something that would have been familiar to them, part of the way that pagan worship was conducted back then. But this woman had added some twist to it with Satan’s so-called deep secrets, creating a concoction of pseudo-Christian, pseudo-pagan mess that she was teaching to these servants. It was similar the Balaam/Nicolaitan heresies plaguing the church in Pergamum that we looked at last week. It was a likely a combination of Christian doctrine (that the grace of God covered all sins) and Greek dualism (that body and soul are separate and unrelated and it did not matter what one did with the body) leading to license. They were turning the grace of God into license for immorality.
Christianity cuts across all this. It matters what you do with your body, and it matters what is going on in your mind, in your heart — everything matters. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.” It is very clear. Galatians 6:7-8 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will repeat eternal life.”
“Jezebel” the Prophetess
Who is “that woman Jezebel”? The text implies that she was a real woman in Thyatira, though the name Jezebel was symbolic, like a prophetic name. She “calls herself a prophetess.” She was not a true prophetess, called by God, bestowed through the Holy Spirit; she took that honor and office on herself. It is clear that in those days, there were godly prophets and there were godly prophetesses. This woman was not a godly prophetess but a false prophetess. Beyond that, she was teaching both men and women this false doctrine; she was arrogating to herself a teaching role that Paul forbids. In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” God has not given to women the role to teach men in an official way in the life of the church. But this woman took that on herself. Even worse, she was espousing false teaching, leading them astray.
Why does Jesus call her Jezebel? This name hearkens back to a well-known account in the Old Testament. In the days of God’s prophet Elijah, King Ahab of Israel married a wicked woman named Jezebel, the daughter of a pagan king. King Ahab was a weak-willed and ultimately wicked man. Jezebel specifically and purposely led Israel into patterns of false religion to worship the Baals and the Ashtoreth, the fertility religions. That worship, similar to this church in Thyatira, involved sexual immorality and worshipping false gods and goddesses. Jezebel personally funded 850 prophets of Baal out of the coffers of the king while she hunted down and killed all of the true prophets. Remember that Elijah thought he was the only prophet left.
Jezebel manipulated Ahab to do all kinds of evil things. When Ahab wanted to take Naboth’s vineyard but was too weak to do anything about it and was crying and pouting in his bed, she took it into her own hands, conspiring to have Naboth murdered by orchestrating false witnesses and enabling Ahab to take possession of the vineyard. Elijah predicted that dogs would drink up Ahab’s blood in that very place. Later, he predicted that the same thing would happen to Jezebel, and it did. She was a thoroughly wicked woman, probably a witch by any definition, with a cultic side to her evil.
The Church’s Sin: Toleration
The deaths of Ahab and Jezebel paint a repulsive picture, and the revulsion that we feel as we hear it is actually completely appropriate. Jesus uses that title to talk about this woman in the church of Thyatira. She was leading them in secret rituals; we do not know the exact nature of those activities but we know they were not done openly. Look at verse 24: “Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets…” In secret, they did disgusting things with their bodies. In secret they ate meats sacrificed to detestable idols. In secret they learned deeper words of knowledge, perhaps early gnostic practices and such.
The Terror of Impending Judgment
And the church was tolerating it. Tolerating it. So Jesus had to bring a terror of impending judgement on them. We must heed warnings in Scripture. It is part of our faith to be convicted — not just filled with the assurance of things hoped for — but convicted, as in a court of law, in reference to our sins. Faith does that and so we heed warnings. Warnings are for us, the elect. The non-elect will not heed the warnings as we do. We heed warnings. So what does He say?
He has already identified Himself as the Son of God whose eyes are like blazing fire. Now He shows how terrifying He can be. In verses 21-23, He says, “I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know [that includes us] that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
Look at the beginning in verse 21: “I have given her time to repent of her immorality…” If you are trapped in a pattern of secrets then these could be some of the scariest words you could ever hear. You can almost hear the clock ticking, time running on, tick-tock, tick-tock. Jesus has allotted a certain time for you and that time is finite. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This is the opportunity that Jesus is giving for you to repent. We never know how long we have; the door could be closed at any time. He does not owe this opportunity to anyone. Keep that in mind. This is all grace. He could strike us dead the moment we commit sin, immediately. Your next sin in this area could immediately, instantly be your last. And God would not be unjust. The wages of sin is death.
But He is gracious. He is compassionate. He is slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. He gives time. He controls the clock; He can give you a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade — we do not know. But He controls it and He is waiting for you to repent.
For Jezebel, her time had run out. There was no chance for her now; she was finished. God promised that He would kill her by a severe disease, but she refused to repent. Remember that I said I yearn to give you a mingling of fear and hope. I have no hope to give to people who will not repent. Evangelical churches have no right to give hope to anybody who does not repent, whether in reference to the big picture of the gospel or individual sin. We have no hope to give people who do not repent.
People think that just because God has not acted on his warnings that He does not care, or that His standards have changed. That is not true. Just because nothing has happened yet does not mean that God has lowered His standards. In Isaiah 42:14 God says, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.” And in Isaiah 57:11: “Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?” And again, in Psalm 50:21: “These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face.” Do not misunderstand the patience of God.
Romans 2:4-6 tells you what the patience of God is about: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when His righteous judgement will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done.” Instead of using the time wisely, redeeming the time, all you are doing is storing up more and more wrath and judgment if you are truly in the end an unbeliever, if you refuse to repent.
This “Jezebel” in Thyatira was unwilling. Thus, this word of judgment comes in verse 22-23: “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead, unless they repent of their ways.” He promised to cast her on a bed of suffering. This refers to some kind of dread disease. For the wicked King Herod in the New Testament, his bowels came out — it was just a terrible way to die. It is ironic for this woman: she was accustomed to being cast on a bed of pleasure. There is justice in casting her on a bed of suffering.
This judgment will not be limited to her, but also her “children.” This is likely her disciples, those who are following her, rather than her biological children. They had been following in this secret religion of sex and pleasure. Through this letter, God is giving them a little more time to repent, but if they do not, they will die.
Jesus Searches Hearts and Minds
In verse 23 He says, “Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Jesus knows our minds and our hearts. Again and again we see in the gospels that Jesus, even in His days on earth, would read people’s minds. In Luke 7:36-50, we read that Simon the Pharisee thought in his heart, “‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is — that she is a sinner.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you.’” That must have been unnerving. When He healed the paralytic by first forgiving his sins and the Pharisees thought in their hearts that He was blaspheming, He answered, “Why are you thinking these thoughts in your heart?”
In John 5:42, he said, “I know you, I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.” John 2:25 says, “He knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.” He knows our minds and our hearts; He searches them. That is actually a part of the sanctification process. That is where Psalm 139:23-24 comes in; we should say, “Do it Lord. Search me and show me who I am. Show me how much I need a Savior.” The person who is asking God to do that will not be struck dead. That person will be progressively delivered and saved and become fruitful. That person says, “Search me. I want to be holy, I want to be pure, I want to be delivered, I want to be set free. I am not refusing to repent.” Jesus is the only one who is able to do this.
Jesus Rewards or Punishes According to our Deeds
He says in verse 23, “I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” We are not justified by works, but we will be judged by works, or perhaps evaluated is a better word — assessed, identified by our works. All He needs to do is look at the fruit and He knows the tree: “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.” (Matthew 12:33) He alone can make the evil tree good. He has that power to do that. He looks at the fruit; He knows whether you are a Christian or not based on the fruit. It is a consistent teaching. Romans 2:6-8 says, “God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” It is very plainly taught again and again. Sometimes that judgment comes early. In the case of Jezebel and her unrepentant followers, the death penalty came, no further warning, they died, under Christ’s just word.
V. How Jesus Commands the Church: Hold Fast to Purity
Churches MUST NOT TOLERATE Sin
What does Christ command the church? First, hold fast to purity. Do not tolerate sin. Sin is not okay. It is deadly. It metastasizes. It is poisonous. We want all of it gone. We hate it. We know we are all Romans 7 sinners, struggling every day, doing the very thing we hate, and the very thing we want to do, we do not do. We understand that churches are for sinners. But if individual members are known to be committing these kinds of sins, and they are confronted and they will not repent, they must be excommunicated.
It is clear teaching. The church in Corinth also had a problem with sexual sin. There was a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife, probably his stepmother, and the church was proud and did not do anything about it. Very clearly, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul says, “Expel them. Get rid of them. Sever the tie so that everyone in the community around may know that you do not tolerate this kind of wickedness.” He says in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the people of this world,” but the one who calls himself a Christian and yet is immoral, among other sins listed. “With such a man, do not even eat. What business is it of mine, to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’”
Jesus Does Not Impose Extra Burdens but Calls on the Pure to Do Their Duty to HOLD FAST
Christ calls on the pure in Thyatira to do their duty. Verse 24-25: “Now to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold fast to what you have until I come.” He says, “Hold on, do not get sucked in. Do not be drawn into this wickedness. Do not tolerate it.”
He does not impose extra burdens. I am not sure exactly what that means, but it may mean he does not in any way press them towards asceticism in opposite reaction to the license. Legalism is the opposite but equal mistake of license. He may be saying, “I am not saying forbid marriage, that man should not touch a woman at all, ever.” (A practice the Shakers upheld. That was a weird cult, no children except converted children, I suppose — I am not sure what child would want to become a Shaker. But that was a weird cult forbidding marriage.) Paul talks in Colossians about those who forbid marriage. That is an extreme burden. “I am not laying that burden on you. Enjoy sexual relationship within covenant marriage. I am not pushing you to something you cannot do.”
“Only hold fast to what you have until I come.” Fight the good fight of faith. Run this race with endurance until you cross that finish line. Hold on.
VI. How Jesus Rewards the Overcomers: Authority and a Star
First Reward: Reigning with Christ
If they — we — hold fast, see what reward awaits, verses 26-27: “To him who overcomes and does My will to the end, I will give authority over the nations — ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; He will dash them to pieces like pottery.’” This seems to indicate that we who overcome will participate in his Second Coming glory. It might relate to rulership in the millennium, but at least finally, ultimately, relates to positions of authority in the New Heaven and the New Earth, sharing in the authority of Jesus.
Second Reward: The Morning Star
In verse 28: “I will also give him the Morning Star,” which is the star that is the precursor to dawn. Balaam called Jesus “a star rising in Jacob.” Morning Star — that is Jesus. “If you will overcome this sin, if you will conquer, I will give you a sense of the coming glory of the full, bright day. You will have a sense of how glorious it will be when we are in the New Heaven and New Earth, and there will be no sin at all. I will give you a foretaste of heaven.”
This Letter PLEADS with sinners!!
This letter pleads with sinners to come to Christ. Do you not see it? Charlotte gave us a testimony of the gospel before her water baptism this morning, how God sent His son, died for sinners like you and me if you repent. You know yourself that you are not a Christian, but you came in here today to hear this message. Maybe you are trapped in some kind of sexual sin, but you have never known Christ. God sent Jesus, the Son of God, to die on the cross for sinners like you and me. He will set us free. He has the power to set sinners free and to forgive all of our sins, past, present, future. By simple faith, trust in Him. Say, “I know I am a sinner. I know you are the Son of God; you died for sinners. I am trusting in you to be my Savior.” And you will be set free.
FLEE SEXUAL IMMORALITY!!
To you Christians, I want to lay this out for those of you — I do not know who you are — who are struggling with secret sin, especially sexual sin. I am pleading with you to flee sexual immorality. That is the verb given here — Flee. Flee it. I am worried about how super-saturated our world is with sexual images these days. I am worried about internet pornography. I am worried about the development of this evil scheme of Satan, step by step, from the red-light district, to houses of ill repute, to the VCR, where you could rent porn and bring it right into your home, to streaming or satellite, to smartphones constant access through WiFi. The need for strength in this area has never been greater. The need to understand what Jesus means when He says, “Gouge out your right eye if it's causing you to sin, gouge it out. Cut off your right hand.” If you cannot use your smartphone without sinning, then get rid of it.
There are terrible statistics about internet pornography. I will not read all of them to you, but they are sad. I am especially worried about teenagers. Statistics show that 90% of children from ages 8-16 have viewed porn already in their life — 90%. The largest consumers of pornography are boys aged 12-17. 70% of men ages 18-34 visit a porn site in a typical month. $10-14 billion spent annually in this country on pornography. One in six women struggle with porn addiction. And the church is not immune. The statistics are terrible about how the church is doing in this area. Some of you are on a clock now. You did not know, perhaps, before you came in here, but Jesus is giving you time to repent. You do not know how much longer you will have to do so.
Follow True Repentance (Thomas Watson, Puritan pastor)
If you are ensnared in this pattern of sexual immorality, begin with repentance. If any individual comes and confesses this kind of sin to me, this is where I start. I want to commend a book I have mentioned many times: Thomas Watson's The Doctrine of Repentance gives us six aspects of repentance. You need all six: Sight of sin, sorrow for sin, confession of sin, shame for sin, hatred of sin, and turning from sin. That is what repentance is. That is what Christ is calling on this church in Thyatira to do. That is what He is calling on you to do if you are trapped in this sin.
First, sight of sin: See it with eyes of faith. See it as it will look on Judgement Day to you. See it as Jesus sees it now. See it.
Second, sorrow for sin: Grieve, mourn and wail. James 4, as I mentioned it last week, tells us to grieve over it. Maybe you are not the crying type, but maybe you should be. Let it break your heart. The Holy Spirit is grieved. If you are a child of God, indwelt by the Spirit, and you are involving yourself in this, the Spirit is weeping over you, in you. You need to weep with Him, and He will lead you back to sunshine and light and joy and fruitfulness. So grieve. Do not skip it — grieve.
Third, confession of sin: Tell God what you did, what you are doing. Tell Him the story. He already knows. Get down on your knees, get alone, close the door and tell Him what you are doing, what you have done. And as you do, be specific, give it its Biblical name, speak of its wickedness, “aggravate the thing,” as the Puritans would say. Talk about it a lot in your prayer to God of confession; do not minimize it — “Lord, I did a little thing.” Do not do that. Go deep. You want the whole tumor out. Confess it. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” You need to confess that sin.
Fourth, shame for sin: So many people think it is inappropriate for Christians ever to feel shame. I do not understand how anyone would think that that is true… “Jesus has set me free from all…” No. Shame for sin is similar to pain from physical fire. Do you think any of us will need pain from fire in Heaven? No, you will not feel any pain in Heaven, and — this is awesome — you will not feel any shame in Heaven either. Isn’t that amazing? Think about that. You will have no shame in Heaven, but you need it now, and you need pain now to keep you from playing with fire. You should feel a burn inside you. How could I do this to Jesus? How could I do this to my family? How could I do this to my church? You should feel that feeling, and if you do not want to call it shame — because Jesus has set you free from all shame — I understand that. Call it — make up your own word — but let it include a burning negative emotion about the recent history of what you have done. Whatever you want to call that; in English, we call it shame.
I had a painful discussion with a woman who had been sexually abused as a child; she could not accept this teaching from me. She said, “Jesus has set me free from shame. I put all my shame on Jesus. I do not have any shame.” My response was, “I do not know what you should feel for sins you are actually committing, other than shame.” Shame is helpful. It keeps us from doing that which we should not do anymore.
Fifth, hatred of sin: You should burn with hatred for this sin. Jesus hates it. Psalm 97:10 says, “Let him who is righteous hate evil.” Hate it. This is not a mild thing. We are to have a visceral reaction to this.
Sixth, turn from sin: Stop doing it. Make a U-turn. That's what repentance is, so stop doing it. You may say, “Well, pastor it is not just ‘Stop.’ This is a habit. This is an addiction. This is a pattern in my life.” I understand that, but instantaneous righteousness in habitual areas is possible for the genuine Christian. You do not have to coast to a stop here. You are not a slave to sin. You do not ever need to sin in this area again. Tell the next temptation, “I am dead to that sin, but alive in Christ Jesus. I do not need to give into that. I am going to kill it immediately. I do not need a coasting time. I can stop this sin immediately.”
I am not preaching perfectionism here. I know you will have to fight, the Bible knows you will have to fight — but you need to fight. And if you are not fighting, you are not a Christian, it is that simple. Romans 8:13-14 says, “… if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” And they are the only ones who are sons of God. So the Spirit leads you into battle.
John Owen: Mortification — DEATH BY STARVATION!!
John Owen’s Mortification gives us how to do it. I do not have time now to do all the personal counseling I would do, which I have done for years now, with men when I get together with them to talk about this. But my strategy can be summed up thus: Death by starvation. Surround the sin and starve it to death. Let it be a full day since you last violated your conscience in this area, and then let it be two, and then let it be a week, and then let it be a month, and then a year. And little by little the gravitational pull will become weaker, and weaker. It will never fully go away, you must be vigilant the rest of your life, but it will grow weaker and weaker. Death by starvation.
The last minute or so, I have been speaking directly to individuals struggling with secret sin. Now I want to speak to the whole church — to the help givers, the counselors, the disciples. If someone comes to you, or if you are seeking out, men with men, women with women, a discipleship relationship, and you wonder what to do, first of all ask about this area: “Are you struggling in this area? Is this a weak area for you?” If someone confesses this struggle, give them a battle plan; go with them to Watson’s Doctrine Of Repentance. You can download it for free — it is in the public domain online. Go through the six steps I just led you through. Provide the strategy of death by starvation. Set a tone of accountability with the internet; ask about the source of giving in to the temptations in their lives? Encourage them to rely on the Holy Spirit, not on themselves; remind them to lean on the Spirit, pray in the Spirit, grow closer to the Spirit than ever before. By the Spirit, they will put to death these things. Mingle fear and hope for them.
Read over this letter together with them. Say, “Do you understand that Jesus can kill you for this? Do you understand He has the power to do it? He has the right to do it, but He also can graciously give you time. Do not play with this anymore. Give them fear, but then give them hope: “If you confess your sins, He will forgive you and cleanse you, and He will be mighty in your life.” And pray for them.
My final word is to parents: Parents, especially teens. Please do not make any assumptions about what is going on with your kids’ smartphones or other sources of access. You need to get involved, likely more than you are now, with your kids’ use of technology. Pray for them, ask them questions, fight for them.
Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the time we have had to study this sobering letter to the church of Thyatira. We want to be faithful to the message, and God, I pray that you will set your children free. As Charles Wesley put it, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin; He sets the prisoner free.” Lord, you have already cancelled the sin, the debt has been paid, but now it has a certain strange power over us. Break that power and help us to live holy lives, help us to be discipling each other, men with men, and women with women. Help us to be as pure as you want us to be, in Jesus’ name, Amen.