One kind of gaffe is when politician says something truthful, often off the cuff or unforced, that hurts their cause or takes them off message. One such gaffe is Jimmy Carter’s classic admission in a 1976 Playboy interview. Robert Scheer asked Carter if he felt this interview would make people more comfortable with how Carter’s faith would impact his presidency should he win. Carter begins his response by pointing out what he had learned in Baptist Sunday School about pride. Carter said, “The thing that’s drummed into us all the time is not to be proud, not to be better than anyone else, not to look down on people, but to make ourselves acceptable in God’s eyes through our own actions and recognize the simple truth that we’re saved by grace. I’m not trying to commit a deliberate sin. I recognize that I’m going to do it anyhow, because I’m human and I’m tempted. And Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.’ I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do—and I have done it—and God forgives me for it.” Carter’s truthful admission caused a firestorm. It took his campaign off course right before the election. He was mocked, ridiculed, and made the butt of jokes. But many Christians quietly nodded in agreement.
Our second impossible standard concerns adultery and lust. Jesus said “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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28 (NASB95) We all know what adultery is and we have all felt the pull of lust so we don’t need to define what Jesus was talking about. We do need to recognize however that while Jesus was talking to guys that this affects gals as well. We must also recognize that adultery is not just sexual but can also be emotional. Essentially, anytime we fantasize or enter into a relationship where someone other than our spouse is meeting our closest physical and emotional needs there is an element of adultery.
In our day and age Jesus’ standard seems impossible. Especially since lust can increasingly be satisfied secretively, anonymously, and seemingly risk-free with just a few easy mouse clicks. Jesus remedy seems even more impossible, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29–30, NASB95) Pretty much everyone has arrived at the right understanding that it is not a wayward eye or hand that causes us to sin which is why the church is not filled with one-eyed and one-handed people. I believe that what Jesus is saying is that we must be aware of what causes us to stumble and deal honestly and humbly with it.
As in our previous possible impossibilities there is a “more” that allows us in God’s strength to leap over the bar Jesus has set. In the case of lust it is humility; the willingness to lay down our own needs, wants, and desires for the sake of another. With humility comes submission. James said, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:6–7, NASB95) Submitting to God may mean turning off a favorite TV show or changing our computer habits. It may mean reigning in our thoughts. It may mean creating distance in a relationship that is going in the wrong direction. It may mean standing firm. It always means to allow God to change our heart, our habits, and our desires. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NASB95) Walking in humility, willingly laying aside our own desires because of our love for God and our spouse is how we can leap the impossibly high bar Jesus has set.