The adage ‘the eye is the gateway to the soul’ does not come from the Bible, but it cannot be overstated that God urges a Christian to guard what goes into his eyes. Jesus Himself took pains to teach that “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!’ (Mat. 6.22-23).
In the same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had just warned that ‘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’ (Mat. 5.28-29).
We joke that there are things that one cannot ‘unsee’, but the ongoing effect of what Christians let into their minds through their eyes is no joke. Many a despairing ‘sex addict’ would not be in such peril or ruin without first allowing into their eyes, what they should not have looked at in the first place.
Neurobiologists talk about addictive dependency upon the neurotransmitters in the brain associated with the ‘pleasures of sin’, but what is at stake is more than a mere biological hazard. Diabolical forces, bent on damaging or destroying the ministry and witness of Christian pastors are extremely interested in the possibilities afforded by technology to make sinful images available to every man, woman, and child with nothing more sophisticated in their grasp than a ‘smartphone’.
Many a Christian ‘living in Sodom’ today think they can consume the same sort of ‘entertainment’ as ‘everyone else’, and not be affected. But ‘remember Lots’ wife’ (Luke 17.32). Lot and his family were among the few ‘righteous persons’ that could be found in the doomed city, yet even among them were ideas such as excessive drunkenness and incest, that likely came from being exposed to the sights of Sodom (Gen. 19.32-35).
The New Testament warns, ‘Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted’ (Gal 6.1). Yet, today, rather than keeping watch on ourselves, Christians watch media in which ‘transgression’ is the stock-in-trade of almost every online drama. To paraphrase St. James, ‘My brothers, these things ought not to be so’.
And it is not just HD images that endanger Christian souls. Salaciousness in print is everywhere. What the spiritually dead intend to be ‘added spice’ to favour their material, is actually poison to the Christian. A pornographic turn of phrase can be as hard to flush out of the mind as any image.
‘How can a young man keep his way pure?’ has become the most haunting question of our time. And that question is not just for the young. The answer - that is to be the believer’s prayer to God - is ‘by guarding it (our way of life) according to your word’ (Psalm 119.9).
As we have seen God’s word provides abundant warning about the very thing that dissipates, degrades, and even destroys the faith and ministry of many a pastor. The reality of life in this fallen world – and in our fallen flesh – is that there is no escape from temptation. No amount of internet filters, content blockers, and Benedictine options can prevent all causes of sin. Islam has tried veiling women from head to foot and that has not worked.
As Cole Porter observed, ‘In olden days a glimpse of stocking, was looked on as something shocking, But Heaven knows: Anything Goes’. The ancient counsel of God’s word makes it clear. The decision is not up to the Hollywood censors (if they even still exist), or to your ‘accountability partner’ (who had better not be your ecclesiastical supervisor). The decision is up to you, the Christian pastor. Are you going to guard your own eyes? Otherwise, as God asks rhetorically, ‘Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? (Prov. 6.27-28).
Nobody is going to do it for you. All the hosts of Hell are pitted against you. You can only protect yourself – calling upon all the heavenly support God will give you. And when you fall, turn Satan’s victory sour by using your experience as a theology lesson. The lessons taught by humility (and humiliation) before God’s holy Law may be the justification for the persistence of an ‘old self’ even after regeneration creates a ‘new self’ (Eph. 4.24).
If God removed our sinful nature at baptism, some of us might never sin afterward. Some of us – baptized as infants – would never in our whole lives remember what it felt like to be forgiven. If we lived our whole earthly lives (like angels) without sinning, the value of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin would be reduced to a theological locus that provided no conscious benefit to us. But that would not be the kind of theology that glorifies God as when the penitent pray, ‘naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Saviour, or I die!’ (Hymn by Augustus Toplady, (1776) ‘Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me!’
As it is, ‘scorned and covered with scars’, every Christian soul cherishes nothing more than the Gospel of the Saviour, the precious sound of Holy Absolution, and lives for the taste of Holy Communion. For through faith in Jesus Christ, fellowship with God is restored, we ‘lay aside each earthly load, here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiv'n’ (Hymn by Horatius Bonar, (1855) ‘Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face’).
And forgiven of our many sins, we resolve to ‘go and sin no more’ (John 8.11). As Charles Wesley expressed it so well, ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee’ (Hymn by Charles Wesley, (1738) ‘And Can it Be, That I Should Gain’).