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Sex, Money & Other Good Things Gone Bad

Matt Chandler on the greatest barriers to spiritual growth.

If I were to ask you your top five stories about Jesus, it's very likely you'd list Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well as one of them. The story of the woman at the well has been mulled over in countless sermons, books and even a Sunday school song (with accompanying hand motions of course). In this well-known passage from John 4, Jesus approaches a Samaritan woman at a well for a drink of water. He then outlines the difference between drinking from a well that satisfies for a moment and drinking from a well that satisfies forever.

While most focus on Christ’s offer of the “living water” of salvation, it’s easy to forget Jesus was also deterring people from wrong wells—the shallow waters that temporarily quench thirst, but ultimately hinder spiritual growth.

There are three main wells in our culture we go to over and over again—despite the fact that they satisfy for a moment, only to leave us thirsting for more.

Money and Comfort

The first is money ... but it’s not just money, because very few people hoard money just for money’s sake. It’s money and comfort.

New stuff is nice. It’s almost intoxicating, isn’t it? There is an emotive response to trinkets and toys. People can almost get a high from new stuff. In this day and age, what’s new becomes old very, very quickly. Therefore, the high of what is new rarely even wears off before it is replaced with something newer.

So consumers go from trinket to toy, from new thing to new thing, and keep drawing from that well. It feels good for a second. Those new clothes, that new house, this new car, the new gadget; whatever you collect just feels good for a second and makes everything settle for a moment. But if given too long, it loses its power, and it will be time for something new. The new is intoxicating—and most of us are too inebriated with the stuff of future garage sales to realize we’re drinking sand.

Relationships and Sex

The second well is the well of "romance"—or companionship, or sex. In the same way money and comfort are not intrinsically evil or wrong, relationships and sex aren’t intrinsically evil or wrong. Everything gets distorted when elevated beyond what God created them for.

I’m going to modernize an illustration from C.S. Lewis to express this: Imagine that you could hop on a plane right now, fly to another country, go to its red light district and enter a seedy strip joint. What if they roll out a cart covered with a sheet right next to the pole, and when they pull the sheet back just a little bit, you see just a slice of of bacon? Then they quickly cover it again. Next, they lift the sheet a little more and show you a burger—then cover it up. And finally, they remove the sheet off of the entire cart to reveal a smorgasbord—and people begin throwing ones at it.

Wouldn’t you think that something was wrong with how that culture viewed food? Wouldn’t you think: “Hey, something is broken in how they look at burgers. It’s just a burger.” How strange is it that we have pushed relationships and sex to this same broken and bizarre level?

Relationships and sex are beautiful gifts from God. He is the Author and Creator of those things, but when people elevate them beyond where they should be, they leave nothing but heartache and disappointment.

Men and women will never find a significant other who completes them. A fling, a fantasy, a boyfriend or girlfriend—even a spouse—is not going to satisfy what has gone wrong in you. Only Jesus will do that. Because your heart is broken. You need a Savior, and no one person can fix it.

Respect and Success

We want approval. We crave acceptance. And how other people view us is that third well for our culture. We want other people to look at us and really be glad at what they see. We hope to be pointed to as the example, to be shown respect. We might even feel like we are entitled to it. But that little pat on the back from man is fleeting.What more affirmation is needed than the cross of Jesus Christ? How silly is a man’s “Good job, buddy” compared to the fact that God—knowing you, knowing your motivations—died on the cross for you?

People can approve and accept without any knowledge of motives. Someone can have shady, sinful, wicked motives that lead them to do righteous acts in order to get the approval of man, all the while with a wicked heart.

God knows your wicked heart, and still Christ died on the cross. Approval is woven into the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, not what men and women think. That’s slavery to humanity. Not to mention that some people are always going to dislike you. In fact, Jesus even warns in John 15:20, “Hey, be nervous if everyone loves you. They persecuted Me, and they persecuted the prophets. This is what happens when you make a stand. People get angry. Be prepared for that.”

How does someone recognize they are digging in the wrong well? They must first ask: “What am I really after? When I lay in bed at night, what am I thinking about? What’s that thing I’m chasing? What is it, that if I got it, would seem to make all of life better?” For those in college, it may be a degree. For single individuals, it could be a spouse. Maybe it’s a well-paying job, the admiration of colleagues or a dream house. But if someone is pulling up a bucket from the wrong well, it doesn’t matter what’s in it.

Quit drinking sand and drink water—water that will yield life.

Matt Chandler is the lead pastor, teaching, at The Village Church in Dallas, Flower Mound and Denton and author of the upcoming book The Explicit Gospel (Crossway).