“I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” Job 31:1

We all know that this piece of Scripture does not necessarily limit this kind of sin to looking at a virgin. Jesus talks about looking at a woman - whether she is a virgin or not. Besides, women can also look at men and even a virgin can be sinful in that sense. A virgin can look at men, whether they are married or not. What we see here is Job talking about his case and fulfilling a vow he had made that worked against his own possibilities of sinning. Maybe, this was his way to show purity before God. This shows how righteous and how biblical Job was, having in mind the truth that Jesus also talked about: delivering the seed to one’s own ground and sowing there in a responsible, fruitful way, Mat.13:31. One must sow in one’s one field and reap from there firsthand, 2Tim.2:6.

Another point that must stand out in our minds concerning this piece of Scripture is the word “gaze” (ESV). Other translations use the word “think”, (KJV). When one thinks of women (or men), gazing is not the sin – it is the consequence of sin. Sin demands it from the eyes. The sin resides in the heart and works from there to the eyes and the eyes feed the lust or, at least, work to keep lust alive in the heart. The eyes are mere slaves of the kind of heart one might have. The sinful heart created (conceived) patterns and ways which cause the eyes to gaze (with lust). There is also the possibility of gazing without the existence of lust, even though it might still stand out as a bad, misleading or disrespectful example.

Looking, by itself, is not sinful if the heart is clear and when it is sincerely innocent and clean from temptation. I can look at a woman without realizing it is a woman I am looking at. Sometimes, our looking is innocent or lost. I mean that I might look at something or someone without seeing anything or without being aware of what I am looking at. My thoughts and heart might be far away from what my eyes are looking at. If my eyes are open, they must be looking somewhere, whether it is on purpose or accidently. However, it doesn’t mean that other people will be aware of my innocence when I am found gazing innocently. If I must be a man whom God wishes to use as an example of purity, I must always be aware of all sorts of innocent looking as well. Maybe, this is one of the reasons why Job made a vow not to look at a virgin. But, we also know that, when we walk in the light, people become more aware of our mind, intentions and heart than of our actions themselves. Only those who wish to find fault to accuse maliciously point sin out on innocent looking. Our intentions and hearts are more visible than our actions if we care to walk and talk in the light sincerely.

So, there are lots of possibilities and things we could talk about concerning the eyes, which Jesus says are light for the whole body. We can also find sin in the heart of those who refuse to look. The fact that they do not look doesn’t make them holy. Many refuse to look for the sake of appearances – even if it is self who must look good before self. We can and must approach this subject from many sides, angles and possibilities. But, we must be honest with ourselves and with God when we have a problem with looking as well as when we do not have a problem with that.

It could still be added that the problem with the eyes and the feeding of the sinful soul by what they see cannot be limited to sex. There are other lusts which are driven, fed and initiated by the look our eyes maintain. Envy, own glory or love for money, among hundreds of other lusts, can be fed by the eyes we pretend to keep or by the sort of outlook we live or stand by.

And if that is true, we must never forget that the eyes can and must be used for the building, consolidation and the permanence of holiness in the heart as well. It can become a tool for holiness just as it can cause anyone to stumble at sin. In fact, it must become an important tool for the consolidation of our holiness. It must be used as a means of education and of sanctification by reeducating the soul in the ways of God and in the ways they look at things. “…That you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”, James 1:4. We will soon love what we need looking at, by God’s grace. Jesus mentioned the fact that “the light of the body is the eye and if your eye is good, the whole body shall be full of light”, Mat.6:22. He said that the eyes are useful and must be good and not merely kept closed or punished. Our whole body needs to be full of light. In other words, we cannot disdain or neglect looking the right way at right things if we wish to convert the heart fully and allow it to have the chance to change its ways and affinities. We can and must make a responsible vow to look frequently at the right things with the proper motives, purposes, dedication and view if we ever wish to be changed. Just as stopping to lie is not telling the truth yet, stopping to look (driven by lust or sin) is not the same as looking at things in a holy way – at least, not yet. It is in this sense that conversion becomes an act and a responsibility – it must become a deed. Conversion implies that there must be deeds that have a clear goal and which are able to lead somewhere. Deeds reorganize the soul and reeducate it if done through the Lord Jesus; it is, if things are done the way they are done in heaven. When one has lusts in his own heart concerning anything, such a person has, certainly, the wrong ideas and the wrong kind of mind concerning those things he is able to lust for. When a woman or man is an object of sex, the mind has wrong convictions and wishes to be settled upon nothing. Men and women are creations of God and not mere objects. To avoid them is good for self, but, it can’t be seen yet as loving, respecting and caring for our neighbor as we would want to be done to ourselves.

I would like to expand on every point mentioned here and even on some that have not been mentioned. However, I feel I will only restrain myself today to the most common sin which looking is known by: looking at the opposite sex.

All this put together means just one thing: the sin is lodged in the heart when looking is sinful. "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire", James 1:14. When sin is not in the heart – or when the possibility to sin is destroyed forever – looking can be holy. It all depends on the kind of heart which is backing up the look and what is instigating the eyes to act or react towards any object it is able to gaze at.

Let’s listen to the words of Jesus: “Who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”, Mat.5:28. It means that adultery is there before looking takes place. Adultery is not committed in the eyes, but, in the heart. Because the heart is adulterous, the eyes look with lust to the object the heart desires. What can this mean? It means one must take care of the heart to change it even when one has refused to look. Instead of merely refusing to look for the sake of appearances - which shall strengthen hypocrisy and deceit all the more, especially if the heart is not properly dealt with – one must bow and work on a change of heart, mind and settled ideas or beliefs of what a woman or man stands for. We cannot afford to conceal sin by not looking since Jesus calls us to walk openly in the light. Concealing sin is never an option – at least, it shouldn’t be. We cannot afford to be deceived by self, concealing sin in the heart – or keeping it there – by convincing ourselves that, because we have not looked, we have no problem. We cannot afford to be satisfied by being capable to refuse to feast our eyes on sin.

It is a good thing to refuse to look at sin, as long as it doesn’t make us believe that is all there is to be done. We need to exterminate sin from the heart still – even the roots of it must be exposed and annihilated forever. The heart must be secured for holiness and for Eternal Life to dwell in it unceasingly. To refuse to look is to deny the sinful heart what it cries for, but, it cannot be seen as something that is able to change the heart from within. If the heart is not changed, temptation shall emerge again and again. To refuse to look is to deny the sinful heart its food – only. It cannot be assumed that the heart is changed when one is able to refuse to look. Refusing to look might be seen as a desire to stop feeding sin; to a married man, it might be taken as respecting his own wife or his own integrity; to a respecting heart, it can be seen as respecting the person the eyes might wish to look at. However, sin has roots which need to be exposed and pulled out to dry up forever. The main problem is in the heart even if the vow or the principle is not to look at sin to feed its lusts. The principle of not looking keeps the eyes clean and, possibly, holy. But, it doesn’t make the heart holy and pure – only the eyes. The eyes cannot be punished all the time because of the sin of the heart. The day must still come where a man will be able to look at a beautiful woman without being able to sin in his heart. There must not even be a small thought towards sin when a woman is looked at. That is holiness without hypocrisy. When the eyes are closed, one doesn’t sin with the eyes. However, that doesn’t mean sinfulness does not exist in the heart. Let me share an example of this truth.

I had two friends. Both struggled to be holy and really desired to be pleasant to the Lord. One of them was blind and the other one wasn’t. One day, the three of us were together talking about the things of the Lord. The one said to the blind friend: “You are a privileged person! You cannot sin with your eyes. You cannot look at women when they are passing by!” The blind one answered: “You don’t know what you are talking about! You can avoid looking or desiring the ones you don’t find pretty. But, when I smell the perfume of any woman, I feel temptation storming my soul. I can’t see if she is desirable or not! For me, any woman is a woman! If I sense her proximity, my heart is troubled”.

I never forgot this incident. This shows that the sin of adultery is not in the eyes – it is found in the heart. This man couldn’t see. Yet, he had the same problem other men are tempted by. It is not the eyes that pollute the heart or that cause it to commit adultery. It is the heart that causes the eyes to be polluted and unclean. If the eye is driven by sin which already exists in the heart, it is the heart that must be changed. A vow to keep the eyes from sinning is a holy principle. But, it might also be true to say that keeping the eyes from looking to its objects of lust is the appearance of holiness and not holiness itself. A holy heart will not drive the eyes to look at a woman lustfully. And if one is afraid to look, even if the heart is not adulterous, at least it is still vulnerable to such temptations. Amen.

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José Mateus