This one comes to us from Isabella Yosuico.

Some Christians are still lamenting the recent Super Bowl halftime show, murmuring disapproval at scantily clad Shakira and JLo pulsing to Latin beats and pole dancing in barely-there costumes. My own small group raised voices and prayers in sincere concern about America’s moral decay. But are racy rhumbas and fishnets the real problem? I don’t think so. Mind you, I’m not lobbying for porn, but I’m suggesting that the real issue is us. Jesus said it first: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them” (Mt 15:11). This hard fact is amplified by the Law, illuminated by Paul later in Romans 7:5-8 and elsewhere. The Law actually excites sin. There’s plenty of evidence to support the claim, if Scripture isn’t enough.

The racket about sin and desire reminded me of Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. The hauntingly beautiful novel grants us a glimpse of 1920s Japan and the troubling, captivating world of these refined courtesans, groomed to entertain rich and powerful men. The porcelain figures tantalized their patrons with studied, elegant enticement, concealed in refined custom. The best geishas charmed with learned conversation and dainty giggles. They performed lyrical classics and executed modest, coquettish dances on their painfully bound feet, themselves an erotic draw.

In the novel, the patrons panted with wide-eyed desire at the sight of an exposed wrist or the tiny sliver of bare hairline not concealed by the geisha’s flawless mask of white makeup. Over the course of an evening or more, self-possessed men were baited to the edge of reason by desire, wooed to pay the highest price to finally conquer the damsel’s virtue. Ironically, all this eroticism is packaged in consummate decorum.

Each era has its titillating fashion taboo along with charges of moral depravity that span centuries and continents. Hemlines and hairlines change, but the sin remains. The common denominator is humanity and our so plainly innate draw to forbidden fruit—the reason the fruit-growers prosper. The prohibition is what lures more than the lusciousness of the fruit.

That a bare nape or collar bone could cause otherwise dignified men to become decidedly undignified with lust seems almost comical in light of twerking, or even my own bikini. I did away with half my own comparatively modest wardrobe when I got saved twenty years ago, and there wasn’t a g-string jumpsuit in sight. But after first experiencing unparalleled loving freedom in Christ, I became consumed with shame and the burden of the responsibility of guarding not only my own purity, but that of any man in sight. Rule-keeping nearly killed me, and certainly annoyed or alienated dozens of people in my path. Yet since then, thank God, my views on the matter have changed, confronted with my own eventual self-righteousness and the undeniable proof that it’s my heart and yours that are really the problem. Ain’t no amount of prohibition that can fix that. Just as Jesus and Paul said, the Law magnifies and incites our sin. Just ask any teen told not to hang out with the “bad kid” down the street or the toddler admonished against the cookie jar.

Somehow, I forgot my many Italian-American summers on Mediterranean beaches, where women were commonly topless, both pendulous grandmas and perky pubescents, working on their tan—vain, lusty, or not. Either way, macho men walk right on by, unfazed. I failed to remember the grievous offenses of hundreds if not thousands of clergy, who seemingly embraced and exhorted solemn chastity, only to inflict untold harm on young children. Or my husband’s tales, and my own first-hand experience, with pious, lonely church ladies who hit on him with raunchy innuendo in the wake of his first wife’s death. So many examples to underscore the point. And to think Jesus told us that even lustful thoughts are sin. Yikes! What then? My own efforts to extinguish thoughts of any kind have led to more sins: Busy-ness, bullying, booze, and buying, for instance. And on those occasions that I successfully suppress my wayward heart, it swells with pride. My heart is just wrong.

Pick your sin and the utterly ineffective bans against it to see for yourself: Prohibition will forbid alcohol but also glamorize it. Laws against thievery or murder may prevent behavior, but don’t cure covetousness or rage. Or conversely, taxes can enact charity but also incite evasion, so we wind up hustling God.

The cure for our heart disease is so very simple it confounds us: Jesus. Guarding against the onslaught of corrective comments I’m likely to get, let me say that Christ crucified is not an invitation to sin (Rm 6:15) or to pelvic thrust with abandon. That would be foolish. The Law points to Jesus as the only solution for what ails us. Faith in Christ is an invitation to humility, gratitude, restful dependence, and loving mercy—toward ourselves and others. It’s confidence that He’ll finish what He started (Phil 1:6)—honestly, whether we like it or not, though willingness makes it far easier. It’s a graceful, light, and lily-white robe of faith, not the dour, high-collared, ankle-hiding, stiff garment of Law I starched myself. Yes, the seemingly endless lists of dos and don’ts from Genesis 1 to Revelation 21 are real, often obviously wise ways to live, especially for dense, hopelessly wayward people like me. Grace doesn’t nullify the potential benefits of pure obedience, the kind that come from clean hearts we can’t muster ourselves. Fact is, the sin we see at halftime and the secret sin we don’t—like JLo judgment or envy of her firm and fabulous bod—was nailed to a cross. It’s all finished.

Image credit: Daniel Bachler