The 31-year-old fly-half, who had not played for five weeks because of a calf injury suffered on club duty, kicked 11 points in what was his first Test appearance since he faced the All Blacks in Dublin in November.
Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray scored the only try of the match, with Sexton converting that 30th minute effort in a tally that also included two penalties and a drop-goal.
The sight of Sexton back in command, a big boost too for the British and Irish Lions ahead of this year’s tour of New Zealand, was welcomed by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
“Johnny really controlled the game well and he didn’t shirk the physical stuff either,” Schmidt told RTE.
“It was good to see Conor Murray on song as well,” the New Zealander added.
Victory made it two wins from three for Ireland this tournament but for France it was yet another setback on foreign soil, with their woeful Six Nations away record now standing at just three wins — two against Italy and one over Scotland — in 15 games.