The Seventh Commandment: Do Not Commit Adultery
“You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18)
When was the last time you turned on the television only to be confronted with people unashamedly committing adultery? When was the last time you listened to the radio only to confront lyrics promoting and glorifying adultery? When was the last time you looked at a magazine or newspaper (one that is otherwise relatively innocuous) only to find an article or an advertisement blatantly calling you to a sexual encounter outside of marriage?
Peter Leithart comments, “No commandment prickles more than the seventh. Many live by a creed of sexual autonomy: my body is my own, and my sexual desires, whatever they are, are normal and healthy. How dare the Lord—how dare anyone—interfere with my constitutional right to think and do and feel whatever I d*** well please? Can I have a little privacy, please?”
But for Jesus followers, faithfulness in marriage is not optional. In fact, God feels so strongly about faithfulness in marriage that the Old Testament punishment for adultery was death.
- Deuteronomy 22:24 – “you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.”
- Leviticus 20:14 – “both … must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.”
And it’s not just in the Old Testament that we find that strong warning against adultery. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:19-21 says, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” He goes on in the next verse to say, “I warn you, as I did before that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (v. 22; cf. Ephesians 5:5).
Now, that might seem a bit extreme to you, but there’s a reason for God’s strong opposition to marital infidelity. You see, marriage is a picture of the covenantal relationship between God Himself and His Bride—we who are believers. John Piper explains,
“The union of man and woman in marriage is a mystery because it conceals, as in a parable, a truth about Christ and the church. The divine reality hidden in the metaphor of marriage is that God ordained a permanent union between His Son and the church. Human marriage is the earthly image of this divine plan. As God willed for Christ and the church to become one body (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13), so He willed for marriage to reflect this pattern—that the husband and wife become one flesh (Gen. 2:24).”
But, as He has done before, Jesus closes the loophole for those who may think because they are not married, or because they have not “actually” cheated on their spouse, that this commandment does not affect them. Jesus explains, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
John Dickson explains what Jesus was saying here. He says,
“It literally reads, ‘whoever looks at a woman in order to lust for her….’ The issue is not the feeling of arousal caused by looking at someone but rather the intention to look at someone in order to satisfy one’s desire. The reference is to nursing desire, directing desire, aiming to fulfil desire. This is a kind of adultery, says Jesus….
“For Jesus, the command against adultery is a shadow of a deeper reality in which God asks us to value the beloved—and sex itself—so highly that we will choose not to direct desire towards someone other than the one to whom we have pledged the ‘oneness’ which sex is intended to embody.”
Our final word on the subject comes from Albert Mohler who explains the larger implications of committing adultery. It not only affects marriage and family, it has a deleterious effect on our witness for the gospel:
“Scripture would have us think about adultery in two simultaneous dimensions—spiritual adultery and sexual adultery. Sex is a gospel issue. Paul makes this matter abundantly clear as he writes to the Corinthian church, warning the church not to humiliate its witness. Adultery in our midst undermines our testimony to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul told the Corinthians, their involvement with sexual sin, and the notorious nature of their sexual practices, undermines their witness to the gospel, making impossible their living together as people of the covenant.”
But we must end with a note of hope. If you are one who has fallen into some sort of sexual sin, there is hope, and there is forgiveness. D.L. Moody reminds us, “Remember what Christ said to that woman who was a sinner: Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace, and to that woman that was taken in adultery, Go. From now on sin no more (Luke 7:48, 50; John 8:11).”
Of course, a necessary prerequisite to receiving that forgiveness is acknowledging and repenting of that sin. When we do, we have God’s sure promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
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Peter J. Leithart, The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty (Lexham Press, 2020), p. 47. Quote has been edited. ↑
John Piper, “A Metaphor of Christ and the Church,” desiringgod.org. ↑
John Dickson, A Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments (Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition)., p. 134. ↑
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words From the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments (Moody Publishers, 2009), p. 141. ↑
Dwight L. Moody, The Ten Commandments: Reasonable Rules for Life (Aneko Press, Kindle Edition), p. 102. ↑