Principles are Better than Laws Part 11, No Adultery

God gave his people hundreds of laws and commandments in Scripture, and while as Christians we don’t observe as many as the Jews did under Mosaic law, we still have plenty. We’ve been discussing the major ones in this series, and today we’ll continue through the Ten Commandments with Exodus 20:14.

“You shall not commit adultery.” 

This is fairly straightforward: there is someone who is not your husband or your wife… don’t sleep with them. But Jesus already came and made this more complicated in his Sermon on the Mount when he said,

“27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).

I said that he made it more complicated, but perhaps he actually simplified it. Is it easier to avoid adultery when you allow yourself to lust at your leisure, or is it actually easier if you don’t even toe the line? The very next thing he says is radical: 

“29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

How could your eye cause you to sin? If he is still talking about adultery, and he must be, then surely the action begins with looking. After that, the hands get involved. 

There is one way to look at this. Traditionally, you might say that Jesus is saying, “if you commit adultery, you will go to hell. If you even look lustfully at a woman, you will go to hell. In order to avoid going to hell, you must do whatever you can to avoid these two things.”

I suppose this is all true in some sense, but the reality is more complicated than that. The speaker here will at some point die for those who commit adultery and for those who lust. They will not be able to save themselves. Even if they cut out their eyes and cut off their hands, it won’t make them good enough to stay out of hell. We need Christ’s atoning sacrifice for that. So why all the bother with commands and rules?

Why does Jesus give them so much instruction for living? Why does he take rules that are already kind of hard to follow and make them impossible by saying that even if you imagine sexual sin, you are committing sexual sin, because it is about the heart? Why not just get to the punch line and tell us that he is going to atone for our sin with his own blood?

There are a lot of reasons that have been fleshed out by theologians. An important one is that we need to know the extent of our sin, or at least some extent of our sin, before we can understand that we are desperate for a savior. Why would we turn to Jesus if we think we are good enough already? There is nothing wrong with thinking you are good enough if you actually are, but reading the Bible and getting into the presence of the perfect God will cure that.

But the reason I want to chew on here is that there is a principle at play. Jesus is not simply talking about the place we will go to pay for our own sins when we die if we don’t believe. He is also talking about the place we are already in on this earth if we walk in that kind of darkness, hell on earth. Let’s consider adultery more carefully.

What is the big deal about it? Why include it in the commandments? Why should God care if we commit adultery? We have to start with the question: what is marriage? The Bible tells us that God invented the institution of marriage for the sake of multiplying his image-bearers on the earth and for the sake of showing the eventual relationship between Jesus and his bride, the Church (Eph 5:22-33). This is known by sociologists as the conjugal view of marriage. Along with the conjugal view of marriage came laws about divorce. At one time, you could not seek a divorce except on the grounds of adultery, because the state thought your marriage was in the best interest of society, because society, and particularly the next generation, was dependent on the stability of the family.

While I believe there are problems with civil governments legislating morality, the fact is that marriage was redefined by no-fault divorce laws (and probably birth control). With no-fault divorce laws, the conjugal view was replaced by the revisionist view. This view says that the goal of marriage is happiness. People get married and stay married because it makes them happy. This is shaky ground for a marriage, because it means that if for some reason your marriage is not making you happy, you can quit. If happiness is the main priority, then you should quit if it’s not making you happy.

Again, Jesus said render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s, so I don’t believe in secular state governments legislating morality (there is a difference between fundamental laws like murder and property rights versus laws about non fundamental reality, like decency laws, marriage laws, etc. I’ll talk more about this in the next post about stealing stuff). That said, for a serious Christian, and I would counsel a non-Christian the same way, there should be a higher goal than happiness if you want your marriage to work out in the long run, and if you want your life to be great…which should make you happy.

I’m all for happiness. I just know it doesn’t come by pursuing it directly. What’s more, I fear God, and he said that marriage is to be permanent in this life. What God has joined, let not man separate (Mk 10:9). So what happens when we commit to the conjugal/biblical view of marriage? Why is this a helpful principle for living?

First, I can make a right decision before I am able to understand it. The prohibition against adultery comes with the prohibition against most divorce. If I have locked the door and thrown away the key on my marriage, and if I am committed to no one but my wife, then I don’t have much to consider when facing the choices. If I subscribe to this as a principle, then it orients me as a person who fears God enough to do what he says. I become a man who fears God and lives as though I do.

The impact of that decision on my marriage over time will be positive, because if I don’t have any option to quit, I might as well try to learn how to make it work. If my marriage is hard at anytime, then it will build my character and teach me powerful things about myself, about God, and about life. And what’s more important to me as a Christian is that it shows the world around me the commitment of Jesus to his own bride, the Church. 

Second, if I not only obey this commandment but also go as far as Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, I will constantly direct my mind towards God, truth, and purpose. How else does one live the Sermon on the Mount? Doing this is the key to an amazing and abundant life in God. Other than putting my faith in Jesus, putting my mind on Christ, reality, and his Word is the most powerful thing I can do to live well.

Be committed to the wife or the husband that you have on principle, and of course, out of obedience to God. Go even further and follow Jesus’ standard in the Sermon on the Mount. It is one of the most counter cultural practices that Christians are called to, and one of the most powerful principles for the abundant life.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 3, on Lust and Sexuality

Yesterday we took a look at how Jesus redefines the severity of the anger problem, tying it to the heart behind hatred and murder. After his discourse on anger, Jesus moves to the topic of lust with an equally devastating redefinition.  

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-28). 

For obvious reasons, this is devastating to those who, while they haven’t acted on their desires, have entertained thoughts and fantasies.  But why?  Doesn’t it mean something that we control our impulses to act, and relegate lust to feelings and thoughts? Perhaps, but again, let’s not assume that Jesus is only saying this in order to make us see how bad we are and drive us to the cross and our need for a savior.  Let’s assume that he wants us to have total freedom in this area.  

Why does it matter to God what we do with our minds and hearts?  The answer is that God doesn’t just care what we look like. He cares about who we are. He made us in his image to show the world what he is like, especially those of us who he has saved and filled with his Holy Spirit.  To entertain lustful thoughts, we must forget all that.  We must be like animals who don’t think, just move by instinct.  We must suspend our God-given abilities to step back and consider what is best. Not what is easy, fun, or what would satisfy our momentary craving, but what is best.  Is it good for us to forsake in our minds God’s desire for us to be pure?  Should we rebel against God by ignoring his instruction on sexual purity?

God created sex, and he designed the idea of romantic relationships.  How happy Adam must have been when God woke him up and presented him with the wife that he created from Adam’s own body.  “This is now flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone” (Gen 2:23). I can’t even imagine the joy of discovery that ensued.  This is God’s desire for all of us unless he specifically calls us to singleness (Mt 19:12).  It is a gift, a mind blowing gift.  There is no reason whatsoever to pervert that gift by using it in a lesser, cheaper way than how he intended it. Pornography is cheap. It does damage to us in so many ways, not to mention exploiting the brokenness of some young woman who doesn’t know God and has sold herself cheap.  Prostitution is even worse.  But even just plain old fashioned premarital sex doesn’t come close to the good design God has for love and relationship in a marriage.  It is a pathway to destruction of a relationship, to mistrust, to conflict. If you get married to the person you are crossing those lines with, there will be years of pain and mistrust to overcome together. Nothing is impossible with God, but it is usually very difficult to overcome. 

Jesus doubles down on this point and says that to look “at a woman with lustful intent” is to already commit adultery with her.  The same goes for women looking at men with lustful intent.  When you do that, man or woman, what does that say about the position of your heart?  What does that say about the belief that God is in your mind and sees what you see, hears what you think, and knows what you are?  If you can know Jesus’s words and ignore them, then I have to assume there is a good chance you don’t actually believe any of it.  God is watching. Always. To fear God is to believe that is true. To love God is to care what he thinks and love to please him.  But there is more to it than the fact that perversion dishonors the God who watches.  

Jesus is showing us the way to freedom.  

Do you want sexual freedom in the area of your actions?  Then get sexual freedom in the area of your thoughts.  The good news is not that God doesn’t want you to think about those things, perverting your spirit and dishonoring his, but that God has actually set you free from the compulsion to do those things, to think those things. Furthermore, he has something much, much better for you if you are married, especially if both of you are believers.  Do it right, and learn this.  

But maybe you aren’t married. Maybe you have no spiritually viable outlets for sexuality. Neither did Jesus. He was a single guy. Do you think he kept himself in check by repression? I don’t think so. I think Jesus understood reality well enough to know that even sex that is within the confines of holy matrimony is not the end all be all of abundant life. He knew that the love of a woman is not the greatest love of all; it is not the key to happiness and joy that our current culture believes that it is. This is one of Satan’s greatest lies. From what the Bible says, there will be no sex in heaven. No marriage (Mt 22:30). So, that tells me that what there is in terms of love and fulfillment is much, much greater. Jesus would have us see that now, take sex off of its current pedestal and start living. Romantic love pales in comparison to agape the love of the Father, the love for God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and the love for our neighbor as our self. It is the love that we must subordinate even the romantic love of our spouses to, if we are to have a godly, and healthy, even a romantically fulfilling marriage.

If all this sounds difficult and sacrificial, remember that Jesus is talking about freedom. What’s not to love about freedom? He came, lived, and died to set you free from sexual sin. Believe, and go free. Let’s talk more tomorrow about the sermon on the mount and what Jesus had to say about giving, praying, and fasting in secret