The Boundaries of Love
I recently read a story about a group of about eleven women who were asked if they were faithful to their husbands. Only one answered in the affirmative. Another one of them was also faithful, but was too ashamed to raise her hand to acknowledge that.
This is the kind of culture in which we live, a culture in which people are ashamed of fidelity. Al Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary is correct when he says that “we are an adulterous generation.” And this is confirmed by a spokesman of Generation X: “We are the first generation in which adultery is now not an issue. We have so little expectation of monogamy or of faithfulness, adultery is just no big deal.” Gladly, that is not true of his entire generation, but it does seem increasingly true of the culture at large.
However, in this context of unfaithfulness, when society considers adultery the modern/sophisticated (even mature) way to live, the Bible is again countercultural by insisting that the mature is the one who lives in obedience to God. And God’s word on this issue is very clear and direct: You shall not commit adultery! In an “adulterous generation” we are called to faithfulness in marriage.
This is a commandment (the seventh) given to protect marriage, and the Bible makes it clear that adultery is a great sin. In fact, adultery is the greatest sexual sin because it violates the trust between a husband and wife. It breaks the marriage covenant, a promise made before God. For this reason, adultery does more damage than other forms of sexual sin, such as having sex before marriage. Adultery begins a breakdown of order that threatens the entire society for how can we trust each other if we cannot trust each other in our most intimate commitments? If we cannot maintain trust and fidelity within the small and inherently meaningful universe of marriage, how can we trust each other in commerce, in politics, in business, in culture, in life?
Dr. Erwin Lutzer demonstrates the gravity of this sin by arguing that an adulterer usually has to break at least five of the ten commandments:
- You shall have no other gods before me. An adulterer says that there is a relationship that is more important than the relationship with God.
- You shall bear no false witness. Usually an adulterer lies to cover his sins.
- You shall not steal. In most cases adultery, as in the case of David’s sin with Bathsheba, an adulterer steals someone else’s wife.
- Thou shall not covet. Adultery begins with a coveting heart.
- Thou shall not commit adultery.
Another reason God forbids adultery is because there is a close connection between our sexuality and our spirituality. The union between a husband and wife is intended to
exemplify the exclusive relationship between God and his people. There is something transcendent about our sexuality. In the same way that husbands and wives give themselves to one another—holding nothing back—God gives himself to us and wants us to give ourselves to him.
Because the union between husband and wife exemplifies the union between Christ and his church (see Ephesians 5:31-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:15-17), for Christians to have sexual relations with someone who is not a spouse is to violate the holiness of their union with Christ. We show our covenant loyalty to God by maintaining our sexual fidelity to our spouse (or our future spouse).
As usually, Jesus goes even deeper when he addresses the issue of adultery. Thus, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”(Matt. 5:27-28)
For the seventh commandment, this means that we are forbidden to lust. To lust is to look at a woman—or a man, for that matter—and to imagine the sexual possibilities.
However, on any given Sunday, there are people sitting in church who only the night before watched a pornographic video or had sex outside of marriage. This shows that the problem is not mainly our culture, even for all its temptations; the problem is our own sinful hearts.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states this matter more clearly: “The Seventh Commandment requires the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior” (A. 71). If we consistently apply these principles, then we break the seventh commandment by reading sexual literature, such as most romance novels, by fantasizing about relationships that include sexual intimacy, and by making suggestive comments or telling dirty jokes.
The fact is that the EYE is a window to sinful desire. One way to gain victory over sexual sin, therefore, is to turn away our lusty gaze. Godly women have always understood that this requires modesty in the way they dress. And godly men have always understood that preserving sexual purity means being careful about what we keep looking at.
Job’s remedy was this: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1)
Being careful what we see has never been more important than it is today, when there are sexual images almost everywhere we look. Philip Ryken says: “Based on my experience, the Internet has become Satan’s number one tool in the 21st century and it seems to be a more silent infection into the body of believers because it typically only involves the user and their computer.”
The silent infection of pornography in the church is deadly. It denigrates women, damages relationships, and destroys a man’s spiritual ability to lead. The Puritan Thomas Watson rightly said that pornographic pictures “secretly convey poison to the heart.”
Despite the denial of modern society, the sin of adultery has grave consequences inside (we are not just animals), and outside in our family relationships and our relationship with God.
In A Natural History of Rape, Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer report that only 22 percent of rapes involve “gratuitous” violence beyond what is necessary to subdue the victim, yet any rape counselor knows that the real violence occurs on the inside and may lead to years of depression, nightmares, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction. Victims of abusive relatives and pedophiliac priests testify that something far more than a body gets hurt when a trusted adult abuses a child sexually. Decades later, suffering persists.
In one sense adultery is one of the most selfish sins. However gratifying it may be to the adulterer, to those around him and to his family in particular the hurt is not only deep, but it may last forever. That is another reason why “God will judge the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4).
By God’s grace “Eros” can be redeemed. In a sermon on adultery, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Even adultery is not the unforgivable sin. It is a terrible sin, but God forbid that there should be anyone who feels that he or she has sinned himself or herself outside the love of God or outside His kingdom because of adultery. No; if you truly repent and realize the enormity of your sin and cast yourself upon the boundless love and mercy and grace of God, you can be forgiven and I assure you of pardon.” Lloyd-Jones could have stopped there, except he added this comment: “But hear the words of our blessed Lord: ‘Go, and sin no more.'”
These were Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery, and they are also his words to us, for the Bible says: This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each one of you should know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.—1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
John Knox was one of the great reformers. When he was in his fifties, under God’s power, he took Scotland for God. But evidently in his forties he entered a flat period of his life. In one of his journals he wrote, “I will keep the ground that God has given me. And perhaps in His grace He will ignite me again. But ignite me or not, I will by His grace and in His power hold the ground.
That is the commitment that we have to make at every stage of our life.
I will keep the ground that God has given me. Perhaps in His grace, He will ignite me again. But ignite me or not, by His grace, and in His power, I will hold the ground. AMEN!