We are living in the midst of a tremendous moral revolution. New “belief systems” are springing up everywhere. Most of our society is pleasure oriented. The mood is permissive and daring. There is an attitude of irreverence toward God and toward sacred things. There has been a very definite change from the standards accepted just a few decades ago.
We are living in an age that is reeking with sexual immorality. Because of modern birth control methods and a general loosening of moral standards, the volume of sexual perversion has multiplied. Boys sometimes wear tee-shirts imprinted with the words, “Help stamp out virginity.” Girls wear sweaters stamped with the words, “If you rape me, keep this side up.” Bulletin boards on college campuses advertise, “Sleep with a stranger tonight.” Homosexuals are openly demanding “gay rights.” Moral standards are indeed very low.
What’s behind all this madness? The primary answer to the question is that the religion of humanism and of moral relativism is gradually replacing the message of Christianity and the standards set forth in the Word of God. The Bible speaks clearly about the sins of sexual impurity and emphatically condemns them (1 Corinthians 6:9), while at the same time it holds forth the hope that those who have been guilty of practicing immorality can be saved (1 Corinthians 6:11).
The Seventh Commandment says. “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). God spoke those words; this is not a mere human prohibition. The Seventh Commandment gives the negative words of caution: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Proverbs 5:18-19 points out the positive side: The Lord says that we should rejoice with the wife of our youth and that her affection should fill us at all times with delight.
Both the Old and New Testaments establish the marriage relationship as a beautiful and intimate type of the divine relationship between God and His people. There is pure clean joy and happiness in the physical union of two lives that are pledged to live together in joy and in sorrow until death separates them. The sexual relationship is a gift from God, but it must be disciplined and used within the bounds of true and honorable marriage. The key Bible passage says, “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled, but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”
But why within marriage? What is really wrong with a sex relationship outside of the marriage bond? One answer is that God knew that a physical relationship between a man and a woman might lead to the birth of a child, and God knew that the child would need the loving tender care of a father and mother—and therefore He has given his blessing to the sex relationship only within the family situation of marriage, where the children will most likely get that loving care. And thus any sexual activity outside the marriage bond is immoral and impure; it is naked, wicked, shameful sin.
1. The Kinds of Adultery
The word “adultery” means “to corrupt; to make impure; to adulterate”—and thus adultery is a broad term that refers to a variety of perversions and illicit activities. Adultery (in its broadest sense) includes any violation of the sanctity of sex. It includes incest and rape and seduction and fornication and lewdness and lasciviousness and unfaithfulness and promiscuity and sodomy and harlotry and whoredom and a whole realm of related impurities.
a) Physical adultery—is the act of having sexual intercourse with someone other than one’s own married partner. Leviticus 18:20 spells it out plainly: “Thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbor’s wife.” That is physical adultery.
David (in the Old Testament) committed this shameful sin, and while he may very well have been forgiven, he carried his sorrow down to the grave. Some of you may have committed the sin of immorality. You husbands may actually have gone to bed with another woman, and have been unfaithful to your wife. Or perhaps some of you wives may have had illicit relations with another man, and have been unfaithful to your husbands. The Bible speaks of the fallen woman, and says, “Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27). Unless you have confessed your sin and righted things with God and man, someday you will find yourself a sinner in the hands of an angry God. God will judge all forms of impurity—fornication, adultery, lesbianism, sodomy, etc. No one can ever get away with it, no matter how hidden the bedroom is!
b) Legalized adultery—is possible because the laws of many countries permit divorce and remarriage. Divorce is legal for most causes in the United States of America. We will not look at length at the divorce issue here in our discussion of the Seventh Commandment, but we must remember that Jesus plainly states: “Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her” (Mark 10:11). The same words are spoken about the woman who divorces her husband.
It was legal to divorce and remarry in Paul’s day (and in John the Baptist’s day) under Roman law. But John the Baptist plainly told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother Philip’s wife” (Mark 6:18). In God’s law, the marriage vows unite a man and a woman for life, and only death can separate that union. The remarriage of divorced persons constitutes a state of adultery, and while it is often legal according to the laws of the country, it is sinful in the eyes of God.
c) Mental adultery—is the kind of adultery resulting from the lustful look. It is possible not to touch a woman, and yet at the same time, dwell on books and pictures and magazines in such a way that the imagination runs wild. Many dream of sin, and imagine sin, and if granted the opportunity would indulge in sin; all they lack is the occasion to sin.
We must never allow sinful imaginations to accumulate in our minds, any more than we would permit garbage to pile up in the living rooms of our houses. Jesus not only forbids outward acts of filthiness, but He also condemns unchastity of heart. He says that anyone who looks on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:28). The word “looks” is a present participle and means “continuous action.” Jesus is not talking about the momentary involuntary glance which might arouse a wrong desire, but He is condemning “the lustful look”—a phrase meaning “to dwell upon” or “to be habitually preoccupied with.” The occasional improper thought comes to all, but to dwell upon unclean thoughts is indeed a very serious matter. Most physical adultery is an act that begins with a lustful look.
A man who has never been born again often looks at an attractive woman as a sex-object, but those of us who have taken sides with Christ, like Job (in the Old Testament), should make a covenant with the eyes and choose a life of purity—and look upon a woman, not as an object for sexual gratification, but as a soul for whom Christ died. One man who loves the Lord says that he tries to make it a habit to pray for indecently-clad attractive girls, asking God to make them as pure and as beautiful in heart as they are in body.
d) Provoked adultery—is the adultery that results when someone makes it easy for another to commit adultery. In Matthew 5:32, Jesus speaks about divorce and says that one who puts away his wife “causeth her to commit adultery.” Or, some delight in stirring up the passions of others by telling dirty stories, showing filthy pictures, and dwelling upon the unclean. Still others dress immodestly, parading themselves in shorts, transparent, form-fitting clothes—seemingly purposely to accentuate parts of the body to attract the opposite sex.
The courts of most countries make it clear that if one is a partner in crime, or if he helps plan the crime, or if he provokes crime—he stands guilty as the one who committed the crime, even though he himself did not actually commit the act. Just so, one who wears tight-fitting clothes which clearly give prominence to the bodily form, and thus stir up wrong passions in the opposite sex—is just as guilty of immorality as is the person who is wrongly attracted. For example, the jeans and slacks that the girls wear, are often so tight-fitting in the right places, that they are clearly immodest and provoke adultery in the minds of men. The man who is wrongly attracted, as well as the girl who dresses in a sinfully attractive way—both are equally guilty before God.
e) Spiritual adultery—is an illicit love for the world-system. The primary thought connected with the Seventh Commandment is sexual unfaithfulness; it is also true, however, that when we choose worldly companions and engage in worldly pastimes, we are committing spiritual adultery and bringing sadness to the heart of God. The Bible admonishes, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4).
Love for the world-system can estrange our hearts from God and gradually draw us away from a close walk with Him. It is almost inconceivable that a set-apart Christian would turn from One Who loves him so much—to find his joy and satisfaction in the things of the world—but so it often is.
2. The Causes of Adultery
There are a number of deep underlying causes which lie behind the act of adultery. They can be classified under several headings.
a) A wicked human nature. Even the best Christian has physical desires and normal appetites that are God-given, but can be misused. The male of the human race is more aggressive and can be sexually aroused by the mere sense of sight. If women and girls understood this fact perhaps they would alter their attire, but it seems that most women and girls do know the affect that scanty attire can have on men. They sometimes purposely parade their nakedness to lure men toward them. Girls (during the period of courtship and dating) should be careful to avoid close bodily contact which will set off a charge in the male body that is almost impossible to control. One cause for adultery is an inborn, unregenerate human nature that can easily be stirred to wrong thoughts and wrong actions.
b) A basic selfish attitude. As a rule, adultery is committed by a selfish person who uses another person as a mere thing. He doesn’t regard his companion so much as a person, as he does an object for self-gratification. In Colossians 3, Paul lists a whole group of sexual perversions, and then concludes the list with the words, “and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Covetousness is an undue desire to have and to get more, and in Colossians 3:5, the setting clearly indicates a reference to sexual greed. The man who “gets a girl into trouble” (as it is sometimes spoken of)—may call it love—but really it is not love; it is self-seeking greed. It is covetousness; it is a selfish desire to satisfy his own physical appetites.
c) Activities which emphasize the promiscuous. Christian people ought to avoid those things that lead to impurity—activities such as the dance, the movies, and unrestricted caressing. Think for a moment about the social dance. Some younger people may not understand, but any mature person who knows about the human body and human passions, knows that the dance (with its close contact and its indecent exposure) sets the body on fire and stirs up sexual passions. After spending several hours moving about on the dance floor—arm to arm, cheek to cheek, bodies in close contact, breathing one another’s breath, whispering into one another’s ears—before the night is over, the young man and his friend lose their virtue. These are the kinds of activities that lead to immoral conduct.
3. The Results of Adultery
Adultery is wrong for a number of reasons. It is wrong because God says it is wrong. It is wrong because it hurts people. It is wrong because it affects future generations. Violating the Seventh Commandment is not a trivial matter. Adultery is a serious sin.
a) Adultery destroys society. Immorality and licentiousness have swept nation after nation out of existence. The sins of impurity brought fire and brimstone upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The sin of adultery strikes at the heart of the social order. It strikes at the home, and when the home is weakened and destroyed, society crumbles. The Roman Empire and other great nations of the past, toppled, because sex was glorified and immorality ran wild.
b) Adultery brings guilt to the individual. Adultery brings feelings of guilt and shame. It robs a person of peace. It makes the conscience hurt. The Psalmist David committed the sin of adultery. In Psalm 51 we find his broken heart seeking God’s forgiveness. He said, “My sin is ever before me.” There was a sting of guilt. Things were never quite the same as they had been in his earlier days. David reaped what he sowed, after his escapade with Bathsheba. Many times he would gladly have traded the tragic later years of his life’s story, for the innocence he had once known when he was still a shepherd boy, out on the hillsides tending sheep near the village of Bethlehem.
Whenever a person misuses sex, it lets scars on the soul. You might be as slick as a whistle at avoiding venereal disease, or pregnancy, or getting caught—but if you commit adultery, the unity between you and your true mate will never be quite complete, because you left part of yourself with some other person (perhaps for just a few minute’s pleasure).
c) Adultery harms other persons. A man who commits certain kinds of sins can say, “This is my own private business,” but sexual sins are different. They harm other people. Many say that sex is a function of the body, just like eating and drinking and sleeping, and thus it is a bodily demand that must be satisfied. If you don’t satisfy the demand, they say, it will cause all kinds of psychological problems. But remember that eating and sleeping and drinking are individual actions—whereas sex by its very nature is an interpersonal relationship. More than one person is involved. Therefore, when it is misused, it has far-reaching effects. It harms not only one individual but also the partner in the act.
If we truly love a person, we will not want to do anything that has a chance of hurting that person—and the simple fact is, that the person with whom one commits adultery—may have a child, may experience complex guilt feelings, may contact venereal disease, etc. And thus one who commits adultery can deeply hurt the person he claims to love.
4. The Remedy for Adultery
Today everyone of us is living in a world full of suggestions to commit adultery. And so each of us needs a defense system that is strong in order to withstand the temptations to become lascivious. The mark of a real man and of a real woman—is self-discipline.
a) Dare to be different from the world about you. Fix it clearly in your mind that Christians should be different. The world around us—unsaved people (perhaps our neighbors, our associates at work, our classmates in school)—we love them; there is much to admire in them; we want them to come out on the Lord’s side; we need to pray for them and talk with them and be kind to them—but we may just as well face this fact: People around us who are unconverted, live in a different world; they are headed for a different destination; they are serving a different god; they are slaves to a different master. And the Christian simply does not behave as the world does. If you are going to serve God and represent Jesus, you are going to have to be different from this wicked world—in the way you live, the kind of company you keep, your manner of speech, and even the way you dress.
b) Avoid circumstances that may lead to problems. God’s answer for each person who seeks purity is to “flee.” The Bible says, “Flee fornication.” And at another place God says, “Let him that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” This means that we must steadfastly avoid any person or activity or occasion which might cause us to fall. Make a covenant with your eyes (Job 31:1). Stop your ears against all filthy conversation. Read nothing that defiles the imagination. Stay out of places and away from people who lean toward immoral activities. If you don’t want to do business with the devil, then stay out of his shop! Shun all appearances of evil.
c) Turn to Christ for the gift of moral strength. One who receives Christ as Master and Director of his life, has One who helps him face temptation, and gives him power to say “yes” to purity and to say “no” to the frightening pull of sin. One who receives Christ, receives also the gift of the Holy Spirit—a Custodian who helps us keep the body pure and clean.
We must habitually cultivate a sense of the presence of God, realizing constantly that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). God sees and knows what is going on. Also, we need to pray often, begging God to cleanse our hearts. The words of the hymn are appropriate: “Purer in heart, O God, help me to be.”
To those who have trifled with fornication and adultery, there is good news. The woman at the well (described in John 4) had broken the Seventh Commandment—but Christ met the need of her life. Mary Magdalene had been immoral—but Jesus changed her life and cleansed her from sin. The sinful woman (who was caught in the very act of adultery) was brought to Jesus—but Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” Jesus never once condoned the sin of adultery. He always condemned it as a great wickedness, but for those who acknowledge their sin, and make the appropriate confession, and break up wrong relationships, and resolve to live a clean life—there is complete forgiveness and total cleansing. You may very well carry scars of your sin down to the grave, but Jesus Christ can save you if you are willing to meet the conditions.
Jesus will give you much more happiness than you will ever find in following a life of sin. No matter how deep into vice and misery you may have fallen, you can be cleansed if you will turn over your life to Jesus and say, “I’m through with it all.” Claim the promise of Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”