Shorter Catechism Qs. 70–72
Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shall not commit adultery.
Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.
Q. 72. What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.
“You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 ESV)
“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. 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. 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.” (Matthew 5:27–30 ESV)
President Bill Clinton. General David Petraeus. Senator John Edwards. Congressman Anthony Weiner. Tiger Woods. Governor Mark Sanford. Pastor Ted Haggard. What do they have in common? They are all adulterers whose celebrity exposed their hidden and sordid secrets. But the list of adulterers can go on and on. Adultery is no respecter of age, race, wealth, or position. Nor is it a problem for men only. Adultery is a problem of the fallen humanity, and Scripture speaks directly to it. God condemns adultery. But he also offers redemption to adulterers. But there are conditions attached to redemption.
First, we must understand adultery as God defines it and mourn over it, rather than rationalize it away. When people are caught in adultery, their response is illuminating. What is the meaning of “is”? President Clinton tried to play word games. He would have us believe adultery is not a moral problem, but a language problem. Governor Sanford said it was the inevitable expression of his true love for his mistress. He was trying to recast adultery as an expression of love, a virtue! No. Adultery is sin. It is a rebellion against God’s created order. Adultery corrupts God’s purpose for life-long faithfulness between a husband and a wife. Adultery corrupts the good gift of sex (everything God created is good, including sex), from being a means of life-long intimacy and closeness, to a disposable means of pleasing oneself without commitment or sacrifice. Adultery perverts one of marriage’s chief purposes to be a symbol of the covenant union between Christ and his Church. Adultery is sin for many other reasons besides.
Second, we must understand adultery is not limited to the physical act of illicit tryst. Jesus declared lustful thoughts as adultery as well. That means men looking up pornography on the internet and women who entertain themselves with the latest trash novel. It includes verbal flirting, an assault on our neighbor’s chastity. Adultery is any and all failure to respect God’s design for human relationships. Obviously, Scripture understands adultery very differently than the world. What Hollywood glamorizes as love, freedom, self-fulfillment, the Scripture unmasks as bondage to sin and hatred toward God and our neighbors.
Once we understand adultery not according to the standards of the world but according to the standard of God’s Law, we can no longer simply point our fingers to other people. Scripture’s teaching on holiness and purity is so rigorous, that most of us fail to meet that standard one way or another. But Scripture also gives hope. Indeed, the unique beauty of the message of Jesus Christ is that he not only condemns sin, but died to pay for our sin and rose to forgive, cleanse, and justify the sinner. There are many religions in the world that condemn adultery. But only in Christ Jesus there is redemption and restoration.
Perhaps you have committed adultery. Perhaps you have a secret addiction to pornography. Perhaps you are a flirt. Perhaps you feel too ashamed to share your temptations and struggles with anyone. Jesus promises you forgiveness. Confess your sins to your Savior who loves you. He will not condemn you. He will heal and restore you. There is a way back for the fallen in Jesus Christ.