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The Adultery of the Heart

The Seventh Commandment in the Gospels

3 min

Jesus of Nazareth is the only Man in all of history Who has ever lived an entirely pure life, unstained by any immorality in thought, word, or deed. Yet, in the miracle of the incarnation, Jesus, the Son of God, humbled Himself to be born as a man, of flesh and blood. “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus was subject to the same temptations that we face every day. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

When Jesus mentioned the seventh commandment in the Sermon on the Mount, He rebuked the hypocritical Pharisees who applied the commandment merely to the outward act of adultery rather than to the inward state of the heart. In the same way that unjust anger and bitterness are violations of the sixth commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”), unrestrained eyes and lustful thoughts are clear violations of the seventh commandment (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”).

Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27–28). Although the Pharisees maintained the outward badges of strict morality, such as their phylacteries, blue ribbands, long prayers, fastings, and lavish tithings, Jesus told the Pharisees that on the inside they were like “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

Grievously, religious leaders of many different denominations and backgrounds have not been exempt from inward lust. Roman Catholic monks, priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes in the days of the Protestant Reformation and in our own generation, although sworn to celibacy, were notorious for their immorality. Our current world has been shocked many times at secret scandals that have been brought to light—in both Catholic and evangelical circles. Many Christians have been disappointed to discover that a leader, loved and admired as a man of God, has been ensnared because of an impure heart and unclean hands.

Rather than dwelling upon the fall of others and using them either to justify our own uncleanness or to make ourselves look good by comparison, we should take heed to the warning of Scripture and guard our own hearts with diligence. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).

Lust is a warning sign that our hearts are unsatisfied. The Greek word lust that Jesus uses in this passage is the word ἐπιθυμέω (epithumeo). It is an intensified word for “longing” or “ambition.” When our desires are lawful and right, the word is used in a good sense. An example of this is the Godly man who “desireth a good work” (I Timothy 3:1) when he aspires to serve his congregation as a spiritual overseer. But when our desires are unlawful and outside the bounds of what God has provided for us, they are sinful, selfish, and discontented.

A man can lose the respect of his wife when he has undisciplined eyes. A lustful man often finds it hard to help his son with the same problem. His own failures make him unable or unwilling to encourage his son to resist temptation, and thus the awful chain of lust shackles a new generation. To look upon a strange woman lustfully is to desire something unlawful. Jesus said that such a lustful look is to “commit adultery with her.” His statement gives the implication that we can also hurt those we love by entertaining unbridled, lustful desires.

We cannot set ourselves free merely by having willpower. Many men have tried to resist in their own strength and have failed miserably. We need the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to transform sinful desires into Godly desires, to transform impure hearts into pure hearts, and to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Next week, we will look at the seventh commandment in the light of the New Testament epistles. We will seek to draw practical instructions from God Himself as to how we can live in daily victory over lustful thoughts.

On Thursday, we will consider the life and testimony of a monk who resided over five hundred years ago in a cloister in Saxony. He lived in daily defeat and discouragement, unable to break the bonds of an impure heart. He fasted, prayed, and even physically scourged himself to try to drive out the sin in his life, but he only became more miserable. However, this monk was transformed by the life-giving power of God’s Word.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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