James Scotty Restin, of the New York Times, was asked shortly before he died, “What has surprised you the most in your years as a reporter?” His answer was “the evolution from puritanism to heathenism in one generation in the United States.” Scotty might have been surprised at the rapid decay of our society, but I am not. The rise and decline of society occurs often in the checked history of Israel as the people chose to violate or observe the Ten Commandments.
The Seventh Commandment is another law that is designed by God for the protection of the family and society. Exodus 20:14—
You shall not commit adultery.
Simply stated from the OT perspective, the Seventh Commandment forbids all sexual acts outside of marriage for anyone who is married. Symbolically adultery is used to express unfaithfulness to covenant vows to God, who is represented as the husband of His people.
Most assuredly, the second table of the Ten Commandments, which deals with loving one’s neighbor as self, contained no new concepts for man. These laws were written on the conscience of man from the very beginning. The incident in chapter 20 of Genesis occurs six centuries before the Law and makes a good place to begin our study of this commandment. Genesis 20:1-9 records—
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”
Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, `She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, `He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will
Early the next morning Abimelech summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should not be done.”
Notice that Abimelech from his own conscience surmised that adultery would have brought GREAT GUILT on himself and his kingdom. Adultery never remains a private affair. It always touches those associated with the violators in one way or another. Here GUILT is the Hebrew word for SIN that misses the mark and produces guilt! Ablimelech sees adultery producing GREAT GUILT FROM SIN.
What is GUILT, exactly? In terms of theology, guilt is my condition after I have violated God’s ways. I have sinned, and I am therefore, guilty. GUILT describes me in a totally objective way.
In people whose consciences have some sensitivity to God (and that includes most people), the condition of being guilty produces feelings of guilt. So guilt is an objective condition that leads us into feelings, which are subjective. This is why two persons can commit the same sin, and one feels acute guilt while the other barely recognizes that he or she has transgressed. The extent of our guilty feelings is determined by many factors—family background, the surrounding culture, our general sensitivity to spiritual things, and the consequences of past experiences.
We can think of guilt as the FEVER of the SOUL. When we feel guilt, we know we have acted against God, ourselves, and others. Our guilt announces a problem. It is like the warning light on the dashboard of a car. At this point, many people descend into deep depression, chiding themselves and creating a number of punishment scenarios, including the assumption that God has deserted them. Persistent wallowing in guilt feelings leaves people discouraged and spiritually drained.
Guilt, however, is not intended as punishment. Guilt’s purpose is not atonement, as if we could make up for our sin by misery of a guilty conscience.
When you have a fever, you seek medical help. You neither ignore the fever nor focus on it alone. You treat the root cause, and the fever takes care of itself. God’s strategy in guilt is to stir us to get help, drawing us to Himself.
Psalm 32:3-5 exhibits the intense discomfort of guilt fever, forcing David finally to face the infection of his sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah, as a cover-up—
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
GUILT is meant to drive us into the arms of God’s grace and mercy. Psalm 51, the sister of Psalm 32, shows us the medication of grace applied to self-inflicted wounds of sin. When we run to God’s mercy, our guilt is removed and the healing begins. David took his guilt to the LORD in Psalm 51:7-12—
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
God answered David’s prayer! He took away his guilt. GUILT is a fact, regardless of feelings, and we deal with it through repentance, confession, and trust in the sacrifice of Christ.
Not all feelings of guilt are the result of real guilt. False guilt feelings arise from an oversensitive or misdirected conscience. These, likewise, are a call for help; often the best help for an oversensitive conscience is clearer teaching on God’s grace and forgiveness.
GUILT FEELINGS also arise from the darts the evil one shoots into sensitive hearts. The name SATAN means ADVERSARY. We learn that one of his primary activities as an adversary of the people of God is finger-pointing. He is described in Revelation 12:10—
For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. We see an illustration of this in Job 1 when Satan stands before the LORD and questions the faithfulness of Job—“Does Job fear God for nothing?” With that question, we see how the evil one “lives down” to his other name, THE DEVIL. The Greek root for DEVIL means TO SPLIT, TO DIVIDE. The devils’ main objective is to split human beings from God, from others, and within themselves.
Without a doubt, ADULTERY and the GUILT associated with the terrible act are two powerful weapons used by Satan to split and divide married couples.
When Satan tears us down, God points to Christ to build us up. Through Christ’s blood, God forgives the most dirty-rotten sin and sinner. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s testimony in 1 Timothy 1:15-17—
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
How could Paul ever forget that he murdered Christians? He did not and he could not! Writing to Timothy, near the end of his life, Paul still considers himself the worst—the foremost—of sinners. Paul, however, is not wallowing in guilt—he had confessed his sin and he was forgiven! He is saved! Nevertheless, he has not forgotten his sin!
We may never be able to forget some GREAT SINS in our life, but it can be confessed! Our greatest hope lies in 1 John 1:8-9—
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Confession is simply TO AGREE TOGETHER. When I confess my sins to God, I agree that I have violated His standards and that I have been wrong in doing so. God has to hear us agree with Him that we have sinned. God has made a choice to forgive us, based on Christ having died for our sins on the Cross. By confessing our sin, we let go our sin and renew our commitment to live God’s way.
Hebrews 10:22 urges —
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Only God can cleanse a guilty conscience! Thus, confession to God is the appropriate response to guilt. Confession does not earn God’s forgiveness; it makes that forgiveness real to us. When we cling to our sin, refusing to admit our need, God’s grace is like an antiseptic, healing ointment—that’s still in the tube!
Why is it that you keep remembering your sins after you have confessed them? Many have the wrong idea that we have not truly forgiven ourselves or been forgiven by God unless we can obliterate the memory of sin. If we look at it this way, it is then deeply troubling to have the memory of a sin come to mind. Did the Apostle Paul forget his great sin? No! Was he forgiven? Yes! The guilty conscience is washed away with forgiveness, but not the memory.
If sin is truly forgiven, why can’t it be forgotten? Because forgetting would deprive us of several great lessons. There is the lesson of our continuing need for God; and the lesson of God’s continuing flow of grace, transforming sin into a means of growth. We remember our sin, not for punishment, but for the sake of learning from our mistakes. If we did not remember the pain of being burned, we might continue to play with fire.
And the greatest lesson is LOVE. In Luke 7, we read that there was a woman in the town who was a notorious sinner who came to Simon’s house, weeping, she began to wet Jesus’ feet with her tears; and with her hair she wiped the tears away again, while she lovingly kissed His feet and poured the perfume over them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two men owed money to a certain money-lender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned towards the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
If a forgiven sin comes to mind, love God for what He has forgiven! To this woman, who was a notorious sinner, Jesus reinforced His forgiveness—
“Your sins are forgiven.” Then the other guests began to say to themselves, “Who can this man be who even forgives sins?”
The Jews of Jesus’ day correctly believed that God and God alone could forgive sins. Adultery is a crime against persons, but it is a sin against God Himself. This fact is apparent in Joseph response to Potiphar’s wife, when she said, “Come to bed with me!” Joseph said—
My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
Adultery would be a wicked thing toward his Master and a sin against God. Why is adultery a sin against God? It violates God’s creation intent, which links a positive role for sexuality with commitment and loyalty as stated in Genesis 2:24-25—
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
ADULTERY was one of the capital offenses in Israel. The parties to this crime, according to Mosaic Law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband. The Mosaic penalty was that both the guilty parties should be stoned, and it applied as well to the betrothed as to the married woman, provided she was free. A bondwoman so offending was to be scourged, and the man was to make a trespass offering.
There is a double standard in the Law’s treatment of men and women. Men commit adultery only with other married women, women with any other man. In the NT, when Jesus teaches on divorce and adultery, He erases this double standard as He treats men and women equally guilty of the crime.
The Seventh Commandment appears to forbid adultery and marital unfaithfulness, not fornication. FORNICATION is sex by the unmarried or unbethrothed. Fornication was considered a moral offense in the Law, but it was treated much more lightly than adultery. For instance, Exodus 22:16-17 stipulates—
If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.
Those who think Jesus will be an easier Judge than the OT Law, don’t understand Him at all. It is Jesus who is more stringent than the Law. In Matthew 15:19, He links fornication with other prohibitions of the Ten Commandment—
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
NIV translates the word for FORNICATION as SEXUAL IMMORALITY. Murder, adultery and fornication/sexual immorality are dark productions of a depraved and corrupt heart.
Certainly, Jesus sees all sex outside of marriage as an extension of the Seventh Commandment—YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY. Any contemporary usage of this Commandment needs to draw into its orbit of consideration other sexual activities in view of Christ’s teaching. For Jesus takes this Commandment to one’s lustful desires in Matthew 5:28—
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus took the command against adultery from the realm of the overt act to the inner though. The eye-catching sight of an attractive girl or guy is not wrong, for it is natural to admire beauty. But whoever discovers the impulse to lust through looking and does not turn away but continues to look with lustful intent, is cherishing sinful desire. This is mental adultery! It violates the person!
Sexual harassment, rape, pornography, sex before marriage are certainly violence against the personhood of another. These acts must not be considered of second-level importance just because they are not explicit in Israel’s laws. Jesus own extension of the Command strikes at precisely this point.
RESPECT, HONOR, and INTEGRITY are the WATCHWORDS of male/female relationships. These watchwords, respect, honor and integrity, should instruct both attitude and behavior toward members of the opposite sex.
The Seventh Commandment establishes the SANCTITY OF SEX. Sex in its proper place is a gift of God. Sex is God-created, God-ordained, and God-blessed. God was the One who implanted physical attraction between the sexes. In itself, sex is not sinful but part of His great plan for mankind. The Bible plainly states in Hebrews 13:4—
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
As God’s gift, SEX is to be expressed in accordance with His design for it and that design is THE MARRIAGE BED. Sex on any other BED, under any other circumstance than between a man and women married to one another, is adultery or fornication, and breaks the Seventh Commandment as well as God’s creative purpose for sex.
In the United States, eight out of every ten couples who lived together before they marry get divorced. Add the commitment and there goes the meaningful relationship. So much for situation ethics! Obviously, that plan doesn’t work!
What is God’s plan for sex? First, sex expresses the deep oneness of marital love. Second, it multiplies the human race. Sex thus relates to both companionship and procreation. Eve was not primarily created for the procreating of the species, but for companionship according to Genesis 2:18—
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
How many young people approach dating looking for suitable helper—a life-long companion? Choosing a wife or husband is mainly selecting a good sex partner. Many have the attitude if sex attraction fades divorce or affairs are permissible. This attitude is promoted everywhere! Children are taught about contraceptives. Pregnancy is solved with abortion. If two people are in love and have a meaningful relationship, premarital sex is permissible. People have an amazing capacity to rationalize that theirs is a meaningful relationship. Such attitudes defile sex, making it an end in itself.
Sex is a physical unity that should symbolize a deeper spiritual oneness. The meeting of two bodies cannot of itself express love. Love must exist between two persons before sex can manifest its God-designed purpose. Without love, sex is only a physical thing, animalistic, as in the barnyard. Loveless sex regards a person as a sexual object, debases human beings, and destroys RESPECT for others and self.
Sex is ordained to occur within the context of marriage. To deserve the profound biblical description ONE FLESH, man and woman must enter a relationship on an enduring basis. The physical aspect is too precious, too personal, and too private to be used other than in the context of complete fidelity and permanence of the marriage bond.
The physical expression of spiritual love must be preserved for the day when man and woman can give covenant to their devotion publicly. Thereafter, this physical intimacy is to be kept for each other only as long as both live.
That is the Creator’s design for sex! The first institution in the Scriptures is MARRIAGE. Anything that violates this basic institution of family and society is detrimental.
An extramarital affair cannot be anything but unsatisfactory. It lacks public approval. It has no stability. It provides no security for any children born of that union. It is undercover; it is selfish, lacking the quality of total self-giving which finds fulfillment in marriage. And it certainly produces GUILT! Why? Because sex outside marriage violates the Creator’s design!
Can you imagine Henry Ford at Kitty Hawk, speeding down a runway in a Model T, expecting to take off? How about the Wright Brothers taking their airplane out on the highway? These designers knew the purpose of their creations. Don’t you think the God who created us, would know whether sex outside of a marriage is right or wrong? Wouldn’t the all-wise, all-knowing God, who created sex, know what works and what doesn’t?
If you have broken the Seventh Commandment, repented and confessed your sin to God, He has forgiven you! Your sin is washed away and your conscience is cleansed! God has forgotten your sin, but you’ll probably will not be able to. Be like the woman, who washed Christ’s feet with her tears—LOVE JESUS—for He has forgiven you of much!
Take to heart the Savior’s dealing with the woman of Samaria, who had five husbands and who was living with a man not her husband. After encountering Christ at the well, she was not only cleansed but became a fruitful winner of souls.
Also take heart from the account in John 8:3-11—
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
How do we know we are forgiven? We have the assurance of the Word of God. Isaiah 55:6-7 declares—
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
God forgives, but His grace and mercy are never a license to sin. Proverbs 6:32 is flawless—“But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.” And of course, that’s equally true for a woman as well! Avoid the guilt and grief—BE HOLY!
BE THANKFUL that by FAITH your burdened soul found liberty at Calvary! It was God’s love that drew salvation’s plan that removed the great guilt.