This post is by Jeremy Pierre (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Pierre serves as Dean of Students and directs the Ph.D. program in Biblical Counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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An adulterous heart is a restless one. It was that way in Moses’ day, remained that way in Jesus’ day, and is still so today. Some cultures try to be subtle about this. Ours does not. Extra-marital sexual activity is so intertwined with a juggernaut entertainment industry, we generally want distraction and amusement as much as we want sex. We are a dissatisfied people, picking through the internet for some tasty thing, flipping through magazines for some bit of satisfaction, daydreaming about something better than what life is currently offering. Eventually we find others who are doing the same and sleep with them.
Only ancient words from a shaking mountain can wake us from such stupor. We need blunt words in the form of plain commands, like the seventh one: “And you shall not commit adultery” (Deut 5:18). But hearts lusting after far more than sex also need the first command: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (5:6-7).
That first command, in fact, is the foundation of the rest. It is why an adulterous heart is always a restless one. An adulterer is trying to find some god to serve him. In the narratives surrounding the ten commandments, we see God hand his law down to people who were in the middle of committing adultery on him the first time they received it (Ex 32:1) and would continue to be unfaithful after the second time (Deut 31:13). In his devastating sermon on the mount, Jesus made it clear that adultery is not merely an outward act, but an inward rejection of God (Matt 5:27-30).
I have yet to counsel a person who has committed adultery who didn’t have a restless heart. Here’s why I say that: To worship God means to love him exclusively (Deut 6:4-5), to love him exclusively means you believe his redeeming love for you is better than anything else (Eph 3:14-21). Such faith is what it means to be at rest (John 15:1-11; Heb 4:1-13).
Someone caught in adultery will be tempted to spend most of his efforts on the plane of human relationships—trying to keep his family together or manage the social embarrassment. Granted, the earthly consequences of adultery are nuclear—to the family, to the spouse, to the church, to society at large, to the person’s soul (Prov 6:20-29). But God makes these consequences devastating to make one thing painfully obvious: You shall have no other gods before me.
Not your affirmation. Not your satisfaction. Not your comfort. Not your excitement. Not your ambitions. Not your preferences. Not your dreams. Not your belonging.
And that’s why the command not to commit adultery is so devastating. While many people have avoided a physical affair, no human heart can love God with the exclusive preeminence this law demands.
Well, almost none. There was one Man from Nazareth who loved God with all of his heart, and proved it in his obedience. Better still, this Man offered his innocent life on a cross in exchange for the failed lives of sinners. Including adulterers.
Repenting adulterers need to hear that God’s love for them was never dependent on their law keeping in the first place. Faith in Jesus of Nazareth is the exclusive reason God redeems sinners. If an adulterer could go back and be a faithful spouse, he could certainly spare himself a nuclear fallout relationally. But he would not be one ounce more worthy of God’s love.
God loves adulterers enough to forgive their adultery and, just as importantly, to cleanse them from an adulterous heart. Paul makes this clear when talking to a sexually restless group of Christians in the Corinthian church: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” A gracious promise. Followed by a gracious command: “So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19b-20). A world of joy is contained in this promise/command combo.
Because a formerly adulterous heart is a formerly restless one.