You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)
The Ten Commandments are rules, but they are not arbitrary, man-made rules. God’s Ten Commandments are big, bold, bright signs guiding us away from the regions of darkness and death, and toward the upland plains of light and life in Christ.
The problem is, in our sin, we hate being told what to do. We think we know better. We look at temptations that cannot make our lives better, and we think, “That would make my life better.” The Ten Commandments point toward Sodom and Gomorrah and warn us, “You don’t want to go there.” Yet we look over at that barren wasteland and think, “That must be our garden of Eden.” And off we go.
This is true of us both as individuals and as the human race. It’s not as though, as the generations of history go by, the hard lessons of the past open our eyes more and more, and make us all wiser. The truth is, we keep stepping on the same landmines over and over again. Every generation tends to think, “The people before us were primitive. We’re smarter now.” Which proves we’re not smarter now. The Bible bluntly declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Obviously, we still don’t.
So, let’s look at the Ten Commandments with some openness. God wants to help us, by his grace, to die less and live more. Here then is the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” with three ways the commandment meets us.
1. The seventh commandment redefines sexual freedom.
The seventh commandment isn’t limited to adultery in a narrow sense — the violation of marriage vows. It’s about sexual integrity within a total way of being human. In their biblical context, all the Ten Commandments together dignify the people of God as the “treasured possession” of the Lord, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6). In Christ, our God-given privilege is to be a culture of humaneness in a world of brutality, for the display of his glory.
“Our sexuality finds its fulfillment not in our momentary impulses but within all that God created us for.”
God considers our sexuality a glorious gift. But this one bestowment cannot be the whole of our identity. God has been so good as to honor us with his all-encompassing purpose. Our sexuality, therefore, finds its fulfillment not in our momentary impulses but within all that God created us for: “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Not many of us believe that anymore! The “truth” discovered by our generation is that freedom lies in remaking ourselves, including our sexuality, in any way we please. In the past — the story goes — we were held down by oppressive ideas of morality. But now we are finally breaking free, allowing our true innocence within, our creative individuality, to be expressed.
That message can sound good. But what if we choose an altered self only then to discover that both our original self and our altered self were dishonest? What if we make costly personal sacrifices to modify our sexuality, only to end up feeling betrayed? Did that “freedom” take us where we really want to go?
Real Sexual Freedom
Jesus understood us better than we understand ourselves. He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him” (Mark 7:20). In other words, our inner selves are not bundles of wonderfulness just waiting to be let out. The truth is, our messy inner selves, when unleashed, spread more mess. It’s what Jesus came to forgive and clean up.
Real sexual freedom is not when we give free rein to our sexual feelings, but when we follow Jesus on his path of wisdom. He created us for purposes so lofty only he can take us there. The seventh commandment alerts us to the sexual dimension of our true glory.
And the New Testament tells us more. We are sexual beings, ultimately, to embody the gospel (Ephesians 5:32). But if we refuse to offer our sexuality to Jesus, we trivialize and abuse his gift. It’s like using a smartphone to hammer nails. That just isn’t what a smartphone is for, no matter what we might feel. Hammering nails can only damage a smartphone. And haven’t we all done some damage?
But when we turn to follow Jesus, dedicating all that we are to him, we start growing into a more settled, confident, careful sexuality, with fewer regrets. How could it be otherwise? Jesus was sexual. He obeyed the seventh commandment fully. And he was the most complete, life-giving man ever. Isn’t that the freedom we want? Aren’t we always better off following him?
2. The seventh commandment redirects sexual energy.
By confronting adultery, God blesses our sexual activity within marriage only. Elsewhere in the Bible, God makes his point with a question: “Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?” (Proverbs 5:16). In other words, “Do you really want to squander and waste your sexuality?”
The seventh commandment redirects and focuses our sexual energy as a positive force for living well, whether married or single. All of us, for Jesus’s sake, can consecrate every kind of intensity God built into us to serve his purposes in this world. We have intellectual powers, emotional capacities, volitional drives, creative imaginations, sexual energies, and more.
We are total human beings, with a lot invested in us. And we will give ourselves to something. If not to Jesus, then to what? And why that? But devoted to Jesus, seeking his kingdom and righteousness first (Matthew 6:33), our scattered lives converge on a worthy, inspiring focal point. We’re finally ready to start creating good in a sinful and suffering world.
For example, rather than merely avoiding porn, why not use all our powers to create, in our dorms and homes and churches, safe places where people addicted to porn can get their freedom back? We can stop playing defense only and start playing offense too. God will be with us. Why not go for it?
3. The seventh commandment redeems sexual folly.
The seventh commandment calls us to faithfulness. One reason we married people took vows is that temptations to unfaithfulness do come our way. But marriage vows are a man and a woman saying, “Before that moment even arrives, I am pre-committing to stay true to you, as long as we both shall live.”
But do we stay true to our vows? Outwardly, maybe — even hopefully. But if outward behavior alone told the truth about us, we might pat ourselves on the back. Jesus said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Who of us has stayed true at that deeper level?
“Sexual freedom is not when we give free rein to our sexual feelings, but when we follow Jesus on his path of wisdom.”
The seventh commandment redeems us sexual fools by pointing us to Jesus, who is faithful. He fulfills his vows. He stays true. He pursues his bride, even when we wander from him. He says to us, “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19–20). He doesn’t despise us sexual sinners. He draws near to us through Christ.
Every one of us can admit to thoughts, feelings, looks, words, and actions that violate — and vandalize — the glories of our God-given sexuality. But our sins do not defeat our Savior. They are the reason he came to us, and he isn’t sorry he got involved. He is glad to receive us again and to revive us with “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). And your newly redeemed sexuality isn’t thanks to your faithfulness but to his. “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
Sexual Safety for Others
When, trusting him, we step onto the path of Christ and walk there — daily, gently, without drawing attention to ourselves — then something wonderful happens. The seventh commandment within us creates a social environment around us, where no one in our presence has anything to fear. Everyone can relax, open up to Jesus, and grow and rejoice and flourish without distraction or pressure or weirdness.
That’s what it looks like when we become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” — including our sexuality.