You shall not commit adultery. – Exodus 20:14
When God’s Word comes to us, his commands don’t function to only condemn us. His Word speaks of the redemption that he has provided for our deepest failings—he provides a way out. This is the context of Jesus’ application and use of the seventh commandment. Christ shows us six realities concerning this commandment in Matthew 5:27–32 and 19:1–12. He not only provides redemption from condemnation but also points us to the way we are now enabled to live. He overcomes our sexual sins by giving us back to God.
1. Jesus points us to the original creation.
In Jesus’ interpretation of this commandment, he points us to the original marriage that God established, creating man and woman for each other in perfect peace and harmony. They found their fulfillment and happiness in each other in their service to God. Yet, in their sin against God, they threw everything into disarray, even the sacred marriage and the sexuality in which God placed them.
In this sin, where Adam and Eve sought their own pleasure and glory, we see the root of adultery and sexual sin. Against the backdrop and goodness of creation, Jesus highlights the gravity of the sin of adultery that distorts the most intimate relationships we have as humans.
2. Jesus teaches us about the nature of our sin.
Jesus makes a shocking statement: we must have a righteousness that exceeds that of the holy men of his time:
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:20)
The people thought that this law could easily be obeyed. If they did not touch a woman or actually commit adultery with her, they believed themselves to be without guilt, but Christ shows us that the seventh commandment includes so much more.
It requires the preservation of our own and our neighbor's purity, in heart, speech, and behavior. It forbids all immoral thoughts, words, and actions. Not a single thought leading to lust should pass through our minds. If it does, we are guilty of committing adultery before God. No one escapes its condemnation.
3. Jesus shows us that divorce is not what God desires.
Jesus also tells us that although the law of Moses provided a way for divorce, this was not the true path of godliness for which God designed us. Divorce was temporarily allowed because of the hardness of our hearts. We see this when Jesus raises the stakes even higher. He tells us that anyone who divorces their spouse, except on the account of sexual immorality, commits adultery and therefore cannot come into God’s presence.
Sin so twists our hearts that we learn to condemn others but cannot see our own immoral thoughts as they truly are. Our hearts are bent towards being unforgiving. We are selfish in such a way that we cannot see our own sin. Some older writers called this the “sinfulness of sin.” If we have a quarrel with our spouse, we quickly shift the blame like Adam did to Eve. This distrust is now our default setting as sinful people, yet Jesus does not leave us here.
4. Jesus provides the way of forgiveness.
The Lord himself provides his righteousness to us by which we are forgiven. He provides that righteousness we need to see God. Though we sin against him and those made in his image, Jesus takes these sins on his shoulders as if he committed them, though he was perfect.
He takes them and cleanses us with his love, purifying us and giving us his holiness that exceeds all the deeds of mere men. In so doing, our Lord shows how, even in a fallen world, something as evil as adultery and sexual sin can be forgiven in the death of Jesus for our sins.
5. Jesus brings us into his kingdom of love.
The newness of the kingdom that Jesus brings in Matthew 19 is the ability to remain with one’s spouse and not to seek divorce. We are now enabled to think God's thoughts after him. While Moses’ law allowed many grounds for divorce, it never gave the ability to become pure and holy after sinning. The law could never produce from sinners the righteousness God requires.
As God in flesh, Jesus does what the law could never do in us, and he forgives you and me of our adultery. The Lord goes even further, calling us and enabling us to forgive each other. Love can truly cover a multitude of sins. Reconciliation with God and with each other can now happen in this most intimate of relationships.
Even though it may seem impossible to let go of such a sin committed against us, Jesus went to his death to give us this reality. His love is now the air we breathe. We are now freed for the first time to forgive others for something as destructive as sexual sin, adultery, or wrongful divorce, just as God forgave us!
6. Jesus reestablishes marriage for our good.
Jesus provides the means in this life to flee immorality, lust, and adultery through the marriage of one man to one woman. The Lord does not take this institution away but rather shows how grace triumphs over sinfulness. Christ first shows us how far sin enters our hearts, how deep the river of sin runs, but then shows how we are redeemed. We are made in his image, specifically created for this marriage covenant. God renews us by giving us forgiving hearts.
Jesus does not discuss the seventh commandment as a legalistic duty. Rather, he puts the commandment in the context of creation and the original purpose of marriage. His free forgiveness instructs us concerning this commandment’s meaning, not only in regard to our own human relationships, but also in our relationship with our Creator. God has forgiven us of our spiritual adultery of leaving him and following our own pleasures, and we are now called to do likewise. Jesus has begun this special work in us, forgiving the unforgiveable in sinners. He overcomes our sexual sins by giving us back to God and therefore to each other.