The following article is a guest contribution by Dale VanDyke, pastor of Harvest Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wyoming, Michigan. It was originally preached as a sermon on Exodus 20:14 on September 9th, and is published here with permission of the author.
Of all the ten commandments there may not be one which is more gleefully and flagrantly violated in our popular culture more than the seventh. Internet pornography is a $10 billion a year business. For a good part of this year, the top three sellers on the New York Times list were books of erotic romance targeting women with “mommy porn”. Publishers are rushing to capitalize on the demand for this brand new genre. Homosexuality has become mainstream and those who believe it is sin will increasingly be targeted for persecution.
Unfortunately, the American church has been unprepared for this erotic onslaught. You could easily argue that our failures to keep this commandment have brought more grief, guilt and shame into the lives of God’s people than any other. There is no way I can possibly address all the issues raised by the seventh commandment. Today, I hope we can delight in the liberty of the seventh commandment as God seeks to free his people from the sensual bondage of the nations around them and live as a kingdom of priests in relation to marriage and sex.
I. The Command
We usually read the command, “You shall not commit adultery” purely as a prohibition. It forbids a particular sphere of sins. But it is not only a prohibition – it is also an invitation!
At the beginning, God created the glory of maleness and femaleness. The joys of sexuality in all of its facets is the work of God and he takes great pride and pleasure in it. He created Adam and then made Eve and placed them in an intimate covenanted relationship and encouraged them to enjoy the pleasures and the fruitfulness of their God-given sexuality in the hallowed sanctuary of their marriage. God created something good, honest and honorable.
In the Exodus, God brought Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. He called them to be a new kind of people, a nation belonging to God; a people who began to experience life as it was intended to be lived in the Garden. It was a life of intimacy with God and with each other. In the seventh commandment, God calls his people to embrace the sanctity of marriage and human sexuality.
We need to understand the Hebrew word in Exodus 20:14: “You shall not commit adultery”. It is very specific. It does not refer to sexual sin in general but to sexual relations between a married woman and any man other than her husband. It is an explicit wall of protection around the sanctity of marriage. As with the other commands, this commandment has a depth and a scope that embraces all the areas of life it touches. Consequently, Jesus could say that the seventh command not only forbids explicit adultery — it also forbids even a lustful look at a woman. In other words, the seventh commandment seeks not only to protect the sanctity of marriage but the sanctity of sex.
II. The Sinfulness of Sexual Sin
Why is it so bad? What is the sin of sexual sin? We need to ask this question because we are losing sight of this very thing. Sexual sin has become so pervasive, particularly in the form of internet pornography, that there is a growing numbness to its evil, a loss of a sense of shame in the sin of it. You can see this if you compare responses between the sixth and seventh commandments. The general populace still understands that murder is an evil thing. It is something that very wicked people do, and when they do, justice requires a stern response.
But our culture doesn’t think that way when it comes to sexual sin. Sexual sin is not something that only very bad people do—it is seen as a normal, natural, healthy part of human life. Anything two or more consenting adults decide to do is okay, regardless of marriage boundaries, regardless of gender, or number, or perversion. Our culture may be willing to recognize some of the unfortunate results of this new sexual norm such as rampant disease and unwanted pregnancies. But sexual sin is simply not seen as evil.
How will we answer the world? What is so wrong with two consenting, unmarried adults enjoying themselves? What’s the harm? What’s so bad?
The sin begins with a false assumption. We assume that we have the authority to do with our bodies as we please. People erroneously believe that their body is their own. In fact we are continually told in the abortion debate that a “woman has a right to her own body”. But this isn’t true! Our bodies are not our own. The whole Biblical argument is based on the fact that God created our bodies, that our bodies bear his image and that he alone has sovereign right over them. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The world and they that dwell therein.” (Ps. 24) Human bodies belong, first and fundamentally, to God! Consequently, sexual sin is stealing that which belongs to God, created for his purposes, and perverting the body for lesser ends.
Sexual sin is a grievous violation of God’s right of ownership. God has a right to dictate whom we sleep with! And we have no right to ignore his command. Again, it helps to think of the sixth commandment. In the command regarding murder we realize that our desires must be curbed by our rights. As angry as I may be with a fellow human being, as much as I may want to do harm to him, I do not have the right to endanger his life. God gave that life and I have no authority to take it away. This is true even of my own life. Murder and suicide are both wrong because they are unlawful thefts of something we have no authority to take.
Similarly with sex. We need to apply the issue of “right” and “authority” to the sin of adultery. The heart of the command against adultery is not simply that adultery is wrong, but that it is robbery. You are taking something you have no right to take. Leviticus 18:8 tells us, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.” “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” (Lev. 18:16) A man has no right to “the nakedness” of another man’s wife. To take her is to steal what belongs to another. It is gross violation of a God-ordained boundary. The only man who has a right to “uncover a woman’s nakedness” is her husband.
But what about sexual relations between unmarried, consenting adults? The same principle applies. Making out with your girlfriend or looking at online pornography, or staring lustfully at the person walking down the sidewalk are all violations of God’s command. You are still taking what is not yours. You don’t have a right to her body — it belongs to God. And it makes no difference if the person you are looking at is consenting because they don’t have the right to consent.
Suppose you and a friend go into someone’s house and see something valuable laying there — maybe an amazing new laptop. You are discussing how beautiful it is and your friend picks it up and gives it to you and says, “Go ahead, you can have it.” Are you stealing if you take it? Of course you are. Why? Because he doesn’t have the right to give it away. It doesn’t belong to him. There is no substantive difference between this and armed robbery: in either case you are taking what is not rightfully yours.
The same with a young woman giving her body to her boyfriend. She doesn’t have the right to use her body in a way contrary to Gods’ created intent. And the man who takes the gift she is giving is robbing her and God just as much as if he was forcibly stealing it. A chief part of the sinfulness of sexual sin is that it is taking something that is not yours. It is a theft, a fundamental violation. Your body and your sexuality, in the most fundamental sense does not “belong” to you. It is a gift God has given to you and you are responsible to him for its use.
What is true by virtue of creation is doubly true by virtue of redemption. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul calls believers to flee sexual immorality because their body doesn’t belong to them: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (vv. 18-20) Your body isn’t yours. It has been bought with a price. It exists not for your purposes but for the Lord’s.
Consequently, you are free to do anything and everything with your body that glorifies God, including laying your life down in love to save someone else. You are free to use your body in that way. But you are not free to do anything with your body contrary to its created and redemptive purpose. When we sin sexually we are violating the God-given purpose of our own body. We are robbing God of the honor that is rightfully his. Your body, including your sexuality, doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to God. And we will give an account as to how we’ve used it.
When we hear the word sex we think of intercourse between a man and a woman. When God thinks of sex he thinks of marriage. This is why, when God addresses sexual sin in the ten Commandments, he doesn’t use a word which speaks generally of sexual sin. He doesn’t say, “you shall not be sexually immoral”. He uses the very specific term, “adultery”. When God thinks of sex he thinks of marriage.
This is evident from the creation account. God created a man in all the reality of his sexuality. Then he created a woman her sexuality marvelously distinct and yet matching Adam’s. And then God brought them together in a covenant of exclusive, intimate, love: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” There, before the face of God, in obedience before him and in covenant with each other — they were naked and unashamed. The created context for human expression of sexual desire and fulfillment is a marriage between a man and a woman.
Throughout the Bible we see that marriage is the God-ordained sphere of sexual expression and enjoyment. The father in the book of Proverbs warns his son to stay away from the promiscuous women and then directs his son to God’s designed blessing of married sexuality: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Prov. 5:18-20) 1 Corinthians 7:2 instructs us, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” In Hebrews, the apostle instructs, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Heb. 13:4)
Sex is for marriage. Sexual intercourse is for covenant. There it is rich and fruitful and blessed. There it produces life. Outside of that covenant, sexual relations bring nothing but death.