Matthew 5:27-28 (NIV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Again Jesus points out the profound difference between the Old Covenant of the Law and the New Covenant of the kingdom of God. The Old Covenant was primarily a covenant of action, focusing on external obedience to God’s commands. But the New Covenant focuses on the heart – internal righteousness through the power and presences of the Holy Spirit, resulting in right actions on the outside.
The original commandment was simply to avoid adultery – basically avoiding all sexual relations outside of a legitimate marriage covenant (Exodus 20:14). But many who would never actually go through with the act of adultery nevertheless contaminated their relationship with their spouse (and with God) by allowing their heart to go after another.
The New Covenant, which comes with actual power to obey because of a transformed heart and the presence of the Holy Spirit, strikes at the heart of the matter. It is not good enough to keep one’s body in check if the mind and heart are enmeshed in sin. Instead, fidelity of the heart to both spouse and God are required. Anyone who allows themselves to lust after someone they are not married to, whether real or imagined, whether actually available to them, or an actor or actress on a screen, or a man or woman in the pages of a magazine or on a web site, contaminates their relationship with their spouse (and even their future spouse), corrupting their marriage, and sowing the seeds for discord and division. At the same time, they contaminate and corrupt their relationship with God because of their inner rebellion against His command.
Over the centuries that God’s people had tried to live under the Old Covenant, many found it difficult, if not impossible, to live under His laws, even on the outside. And adultery was one in which people failed more than in others – even people like King David (cf. 2 Samuel 11-12). This was made even more difficult because of the sex-saturated cultures all around them, with their sexually-focused religions and fertility rituals. (Even today many Christians live in broadly sexualized cultures with sexualized images in advertising, movies, and televisions shows, that militate against fidelity of both body and mind to our spouses and to God.)
But God’s people from the beginning were never to lower themselves to the standards of the people or the society around them, no matter how attractive and alluring some aspects of the society might be. Instead, they are to live according to God’s standard in every way, in every area.
Of course, over the centuries before Christ, God’s people discovered that mere external obedience to a set of rules can never transform a heart. So many at the time of Jesus’ arrival were already hungering and thirsting for real, legitimate righteousness from the heart. Those had nothing to fear from Jesus’ higher standard of heart holiness – it was what they longed for. And Jesus brought with Himself the promise of real heart transformation that would enable real obedience from the inside out, even in the area of sexual purity.
Father, I have been taught for many years that You will never command anything that You will not empower us to do, if only we will seek You with all of our hearts. This is a good example of that. So many people focus on the command, and grow frustrated at the seeming impossibility of controlling our thoughts and imagination, let alone our bodies. But the real secret is to simply love You whole-heartedly, and to open our hearts and minds to Your transforming power and to Your control. Help us, Lord, to keep that focus every moment, so that You are glorified, not only by our actions, but by our every thought and word as well. Amen.