Seventh commandment

“You shall not commit adultery”

In this commandment, God calls humans to put a fence around sex. What does it mean to put a fence around sex? It means to confine sexual expression to the committed relationship between a man and a woman (Leviticus 18). Two people of the same gender are forbidden to have a sexual relationship. Humans are forbidden to have sexual relations with animals. Sexual expression is not meant within the family, except the parents of course. Parents are not to have sex with their children. Children should not have sex with each other. Children who experience sexual activity will likely have problems with mistrusting others, low self-regard, and sexualized behavior (see Note 1).

The desire for sex is an expression of a person’s desire to connect with another person. It is a desire placed by God in people’s hearts. The sexual act is the ultimate fulfillment of that connection. Therefore, sex has a strong emotional significance.

Sex is not to be cheapened into something people do just to have pleasure. Two people may say they love each other, therefore they can have sex. However, without commitment, love is incomplete. Sex then becomes an act of two people using each other’s bodies for their own pleasure. People are not to be treated as objects for pleasure. The body is a valuable gift, created in the image of God. The proper recipient of that gift is someone who fully gives himself to another; body and soul.

Here are other reasons God limits sexual expression to the committed relationship between a man and a woman (see Note 2).

  1. If a person has sex with somebody, an intense connection develops. That connection is good in the context of commitment. Without commitment, it could potentially result in emotional trauma.
  2. The intense connection that results from sex leaves an imprint in the heart of the sex partners. The memory of a sexual partner will not just go away, even after marriage with another person. This would create a problem for the marriage relationship of persons who had previous sexual encounters.
  3. The disappointment of broken sexual relationships may cause someone to become calloused and lose the ability to have an intense connection. It could also be the case that she becomes afraid of this intense connection and will find ways to break up with her sexual partners. She will then become unable to form committed relationships.
  4. The body is built for sex between a man and a woman. God built his program of propagating the human race into the sex act.
  5. Having multiple partners opens up a person to sexually transmitted diseases. There are ways to stop sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy but they do not work all the time.
  6. Sexual promiscuity opens up a woman to a pregnancy she does not want, which could lead to an abortion, a violation of the sixth commandment. If she keeps the baby, she will have to make sacrifices. Her life will have to change to accommodate the baby in her life. If she gives up the baby for adoption, there would be pain in the separation. Also, if she keeps the baby without a committed father to help, caring for the baby would be very hard.
  7. God wants us to develop the virtue of self-control, which is a fruit of God’s spirit working in the life of a person (Galatians 5:23). A virtue is developed through actions and virtue is expressed through action. The person who has the habit of not waiting for what he desires, including sex, will become a person who lacks self-control. A person who lacks self-control will have the habit of focusing on getting what he desires in his relationships. Because he is focused on his desires, he will lack the ability to form a committed relationship characterized by self-giving. Virtue and actions form a cycle. That is why what we do with our body is very important.

What is the goal of self-control? For those who are not called to be married at the present, holiness is the goal of self-control. Self-control should be practiced for the sake of dedicating the body to God (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). If the body is dedicated to God, it is not dedicated for the pleasure of others, only for service. That is the basis for abstinence from sex outside of marriage. Abstinence is an expression of dedication of the body to God.

I want to speak a little bit to the practice of dating. The sexual passion should not be awakened because it is very hard to contain. Sexual passion has an addictive nature. I urge you to exercise self-control when dating. I urge you not to awaken that sexual passion in persons of the opposite sex by the way you dress and/or by the way you conduct yourself.

For the man and the woman who are committed to each other in marriage, faithfulness is the goal self-control. The body of the man and the woman are still dedicated to God in service. However, dedication to God is expressed through the dedication of their bodies to each other (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).

Why is faithfulness important? Marriage is a picture of the relationship between God and Israel. God is pictured as the husband and Israel is pictured as a wife (Hosea 2:2). There is one God who does not tolerate any other gods beside him. There is one people God committed himself to.

Since we are to reflect how God is like, we must reflect his faithfulness to Israel. He is committed to Israel even when they were unfaithful to him (Hosea 2:14). His faithfulness is ultimately expressed in sending his son Jesus to die for their unfaithfulness. Jesus died so Israel could become right with the God who continues to be faithful to them.

Humans are to remain faithful to their spouses even when they are not loveable at the moment. Adultery can be likened to idolatry. A married person is called to give his devotion to one person alone just like he is called to give his devotion to God the creator and redeemer alone.

The bible did permit a man to have many wives. This practice does not reflect the faithfulness that God wants from Israel. A man could not have the union with his wife that God intends if he has other wives. His loyalty to any one of his wives will not be complete and he could not focus affection on any of them. It was allowed as a concession to common practice at that time and also to have a way to keep women cared for. There was no welfare system besides the family and a woman without a husband is vulnerable to poverty.

God permitted divorce because the people were stubborn (Matthew 19:1-12). In reality, God hates divorce and considers it unfaithfulness to him and also an unloving act (Malachi 2:16). Although divorce is permitted when there is a violation of the commitment between husband and wife through infidelity and desertion, reconciliation will always be the ideal outcome (see Note 3).

What should be done about abuse? Because we live in a world of people who do bad things to each other, relationships will always be in danger of breaking apart. When that danger arises, there must be willingness to change so that relationship could be preserved. If there is no willingness to change, then there is a violation of commitment and divorce may be considered. However, Jesus died not only to reconcile us to God but also to reconcile us to each other (Ephesians 2:11-22). One way God reconciles people to each other is by the example he set, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In light of God’s movement towards reconciliation, we must seek reconciliation, and only go on separate ways as a last resort.

Adultery is like a fire that could destroy a person’s life (Proverbs 6:20-35). David is a man whom God chose to be king over Israel. One day he saw a woman, who is married, whom he lusted after. He took her for himself and had a child with her. David set her husband up to be killed in the battlefield so what he did could not be found out. Adultery led to murder. God was displeased with David and God took David’s son away (2 Samuel 11-12). Adultery does not just destroy the offender, but also those around him.

The faithfulness that God requires is not just an outward expression. Desiring after somebody besides your spouse is also a violation of the seventh commandment (Matthew 5:27-28). An example would be pornography. We should not let our desires control us. Instead, let us remember Jesus who sacrificed his body so we can have a secure future.

Discussion Questions

  1. If sexual temptation is very strong, how can we avoid it?
  2. What are the dangers of sexual promiscuity?
  3. What is the basis for faithfulness towards one partner?


  1. See Pearce, J.W., & Pezzott-Pearce, T.D. Psychotherapy of Abused and Neglected Children (New York: Guilford Press, 1997).
  2. These insights are adapted from Grenz, Stanley J., Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 203-222.
  3. Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:15; It is possible that Matthew added the adultery exception. This is because in Mark, the prohibition is absolute, no exceptions were given. Jesus’ point is that God did not intend divorce and that those who are married should intend to stay married. Sin is present in the world and the divorce option would be there until sin is eliminated from creation. Matthew may have added that adultery exception to take account of the reality of sin.