“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” Matthew 5:27-30
You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Matthew 5:27). Maybe no one explicitly taught you this, but your moral understanding placed infidelity in the category of hurtful behavior toward another human being. Naturally. In our culture we have an unspoken understanding that infidelity is wrong. Even Hollywood, in all its immorality, communicates this common standard.
But, here Jesus takes this teaching to a new level when he says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). You may have heard it said, “According to Jesus, this passage says lustful intent is the same as committing adultery.” Whether you’re hearing this in 2018 or you’re in first century Judaism, this statement should prompt a question. How can these two different behaviors be the same when one is an outright act against another person and the other is an internal thought?
Here, Jesus is using some very strong language about lust, but is he saying lust is the same as adultery? Consider the context. Earlier Jesus says, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Then Jesus goes into a sequence of “You’ve heard it said…But, I say to you…” statements. Jesus is raising the bar of the Old Testament law, making every one of us lawbreakers. After Jesus makes it impossible for any of us to come out on top of the righteousness scale, he ends the section with the most difficult command of all: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Thankfully, Jesus’ intent was not to create a new law, but to help us redefine ourselves as guilty of breaking Gods’ commandments. Although we may not have physically committed adultery against our spouse, we have all dealt with sexual brokenness to some extent. When we admit we cannot attain perfection from abiding by the law, we admit we cannot exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees on our own. We desperately need something else to transform us from the inside out. The good news is that though our heart’s propensity to sin is worse than we can imagine, God’s grace has more powerful transformative ability than we can possibly imagine.
By Yvonne Biel