“Whom God Has Joined”
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“Whom God Has Joined”

From Series: Pathway to Freedom

Exodus 20:14  (ID: 1698)

Few things illustrate the contrast between a biblical worldview and today’s culture better than the Bible’s statements about the priority and exclusivity of marriage. As Alistair Begg notes in this study of the seventh commandment, God’s pattern for marriage is clear and radical. By pursuing purity and guarding against immorality, Christians can uphold the value of marriage and demonstrate Christ’s love for the church to the watching world.


Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to Exodus and to chapter 20 and to the fourteenth verse. For those of you who may be visiting with us today, we’re in a series on the Ten Commandments, and this morning, as you will note, we’ve come to the seventh, which reads as follows: “You shall not commit adultery.”

If the statistics are accurate, this is a very vital statement just at this point in history—no more so than at any other point, but certainly breaks with real significance into an environment in which more than half of our nation’s men are reputed to have been or are involved in extramarital affairs. A third of the women in the United States of America are also so described. At the same time, the Christian population makes big claims for and loud cries about traditional values, and yet it would appear that many of us are equally confused about the very values we choose to shout about. In a very recent study, some two-thirds of the Christians interviewed said that divorce was a “reasonable solution to a problem marriage,” and 45 percent of the Christians interviewed “stated that the children produced by unhappy marriage partners should not serve” under any circumstances “to keep the family intact.”[1] So, we have a strange problem. We have moms and dads on the one hand extolling the virtues of purity before marriage and fidelity after marriage, and then themselves devastating and disappointing the very children that they are seeking to rear in the framework of these biblical principles.

As long ago as 1631, the producers of an edition of the King James Version Bible were fined three hundred pounds by Archbishop Laud. The fine was significant. Three hundred pounds was probably equivalent to a lifetime’s earnings. And the reason for the fine was simple: the folks who had produced this Bible had been responsible for leaving a word out of it. They had missed a word out of the Bible. Now, when I read that at first, I thought, “Goodness gracious! That seems to be a fairly hefty kind of fine. After all, I mean, think how many words there are in the Bible. I haven’t counted them, but there are a lot.” “So, presumably, it must have been an important word,” you’re saying. Aha! It was. It was the third word in Exodus 20:14, thus rendering the commandment, “You shall commit adultery.” From 1631 on, this edition of the Bible became known as the Wicked Bible. And sadly, and without any humor, we might ironically admit that it would seem that all too many preachers and hearers have been putting the Wicked Bible to bad use. Now, we don’t need to start rehearsing the last few years of American Christianity and the tawdry, dreadful example that has emerged from the walls of Christendom. We are all tarred with the same brush.

As Christians, while we know that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said we were to be salt, thus having an impact upon our culture that would bring taste and would bring distinctiveness to that which was putrefying, that we were to be light in the midst of darkness,[2] sadly, we are not quite as salty as we might be—indeed, we are somewhat tasteless—and our light would seem to be very dim, at least in the matters of sexual purity and marital fidelity.

The problem is that we have half of it correct. Jesus in John 17 prays for his followers, and he says, “I pray, Father, that you do not take them out of the world but that you leave them in the world and that you keep them from the Evil One.”[3] So, if we might picture that: the boat is in the water, as it’s supposed to be. We live where we’re supposed to live. We haven’t gone up a hill and hid. We are in the thoroughfares of life. That’s right, and that’s where we should be. But sadly, the boat is taking on water at an alarming rate. Instead of being able to channel our course without imbibing the mindset and the thought forms of a culture which is alien to God and to God’s Word, we are shipping water faster than ever we should.

Forty years ago Lord Justice Denning, writing in the United Kingdom, said we’ve “reached [the] position where adultery, or infidelity or misconduct, as soft-[hearted people call] it, [is] considered to be a matter of little moment. ‘It is no [longer a] bar to advancement [to] any offices of … State, high or low, whereas any other form of stealing would mean the end of a career.’”[4] And frankly, we know that to be true. Even in the last ten years, as I’ve had the privilege of living here, it is exemplified on every occasion that we turn around in the political processes of this country. Strange ambivalence.

It was in the ’60s and the early ’70s, on the heels of the sexual revolution, that psychiatrists and sociologists began to give a measure of intellectual sophistication to old-fashioned sin, began to justify the activities of men and women and to render the claims and cries of Scripture—from their perspective, at least—null and void. Morton Hunt, a sociologist writing in 1969, said, “The disapproved model”—namely, polygamy—“seems better suited to the emotional capacities and requirements of many people, particularly men. It offers renew[ed] excitement [and continual expressions] of personal rediscovery; … it is an answer to the boredom of lifelong monogamy. … We are,” he says, “by nature polygam[ists].”[5]

What he should have said was, “We are by nature dreadfully sinful.” Rather than accommodating ourselves to a lifestyle which is warped, the Scriptures—the Ten Commandments here, in particular—call us to line up against a perfect standard of righteousness, call us to bring ourselves, with the enabling of God’s Spirit, into a line which, far from tyrannizing and destroying, releases us in perfect freedom. It is the ultimate freedom to become a bondslave to Christ and to his Word. It is the ultimate enjoyment to live in obedience to God’s truth.

Writing in a similar time, Jill Tweedie, columnist with the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain, wrote an editorial entitled “When Marriage Is Just a Cage.” Here I quote her: “The pundits blame the rising divorce rate on our godlessness, our selfishness, our lustfulness.” Says Tweedie, “I blame it on the wrongful expectation of thinking that people can live together as long as they both shall live. I think,” says Tweedie, “this expectation goes against our deepest nature, stunting our growth and requiring distorted lives to fulfill.” And then she adds—and this was the headline—“Outside the bonds of Christian marriage we will, I hope, learn for the first time what love is all about.”

It is the ultimate freedom to become a bondslave to Christ and to his Word. It is the ultimate enjoyment to live in obedience to God’s truth.

Now, this introduction concerning the confusion of our culture is in order to help us understand that as we take these ancient words from Exodus 20, they do not simply reverberate in the air with insignificance, but they actually come to our lives with great import and impact. The confusion that is represented in our present culture in relation to all matters of sexual and moral purity is having an impact that is so incredible that it is virtually out of control. It is estimated that 80 percent of adolescents in psychiatric wards are the product of this kind of marital chaos, that three out of four teenage suicides emerge from the inability of the adolescent psyche to cope with the fact that his dad or his mom, or her mom or dad, let them down. Oh, we’re very expert at making it appear that we are able, with a little support group here and a little counseling there, to absorb all of this. It’s not the case. We’re confronted by “broken up people” with their “broken down lives”; they’ve got “broken up homes” and “broken husbands and wives.”[6]

You’d think that it is almost time for people to waken up and say, “You know, I wonder, if we were to go back to the Maker’s instructions, if we wouldn’t find something there to address the predicament.” Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing to hear one of our leaders bold enough to cut through the crud and simply say, “Guess what? This week, I was reading my Bible. And as I read my Bible, I discovered that Almighty God, in whose hands is our breath and our destiny, has determined that life is so sacred and marriage so precious and purity so important that we’re going to convene a gathering of people who will examine what it might mean for our society, for our schools, for our towns, for our universities to begin to live life in accordance with the principles of God’s Word.”

In your dreams! In your dreams. Don’t wait for it. Don’t expect it. Don’t even waste your time trying to make it happen, I would say. Because never in the history of humanity has there been a significant turnaround in a culture as a result of the embracing of external factors and trying to lay them down on people. Every awakening has come as a result of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the only power to change a life. And only with a changed life will there be a changed mind and with a changed mind will there be a changed lifestyle.

If you think that I am more than a little pessimistic—and I don’t want to be, because of all people, we want to stay where we began this morning: there is hope. We want to believe the best and hope the best. We want to try for the best. We want to impact our culture for its good. But listen: “In DeFuniak Springs”—that well-known place, to some, in Florida, wherever it is—“lawyers for a man charged with child abuse asked the trial judge to remove a plaque [containing] the Ten Commandments from outside the courtroom” door—the reason being, said the attorney, was that it “prejudiced the jurors” as they entered.[7] His client had clearly broken the seventh commandment, and he didn’t want anybody seeing that commandment or any other commandment as they walked in. Nobody had the guts to remove it or to say, “Leave it,” and so they fudged it, and they all left. Subsequently, in the state of Georgia and in the state of Florida, two other cases were brought concerning the Ten Commandments on the wall outside the court. And in each case, the judges ruled for their removal, declaring the display of the Ten Commandments to be unconstitutional.

So we live with this strange schizophrenia. Inside the courtroom, the plaintiff stands and looks at the words written behind the judge’s head: “In God We Trust.” No one has a clue in their minds what that means, and they certainly ought not to be so foolish as to believe that to trust in God means to obey his Word and means to honor these Ten Commandments, which we want to unscrew from the walls of our courtroom. See, we’re unscrewing hopefulness and replacing it with hopelessness. We’re unscrewing principle and replacing it with that which is merely puerile extensions of men’s fleshly interests.

Well, what does the Bible say in the midst of this confusion? Well, the good news is that as confused as things are around us, the Bible is really clear. And what I’d like to do is address with you the clarity with which the Bible speaks concerning the sanctity of marriage and therefore the heinous nature of adultery.

Let’s be very, very clear that every time the Bible speaks about marriage, it makes it obvious that it has a high view of marriage, and all that is part and parcel of marriage God has ordained and loves and is committed to, including all the physical enjoyment that that union contains.

The Bible makes it equally clear that marriage is not a sacrament, as some of us have been brought up believing, nor is it a redemption ordinance unique to Christians, but marriage is a creation ordinance. As Jesus spoke, he said that it was from “the beginning” that God ordained that man should “leave his father and mother … and the two [should] become one flesh,”[8] so that from the very beginning of the creation of man and the construction of the civil order, God intended that marriage should be what was involved in the lives of men and women.

This is something that we need to think out. We won’t take time to think it out now. But God’s design for the continuance of the human race was marriage. And there are good marriages that aren’t Christian. Do you believe that? Because God established marriage as a creation ordinance. And there are bad Christian marriages, because in Christian marriages you have sinners saved by grace who still sin.

We need to think biblically about these things. And many of us have determined that because something happened before we were Christians, that somehow or another, God wasn’t interested in it before we were Christians. Do you think God wasn’t interested in marriage before you became a Christian? Do you think that he didn’t care about your marriage because you weren’t a Christian? Of course he cared! He established it from the beginning of creation that marriage would have significance. That is not to say that Christian marriages do not have unique potential and unique power because of the presence of Christ. But as Christians, we need to be concerned about all marriage—the marriages, even, of our non-Christian neighbors and friends.

Its status is not in question, and its standard is also clear. In Ephesians chapter 5—you may like to turn to it to remind yourself it’s there—we have Paul announcing the nature of marriage, calling upon husbands and wives to live together in a certain way. And the picture that he uses of the love between a man and a woman is the love between Jesus and his church. And he wants husbands to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church: “Husbands [should] love their wives as their own bodies.”[9] Because we never hated our bodies, but we feed for them, we care for them. In what way? Just as Christ does the church. And so, says Paul, “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” He says, “This is a profound mystery,” this thing, “but I am talking about Christ and the church.”[10]

Now, will you notice in passing, there—especially young people—as you look down on this in Ephesians chapter 5 and the process here in verse 31: What happens? How does marriage take place? Well, first of all, you leave your mom and dad. Okay? You should ask them about it, and certainly, if you’re going to ask for a girl’s hand in marriage, you should go and ask her dad, because he may have a lot to say, and with a lot of justification—which, if you thought about yourself for a moment or two, you would understand why. But you go, and you leave your father and your mother, and then you get united to your wife—that’s why we have marriage ceremonies—and the two then become one flesh.

Now, don’t miss this. Do you understand? What our culture says is you go out, and you find a girl or a guy, and you become one flesh with them. That just is par for the course. And then it may well be that you like them enough to go and ask their dad if you could marry them, and then, perhaps, if they say it’s okay, and even if they don’t, you’ll go ahead and legitimize your elicit sexual relationship.

This is the Word of God. This is the Maker’s instruction book. This is the pathway to purity, to joy, to fulfillment, to God’s best, and everything else less than or other than is a dead-end street, is a tragedy, is a disaster waiting to reach out and grab you. And some of you already know that, to your own personal pain. Listen to the Word of God! Do not despise the instruction of God’s Word. Pay attention, pay heed, to the standard and status and sanctity of the marriage bond. It is to be held in honor. It is not to be entered upon lightly nor carelessly, as the marriage service says, but thoughtfully, with reverence for God and with due consideration of the purposes for which it was established by God.

In marriage, two people are not entering into a contract. In marriage, two people are entering into a divine covenant. It is a great mystery. They “become one.”[11] It is one plus one equals one. They become interwoven with one another emotionally and psychologically and physiologically, and in every dimension, and it is this great union of all of that makes marriage what it is.

And that, you see, in passing, loved ones, is the monstrosity of removing one element of marriage from the context in which it is set—namely, the sexual element of marriage. When you remove sex from the context of marriage, it becomes a monstrous thing. It becomes a disappointing thing. It becomes a devastating thing. It becomes less than what God has intended. When a man says that he wants a woman, he is not telling the truth. He wants something that a woman makes possible. And no one keeps the packet when they’ve smoked the cigarettes. And the discarded lives around our nation, and the heartache, and the pain, and the shame, and the disappointment that are represented in a congregation such as ours that bears testimony to the vacillation of many of us in relationship to absolute, biblical truth is unbelievable! And we are not alone.

So, before we all get on our high horse to go and hit the main street to tell our non-Christian friends about “traditional values,” let us examine our own hearts in relationship to these same values. And the answer is not in our homes. It’s not in our huddles. Because as I say to you, in our homes and in our huddles, we are equal to some of the most significant abuse of the very principle that is here contained. Do you hear me? Do you hear God’s Word?

The sacred union in marriage is not to be intruded upon by anybody. It is not to be arbitrarily broken by anyone. I don’t care what Cosmopolitan says. I don’t care about People magazine. Trash the lot of them, I say. Start reading your Bible. If some of you young women read your Bibles as much as you read that hogwash, you’d be a lot more fit for getting married than you are right now. And if some of you men paid attention to the principles of the book of Proverbs rather than filling your head with junk, you would be a lot more attractive to some of those young woman as they try to make their way through life. “As for God, his way is perfect.”[12] Perfect!

When you remove sex from the context of marriage, it becomes a monstrous thing. It becomes a disappointing thing. It becomes a devastating thing. It becomes less than what God has intended.

It’s not my prerogative to wake up in the morning and decide that I’d like a new suit, and by the way, I’d also like a new love. Because, after all, my suit is no longer giving me the feeling that I once had when I put it on. I used to like to put it on. It made me feel good. But now I don’t feel good, ’cause it’s fat where it should be thin, or it’s thin where it should be fat, or it’s pleated where it should be unpleated, or it’s worn where it should be smooth. And I don’t feel good about her either, ’cause she’s looking kind of worn. She looks a little fat where she should be thin, a little creased where she should be smooth, little frayed where she wasn’t before.

Well, hey, big guy, how do you think she feels about your ugly mess? Do you think she just woke up thinking, “Hey, I’m lying next to Charles Atlas, this is unbelievable”?

We’ve got a real problem with our distended egos, don’t we? So we get in our cars, and we plug in our stereos, and we listen to Elton John, who doesn’t know squat about marriage or sexuality, and listen to him sing, “You, me, and everybody needs a part-time love.”[13] Said, “That sounds good. At least part-time. I mean, we don’t need to go full-time, but part-time would be fine.”

And so the prevalent attitudes towards marriage and towards togetherness are so far removed from what the Bible says that to read the Bible as we’re doing now and to think these issues out as we try to do now is so radical. It’s so radical. I am excited about how radical it is, I’ve gotta tell you. I am excited about this. I don’t think we’re going to need plastic noses or funny suits as we go into the end of the twentieth century. I don’t think we’ll need to do very much as Christians except live in moral purity before you get married and live in marital fidelity afterwards. That will be enough to mark us out as some of the weirdest people that ever walked the streets of the latter part of America in the twentieth century. I do believe that with all my heart. Look at the scenes in front of us. Look at the young woman as she stands on television, in all of the confusion of her background, and she says, “I never intended that I would give my child up for adoption into a homosexual ‘family.’” I mean, this thing is so messed up.

So, what does the Bible say? Well, the Bible says—look what it says: “You shall not commit adultery.” Beginning of the subject, end of the subject, middle of the subject, the whole subject! You just—you’re not gonna do this.

Now, somebody needs to acknowledge that we don’t have the power to fulfill this. We’ve said that all the way going along. Because we look at the Ten Commandments: they’re not a ladder up which we climb to heaven. And this would be a chronicle of despair. We’re already at number seven; we broke every one of them getting here. Every rung on the ladder’s bust. Every time we try to go up again, we fall down, we’re still on the ground floor. “Maybe number six? Oh!” Down! “Seven?” Down! So now this ladder is still… We can’t go anywhere with it! Because it’s not a ladder up which we climb to heaven; it is a mirror which shows us ourselves. We see ourselves, and what do we see? We see that we are immoral, that we are lawbreakers. Okay, if I cannot get to heaven by keeping the law, then how in the world can I ever get there? That is the message that we heard last evening. And some of you heard it very clearly and need to respond to it—namely, that one took our pain, took our punishment, took our lawlessness on himself in order that we might be set free.

It’s the fabulous message to the woman in adultery: “Okay, guys, throw the first stone if you’re sinless.” Nobody’s left. And Jesus says, “I’m not gonna throw stones at you either.”[14] So “here’s to you Mrs. Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you [can] know.”[15] I just thought of that! But that’s it, isn’t it? I don’t know what he’s writing about, but that’s right! And Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate is a sad, sick, story—multiplied millions of times, to our shame. But the message to the adulterer is that Jesus loves you more than you can know. And the message to me in my immorality is that it will not be as a result of my ability to become moral, to try and prop myself up into heaven, that I will ever make it. But it will come as a result of my having to bow down and recognize that I am a lawbreaker and that I need a Christ who is a Savior. Then the Spirit of God works in our lives to enable us to live in a way that would please him.

The Heidelberg Catechism, which we’ve quoted before, makes it really clear. “What,” asks the question—question 108 in the Heidelberg Catechism—“what does the seventh commandment teach us?” Answer: “That all unchastity is condemned by God, and that we should therefore detest it from the heart. … Since both our body and soul are a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is his will that we keep both pure and holy. Therefore he forbids”—listen to this—“he forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires and whatever may excite another person to them.”[16] That’s what you call categorical. That’s what you call comprehensive. That’s what you call instruction without loopholes.

My kids say to me, say, “What’s the big deal about music, Dad? Who cares about albums, you know? What does it matter if the music’s good? Who cares about the words?” Well, I care about the words, because if those words excite you to activity which contravenes the law of God, they’re history. Why would you fill your mind with that which would turn you away from truth?

You see, when we commit adultery, there’s a fivefold dimension to it. In the committing of adultery, number one, we sin against God; number two, we sin against our bodies; number three, we sin against our partner; number four, we sin against our spouse; and number five, we sin against our partner’s spouse. In other words, we create a huge chain reaction of tragedy.

Now, when Jesus addressed this matter with the Pharisees, who loved their robes and loved their prayers and loved their externals, he wanted them to understand—and you need to turn to Matthew chapter 5—that although they were technically okay, they were internally really messed up. It’s page 684 in a pew Bible. Matthew 5:27: “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.”

Now, let me just apply that in one obvious way. You read these “Dear Abby” columns, and the question keeps coming up—which I hate to even mention from the pulpit, so I will try and be as oblique as I can—but basically, the notion has to do with the place of fantasy within marriage. It is continually addressed in popular psychology and in the framework of popular immorality that actually, it’s a very helpful thing, and it certainly is a very normal thing, and it’s certainly not a harmful thing. So, it’s helpful rather than harmful, it’s normal; just go ahead and enjoy yourself. Okay? What did Jesus say? “I want to tell you that if you look at a woman lustfully, you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.” See, voyeurism reduces our spouse to a mechanism for the fulfillment of our lust. That’s what it does.

Roger McGough, one of the Liverpool poets in the 1960s, penned a poem called “The Act of Love,” and the first verse goes like this:

The Act of Love lies somewhere
between the belly and the mind
I lost the love sometime ago
Now I’ve only the act to grind.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

High on bedroom darkness
we endure the pantomime
ships that go bang in the night
run aground on the sands of time.

And then the morning,

it’s cornflakes and … goodbye
another [nick] on the headboard,
another day wondering why.

The Act of Love lies somewhere
between the belly and the mind
I lost the love sometime ago
Now I’ve only the act to grind.[17]

Do you know how many Christian marriages are living like that? Men who have checked out on their wives in every other way except their physical presence. Wives who are enduring a pantomime as a living single. And they hear a message like this concerning marriage, and inside of them there’s such a revulsion to it all, because they do not know marriage as God intended it. They do not know the joy as God planned for it. They don’t know what it means, and it cuts like a knife into their heart. This is painful stuff.

You see, that’s why Jesus was so radical in his statements. He said, “Listen, it would be better for you, if you’ve got an eye that’s causing you to sin, to gouge it out and throw it away. Because it would be better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”[18] In Mark 9:45, he says, “And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It[’s] better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.”

What is this? This is ruthless! This is chilling! This is not cozy. This is demanding. It’s decisive. This is what the Puritans called the mortification of the flesh. It’s something exceptionally practical, loved ones. It’s not a funny feeling in your tummy. It’s not a wooziness. It’s not something that comes as a result of singing Christian choruses time and time and time again. It’s not as a result of repeating things like a kind of mantra. You can do all of that. You can be full of gifts, they can be coming out of your ears, and you can be living in total sin.

How in the world do you think that a man like Swaggart was able to continue to parade himself across the stage of his church and across the stages of the world and engage in such activity? Do you think he had spiritual gifts? Do you think he was able to manifest all kinds of things? Without question! But he wasn’t mortifying his flesh. He wasn’t doing what Colossians 3 says.[19] He wasn’t looking at his hands and asking the question, “Am I doing anything with these that I shouldn’t be doing?”

If I had kids here this morning—I’ve talked to a group of young people—I’d say, “Put your hands up in front of your face, and look at your hands, and answer this question. You don’t have to answer out loud. Just answer this question in your heart: ‘Is there anything that I’m doing with my hands in private that if it was flashed up on this screen right now, I’d be so ashamed?’” How about your feet? Is there anywhere that your feet are going? How about your eyes? What about the videos? What about the magazines? What about the literature? What about that stuff?

See, this is intensely practical. It’s an act of the will. It’s not about a feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach. It’s about doing things: “Because the Bible said this, I must, with the Spirit’s help, do that.” Take the test.

Hedges and Walls

Now, let me conclude by saying three things.

Number one: don’t fall into the trap, which woolly thinking leads to, which concludes that there is no difference between mental and actual adultery. This I hear all the time. The equation goes like this: “Well, I’ve thought it, so I guess I’ve done it, so I suppose I should just go ahead and do it.” Okay? Jesus said, “If you do it here, you’ve done it.” So people say, “Well, I thought it; I must have done it. So I guess we just complete the process.” That is from the pit. That is a devilish equation. He wants to drag you down to the very abyss of moral uselessness. There is a substantive difference between thinking about and committing adultery. There is no difference, says Jesus, in terms of the punishment that he will mete out. Therefore, we cannot play fast and loose with things in our minds. However, there is a difference between what I think about and what I actually do.

We don’t have time to go through it all, but let me tell you this: number one, adultery—the act of adultery—breaks the marriage covenant. Adulterous thoughts do not. Adultery provides ground for divorce. Adulterous thoughts do not. Adultery violates and defiles each other’s bodies. Its mental counterpart does not. Adultery is the vehicle for sexually transmitted disease, whereas the mind does not transmit sexual disease.

Second last thing I’d like to say is this: I want to issue a word of warning to all of us who, in both speaking and hearing this, are tempted to believe that this is an unbelievable message for Mr. So-and-So who lives down the street or the guy who just left our church.

It goes like this: “We’re just good friends,” said Jack. Who did he say that to? He said it to himself when he was driving in the car. He was driving in the car, and he was thinking about this girl who works with him. Her name is Thelma. And as he drove in the car and he thought about Thelma, he said to himself, “We’re just good friends. I respect her for her mind. I like her as a business associate. There’s nothing wrong with that.” No. But eight months later, Jack and Thelma were waking up together in the morning, and Jack was no longer waking up in the morning with his wife. Why? Because Jack and Thelma were terrible moral reprobates? No, they were just like you and me. They were sitting in church. Eight months ago, they were in church. Eight months ago, they had nothing in their minds about being involved in cheating on their spouse. Eight months ago, they were listening to messages like this, taking notes, and saying amen. But something went wrong.

“Impossible!” you say. “It couldn’t be!” Listen, be careful! That’s what Jack and Thelma thought. What happened was simply this: that because they believed they were invincible, because they believed they were above it or beyond it, they didn’t put up any hedges around them to protect against the possibility of them falling into sin. It all started innocently enough, but then slowly, imperceptibly, gradually, they began to depend upon one another emotionally. They began to confide in one another with little secrets and private plans and shared ambitions. They began to justify their lunches together—and extended lunches together. They exchanged physical touches, which they said were “brotherly” and “sisterly.” They liked each other. They became special to each other. They became enamored with each other. And they gave themselves to one another.

“Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.”[20]

Have you planted hedges, men, about this? Do you have hedges? Do you still go out for lunches with your secretary? I think you’re nuts. “Well,” you say, “I have to. I’d get fired.” Get fired. Better to go into heaven fired than go into hell unfired, huh? “Oh, she came in, she was upset. I just went around the desk and I gave her a hug. I didn’t mean to be hugging her four minutes after I started hugging her.” Well, you can be sure you won’t if you don’t ever hug her first of all. Don’t linger. Plant hedges. Build walls.

Our forsaking sin is the evidence of our being forgiven.

Let me give you three walls. I’m just going to say them; I can’t expand them. Wall number one: practicing the presence of God—reminding yourself all the time that Jesus is with you wherever you are. Secondly, memorize the Word of God. Fill your mind with Scripture—Psalm 119:9 and 11. Thirdly, stick with the people of God, in large groups in worship, in small groups in accountability.

Finally, let me give you a word of encouragement. We started with John chapter 8; we’re gonna finish with John chapter 8. And some of us are here this morning, and for us, this message is so painful. Some of us, actually, are probably here, and we have decided that our past is actually unforgivable. We believe ourselves to have sinned ourselves outside the love of God. We’ve broken the seventh commandment so badly, maybe so continually, and we believe that we’re done.

Well, I want to tell you, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, that it’s not so. If you do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, if you do truly and earnestly cast yourself upon God’s mercy and upon his grace, you may be forgiven, you may be pardoned, you may be cleansed, you may be set free. But hear the word which Jesus spoke to the woman as she went. What did he say to her? “Go … and leave your life of sin.”[21] Unless you know that you are prepared to walk out of here this morning and never pick up the phone to him or her again, then don’t bank for six seconds on the forgiveness of Christ being ministered to you. For our forsaking is the evidence of our being forgiven.

This is the Word of God.

Let us pray.

Let’s take a moment in the silence just to reflect upon what we’ve looked at here in this commandment. Some of us are young people with all of our lives before us, and this stuff seems a little beyond our arms’ reach, perhaps. Well then, I say to you: just where you sit, you make your own silent commitment to Christ. You resolve to have the spirit of Daniel in your heart. You be prepared to stand firm in these things, even though the whole world is against you, even though every other kid in your year thinks you’re crazy, even though your girlfriends think you’re mad. I urge you, young person, in the power of Jesus: settle these affairs in your heart.

And for others of us who have been living in Bypath Meadow, fooling with these things in our minds, living on that slippy slope that leads to oblivion, driving away from our homes or from our offices and knowing that there is an increasing gap between what we know should be and what is: don’t let it go another day. This morning, where you are, reach out to Christ, and reach out to your husband or your wife, and tell her or him that you love them unreservedly and that you’ll follow with them where they go and what they do.

And for those who feel they’ve blotted their copybook irreparably—there’s no possibility of a future, no forgiveness, no hope—don’t allow the Evil One to drag you down. Don’t listen to the spirit of the Pharisee. Listen to the words of Christ: “Neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.”[22]

Write your Word in our heart, O Lord, we pray, so that we might live for the sake of your glory and your people in a way that upholds all that you hold dear. Rid us of the spirit of the Pharisee, and fill us with the love of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.


[1] George Barna and William Paul Mackay, Vital Signs: Emerging Social Trends and the Future of American Christianity (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1984), 13, quoted in Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom (Chicago: Moody, 1993), 180–81.

[2] See Matthew 5:13–16.

[3] John 17:15 (paraphrased).

[4] “Lax Views on Adultery: ‘A Bad State of Affairs,’” The Times, May 3, 1954.

[5] Morton Hunt, The Affair: A Portrait of Extra-Marital Love in Contemporary America (New York: World, 1969), 23, 39.

[6] Evie Tornquist, “Broken Up People” (1976).

[7] Mark Curriden, “Ten Commandments Rulings: Two Judges Issue Compromise Decisions on Courthouse Displays,” ABA Journal 79 (March 1993): 37.

[8] Matthew 19:4–5 (NIV 1984).

[9] Ephesians 5:28 (NIV 1984).

[10] Ephesians 5:31–32 (NIV 1984).

[11] Genesis 2:24 (NIV 1984).

[12] Psalm 18:30 (NIV 1984).

[13] Elton John and Gary Osborne, “Part-Time Love” (1978).

[14] See John 8:7–11.

[15] Paul Simon, “Mrs. Robinson” (1968).

[16] The Heidelberg Catechism, Qs. 108–9.

[17] Roger McGough, “The Act of Love,” in Selected Poems (London: Penguin, 2006).

[18] Matthew 5:29–30 (paraphrased).

[19] See Colossians 3:5.

[20] 1 Corinthians 10:12 (paraphrased).

[21] John 8:11 (NIV 1984).

[22] John 8:11 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.