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New City Catechism 11.2

Question 11: What does God require in the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments?

Answer: Sixth, that we do not hurt, or hate, or be hostile to our neighbor, but be patient and peaceful, pursuing even our enemies with love. Seventh, that we abstain from sexual immorality and live purely and faithfully, whether in marriage or in single life, avoiding all impure actions, looks, words, thoughts, or desires, and whatever might lead to them. Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else, nor withhold any good from someone we might benefit.

The seventh commandment forbids adultery (Exod. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). Adultery was punishable by death under the Mosaic Covenant (Lev. 20:10); it is not even a crime in modern America. The reason we are light years away from ancient Israel on this issue is because we have imbibed the modern assumption that marriage and sexual activity are largely privatized choices carried on with little or no connection to the rest of society (unless you identify yourself as a “sexual minority,” in which case you belong to a political interest group). The biblical picture is very different. In the biblical outlook, adultery represents a threat to the order of society itself, which is based on the stability of the family. Any man who “stole” the wife of another man by going to bed with her disrupted the order of the family, threatening the sacred bond of marriage and doing serious harm to the children of that marriage. An adulterer sinned not only against his own wife, and not only against the husband of his partner, but against the whole community. Most of all, he sinned against God, who designed marriage to be a permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:18-25).

The catechism rightly draws our attention, as does Jesus, to the heart implications of the seventh commandment. It is not enough merely to avoid adultery. We must also seek to have pure hearts that do not desire sin or give in to fantasies about it. The stakes of fighting the pervasive sin of lust are incredibly high, for Jesus warns of the consequences of Hell for those who make no effort in the fight (Matt. 5:27-30). In order to guard our hearts, let us also be conscientious of the media we allow into our lives, such as the movies we watch or the images we allow on our screens, in order to promote and protect purity of heart.

Suggested passage for family or personal reading: Matthew 5:27-30. Why do you think Jesus warns so strongly against lust? What do you think he means when he commands us to cut off one’s hand or gouge out one’s eye? NOTE: If you have young children for whom this subject matter is too mature, consider reading instead and talking about the seventh commandment in terms like this: “God commands me as a husband not to treat any other woman except Mommy as my wife.” Or, “God commands me as a wife not to treat any other man except Daddy as my husband.” They won’t understand all of the implications of that, but they will understand that the kind of relationship Mommy and Daddy have with each other is unique.

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