How does adultery start? In what way then is it looked upon as adultery?

James describes the steps leading to death from sin as thus: "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:13-15). From this we learn that the destruction of a person follows a set pattern.

  1. Desire: Each of us are created with basic desires necessary for us to function in this world. We have desires to eat, drink, sleep, to be accepted by others, and, yes, even a desire for sex. None of these desires are wrong in and of themselves, but they can be misused. For example, there is nothing wrong with eating, but when a person overeats we refer to it as the sin of gluttony (Philippians 3:19; Proverbs 25:16).
  2. Temptation: Satan uses our natural desires against us. He places us in situations where it appears that in order to fulfill our desire, we must break a law of God. The situation is called a temptation. God has placed limits on how Satan may tempt us. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13). Satan is not allowed to give us a temptation that we are not able to resist if we wanted to do so. He is not able to make us face a temptation that is unique to us. And, Satan cannot seal off all escape routes.
  3. Lust: The word "lust" means a very strong desire. It is usually used in a bad sense when someone has a very strong desire to do something that is wrong. It is not longer that a possibility to sin exists, but that a person wants to sin but has not yet had the opportunity to commit the sin. John tells us that there are three basic types of lusts. "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (I John 2:15-17).
    • Lusts of the flesh: These are strong desires that originate from our bodies.
    • Lusts of the eyes: These are things people strongly desire because they look appealing.
    • Pride of life: These are things we strongly desire because they make us look good in the eyes of others.
  4. Sin: When a person gives into the temptation and acts on his desire, thus breaking God's commands, it is called sin. "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4).
  5. Lasciviousness: Sin doesn't happen just once. When the door is cracked open, Satan tries to get us to repeat our sins over and over again. Though not mentioned by James, this repeated sinning leads to a state of lasciviousness or licentiousness (Galatians 5:19-21). William Barclay defines this as "a love of sin so reckless and so audacious that a man ceases to care what God or man thinks of his actions." In other words, it is the state where a person sins so often that he has become calloused to the guilt of his iniquity. He has convinced himself that he has a license to sin.
  6. Death: When a person ceases to care, it becomes near impossible to lead him away from his sin. He becomes spiritually dead and on the Judgment Day he will face the second death, Hell.

Look back at the steps and ask yourself, at what point can you stop this progressive slide into destruction? You cannot stop your desires as they are a part of you. Your desires for food, drink, and even sex remains with you for the rest of your life. The absence of such desires is an indication that something is seriously wrong with your body. Nor can you stop temptation. It is Satan who creates tempting situations. Even though we don't want to face them, we have no choice. So the first point where we are able to take action is at the point of lust. Peter tells us, "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" (I Peter 2:11).

Jesus once taught, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:20-23). Sins don't just happen. They are preceded by evil thoughts -- lusts for what is unlawful. People don't just steal. They think about it for a while, convincing themselves that they can get away with it and that it will not cause that great of harm.

Adultery, having sex with someone who is not your spouse, is no different. Even though many people try to excuse their illicit action by saying, "It just happened," the truth is that thoughts of committing adultery were entertained long before the clothing came off. Perhaps now Jesus' warning makes sense. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). What is different between the person who wants to commit adultery, but has not had an opportunity to do so where he believes he can get away with it and the the person who has actually committed the act? Jesus tells us that the difference is only slight. From God's viewpoint a strong desire to commit adultery is just as much a sin as actually getting into bed with someone who is not your spouse.

"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4).

March 15, 2005