by Mike Ratliff
4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 “ If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 18:4-10 NASB)
This fallen world is diametrically opposed to God and His ways in every part. Even those of us who have been delivered through the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life in Him can find ourselves at times with a temporal focus, which causes us to make compromises in our walks.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25 NASB)
Our Lord told us plainly in His Sermon on the Mount the source of the evil that plagues us. This evil resides in our own hearts.
27 “ You have heard that it was said, ‘ You shall not commit adultery ’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30 NASB)
27 Ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη· οὐ μοιχεύσεις. 28 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ. 29 εἰ δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου ὁ δεξιὸς σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔξελε αὐτὸν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ· συμφέρει γάρ σοι ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μελῶν σου καὶ μὴ ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου βληθῇ εἰς γέενναν. 30 καὶ εἰ ἡ δεξιά σου χεὶρ σκανδαλίζει σε, ἔκκοψον αὐτὴν καὶ βάλε ἀπὸ σοῦ· συμφέρει γάρ σοι ἵνα ἀπόληται ἓν τῶν μελῶν σου καὶ μὴ ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου εἰς γέενναν ἀπέλθῃ. (Matthew 5:27-30 NA28)
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone looking upon a woman with a view to desire her has committed adultery already with her in his heart. 29 And if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it our and throw it from you. For it is better for you that one of your members be lost and not your whole body be thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you . For it is better that one of your members be lost and not that your whole body may go into Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:27-30 translated from the NA28 Greek text)
This metaphoric example is designed by our Lord to show us clearly the seriousness and foolishness of being at peace with the evil focus of our hearts. We often make the very rationalization in our hearts that our Lord gives us here in that we justify ourselves by saying that we have not really committed the sin of lust because we have not physically committed adultery or fornication. However, our Lord makes it clear here that if we covet another person lustfully then we have committed the sin of adultery. The word translated here as “with lust” in the NASB or “with a view to desire” in my translation is ἐπιθυμῆσαι. This word simply describes our minds being directed after something or someone with a longing, a desire, et cetera. Our Lord tells us here that if we find ourselves longing after another person (not our spouse) or thing then we have already committed adultery in our hearts.
This should cause us to examine our hearts deeply and honestly. What is our Lord teaching us here and how are we to apply it? We must take our thoughts capture my brethren. We must not allow the wickedness that still resides there to capture our focus away from our humble submission to our Lord to be squandered on the things of the flesh. This is the primary reason that those groups who call themselves Christians, but whose focus is entirely on the getting and possessing of the stuff of this world, prove that they are teaching what is unchristian. Also, when so-called Christian leaders counsel professing Christians that it is not sinful to ἐπιθυμῆσαι after another person or wealth or power or any other thing that is not of Christ as long as they do not actually follow through then they have not sinned are lying.
None of us are perfect, but that does not excuse us from what our Lord is teaching us here. Genuine Christians live lives in which they are being transformed by the power of God through the renewal of their minds (Romans 12:2) to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). This means that their focus is on eradicating all ἐπιθυμῆσαι of the flesh from their lives.
I have read many of the works of the Reformers. I have also studied withe works of men such as Dr. James White and John MacArthur. Is there a common thread? Yes! The battle we are in right now against those heretics and apostates who are watering down the Gospel are the foil that God has allowed to come to bear against the truth in our time just as the Roman Catholic Church was in the time of the Reformers. The more I have studied this, the more it has become clear that the battle for the truth that the Gospel is what the Church must be about instead of religiosity, has always been the battle ground. Our Creeds and Confessions were written by men of God who stood firm against the foes of the truth who were attempting to change the definition of the Gospel or to put it on a shelf.
What has this to do with adultery of the heart? Those very same people who are enemies of the Gospel are the same ones who are making excuses for people’s sin, attempting to appease those in their churches about the sins. We are told to lighten up, to not be so contentious, to be more like Jesus. However, those teaching and saying these things are not following the Jesus of the Bible, but one of their own making.
Soli Deo Gloria!