October 13, 2019

Exodus 20:14: God's Will for Sexuality

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: The Ten Commandments Scripture: Genesis 1:1

Exodus 20:14: “God’s Will for Sexuality”

We’ve been working our way through the Ten Commandments one by one, and this morning, we come to the seventh commandment, found in Exodus 20:14. And it reads, quite simply, “You shall not commit adultery.” That’s the subject we’ll be exploring today. But before we dive into that, let’s pray. [Prayer]

I believe the view that most people today have toward the seventh commandment is aptly summarized by a poem written by William Blake entitled “The Garden of Love.” Interestingly enough, this poem was first published back 1794. Yet, despite the fact that it was written over 200 years ago, it expresses modern sentiment toward the seventh commandment surprisingly well. Blake writes,

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.

So as you probably discerned, Blake isn’t really a big fan of the seventh commandment. He desires to play in what he calls “the Garden of Love.” Yet as he travels there, he sees—to his dismay—that an unwelcome “Chapel” or church building has been built right in the middle of this garden. And in the second stanza of the poem, Blake tells us the words that are written over the door of this Chapel: “Thou shalt not”—which, of course, is shorthand for the way the King James Version translates the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” And as Blake surveys the rest of what used to be the Garden of Love, the land that was once covered with flowers is now “filled with graves.” Not only that, but Priests—another reference to the church—are walking around and “binding with briars [his] joys and desires.”

So what’s the message of this poem? Well, essentially, William Blake views the church’s teaching on sexuality as unbearably oppressive and restrictive. He has what he believes to be these wonderful sexual desires that he yearns to enjoy as he sees fit, but the church—and, by implication, God—seems intent on ruining everything by making him repress those desires that would otherwise bring him so much delight. As a result, he can’t enjoy the fun and the pleasures that he believes are natural.  

And honestly, a strong majority of people in our society today would probably agree with that perspective. Yet is that the way things really are? Is the seventh commandment prohibiting adultery really an example of God trying to ruin all of our fun? Is the Bible’s teaching on sexuality really so prudish and repressive? That’s the subject I’d like to explore this morning. And in the course of doing so, I’d like to ask and answer four questions related to the seventh commandment. 

How Should This Commandment Impact Our View of Sex? 

First of all, how should this commandment impact our view of sex? How should this commandment impact our view of sex? Now, I want you to notice that the seventh commandment doesn’t at all imply a negative view of sex itself but only of adultery. It doesn’t say that sex is bad or dirty. It simply says, “You shall not commit adultery.” This fits very well with other parts of the Bible that portray sex as a wonderful gift from God. First of all, consider the fact that sex was a part of God’s good creation. Genesis 1:27-28 records how God created humans male and female and then gave them the directive to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” You don’t have to be a genius to deduce that that involves a lot of sex. And keep in mind that this was before the Fall—before humanity rebelled against God and plunged the world into brokenness and sin and chaos. Even before all of that mess, sex was a part of God’s design—and in Genesis 1:31 God states that it was a “very good” design. 

Also, consider the entire book of the Song of Solomon, referred to in some translations of the Bible as the Song of Songs. This book of the Bible is a collection of love poems between a man and a woman celebrating the sexual relationship God intends for marriage. And sometimes, things get pretty explicit and the metaphors are quite provocative. If you’ve never read the Song of Solomon before, you may be surprised at how openly and overtly these poems celebrate sexual intimacy. 

So all of this shows us that sex isn’t something dirty but rather a wonderful gift from God that’s worth celebrating. It’s not like God put Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden and turned his back for a moment to do something else and then, when he turned back around, was like “Whoa, whoa, whoa… [shield eyes]…what in the world are you two doing with each other?” No, sex was God’s idea and was given to us as a gift to be enjoyed—within its proper boundaries. And that brings us back to the seventh commandment. This commandment prohibiting adultery isn’t in any way saying that sex is bad or dirty but is simply prohibiting the misuse of God’s good gift of sex. It’s basically saying, “Don’t use the gift of sex in a way God never intended. Don’t twist or distort this good gift God’s given.”

What Does This Commandment Prohibit?

Now, how might we do that? What exactly does this commandment prohibit? That’s the second question I’d like to look at this morning—what does this commandment prohibit? Although the commandment itself states, “You shall not commit adultery,” that prohibition really extends to any distortion of God’s good gift of sex. And I’d like to briefly give you five examples of sexual activities that fall into that category—five distortions of God’s good gift.

Number one, of course, is adultery itself. This refers to someone who’s married being sexually active with a partner who’s not their spouse—either a married man cheating on his wife or a married woman cheating on her husband. 

And this is closely related to the second distortion of God’s gift of sex, which is sexual activity after an unbiblical divorce. According to the Bible, there are only two situations in which a divorce is permissible. One situation is if your spouse commits adultery. According to Matthew 19:9, if your spouse cheats on you, you are permitted to divorce them. Also, according to 1 Corinthians 7:15, your spouse abandoning you and refusing to live with you is also grounds for divorce. However, in all other situations, divorce is strictly prohibited. It’s unbiblical. And so, Jesus says in Matthew 19:9 that “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Also, the person who marries that divorced person commits adultery as well.

Then a third distortion of God’s gift of sex is something that’s come to be regarded as an archaic term but is one that I believe is very helpful, and that is fornication. In case you’re not sure what that means, fornication refers to sexual activity between two people who aren’t married—either to each other or to someone else. Nowadays, it’s often called “premarital sex.” But there’s a reason I’ve chosen the word “fornication” instead of “premarital sex,” and that’s because “premarital sex” is a more neutral term. It’s softer. It can easily be taken to imply that the sexual union of an unmarried couple is essentially the same as that of a married couple except that it just occurs a little bit too early. “Fornication,” on the other hand, may be outdated, but it makes it unmistakably clear that there’s nothing okay with sex outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is, honestly, an abomination to God and is condemned in countless places throughout the Bible. And yes, I realize that living together before you’re married is almost a universal practice in secular society today and that it may be financially convenient in many situations, but that in no way makes it right. My advice—especially if you claim to be a Christian—is to either move out or get married. In fact, here at Redeeming Grace, we won’t baptize a couple who’s presently in a state of living together before marriage, nor will we allow them to be church members. Even if they say they believe in Jesus and articulate the gospel fairly well, we just can’t accept their testimony as a credible testimony of saving faith if they’re dishonoring God in such an obvious and brazen way by cohabitating. 

Moving on, a fourth distortion of God’s gift of sex is homosexual behavior. And the reason I say “homosexual behavior” instead of “homosexuality” is to avoid confusion about the identity question. A lot of people today assume that their sexual desires are inseparably bound up in their identity. In fact, many of them consider their sexual desires central to their identity. Their sexuality, they believe, is at the very heart of who they are as a person. Now, this way of thinking is largely a twentieth century innovation. No other civilization in all of human history—even those who engaged in homosexual behavior—has ever thought of sexuality this way, as the core of their identity. But in the minds of many people today, it’s beyond debate. And so, if someone has a desire for the same sex, they’re extremely sensitive to even the suggestion that such a desire may be wrong. To them, that suggestion is essentially a rejection of them as a person. And because of that, they quite understandably find it hurtful to a degree that’s beyond what most of us can imagine. 

However, the Bible teaches that our identity is found not in our sexual desires—which sex we’re attracted to—but rather in the fact that God created us in his image. On the most fundamental level, we’re image-bearers of God. And for those of us who are Christians, we’re dearly loved children of God. That’s our identity. So I’m not sure it’s as helpful to refer to certain people as “homosexuals” or as “gay” since that could be taken to imply that their lifestyle is a part of their identity. Instead, I believe we can avoid some confusion by speaking of “homosexual behavior” as displeasing to God. 

And the fact is that there are many people—even many Christians—who have those desires and just can’t help it. Like so many other things in this world, their desires have unfortunately been twisted and distorted by the fall of humanity into sin recorded in Genesis 3. However, it’s important to understand that they don’t have to give in to those desires. By God’s grace and through the power of the gospel, they can walk in victory over the desires they experience. And they aren’t being inauthentic or untrue to themselves by doing so. And for those who are Christians and are striving to do that, I would encourage you to refer to them not as “homosexual” or as “gay” but simply as those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Those who struggle with same-sex attraction. And they’re not fundamentally different than other Christians—because we all struggle in various ways. Some Christians struggle with gossip, others struggle with anger, and others struggle with same-sex attraction. Same-sex attraction is just one more way in which some Christians struggle. 

Yet even as we try to be ever so sensitive and compassionate toward Christian brothers and sisters who struggle in this way, we have to be faithful to what the Bible teaches about homosexual behavior. And that teaching is quite clear. Romans 1:26-27 says, 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. Also, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 clearly states that “Neither the sexually immoral nor…[those] who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God.” So homosexual behavior is another distortion of God’s good gift of sex.

Then a final distortion is lust. In Matthew 5:27, Jesus states, “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.” By saying this, Jesus isn’t adding to the seventh commandment but is simply explaining what it already includes. And it includes a prohibition against lust. The original Greek word behind the phrase “lustful intent” is the word for desire. It often refers to an intense desire and to a sexual desire. So lusting after someone means looking at them or thinking of them in such a way that you’re actively desiring them sexually. A good street-level definition of lust that I’ve heard is when a person’s body becomes more important to you than their soul. So that, of course, would include pornography, but it would also include any lustful gaze or thought you engage in wherever you are. And I probably don’t have to tell you that this is likely the most common way in which most—if not all—of us in this room violate the seventh commandment on a regular basis. So before you point the finger at that person who commits adultery outwardly or who is fornicating, you really need to start by pointing the finger at yourself and consider the ways in which you also break the seventh commandment. 

So those are five ways in which we distort God’s good gift of sex—five ways in which it’s possible to violate the seventh commandment. And there are certainly more things we could add to that list that I haven’t mentioned this morning and, quite honestly, don’t really want to mention. But let’s just say that any sexual activity outside the boundaries of heterosexual marriage is a violation of the seventh commandment. Any sexual activity outside the boundaries of heterosexual marriage is a violation of the seventh commandment. It’s all what we might call “sexual immorality.”

Why Is Sexual Immorality Such a Big Deal?

And that brings us to the third question I’d like to ask and answer this morning, which is why is sexual immorality such a big deal? Why is the sexual immorality that’s prohibited in the seventh commandment such a big deal? In other words, why does God care so much about who we have sex with? Why is he so insistent that we only enjoy the gift of sex within the bounds of heterosexual marriage? 

The answer is found in Ephesians 5. In verses 22-27 of Ephesians 5, Paul writes, 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Paul then continues in verses 31-32, 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

So God intended marriage to be a picture of the gospel. He wants the love that a husband and wife share to illustrate and to point to the love he has for his people. Paul tells us in verse 25 that Christ loved the church so much that he “gave himself up for her.” He took our sinfulness and our wretchedness on himself and died on the cross to pay for our sins. Even though we deserved to be punished for our sins forever in hell, Jesus acted as our substitute and endured every bit of that punishment on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to face it. He then resurrected from the dead so that we too could have the hope of eternal life.

And that’s the reality that God designed marriage to picture. He wants the love and the intimacy a husband and wife share to tell the story of the gospel. Imagine how you would feel if you discovered that someone you know had been spreading rumors about you—telling all of your friends and coworkers and even family members horrific things about you that weren’t true at all. You would be livid, right? How dare that person misrepresent who you are by fabricating those lies? Yet whenever we misuse God’s good gift of sex, we’re misrepresenting him. We’re, in effect, saying that God doesn’t love his people with a love that’s steadfast, sacrificial, committed, and covenantal. Instead, we’re saying that he merely “loves” us when it’s convenient for him to do so or, even worse, that he merely uses us without truly caring for us. Whether we intend to say that or not, that’s the statement we’re making whenever we engage in sexual immorality. Whenever we treat sex as a cheap, throwaway thing, we’re making the statement that God’s love in the gospel is a cheap, throwaway thing as well. So in a sense, any form of sexual immorality is actually a form of blasphemy. We’re blaspheming God’s name and treating his name with utter contempt through our immorality. 

So, to kind of sum things up, the Bible prohibits sex outside of marriage not because sex is dirty but rather because sex is special. It’s not the insignificant, run of the mill, no big deal thing that our society makes it out to be. Rather, sex is special, sacred, and filled with transcendent meaning. 

“Is There Hope for Me?”

Now maybe you’ve been sitting here this morning all too aware of your sexual immorality. Perhaps you squirmed as I described the various forms of immorality the seventh commandment addresses and felt crushed as I described how immorality is such a serious and blasphemous act and you’re now wondering, “Is there any hope for me?” That’s actually the fourth and final question this morning. “Is there any hope for me?” And the answer is a resounding “yes.” The truth is that we’ve all guilty of breaking the seventh commandment. We’ve all twisted and misused God’s good gift of sex. Yet through Jesus, all of our sins are washed away. As God says in Isaiah 1:18, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” There is infinite cleansing and renewing power in the gospel. No matter what you’ve done or what messes you’ve made, God offers you full forgiveness through Jesus if you’ll simply put your trust in him to rescue you. 

And if there’s a voice in your head trying to get you to believe contrary to that, don’t listen to it. Russell Moore insightfully observes, “The devil wishes to assure some people that there’s no need for repentance, and others that there’s no hope for mercy. Some people are deceived into thinking they are too good for the gospel while others are accused into thinking they are too bad for the gospel. No one is more pro-choice than the devil on the way into the abortion clinic, and no one is more pro-life than the devil on the way out of the abortion clinic. The gospel of Jesus Christ tears down both strategies.” Now even though Russell Moore applies this to abortion, it can easily be applied to sex as well. Satan would love to get you to believe that sexual immorality is no big deal before you engage in it, and he would love equally as much to get you to believe that it’s an unforgivable sin after you engage in it. Yet the gospel obliterates both of those lies. In the gospel, we see the seriousness of sin since it took the death of the very Son of God to atone for it, yet we also see in the gospel that God has provided a way for us to forgiven and cleansed through the blood of Christ. So please hear me when I say that there is hope for you—there is mercy and grace—and it’s found in Jesus. 


And this grace not only cleanses us from the guilt of sin but also gives us the ability to walk in Jesus’ ways. You see, when we turn to Jesus and put our trust in him, he opens our eyes to see that living according to God’s instructions in the area of sexuality is indeed a wonderful thing. Going back to the “Garden of Love” poem I quoted at the beginning that portrays God as one who ruins our fun and steals our joy with his Puritanical rules, Jesus helps us see that the opposite is actually true. He helps us see that the viewpoint expressed in this poem is actually just a repackaged form of Satan’s original lie to Eve in Genesis 3, where Satan tells Eve that God has only commanded her not to eat the fruit because God’s selfish and wants to keep her from experiencing something amazing. That was Satan’s original lie, and most people today—even, strangely enough, some who claim to be Christians—are buying into that lie. 

But as we allow Jesus to renew our minds and open our eyes, we see that the seventh commandment actually isn’t oppressive or joy-stealing at all. Rather, it shows us the path of life. In Psalm 16:11, David says to God, “You make known to me the path of life.” That’s what God’s doing in the seventh commandment. You see, sex is a lot like water inside your house. Having running water is a tremendous blessing. I’m so glad we live in an era and in a country where just about every house has running water. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go to an outhouse whenever I needed to use the restroom—especially in the winter. That would not be fun. So praise God for the blessing of running water. And yet, those of you who have had to deal with water damage in your house know that water can be a very destructive thing when it leaks outside of the pipes. Last year, Becky and I returned home from church one Sunday and discovered that water was leaking through our kitchen ceiling in three different places. I don’t even want to think about how many hours that took to fix. So inside the pipes, water is a tremendous blessing, but whenever water leaks outside of those pipes, it becomes very destructive. And sex is the same way. When we don’t enjoy sex the way God intended for us to enjoy it, it ultimately destroys us. Many times, it destroys us emotionally sooner or later, and it always destroys us spiritually. That’s why God gives us instructions for our sexuality. 

So if you’re a Christian, please understand that you’re not missing out on anything by following God’s instructions for sex. I love Psalm 84:11, which states with reference to God, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” You’re not missing out on anything by pursuing a life of purity. So let me encourage those of you who are Christians not trade your birthright for bowl of stew. Some of you may recognize that as a reference to the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25. One day Esau comes in from a hard day’s work and asks his brother Jacob for some stew. He says he’s so exhausted that he just has to have stew right now. So Jacob cunningly says, “I’ll give you some stew if you give me your birthright.” By the way, a birthright was a set of very special and valuable privileges that the firstborn son enjoyed in that culture. Among other things, the birthright included a double portion of the family inheritance. And Esau is so foolish and so driven by his bodily appetite that he consents to this ridiculous offer. He actually trades his birthright for bowl of stew. And although we scoff at his foolishness today, how often do we trade our birthright as Christians for the bowl of stew that our sexually deviant culture wants to feed us? How often do we trade the Christian view of sex—filled with its transcendent meaning—for society’s view of sex—which is worth about as much as the lint in the lining of my pockets. So please, if you’re a Christian, don’t trade in your birthright. Approach sex as the wonderful and sacred thing God intended for it to be.

other sermons in this series

Nov 24


Exodus 20:17: You Shall Not Covet

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:17 Series: The Ten Commandments

Nov 3


Oct 20


Exodus 20:15: You Shall Not Steal

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:15 Series: The Ten Commandments