“You have heard it said that adultery is wrong, but I tell you that if you look at her with desire you have already committed adultery” (Matt. 5:27-28).
The seventh commandment is “Thou shall not commit adultery” (Deut. 5:18). There was no uncertainty about what that meant for the Jewish people. Very simply it meant one thing – Do not commit adultery! Everybody understood. The penalty for both parties is death (Lev. 20:20). When Jesus entered the picture, things began to change. While adultery continued to be wrong, another issue surfaced. Jesus tells his followers that if they even look at a woman with sex on their mind they have committed adultery. The focus has been moved from the act to the preliminary stage of considering it. Simply to look at a women sexually is to commit adultery. At one stage the law served to show the Israelites what they should not do. With Jesus concern goes beyond external conformity to the motivation that brought it about. No longer is it enough simply to not do certain things; what God desires is a transformation of the inner man. In our example it is the “looking with intention” that becomes the sin.
Christ’s desire for us is inner purity not simply outward conformity. Law represents a passing stage in moral development. Jesus says conformity to God’s regulations was not God’s ultimate desire in formulating the Ten Commandments. His desire is that we be like him and that requires purification of the inner person. The laws were designed to show what you should not do; the new morality doesn’t want you to even think about it. The ultimate goal of the Christian faith is Christ-likeness.
I used to think of laws as a form of restriction. They were designed to keep us from doing what we might want to do. They controlled the way we lived. But there is a more positive way of looking at laws, – community and national as well as God’s. A law protects us from the consequence of an unwise decision. The sign, 40 MPH, warns us that should we go faster in this zone we would be liable to have an accident due to the density of traffic. It restricts us only in the sense that we not permitted to harm ourselves. Like a wise parent, God guides us along the road to maturity, taking care that we don’t wander from the path. This requires some signs about not doing certain things that have a high probability of negative results. How gracious of God to help his prodigal sons (all of us) overcome the results of a fallen nature. The next time we find ourselves tempted to – in this case – look again at cleavage on display, may we be aware that in God’s world the imprudent look is the same as the act.