Matthew 5:27-30, “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. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Here we have come to the next stanza, so to speak, of Christ’s great symphony of words we call the “Sermon on the Mount.” As our Lord’s instruction increases, the burden seems to be heftier and our hearts are left uncovered, exposed to their true condition of fragility. It is tempting to look at Christ’s words and subconsciously make a check-list in our heart of do’s and don’ts. Let us beware of this, doing all we can to fight against an achiever mentality which is most natural to our flesh and a tempting tendency of man’s heart. As we seek to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus, let us not seek to derive any worth, approval, or security from our accomplishments apart from the gift of salvation, the true Grace that enables holy obedience. With this, our heart can find its place of rest at the feet of our Perfect Messiah and not in the bounty of subconscious-checks we have attributed to ourselves in seeking to be obedient. Though our Lord’s demands have seemed to deepen, the suitability of our Savior is shining even brighter as we get a further glimpse into what perfection really looks like, and the impossibility of us fulfilling it in any capacity.

Oswald Chambers put it well:

Jesus Christ demands that the heart of a disciple be fathomlessly pure, and unless He can give me His disposition, His teaching is tantalizing. If all He came to do was to mock me by telling me to be what I know I can never be, I can afford to ignore Him, but if He can give me His own disposition of holiness, then I begin to see how I can lay my account with purity. Jesus Christ is the sternest and gentlest of Saviors.”

With that being said, Jesus’ words are clear here regarding the weight of sin, and the appropriate measures to take for every one of Christ’s followers.

“You have heard that it was said…”

Referring to the seventh commandment given to the Israelites (Exodus 20:14), Jesus is revealing His union with the Father in saying, “But I say to you.” There is a reason the crowds were amazed at the end of Jesus’ address to His disciples. Not only was Christ undoing the man-made teaching of the Pharisees, but He was speaking with Spirit-filled authority (Matthew 7:29), leaving those around Him with jaws-dropped, eyes wide, and hearts burning within them. The Author was here, interpreting properly what was decreed by His Father, issued by Moses, and soon to be fulfilled by the Son (Matthew 5:17) through the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ recurring phrase, “But I say to you…”, I can imagine the crowd’s interest peaked, and postures hunched over in anticipation, “What is He about to say?” It is this same demeanor that should possess us when reading the words of our Lord, even more so for those who have come to taste and see that His words are true. Lean in, friend. These next few sentences are words of life for the breathless, healing for the sick, wisdom for the foolish, and salvation for the wayward.

Adultery Defined

“But I say to you, that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart “(Matthew 5:27). At the proclamation of Jesus’ words, it would be easy to despair. Every heart in the crowd must have sunk in the realization that before a holy God, they weren’t as pure as they had thought. Jesus just shattered any ounce of self-righteousness they believed about themselves. Now, it was made clear not only are men’s actions being weighed, but their heart’s intent, motivation, and desire. Here, Christ is clearing up any misconception about the adulterous person, signifying where his sin originates. Surprising to his audience, adultery does not begin with the physical stroke of a woman’s hair but rather in the deep recesses of a man’s heart, where the intent to do so is found.

As a woman, it is made apparent that most believe this to be a man’s problem, casting the weight of Christ’s words predominately upon their shoulders. I have not found this to be so in my own life, and after ministering to women young and old, it is more prevalent than you would believe. Lust is not a man’s problem, it is a human problem. Though Christ appeals to men in Matthew 5:27-30, that does not discount the countless women who have found their feet straying towards the path of adultery, following “as an ox goes to the slaughter” (Proverbs 7:22).

Once more, our Lord has blasted any attempt of man seeking to appear perfect, showing His creatures just how incapable we are in light of His commands, realizing the hopelessness of ever attaining to the standard of Christ’s teachings. This is true of every man, woman, and child still to this day. Jesus was not trying to make it easy here. He is commanding of us total perfection and not only outwardly but inwardly as well. It is clear to all that justification will not come through works of the law (Romans 3:20). The wall of separation stands tall as we look at our hearts alone, and if our gaze ends there, the wall before us remains immovable.

The gift of God’s grace through faith presents a beautiful reality: At the foot of the cross stands level ground. Upon the basis of our faith in the Son’s sacrifice, we will not be turned away, despite the sins we bring—we live under grace not under the law. What does this mean for those who still wrestle with the sin of lust? For the adulterer, the good news of the gospel is not a cop-out.

Hope for the Adulterer

Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Recognizing the freedom found through the cross, there is great hope in our fight against sin! Along with the right understanding of adultery defined by Christ, should come a greater devotion to abstain from anything or anyone that lures our hearts towards its demise.

As we come to a heightened realization of adultery’s severity, so should the severity of our attack against any resembling threat be. Our Lord recognizes the seriousness of adultery for the Christian and shows no room for coddling any affection or action that comes close to it. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

What threatens our hope, peace, joy, and comfort in the Lord is not our suffering, but our sin. Jesus knows this and is painting for us a strong picture of the stance His followers must take against the threat of sin in order to live a devoted life unto His glory. Because of sin’s drastic consequences, drastic should be the measures we take against it, however foolish it seems to those around us.

On a practical level, obedience to this passage may manifest differently. For some, it may mean a handful of places are not helpful in going to because the passions stirred up within. For others, closed doors and computer screens are out of the question. For myself, indulging in romance movies and T.V. dramas only dull the affection I have for my Lord and the husband He blessed me with. Though the manifestations of our obedience differ, our hatred of sin should not. Our hearts should be joined with the psalmist in crying out, “Incline my ear to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:36-37).

All this to say, for the young man or woman “lacking sense” (Proverbs 7:7) following the persuasion of the seducer’s call; for the one prone to lust who takes captive another with their thoughts and heart’s intent– there is Hope. Christ and Christ alone is able to free us from the bondage of worldly love. He does this by showing us Heavenly Love. I’ve heard it said, “How do you overcome a beautiful thing? By replacing it with a more beautiful thing”. Brothers and sisters, Christ is our more beautiful thing. We will find our strength in this battle against lust, flesh, and our Enemy not by looking to ourselves, and certainly not by looking at each other; we will find our might as we behold Beauty. Standing under His protection, we can fight together knowing that there is no love surer and more unrivaled than the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Be strong in The Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10), and do not despair. With full knowledge of lust’s disadvantage to the beauty of our Lord, we can cry out together, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8).