The scandal involving former Four-Star General and CIA Director David Petraeus has been a sobering reminder of the pain sin causes. It seems stories like this one are all too common in our day and not just among celebrities, leaders and politicians. Too many lives bear the scars of disregarded marriages. When news like this breaks, many ask why men risk their careers, marriages and families for sex. Many women wonder about the men in their own lives. It seems only a matter of time until we hear about another scandal.
Jesus wasn’t silent on the sin of adultery. In fact, He offered a tough warning for those who might be cavalier about this particular sin. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:
"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 "(Matthew 5:27-30).
This was a tough teaching for Christ’s original audience and remains a tough one for us today. Jesus explains the sin of adultery is more than just sex; it’s a matter of the heart. Many in the crowd that day likely assumed adultery was a sin of the body, and like many today, they believed it was OK to lust and desire with the heart as long as you didn’t act out those desires with the body. But Jesus didn’t allow this distinction. For Jesus, people committed adultery the moment they entertained it in the heart. And so every man should let the public fall of Petraeus be a sober reminder.
We see from the passage how important marital fidelity is to God. I sometimes worry that we don’t take sin as seriously as Jesus did. He very clearly taught we should take great lengths to fight against the sin in our lives; that sin is something we should continually repent of and stop doing. Today, preachers and teachers tend to emphasize Christ’s grace and ignore His calls to repentance. As Jesus clearly taught here, sin leads to hell and should be taken seriously.
Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6). That probably didn’t make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it was God’s word to them and it’s His word to us. God’s wrath is coming upon the world because of sin, and Christ followers must war against the sin remaining in them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians will still struggle with sin in this world, but they must never make peace with such sin. They make war against it. They cut, they gouge it out of their lives by the power of the Holy Spirit working in them (Romans 8:13).
Jesus’ word to David Petraeus is His word to all tempted to commit sins like adultery. Christ bids them to come to Him with faith and repentance. He invites them to trust in Him for salvation through grace and trust Him for the power to fight against every temptation. Until we see Christ face-to-face, we must fight against the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1) and ask God for the joy of salvation in Christ, which is a million times more satisfying. Jesus' warnings were always an invitation to something much better: a relationship with Him. May we who are tempted turn to Christ and see Him as infinitely more valuable than every temptation that comes along.