Do Not Commit Adultery (Seventh Commandment)

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“And you shall not commit adultery.” (Exod 20:14) [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the heart of adultery is almost always a lie. The lie is that our private lives are and should remain private. The truth, however, is that our actions always affect those around us.


Ask King David. He thought that he could have a quiet affair with Bathsheba. When she got pregnant, he tried to hush it up first by calling her husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from service in the army to the palace. The idea was that if Uriah slept with his wife, David’s sin would be covered up. Uriah spoiled this plan by remaining loyal to David and refusing to return home. Unable to cover up his sin, David sent word to Uriah’s commander to place him on the front line in battle and then abandon him to the Amorites. Uriah died in battle (2 Sam 11). Pretty soon everyone heard about David’s sin and attempted cover up. Psalm 30 records David’s distress over his sin. Psalm 51 records David’s confession to God. God forgave David but David’s sin led to the death of his child (2 Sam 12:13–14).


Adultery, divorce, and other forms of immorality are the consequence of yielding to forbidden desires and temptations that threaten to destroy healthy relationships [2] and tear apart our families. They also stand in contrast to God’s intent for human marriage, which is life-long marriage between one man and one woman.

Marriage is not just a romantic idea. If we view our relationships as simply serving our own needs, our children lose out. According to the U.S. Census (2011, 68), the share of children born to unwed mothers rose from 27 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2007. This one statistic implies that the prospects for children in America have plummeted in our generation. Think more poverty, more drug use, more suicide. Marriage is not just a romantic idea.

Biblical Context

Jesus deplored divorce, permitting it only in the case of sexual immorality, and relating it to adultery [3]. The covenant of marriage (Mal 2:14) involves for us two parts: both a covenantal sign (physical intimacy) and a covenantal oath (the marriage promise) [4]. Sexual immorality breaks the first part, but not necessarily the second.

Adultery and Murder

Jesus’ teaching about adultery parallels his teaching about murder. Lust leads to immorality so Jesus cautions us to avoid lust and thereby prevent adultery. He then interrupts this discussion of adultery to launch into a bit of hyperbole: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out . . . And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” (Matt 5:29–30)  After this aside, he returns to his discussion of adultery. The implication is that the body part in view is not an eye or a hand but something a bit more personal! Jesus clearly deplores divorce and immorality.


[1] Also: Deut 5:18; Matt 5:27; Matt 19:18; Rom 13:9.

[2] My first ministry experience as a young adult arose when my pastor and mentor encouraged me to start a summer youth program. The program was a success and I continued this ministry until I was married some years later. My mentor, however, was discovered by a church member to be having a homosexual affair. The affair cost him his pastorate and his marriage; it cost me an important mentor; and it cost the church a talented pastor.

[3] Matt 5:32; Matt 19:9.

[4] For Adam, we see Adam’s rib being taken out to create Eve (a kind of cutting ceremony) and an oath—“she is bone of my bones.“ (Hugenberger 1994, 342–43; Gen 2:21–23)


Hugenberger, Gordon P. 1994. Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2011. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Do Not Commit Adultery (Seventh Commandment)

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Living Into Our Call


The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,

the world and those who dwell therein, 

for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. 

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?

And who shall stand in his holy place? 

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul 

to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 

(Ps 24:1-4)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sometimes decreasing tension with a holy God means increasing our tension with the world. In David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ recent book, UnChristian, the six most common points of tension between Christians and non-Christians were:

1. Hypocritical. We say one thing and do another.

2. Christians are: “too focused on getting converts.”

3. Homophobic. “Christians are bigoted and show distain for gays and lesbians.”

4. Sheltered. Christians are: “old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality”.

5. Too political. Christians: “promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues.”

6. Judgmental. People doubt that “we really love people as we say we do.” (Kinnaman 2007, 29–30).

Non-Christian doubts about Christian holiness lie behind each of these criticisms. For example, Christians who act like everyone else—especially in matters of sexuality—are rightly seen as hypocritical, not holy. By contrast, Christians who pursue holiness may make some others feel uncomfortably judged, eliciting unfair criticism and well-earned tension.

When holiness issues are raised within the church, discussion is often cut off with a question—where is the grace in your worldview? In view here is the presumed tension between grace and law in the Gospel of John: “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16–17) Grace and law appear to oppose one another, but this interpretation is misleading for two reasons.

The first reason is that grace and truth are divine attributes revealed to Moses immediately after the giving of the law (Exod 34:6). If the law and grace appeared together from the beginning, how could they be in conflict? It is more helpful to interpret law and grace as complementary because the giving of the law was itself act of divine grace in that the law revealed God’s will for daily living. Consequently, Christ’s atoning sacrifice was not God’s first an act of grace.

The second reason is that grace and truth (law is a kind of prescriptive truth) go together in personal transformation. According to Calvin, because the law is concrete, it is useful for educating in righteousness, for law enforcement, and for outlining how to be holy every day (Haas 2006, 100). Everyone loves to receive grace, but not everyone likes to hear the truth because it often requires corrective action.

The commentary nature of law and grace is never more obvious than in the words of Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5:17) Attempts to abrogate the Law of Moses in favor of grace often arise because the law divides into two parts: the holiness code and ceremonial law. This distinction arose historically because the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 making it impossible to perform the ceremonial laws. However, the destruction of the temple had no such effect on the holiness code, whose prohibitions against sexual immorality were never abolished or abrogated, as confirmed in the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 (Acts 15:19-20).

The holiness code is not obsolete. Consider the cleanup in New York City that occurred in the 1980s. Two criminologists, James O. Wilson and George Kelling, started the clean-up with what they called the broken windows theory. They argued: 

Crime is inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and a sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street it faces, sending the signal that anything goes. The idea is that crime is contagious. 

So New York City waged a war on broken windows and graffiti in the neighborhoods and subway. Minor infractions of law were not tolerated. And crime throughout the city began to fall precipitously to everyone’s surprise (White, 2004, 158). 

The broken windows theory is to cities what the holiness code is to individuals. King Solomon famously wrote of the little sins: “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (Song 2:15) The point is that little things matter—they form and reflect your attitude.

Our conduct matters. Our conduct matters to our families, for whom we model Christ and express our deepest commitments. It matters to our neighbors, for whom we witness and work for peace. It matters to God, who gave Moses the law, in whom we put our faith, and on whom we depend for our salvation. Our conduct matters.


Haas, Guenther H. 2004. “Calvin’s Ethics.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, 93–105. Edited by Donald K. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

White, James Emery. 2004. Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Living Into Our Call

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Misplaced Affections: Monday Monologues, November 4, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Misplaced Affections.

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Misplaced Affections: Monday Monologues, November 4, 2019 (podcast)

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Misplaced Affections

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The radio silence today on discussions of morality is killing people.

In my annual physical this year, my doctor indicated that Baby Boomers are now considered at risk for hepatitis C and require routine screening. The key justification for this recommendation was:

“There is increasing HCV [hepatitis C virus]-associated morbidity and mortality, as annual HCV-associated mortality in the US increased more than 50% from 1999 to 2007 [currently 3.5 million cases]. People born 1945-1965 with hepatitis C face increasing hepatitis C-associated morbidity and mortality.” (CDC 2019b)

What stuns the heart is how hepatitis is usually contracted. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports:

“Although transmission via injection drug use remains the most common mode of HCV acquisition in the United States, sexual transmission is an important mode of acquisition among HIV-infected MSM [men having sex with men] with risk factors, including those who participate in unprotected anal intercourse, use sex toys, and use non-injection drugs.” (CDC 2019a)

While one might contract hepatitis in a third-world country through exposure to unprotected water, in the United States one generally needs to engage in high-risk behavior to contract the disease. In this context, thoughtful teaching about the morality of avoiding high-risk behavior can save lives and reduce much suffering.

Public Health Crises

High-risk behavior has become a public health hazard in the United States . Given our recent experience with Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), this conclusion should come as no surprise.

Roughly 675,000 people have died in the United States from AIDS according to the CDC (2016).  In addition, there were 1.1 million people in the United States infected with AIDS in 2015. Two-thirds of them were gay men. Most of the rest have been intravenous drug users, although spouses of victims can also contract the disease. The average lifetime treatment cost in 2010 dollars was: $379,668, which implies a drug market of roughly half a trillion dollars, one of the nation’s largest (CDC 2017, 2018a).

On top of HCV and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)  infection, the number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs—chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chancroid) have growing rapidly over the past decade, especially among millennials and the elderly. A thirty-one percent increase between 2012 and 2017 (2.3 million cases) reported STDs cases reversed a downward decline in reported cases that began in the 1940s (CDC. 2018b). Today’s sexual liberality bears much of the blame for these outcomes.

Taking Stock

You may be thinking, why do I care? Isn’t using a condom sufficient caution and isn’t there a pill for every one of these diseases? The answer today is a qualified yes. Yes—if you are diagnosed early, then these diseases are treatable and there may even soon be a cure for AIDS.

The trouble is that not everyone has a health plan and gets a prompt diagnosis—sex has an addictive quality that often leads to taking more risks. More troubling is the observation that diseases often mutate into new, more viral strains—twenty years ago no one had heard of HCV and before 1980 no one had heard of HIV.

For those that want to limit this conversation to the realm of personal freedom and conversations with their doctors, the opioid crisis raises the specter of conflicting incentives in the health care system.⁠1 Treating AIDS is expensive and it may also be more profitable than treating other illnesses. What happens if drug companies and other health care providers become complicit in promoting alternative lifestyles motivated by their economic interest rather than concern for those afflicted?⁠2

Who exactly can you trust when a lot of money is changing hands?

Toward a Christian Perspective

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Before any conversation about moral behavior, know that God loves you because he created you and sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for you. God’s love is extended unconditionally, irrespective of your health care status. But God’s love is a gift that must be accepted. The consequences of rejecting God’s love (or holding it lightly) can be severe.

The teaching of the church on the question of human sexuality has been clear since biblical times (Fortson and Grams 2016). Sex is reserved for married couples in a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman. All other sexual activity is sin, something that Christians are advised to avoid (Gagnon 2001).

The focus of a disciplined life is ideally on God. Extramarital sex leads to other priorities and denigrates the image of God that we should normally look for in other people.⁠3 One pastor I know makes the point that he always knows when kids start having sex because they soon drop out of church.

Doing Better

Knowing that the health care consequences of sexual immorality in this world can be severe, the critical question for those wavering on their response: if by your words you lead someone else into risky behavior, are you okay with the pain and other consequences? Are you okay, for example, with the problem that rising health care costs mean that more young mothers cannot afford care for their kids?

One of the most tortured women that I ever met was an HIV-positive prostitute who lost custody of her kids back in 2011. At one point she considered herself a consenting adult. Now, her kids have lost their mother. We cannot anticipate all the consequences of our decisions—the best we can do is to rely on God’s help to make better decisions.

If it is too late to worry about the above question, remember that we worship a God of second chances. Turn to him and find forgiveness, remembering Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery.⁠4


Campbell, W. P. 2010. Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christlike Response to Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. (review)

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2016. “Today’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic.” CDC Factsheet. Online: Accessed: 8 January 2019.

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2017. HIV Cost-effectiveness. Online: Accessed: 8 January 2019.

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2018a. Basic Statistics [on AIDS]. Online: Accessed: 8 January 2019.

Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). 2015. Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Health and Human Services (HHS) Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50). Retrieved from (Cited: 18 October 2018).

Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2018b. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. Online: Cited: 24 September 2019.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2019a. Epidemiology and Prevention of HIV and Viral Hepatitis Co-infections. Online: Cited: 24 September 2019.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2019b. CDC Recommendation: Adults Born from 1945-1965 (Baby Boomers) get Tested for Hepatitis C. Online: Cited: 24 September 2019.

Fortson, S. Donald and Rollin G. Grams. 2016. Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition. Nashville: B&H Academic.(review)

Gagnon, Robert A. J. 2001. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press. (review)

Pope Paul VI. 2014. On Human Life (Humanae Vitae). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (review)

Washington Post (WP) 2019. “Follow The Post’s investigation of the opioid epidemic.” Online: Cited: 24 September 2019.

Wener-Fligner, Zach. 2015. “Every US company arguing for the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.” March 10. Online: Cited 24 September 2019.


1 More than 200,000 Americans have died from opioid overdoses. Many of these addictions began with prescription painkillers known to be addictive and very profitable for the companies producing them.. (e.g. WP 2019)

2 Among the 379 companies filling an amicus brief before the Supreme Court on Obergefell v. Hodges were some of the largest drug companies in the United States. (Wener-Fligner. 2015)

3 Mary Eberstadt cites four prophecies made in the Pope encyclical that appear to have taken place: “a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.” (Pope Paul VI 2014, 11)

4 See John 8. A good book on ministering to homosexuals has been written by Campbell (2010)


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Moore Engages Secular Culture, Part 2

Russell Moore, OnwardRussell Moore. 2015. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group. (Goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In writing about culture, we never leave it and it has changed more rapidly in the past generation than in any previous historical period. For most of human history, people have lived primarily in small, rural communities where everyone knew each other. Boomers were the first generation to grow up primarily in urban areas while many of our parents grew up on a farm or came from a small town. Other than technological changes of recent years, our cultural context is remarkably similar to that of the first century Roman empire.

In part 1 of this review, I give an overview of Moore’s book. In part 2, I will drill down into three of his arguments: the end of cultural Christianity, the attitude about human dignity, and the focus on family stability.

Bible Belt No More

Moore grew up in Biloxi, Alabama and, as a pastor, was well aware of the cultural ways of the Bible Belt. He observes:

“…cultural Christianity is herded out by natural selection. That sort of nominal religion, when bearing the burden of the embarrassment of a controversial Bible, is no more equipped to survive in a secularizing American than a declawed cat released into the wild. Who then is left behind? It will be those defined not by a Christian America but by a Christian gospel.” (24)

Here Moore is taking aim at residents of the Bible Belt, presumably conservative Evangelical Christians, but this natural selection process appears equally to weed out the sons and daughters of mainline denominations, as membership numbers attest.

But Moore’s highlights the moral turpitude of cultural Christians in a story about the two groups of kids in his church’s young group. The first group were the “churched” kids who knew “how to get drunk, have sex and smoke marijuana without their parents ever knowing about it.” (71) The second group were “mostly fatherless boys and girls, some of whom [were] gang members, all of them completely unfamiliar with the culture of the church.” and did not even try to hide their sinful activities. (70)

What attracted the attention of this later group was not the materials produced by the denomination to relate to them—they laughed at them. What attracted their attention was the gospel itself. One kid asked: “So, like, you really believe this dead guy came back to life?” (71) The fact that the gospel resonates better with the unchurched kids than the churched kids led Moore to abandon hope for cultural Christianity and the Bible Belt so closely associated with it.

Human Dignity

One the great ironies of the postmodern era is the pervasive campaign against human dignity veiled in language suggesting something quite different. Moore writes

“Abortion, torture, euthanasia, unjust war, racial injustice, the harassment of immigrants, these things aren’t simply ‘mean’ (although they are that too). They are part of an ongoing guerilla insurgency against the image of God himself, as summed up in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus identified himself with humanity—in all of our weakness and fragility.” (120)

Abortion, for example, has limited the supply of labor in the United States and motivated immigration—teenagers used to do most of the work now done by Hispanic workers. Many immigrants are killed or raped in coming to the United States from Central America to escape economic hardship and abuse by drug gangs. Those persecuted elsewhere have also been given priority in the granting of green cards and citizenship, but Central American immigrants have been legally discriminated against and treated badly day to day in spite of being hardworking and practicing Christians. Such treatment is out of step with our American heritage and is an assault on human dignity.

Moore talks about the “culture of death” today in United States and focuses on the unborn as being the image of God most dramatically abused in America today. Unable to defend themselves, the unborn are disposed of like trash for no other reason than that they are inconvenient. When we separate humanity from nature and body from soul (121), the question of convenience increasingly motivates many assaults on human dignity affecting the weak, the infirm, and the disadvantaged.

Family Stability

Moore’s comments on sexuality are probably his most controversial, but his logic is unmistakably biblical. He writes:

“Throughout the cannon of Scripture, there’s a close tie between family breakdown and spiritual breakdown. That’s why idolatry and immorality are linked repeatedly in the Old Testament. The mystery of the Christ/church pattern itself was revealed, it should be remembered, to a congregation in the shadow of a fertility goddess (Acts 19:21-41)…sexual immorality has profound spiritual consequences (1 Cor 6:17-20)…the body is a temple, set apart to be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.” (170)

Sexual immorality, veiled in the language of liberation and personal freedom, has actually led to a culture where women are denigrated and abused, putting them under the subjugation, not of husbands and fathers, but of strangers and men in power. If abortion on demand is always available, women, not men, assume responsibility for reproduction. Moore sees the postmodern sexual ethic not as something new, but a resurgence of good old fashion paganism.

It is indeed ironic that the #MeToo movement shows the depth of this problem in that the women stepping forward as having been harassed and abused are not the poor and the defenseless, but the celebrities and powerful, who have been the primary beneficiaries of the women’s movement and who already had access to the courts and had the resources to pursue legal action.


Russell Moore’s Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel challenges us to distinguish the gospel of Jesus Christ from different manifestations of Christendom in American culture. Moore advocates engaging the culture, not simply criticizing it, to expose aspects of the culture that present opportunities for Christian witness. His narrative style facilitates this engagement and makes his writing both entertaining and accessible.

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 2—Sin

Augustine’s Confessions, Part 2—Sin

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 3; Goto Part 4)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Augustine writes the Confessions in thirteen books where the first nine book talk about his life, book ten talks about his motivations for writing, and the final three chapters reflect on the book of Genesis. In part two of this review, I focus on Augustine’s view of sin.

Memoir and Augustine’s Focus on God

 Memoir is an autobiography with a theme. Augustine’s theme is his call to faith and he begins his memoir with a profession of faith:

“GREAT ART THOU, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no number. And man desires to praise Thee. He is but a tiny part of all that Though has created. He bears about him his mortality, the evidence of his sinfulness, and the evidence that Thou does resist the proud, yet this tiny part of all that Thou has created desires to praise Thee.” (3)

Augustine is writing in Latin, which is obvious from the translation because of the use of Thou, Thy, and Thee in the English translation, borrowing from the archaic English forms found in Elizabethan English. Sheed comments on the decision to use these forms in translation arguing that they add beauty, express intimacy, and reflect the liturgical character of the Confessions (xi-xii).

Augustine’s Style

Augustine’s theology appears in this introductory paragraph which starts with divine praise, intimacy, power, and immensity, relates death to sin, and references Jesus’ emphasis on humility (e.g. Matt 5:3). The first sentence is also an allusion to the psalms which in a modern translation reads: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods” (Ps 96:4 ESV)

Unlike a modern memoir, Augustine does not turn to his own life story until after laying out a significant treatise on his understanding of God. In his seventh section (about six pages later), he finally starts his own story:

“Thus, Lord, I do not remember living this age of my infancy; I must take the word of others about it and can only conjecture how I spent it—even if with a fair amount of certainty—from watching others now in the same stage.” (9)

In this context, we witness a very pious Augustine and get a sense of the liturgical character of this memoir.

Early Sin and Intercessory Prayer

Augustine is frequently associated with the doctrine of original sin, which is obvious when he writes:

“Thus the innocence of children is in the helplessness of their bodies rather than any quality in their minds, I have myself seen a small baby jealous; it was too young to speak, but it was livid with anger as it watched another infant at the breast.” (9)

We used to joke that original sin was two infants given one toy! Still, Augustine does not exempt himself from the influences of sin as he writes about his own infancy.

Augustine’s Youth

Augustine pictures later himself as an initially lazy student who received frequent beatings (10), but we are quickly introduced to a pious Monica, his mother, who seeing her son engaging in self-destructive and sinful behavior resorted to unceasing prayer:

“The mother of my flesh was in heavy anxiety, since with a heart chaste in Your faith she was ever in deep travail for my eternal salvation, and would have proceeded without delay to have me consecrated and wash clean by the Sacrament of salvation…” (12)

Still, it is paradoxical to observe one of the great philosophers of the church saying: “I disliked learning and hated to be forced to it.”(13)


At age sixteen, Augustine found himself beset with sin. A besetting sin is one that you are aware of and pray for relief from, but find yourself addicted to. For Augustine, lust for women posed a besetting sin, as he famously wrote: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” (152)

Augustine writes that his pagan father, Patricius, and his Christian mother, Monica, reacted differently to his interest in women. Patricius looked forward to having grandchildren (irrespective of their manner of conception), while Monica wanted him to remain chaste until such time as he could establish his career (27-28).

Stolen Peers

In the midst of his discussion of lust, Augustine tells the story of how some of his friends lured him into steeling some peers, writing:

“The peers were beautiful but it was not peers that my empty soul desired. For I had any number of better peers of my own and plucked those only that I might steal.” (31)

The stolen peers became a symbol for his relationship with women and later taking of a mistress, who is never named but gives him a son (56). Fifteen years later he dismisses his mistress so that he might be formally married and finds himself so distressed in her absence while he waits for marriage that he takes another mistress. If this seems odd to modern ears, the editor notes:

“Marriage in the Roman Empire was viewed more as an institution of social promotion, political alliance, and financial stability than an act of love.” (327)


While this may be true, Augustine viewed his immorality as a besetting sin and clearly motivated his later guidance for monks to remain celibate. In some sense, his weakness came to our benefit as the church worked to cleanse itself of pagan attitudes about immorality, which still dog the church today.


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1 Corinthians 6: Growing into Our Identity in Christ

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).

Where is your identity?

A friend of mine was involved in special operations as a professional soldier and spent time in places like Vietnam.  Here was a man who had engaged in fierce combat operations.  When I first met him and heard him talk, I thought that he was delusional—he talked about things that I would never have done; never could do.  What was normal for him, most of us would look on in horror in the movie theater.  But he was a soldier doing what soldiers are expected to do.  Out his identity as a soldier, he was able to bear those burdens years after year.  For him, the hard part was transitioning back into the life of a civilian and leaving the burdens of military life behind.  Now, as a civilian he has a new identity.

Our identities define both who we are and how we are expected to behave.

The Corinthian church had an identity problem.  In Corinth before Paul arrived, the rich exploited the poor, in part, through legal proceedings (vv 1-8).  In Corinth before Paul arrived, hard partying routinely included drunkenness, orgies, and prostitution—male and female (vv 9-10).  And the Corinthians even had proverbs to support their wild behavior.  Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food (v 13) is a proverb thought to be used analogously to condone sexual promiscuity.  When Paul established a church in Corinth, these attributes of the Corinthian identity did not change like one would turn on a light switch.  The Corinthians needed help in growing into their new identities in Christ.

What about us?  Is our primary identity in Christ?  Or is it in our profession, our ethnicity, our gender, our nationality, our social class or some other activity?  If our primarily identity is something other than Christ, we practice idolatry and suffer an idolater’s fate—an existential crisis when our idols fail us.  The unemployed workaholic is not only out of a paycheck; the workaholic has lost their primary source of identity—an idol has been crushed.  This causes an existential crisis.  If we act out of an identity that has been crushed, then our lives appear meaningless without direction or value.  Is it any wonder that drug use, suicide, and mass shootings are so common today?  The problem is not psychiatric; it is spiritual—God will not take second place in our lives; God is a jealous god (Exodus 20:3-8).

Much like the commandments in Exodus 20, Paul’s vice list in verses 9-10 is used to establish Christian identity through contrast.  If you are a Christian, then by definition you avoid doing these things.  Paul readily admits that some of the Corinthians used to do these things (v 11).  All sins are forgivable (other than denying salvation); lifestyles of sin call into question one’s true identity.  Paul’s guidance is interesting:  All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything (v 12).  Do we let sin dominate us?  If we do, we have a problem with a sinful lifestyle.

In closing chapter 6, Paul makes three arguments against sexual immorality:

  1. Since we are united with Christ, sexual immorality unites Christ with a prostitute—unthinkable! (v 15);
  2. Sexual immorality is sin against one’s own body—in other words, stupid (v 18); and
  3. Our bodies are the temple of God purchased at a price—we are not our own (vv 19-20).

But, our identities are in Jesus Christ.  As Paul puts it:  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (v 11).

Where is your identity?


Sande, Ken . 2005. Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.  Review at:


  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 5?
  3. How were the Corinthians handling their grievances? Where did they go?  Where do we go? (v 1; Matthew 5:22-24; Luke 17:3-5)
  4. Sande describes peacemakers are people who breathe grace. He outlines four broad principles of peacemaking:
    1. Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31),
    2. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5),
    3. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1),
    4. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24) (12-13).

These four principles structure Sande’s book.

How does Sande’s list compare to Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8?

  1. Where does Paul get the idea that Christians will judge angels? Why is this fact interesting in his argument? (v 2; Hint:  Daniel 7:22)
  2. Why does Paul disparage the wise in the Corinthian church? (v 5) How does this relate to the church today?
  3. Compare the vice list in verses 9-10 with the vice list in 1 Corinthians 5:11. What items are common to both lists?  Why add the additional items?  Is this a random list of vices?
  4. What is the process of discipleship in the Corinthian church? (v 11) What is it today?
  5. What is Paul’s point in verse 12?
  6. How does resurrection (v 14) affect your interpretation of verse 13?
  7. Paul makes three arguments against sexual immorality in verses 15-20. What are they? Can you think of any others?
  8. What story comes to mind in reading the first clause in verse 18?

1 Corinthians 6: Growing into Our Identity in Christ

First Corinthians 5

First Corinthians 7

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1 Corinthians 5: Be Holy

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land (Exodus 12:19 ESV).

Is there any leaven in your life?

Say what?  In the middle of a discussion of sexual immorality, Paul gives us a lesson on leaven.  Jesus also talked about leaven saying:  Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15 ESV) [1].

In order to understand Paul’s point, it is helpful to distinguish leaven from yeast.  If you are confused, you are not alone—so are translators.  For example, the English Standard version translates ζύμη (v 6) as leaven while the New International Version translates it as yeast following freedom of translation in BDAG (3389 ζύμη).  Yeast is a single-cell fungi used to ferment in baking, wine making, and brewing not commonly available in ancient times.  Leaven is fermented dough.

In ancient times, leaven was kept for baking from week to week and would accumulate dirt and other impurities.  For this reason, once a year the Hebrews would toss out their leaven and start with a fresh batch (Exodus 12:19).  Paul’s lesson on leaven therefore had to do with allowing sin into your life through a gradual process of accumulation.

New York City made an interesting application of this lesson in the 1980s following the “broken glass theory”.  The basic idea was that crime is contagious.  If windows are broken and not cleaned up, people would conclude that no one cares and more windows would be broken.  Anarchy would spread.  So New York decides to launch a campaign to clean up the city block by block from 1984 to 1990.  Murder rates in New York declined by two-thirds[1].  What does the Bible say:  Be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus 11:45 ESV).  Get out that leaven!  Sweat the little stuff!  Children—make your bed!

In the Corinthian church the lesson on leaven focused on sexual immorality.  Paul uses two closely related words to discuss immorality here.  In verse 1, he uses πορνεία and later in verses 9-11 he uses πόρνος.  The first word, πορνεία, is a general term for sexually immoral acts and Paul’s specific application is a case of incest—a man sleeping with his father’s wife (not his mother; prohibited in Leviticus 18:8).  The second word, πόρνος, more narrowly focuses on a male prostitute, but is often translated as fornicator.  A female prostitute would be πόρνης which Paul talks about in chapter 6, verse 15.

The context of his use of πόρνος is in a list of vices for which we are to disassociate ourselves from within the church.  Paul writes:  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one (v 11) [2].  This context is interesting because Paul is talking about people within the church—only in the church!  Paul leaves judgment of non-Christians behaving this way to God! (vv 12-13).

Is there any leaven in your life?


[1] James Emery White.  2004.  Serious Times:  Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day.  Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press, page 158.

[2] This vice list corresponds with passages in Deuteronomy calling for the death penalty (Richard Hays. 2011.  Interpretation:  First Corinthians.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, page 87).

[1] Interestingly, verses 5-8 dealing with leaven are the only verses from chapter 5 found in the common lectionary.  Apparently, sexual immorality is not discussed in the lectionary.


  1. How was your week?Did anything special happen?
  2. What questions or thoughts do you have about 1 Corinthians 4?
  3. What is the subject (or subjects) of chapter 5? (v 1)
  4. What is the response of the Corinthians to this problem? (v 2)
  5. What response does Paul suggest? (vv 2, 9, 11)
  6. What does Paul mean by being present in the spirit? What does Paul expect the Corinthians then to do? (v 3)
  7. What remedy does Paul advocate in verses 4 and 5?
  8. What does Paul compare boasting to? (v 6)
  9. What two characteristics of leaven does Paul point to? (vv 6-8)
  10. What is the role of the Passover festival with respect to leaven? (v 8; Exodus 12:19)
  11. In verses 1 and 9, Paul uses different words for the English translation of immorality. In verse 1, the word is πορνεία (sexually immoral acts). In verse 9, the word is πόρνος (male prostitute).  What does your Spanish translation say?
  12. What does Paul compare immortality to? (vv 10-11)
  13. Who is Paul’s teaching focused on? Who not? How do we know? (vv 12-13)

1 Corinthians 5: Be Holy

First Corinthians 4

First Corinthians 6

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