The sins against the 6th Commandment constitute a long list.
The list includes fornication and cohabitation, or in today’s slang: hooking up and shacking up. It includes homosexual activity, gender confusion, and the making and using of pornography. It includes marital unfaithfulness (adultery in the narrow sense). It includes crude jokes, suggestive music videos, foul-mouthed lyrics, and R-rated movies. It includes not only unscriptural divorce, but also all the sinful anger, arguments, and unforgiveness within marriage prior to the divorce.
The sins also take place in dating, in the years before marriage. How a young man treats a young woman in dating indicates how he’d treat her in marriage. How a young woman responds to a young man in dating indicates how she’d respond within marriage. Whether the relationship is defined by “what have you done for me lately,” demands, and conditions or whether the relationship is defined by forgiveness and giving is learned in dating.
What a list! But what’s amazing about Luther’s Catechism on the 6th Commandment is that you don’t hear even a faint echo of any of this! You come to this commandment ready to hear all the no’s; “don’t do this, don’t do that.” But this is the only one of the Ten Commandments where the meaning has no negatives. Instead, there are two positive statements:
- “that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed,” and
- “that husband and wife love and honor each other.”
So is Luther ignoring all the sins and sweeping them under the rug? Not at all! It’s as if he goes back to when God created marriage in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:18-24) and sees marriage through God’s eyes. When God created marriage, He said it was good. Marriage is good because God made it. Your marriage is good because God made it. Your future marriage is good, and you can wait in faith and hope because God promises to make that marriage for you.
What about everything that’s wrong in the world in this area, all the twisting and wrecking of God’s beautifully made estate of marriage? What about all the bad stuff? Of course we don’t have perfect marriages. Everyone is lacking in some way. You’re guilty of adultery in your heart a thousand times because the culture bombards you with things that you as a Christian don’t want to see and be tempted by. You don’t perfectly show the self-sacrificing spirit—love—that marriage requires. You don’t measure up. How can you be chaste? How can you be pure? How can your marriage be good enough? How can you be sure?
The answer is Jesus Christ. God saw Adam and Eve ruin marriage, so He sent forth Jesus, our dear Redeemer, to love the Church, to make the Church His bride, to redeem her with His blood, and to cleanse her with his blood and “present her to Himself a glorious church, holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). Jesus perfectly resisted temptation and remained without sin. So now in our lives, He makes it so the cleansing of all sin comes to you, comes to the marriage, and also to the unmarried. His chaste and decent life in word and deed atones for all the sins we commit in marriage, all the 6th Commandment sins you are guilty of as a single person or in the context of divorce, and all the defiling sins that are done to you as well.
But taking away sins is not all that Jesus does. This commandment is here to protect you, not only through repentance and absolution, but also as a guide for holy living. This is important for those who are victims of sexual sin or abuse. It’s important for those who have been led into sins they didn’t want to be part of. It’s important for all who through sin in this area might be filled with shame and feeling unclean. It’s also important for young people.
When people take their cues from our culture and society’s changing moral standards and think it’s OK to hook up or shack up or think viewing pornography is normal behavior, they open themselves up to never-ending attacks from the devil. Through these things done in the dark, he brings them into moral darkness. The devil uses these sins to produce guilt and shame, making people uncomfortable being in church in the presence of holy things. They end up thinking it isn’t for them and God can’t possibly want them. They stay away.
This commandment is here to protect you from that. When it is used in the right way, it leads you to the Light. It brings you to Jesus, who cleanses you. He doesn’t stay away! When Jesus is present with you in Word and Sacrament, He not only removes your sin, but actually fills you with His own holiness, righteousness, innocence, and purity. The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
Jesus, your Bridegroom, makes you His pure and holy bride, not only joined with Him, but also so that in your marriage and sexuality, you are clean and holy. The blood of Christ shall cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14). In Christ, He sanctifies you and your marriage, and through His blood He presents you to Himself without spot or blemish.
The Sixth Commandment
You shall not commit adultery.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and that husband and wife each love and honor the other.
Rev. Jerry Gernander
Bethany Lutheran Church