Jesus Did Not Say Lust is the Same as Adultery – Response to Jerry Fallwell Jr.

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To be clear, this post is about theology, not politics.

In a recent interview on CNN, Dr. Jerry Fallwell Jr. said, “Jesus said ‘if you lust…in your heart, it’s the same as committing adultery.”

We need to be really clear…that is not what Jesus said.

Jesus’ Context

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is teaching that the Law not only addresses external sins, but also sins of the heart.

What He actually says is, “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.” Matthew 5:27-28

What Jesus was saying is that lust condemns you, just as adultery does.

Jesus’ Teaching

Lust and adultery are the same family of sins. But they are different degrees of maturity. Lust is the seed, adultery the weed. Lust is the root, adultery the fruit.

But they have differing degrees of severity. It might be helpful to think of them in this way:

Lust and adultery are qualitatively the same—they are the same sort of sin.

Lust and adultery are quantitatively different—their degree of severity is exceedingly different.

These sins are similar, but Jesus did not say they are the same.

Degrees of Sin

While all sins are severe, they are not equally severe. When James 2:10 says “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” we learn that failing to keep one part of the law breaks the whole thing. Concerning our text, lusting breaks the law in the same way adultery does. But that doesn’t mean that these sins are the same to God.

When speaking to Pilate, Jesus clearly indicated there were differing degrees of sin,“he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11; cf. Luke 7:41-43). He also teaches there are differing degrees of judgment “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:15; Luke 12:47-48). Elsewhere, God warns Cain to not allow his sinful anger to progress and become the greater sin of murder (Genesis 4:6-7).

As we apply the degrees of sin teaching to our case, we see without doubt that committing adultery is a far worse sin than imagining it in your heart.

1. The act of adultery grieves God far worse.

2. The act of adultery affects a spouse far more.

3. The act of adultery affects the person committing it far more.

To put it in the context of current events, the sexual assault Dr. Nassar committed against many young women is far more serious than someone who once looked at a pornographic image, was grieved, and then quickly turned it off.

Understanding this distinction is important for two reasons:

1. Flattening sins and making them all the same does not encourage us to treat sins appropriately. The way we should respond to the sin of lust in the heart is far different than the way we should respond to adultery. If you don’t believe me, just ask any spouse who has known the pain of adultery’s intimate betrayal.

2. Rendering judgment on people for a lesser sin heaps undue guilt on them. A young man or woman who lusts in their hearts should not be loaded down with the condemnation as an adulterer. People who lust are guilty, but not like the adulterer.

Jesus’ words were intended to expose the heart of self-righteous people who felt satisfied because they had not crossed a certain moral line. We should never feel comfortable with any sin against a holy God. At the same time, the moral relativism that is presented in the opening line of this article unhelpfully blurs lines that dull the sword of God’s Word.

I hope this sheds a little light on what Jesus actually said.

May the Lord help us to honor Him in our hearts, and our actions.

Come, Lord Jesus come.

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15 thoughts on “Jesus Did Not Say Lust is the Same as Adultery – Response to Jerry Fallwell Jr.

  1. Christopher

    I see the Church today shedding acceptance to sin. This article is another example. I stand with scripture as a Liberty divinity student.

  2. Daniel Blake

    This was clearly stated and wonderfully explained. Our natural minds will do anything to dull the sword of God’s word.

  3. Chris Gatihi

    It seems that the point of your post is to draw a distinction between heart adultery and physical adultery and to say that, while the former is bad, the latter is worse. But, with all due respect, isn\\\\\\\’t that the very mindset that Jesus was trying to *correct* in His words that you\\\\\\\’ve quoted?

    I\\\\\\\’m sincerely confused.

    It seems that the point of Jesus words is to say that the problem with lusting is that in doing so you have *already* committed heart adultery–because the heart is what Jesus is primarily interested in. No, physical adultery and heart adultery are not the same. But Jesus\\\\\\\’ punch line *here* is that the issue is always heart adultery, which is always present with physical adultery and is just as condemnable without physical adultery to accompany it.

    I don\\\\\\\’t see how we can feel the full weight of what Jesus is saying here and conclude that physical adultery is worse than heart adultery without reading something else *into* the text.

    With all sincerity, am I missing something here brother?

    1. garrettk Post author

      I think we are close to understanding each other. I fully agree with Jesus’ point: heart adultery is grievous and condemns us in the same way that adultery is a sin of the heart that produces the actions. James 1:15 puts it this way, “desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Jesus would say that the conception of desire (heart adultery) condemns us, but it should be stopped before it gives birth to sin (acting out of adultery). To not stop the sin from coming forth is a worse sin, though both condemn us. Hope that helps.

  4. Vicki

    True though the article may be, it sure feels like full-blown adultery to the spouses of those who spend hours on end perusing internet porn. Those Christians who are guilty of this may be able to pat themselves on the back for not actually having physical contact with their air-brushed tootsies, but the heartache they cause their families is shameful.

    1. garrettk Post author

      Thanks Vicki. I appreciate your honesty in what you share and I completely agree. First, if this is your case, I want you to know how sorry I am. Being sinned against in this way can be utterly disorienting and heartbreaking. May the God of all comfort give you grace, and may He transform the heart of your husband if He has not already. God is able to restore and reconcile, and I pray He would in your case. Second, what you say supports my point in the post. This sort of indulgent use of pornography is worse than entertaining a fleeting thought. And while it may not be as grievous as actual adultery, it is utterly heartbreaking all the same. No one should ever applaud themselves for giving into such grievous sin simply because it could have been worse. Thank you again for sharing, I will pray for you now.

  5. Chris Gatihi

    I left an earlier comment interacting with your treatment of Jesus’ words in Mathew 5, but either it somehow got lost or you didn’t allow it to come through. No worries, though I could re-post the comment if the former.

    In any case, my initial response actually had nothing to do with Trump and Fallwell’s comments, actually. I hadn’t even watched the Fallwell clip before responding. Now that I have watched the Fallwell clip, what I find most intriguing is that you chose to respond to Fallwell with Matthew 5 and Jesus’ discussion of lust/adultery there (bringing other passages to bear in discussing degrees of sin but primarily locating your argument in what Jesus said in Matthew 5).

    Regarding Trump and Fallwell’s use of Matthew 5 to seemingly “get Trump off the hook”, like you I would want to respond to Fallwell’s apparent misunderstanding of Jesus and the gospel. So thank you for doing that. But my first instinct would be to take him to the biblical teaching on repentance and forgiveness (e.g. Luke 17:3-4) rather than where you went.

    Why did you go where you went rather than to the biblical necessity of repentance (which Trump doesn’t appear to demonstrate) as a condition required for enjoying the benefits of the gospel (i.e. forgiveness)? To me the degrees of sin seem irrelevant where repentance seems absent.

  6. Chris Gatihi

    Just saw your followup comment to my initial one. Though it’s confusing to me when combined with what Jesus says in Matthew 5, I agree with your point from James that there is more sin that is compounded when the internal sin is allowed to give birth to external sin. Thanks brother.

  7. Ron Panzer

    We are all imperfect and sinners and sexual sins are only some of the sins that show we fall far short, … infinitely short of His perfection and justice. It is good to recognize what is sinful but not good to forget that the sins of greed, fraud, lying, exploitation of others, cruelty to others, forgetting God, thinking only of ourselves most of the time (if not all the time), self-pride/arrogance are all sins.

    It is easy to point and say, “He sinned!” But again, who is going to cast the first stone? None of us should because we are all guilty and even if we have not committed the same sins, compared with His glory and perfection and holiness, we are all about on the same level (though we think we aren’t): and our level is fallen, imperfect, and utterly unworthy of His grace and forgiveness.

    It is only when we see ourselves honestly that we can grieve upon seeing it and repent/turn away and seek Him and His forgiveness and grace.

    Just think: what is the difference between some weaj 4 feet tall individual and a very “strong” 6 feet tall athlete, compared to the entire existence of all the galaxies within the universe? From that perspective, the difference is nil.

    God uses who He will and whatever justice He dispenses will be done as He sees fit. What Trump is, is known to Him, not us. But I can say that it appears we have never had a more pro-life President than Trump as far as policy goes. Trump says he believes. He is crude and often crude, but so was Jehu (Kings) who slew Ahab and caused Jezebel to be killed and assumed the throne of Israel.

    So, you didn’t commit adultery, even serially? Yet, you and all of us are just as guilty because even one bit of sin is enough to make us unworthy. Need we quote scripture here to understand this?

    Yes, we can discern the difference between sins and types of sins, but in the course of nations that rise and fall, many very imperfect men are used to do His will in different times and places.

    I agree that the sins of the heart are what He is seeing as well as what we do, but those who sin within the heart only are just as much hypocrites as those who pride themselves as being “worthy” of His grace. When we realize this, we are not so quick to judge others’ sins.

    In any case, self-pride is the worst of all sins and who is writing about that? who is not guilty of that? Name one!

  8. Richard Adams

    What is adultry? Isn’t it a married man using a woman who is not your wife (or vice versa) for the purpose of sexual gratification?

    What is Lust? Isn’t it imagining experiencing sexual gratification with someone? And when you are married, and that someone you imagine having sex with, is not your wife, how is that different than adultry?

    The author makes many great points, but unfortunately correcting Jerry Falwell was not one of them. The only difference between imagining adultery and committing adultery is that one is physical and the other mental. Falwell had it right. What Jesus meant is exactly what Jesus said, “he has committed adultery with her in his heart.” Yes, they are both condemned, but they are both condemned because they are both adultery — just as Jesus ( and Jerry) said.

    And I think Jesus point goes even much deeper. If i am honest, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t commit adultry multiple times a day. And I’m a 62 year old man who has been a Christian for 40 plus years. The law was a mirror, but Jesus turned the single mirror into one of those “fun houses” where every which way you look, you see yourself, at every angle, with all the imperfections.

    We don’t just commit sin. We are steeped in it. Jesus was saying, ” there’s no hope for you outside of me and my saving grace.” That’s the point, I think.

    1. Ron Panzer


      Yes, you are exactly right. Man’s (and woman’s) condition is “imperfect” which is a polite way of saying horrifically evil in many ways, but we like to sugar coat it. Anyone who has honestly looked at themselves in the “mirror” provided by God’s perfection will crawl on the ground, kneeling before Him and condemn themselves knowing the evil within, and then beg for His forgiveness and grace.

      The only thing I would add is that “lust” is not just imagination, but a deep driving desire to fulfill the imagined sexual act in the real world … “if I could, I would …” but “I can’t because A, B, C, D and all the bad things that would happen” (like being killed by a jealous husband or divorced by an outraged wife or … or being shamed in the eyes of the community, or losing one’s job or …. it never ends.

      Also, when one has a well-developed conscience, properly informed as to what is right and moral, and what is wrong and immoral, then you tell yourself, “this is not right, even though my lower nature desires it,” and you restrain yourself. While those who indulge give way to their selfish desires/lusts and find ruined relationships, bringing harm to children (divorced parents, for example), diseases/STDs, etc. and death (for sure if they continue it; someone will kill them eventually).


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