SPIRITUAL ADULTERY AND THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD
Written by Doug Ponder on November 24, 2013
The Problem with Israel (and Us)
The prophet Malachi asked his fellow Israelites, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Mal. 2:10)
It’s a great question. Why are we faithless to one another? Why do we mistreat others? Why are we selfish and envious and proud?
Throughout history many answers have been suggested, but they all differ from Malachi’s diagnosis. He saw that Israel’s problem was not just that they were mistreating each other. That was only a symptom of the real issue. No, Israel’s problem—and ours—is that we are faithless toward God. That doesn’t mean that they “had no faith.” Rather, being faithless meant they were “not devoted to God” and “not showing allegiance to God” and “not keeping promises to God”. In other words, the people of Israel were spiritual adulterers. And we are too.
‘A’ Is for Adultery
When it comes to our record of faithfulness toward God, none of us has anything to boast in. We daily fail to love him as we should, to keep his commandments, and to remain committed to him.
This is nothing to shrug off. Our continual disobedience and rebellion is analogous to cheating on a spouse. After all, the relationship between God and his people is described most often in the Scriptures with terms related to the marriage covenant. Our faithlessness toward him, therefore, is betrayal and adultery.
But how have we “cheated” on God? By failing to remain exclusively devoted to him, and by worshiping other things as if they were more precious than God.
Though God had loved the Israelites and given them all that they had, they did not remain faithful to him. Instead they “played the whore”, devoting themselves to whatever they liked (Ezek. 16:15). They used the material blessings of God to fashion new idols and images of all kinds, and they worshiped and served these instead of God, their creator, husband, and redeemer.
Of course, this sort of behavior seems on the surface to be very far removed from life in America in the 21st Century. Almost no one fashions an idol from wood and bows down to it in worship. So how could we possibly be guilty of the same sins as Israel had been? How is it true that we are spiritual adulterers? Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, explains it like this: “Whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your god. Trust and faith of the heart make both god and idol.”
In other words, we’re all guilty of worshiping something other than God alone. Every time we sin, in fact, we are elevating something to a higher place of importance than faithfulness to God and to his commandments.
The Selfie God
In our culture, the god most frequently worshiped instead of the living God of the Scriptures is the “god” of self, henceforth known as the ‘Selfie god.’ The objection, of course, is that hardly any of us thinks of ourselves as a god. But that’s not the right question to be asking. Ask yourself: “Do you treat yourself like you’re the center of the universe? Do you think you can determine what is right and wrong ‘for you’? Do you think you have the power to decide what is true and what is not? Do you think you are free to spend money on whatever you please? Is your life an endless buffet of entertainment aimed to keep you from the ultimate ‘evil’, boredom?”
Those are all symptoms of worshiping the Selfie god. In addition to failing to love and honor God as he deserves, the effects of Selie god worship do not end in more love, more happiness, and more peace, but in endless selfishness, strife, envy, etc. As a result, our relationships become contractual (“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”) instead of a genuine offer of love not predicted upon the demands for love in return.
The Directional Love of God
You see? Faithlessness toward God is why the people of Israel were acting f
aithlessly toward each other. As their spiritual adultery continued to blacken their hearts, they lost all motivation to love or serve anyone but themselves. This was no accident. God has designed his love for his people to produce love for him and love for others. So if we love God, it’s only because he loved us first (1 John 4:19). And then like a channel redirecting the course of a river, God’s love flows through us to other people. It is a “down and out” sort of love, beginning with God, realized in us, and then extended to others.
This is why the two greatest commandments are (1) love God with all our being and (2) love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:26-40). They are linked because true love for God always results in love shown to others. It works in reverse, too. A failure to love others is the key sign that we don’t truly love God, no matter what we say with our lips. That’s why John the apostle writes, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
How to Grow in Love
It is impossible to become more loving toward God or others unless you begin with the acknowledgment and confession of your own faithlessness. You must first see yourself as the whore of Ezekiel 16, Malachi 2, and Hosea 1, before you can become the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5.
And this is how the bride of Christ comes to wear white on her wedding day: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of water through the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
The only way to grow in love for God and for others is to realize how he has already loved us in Jesus. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has faithfully loved a faithless people. He has been faithful to keep his promises to rescue a people for himself, though we have not earned this right or deserved this in any way. All those who understand this are transformed at the level of their hearts. God begins in a work in them that he never ceases until the day of completion. Through the work of Jesus and the Spirit, God turns us into the faithful bride that we were created and called to be.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.