I recently had a rather illuminating and sobering conversation with Dan, our senior pastor, about the content of James 4:4. The verse reads, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” The question that arose in our conversation about this text was, why does James call his audience “adulterous people” here? Is it because these people had actually committed the physical act of adultery? Given the context, and common sense, it is not likely that James is accusing them of physical adultery, but rather, spiritual adultery.
What is spiritual adultery? Here’s the definition Dan gave: “Spiritual adultery is owing one person love and giving it to another instead.” In the case of James 4:4, these Christians owe love to God, but instead they are giving that love to the world. James says that in doing this they make themselves enemies of God.
Do you ever give the love you owe to God to someone or something else? If the answer is “yes”, then you too are a spiritual adulterer. If the answer is “no” then I don’t think you understand your heart as you should. Every time we disobey God and choose to neglect Him for some other pleasurable thing, we run into the arms of another lover. Whether comfort, respect, money, control or freedom, you can be assured that this lover doesn’t actually love you back, doesn’t have your best interests in mind, and doesn’t have the capacity to satisfy you like Jesus, your true love.
Spiritual adultery is essentially the same as idolatry. Idolatry is worshiping anything other than God, but may I suggest that when we are referring to our tendency to turn away from God, spiritual adultery may be a better term for us to use. The word “idolatry” doesn’t sting us like it should, partly because our hearts are hard, but also because idols seem like such a distant reality to our culture. While I understand that anything we love more than God is an idol, to a certain degree we still think of idolatry as carving some kind of lion/eagle hybrid out of wood and then bowing down before it as we chant. The term “adultery” still stings in our culture. That’s why we have tried to replace it with other words that don’t sound as condemning… words like “affair” and “cheating”.
The truth is that we have all committed spiritual adultery and, sadly, we’ll do it again. But in order to help ourselves stay faithful to our True Love, let’s tell it like it is. Meaning, let’s remind ourselves of the truth that our sins are acts of spiritual adultery instead of minor infractions that God winks at… and let’s remind ourselves of the innumerable ways God has loved us perfectly through His Son Jesus, so that we stay in His arms.