Spiritual Unfaithfulness and the “W” Word

We must take seriously our spiritual infidelities:

Yesterday I wrote about the need to use the biblical pattern in our dealings with others – especially the lost. We must first present people with the bad news about their sin and their lost condition, and then we can offer to them the good news of redemption in Christ. Nothing of the Christian message will make any sense if we leave off the first part of the equation. See more on that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/07/30/the-bad-news-must-come-first/

I made use of Isaiah chapter 1 in that article. One verse I briefly mentioned there I want to cover in much more detail here. I refer to Isaiah 1:21 which says this:

How the faithful city
    has become a whore,
    she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
    but now murderers.

In this case the prophet is referring to his own people, and how they have been unfaithful to their Lord. The “W” word in question is “whore.” Whoredom is not something we hear much about nowadays, especially in our churches. As I said yesterday, hardly any of our modern ‘let’s just be positive’ preachers and teachers would ever dare to mention a passage like this.

Just as the lost need to hear the bad news first, Isaiah and the prophets (and Jesus and the disciples) follow this same pattern when dealing with God’s people. When they go astray, the first and most pressing issue is to alert them to their sin, make them aware of the seriousness of it, and emphasise that we cannot be cavalier about such sin if we want to be in a right relationship with the Living God.

And the image of adultery and marital unfaithfulness is used throughout the Bible to depict this spiritual unfaithfulness. Consider just a few other texts:

Jeremiah 3:8-9 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree.

Jeremiah 13:27 I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and neighings, your lewd whorings, on the hills in the field. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will it be before you are made clean?

Hosea 2:2 Plead with your mother, plead— for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband— that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts.

James 4:4 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.

Revelation 2:22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works.

Since I quote from Raymond Ortlund’s terrific expository commentary on Isaiah yesterday, let me do so again today. And I will also offer you some useful thoughts from another book he penned: a full-length discussion of spiritual whoredom.

The book is called Whoredom: God’s Unfaithful Wife in Biblical Teaching (Apollos, 1996 – later reissued as God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery, IVP, 2003). In 200 pages he deals carefully and incisively with what Scripture has to say about this vitally important theme.

Let me first share a quote from his commentary. He says this about the first half of Isaiah 1:21:

Christian believers are engaged to be married to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). His love for us is no platonic attachment; it is a passionate, marital love, claiming us for himself alone. We are the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-23). He isn’t just flirting with us; he wants to go all the way. We should long for that day when he will present us to himself in splendor (Revelation 19:6-9; 21:2, 9-11). But right now, whenever we form other allegiances we are committing spiritual adultery (Hosea 1 – 3). That’s why the word “How” stands at the beginning of verse 21. That same word begins the book of Lamentations. It signals that verses 21-26 of Isaiah 1 are a prophetic lament. Something heart-breaking has happened.


Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Every institution tends to produce its opposite.” Look at the church’s record. Again and again it has produced the opposite of what God wants. When the church is not full of justice — modeling the way human life is meant to be — we hear a heart-cry of sorrow from Heaven.

As to the second half of the verse he says this:

Isaiah’s Hebrew wording implies that in this world righteousness is like a lonely traveler in hostile surroundings. In the Israel of Isaiah’s forefathers, righteousness once found a welcome: “Righteousness lodged in her.” But by his time things have changed. The spiritual neighborhood has gone bad, because unfaithfulness to God destroys the bonds that hold people together: “but now murderers.”

Image of God's Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery (Volume 2) (New Studies in Biblical Theology)
God's Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery (Volume 2) (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by Ortlund Jr., Raymond C. (Author), Carson, D. A. (Series Editor) Amazon logo

Now let me turn to his book on whoredom. I offer the very opening words of the volume: “The title of this book offends its author. Doubtless, it offends the reader as well. But in light of the biblical story to be surveyed in this volume the appropriateness of the title will become obvious. And so it stands, as offensive as is the sin to which it refers.”

After looking in great detail at this biblical theme, he offers these concluding words:

The biblical story opens up with human marriage as such, embedded in a context which creates the presumption of something more than immediately meets the eye. Then the histories intimate and the prophets declare that the covenant is a marriage between Yahweh and Israel. Finally, Jesus and the New Testament writers place the theme within a Christocentric frame of reference. But Paul is the one who lifts the hermeneutical capstone into place by revealing openly what our intuitions may have suspected all along, viz. that marriage from the beginning was meant to be a tiny social platform on which the love of Christ for his church and the church’s responsiveness to him could be put on visible display. Human marriage is finally divulged to be emblematic of Christ and the church in covenant, destined to live together not as ‘one flesh’ for a lifetime in this world but as ‘one spirit’ for eternity in a new heavens and a new earth.


Therefore, marriage was not intruding itself into the story at a level out of its own depth back in Genesis 2. It had to be there, and it deserved to be there, for the typology to achieve its proper symmetry. The eschatology illuminates the true significance of the protology….


Pastorally, the biblical story lifts up before us a vision of God as our Lover. The gospel is not an imperialistic human philosophy making overrated universal claims; the gospel sounds the voice of our Husband who has proven his love for us and who calls for our undivided love in return. The gospel reveals that, as we look out into the universe, ultimate reality is not cold, dark, blank space; ultimate reality is romance. There is a God above with love in his eyes for us and infinite joy to offer us, and he has set himself upon winning our hearts for himself alone. The gospel tells the story of God’s pursuing, faithful, wounded, angry, overruling, transforming, triumphant love. And it calls us to answer him with a love which cleanses our lives of all spiritual whoredom.

These are sobering words. They are bittersweet words. Bitter, because we see how grievous and horrid our sin and unfaithfulness really is. We really do become like harlots when we act this way. But sweet, when we realise the deep, deep love our Lord has for us, and how he so much wants our exclusive love and devotion in return.

All of us who name the name of Christ must continually consider these matters prayerfully and carefully.

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One Reply to “Spiritual Unfaithfulness and the “W” Word”

  1. I read this immediately after a piece in Quadrant on a Catholic mass in North Sydney which included a ‘smoking ceremony’ and invocations of ‘male and female spirits’. Talk about spiritual whoredom swallowed hook line and sinker! And the Anglicans are rowing the same boat. The Sydney Anglican website includes a nod to the animism of ‘traditional’ aboriginal culture. I used to find great spiritual solace in the formal and dignified liturgy at St James King Street; now the ‘call to prayer’ is effectively an invocation of demons as the ‘acknowledgment of country’ is intoned with risible and heretical solemnity. My local church has gone down the same route. Where, I ask, does one find Christian fellowship these days?

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