I am very confused. I read that adultery is a sexual relationship between two people not married, but what about imagined sexual relationships even if no physical act is committed. I struggle with my thoughts and fear I am guilty of the second situation and therefore as guilty of adultery as those who commit the physical act…what do I do? What confuses me is if this adultery in the heart is as grave as physically committed adultery. Have I committed in plain and simple terms… Adultery?
To begin answering your sincere question, let’s read the verses of scripture that correlate with what you are concerned about. In our Book of Mormon we can read the following verse of scripture from Alma (Alma 12:14),
“For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and…”
In the Bible the Lord declares (Matthew 5:27-28),
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
The first scripture explains that if we do not watch our thoughts our thoughts could condemn us. The second verse is the Lord allowing us to see the higher law correlated with adultery. Why is the Lord concerned with our thoughts, and why might a man/woman have already committed adultery if they lust after someone? We can read the following quote from President David O. McKay that might add more light and knowledge to our thoughts (and the sin in our thoughts) when said:
“Thoughts are the seeds of acts, and precede them. … The Savior’s constant desire and effort were to implant in the mind right thoughts, pure motives, noble ideals, knowing full well that right words and actions would inevitably follow” (Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay , 206).
To accompany President McKay’s words we can read the following verse of scripture (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45-46),
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
Now that we have more knowledge regarding the importance of keeping our thoughts clean and why keeping our thoughts clean and pure bring us closer to God. What do we do if we struggle with unclean thoughts? The first step would be to ask the Lord for forgiveness. Sins stemming from our thoughts aren’t serious transgressions, but transgressions nonetheless. As they aren’t serious transgressions you can simply kneel down and ask the Lord for forgiveness. You can plead with the Lord on providing strength, through his grace, to overcome the sin of adultery in your heart. Overtime, depending on your personal choices, you can overcome this through the grace of Christ. I also like this thought from James Allen who once wrote:
“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed-seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.
Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. He also … understands, with ever-increasing accuracy, how the thought-forces and mind-elements operate in the shaping of his character, circumstances, and destiny” (As a Man Thinketh , 15).
It is good that you are concerned with your thoughts, as we all should be; however, although it has already been answered I will answer it more directly. Is the sin of adultery in our thoughts/heart, the same as committing adultery physically. No. The act of adultery is a serious transgression and requires priesthood authority and keys (through a judge in Israel) to help us through the process of repentance. The sin in our hearts/thoughts, requires due diligence on our part (everyday effort), but doesn’t require priesthood authority and keys (through a judge in Israel) to obtain forgiveness.