Ninth in a series
Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
Is there anything in the world more fascinating and more powerful than the human sex drive?
Pornography is a multi-billion-dollar industry. I’m told that, in a world where there are so many things to think about and learn, there are more Internet sites devoted to sexual stimulation than any other subject matter on earth.
Sexual attractiveness is so desired and admired that we use it to sell every product you can imagine. Several weeks ago, I opened up the L.A. Times, and this multi-page, high-gloss insert fell out that pictured this knock-down gorgeous brunette in all kinds of attractive poses, the one word theme “GORGEOUS” running through this several-page spread. It was only when I got to the last page I realized that it was an advertisement for Jaguar automobiles.
C.S. Lewis, many years ago in his book Mere Christianity, described our contemporary struggle with human sexuality in the following words:
“The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism-for that is what the words “one flesh” would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact-just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of a human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again…
“Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body – which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. . . .
“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it. The old Christian rule is, “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.” Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong. . . .
“You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act – that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?” (from Mere Christianity)
You and I can’t read a newspaper, open a magazine, turn on a TV or go to a movie without being barraged with sex. We cannot avoid this topic, and fortunately God gives us the content for our conversation. God, through the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, addresses this issue time after time in His Word, all the way from Genesis to Revelation.
He does it in a way that is primarily positive, if we take the time to hear what He is really telling us. The apostle Paul confronts the issue head-on, as he writes to a church made up of men and women living in a society every bit as sexually distorted as ours, if not more so.
Three action principles leap out of this biblical passage.
Action Principle #1: Face the reality of your own sexuality and your vulnerability to its distortion.
A lot of trouble comes when we repress our sexual feelings. They are there. All of us have them. Some of us let them run free rein, getting ourselves into trouble. Some of us deny we have those feelings, pushing them down underneath the surface, only to find that they pop up at strange moments when we least expect them.
Paul doesn’t beat around the bush. He keeps bringing up this topic, because he knows both the positive and negative realities of our human sexuality.
I’m not talking to you. I’m talking with us as a family. I’m not only pointing my finger at some fellow believer who has stumbled into sexual sin, who needs to see the wrongness of his/her ways, who needs to repent and be restored. I’m also trying to communicate to all of us, myself included. We are all vulnerable.
This fact has been driven home to me as I have observed several close friends in the ministry who have stumbled into sexual immorality, with the results being catastrophic for their personal and professional lives. The scenarios are heartbreaking. Each of them has had to leave the active ministry at least for an extended period of time. Their churches, once thriving, have become seriously disrupted. Their family lives have become shattered. Fortunately, God is not finished with these persons. The Gospel is one of healing and restoration. In a couple of these situations, the marriages have survived and even been strengthened. But the pain and the ongoing side effects continue to be felt, both within their nuclear families and in the extended family, the Church of Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, I was raised in an environment that talked freely about one’s sexual vulnerability. I made some early commitments as a teenager to live according to biblical teachings. Although it was a struggle at points, I found the Holy Spirit was capable of empowerment.
It was approximately five years into my ordained ministry when, as a 29-year-old pastor in Key Biscayne, Florida, a leader in a major Christian organization came to me and confessed his adultery. Although I had already seen a lot in my young years, I was shocked. He was such an outstanding young man, married to a gorgeous Christian woman. They had a couple of great children. They were, from outside appearance, the “ideal family.”
He poured out his heart to me about how he had met this other woman and had become sexually involved with her. He knew it was wrong. Time after time, he had tried to break it off. Now he was going to break it off once and for all by coming to a pastor. He knew he could not handle this on his own. So he was referring this woman, knowing that she would need help as he was leaving her to go back to his own wife.
I agreed to see the woman. A few days later, she entered my office. I must admit I was amazed at how ordinary was her physical appearance, especially compared to his wife. The door closed behind me. We sat down and began to talk, when suddenly I sensed strange vibrations as she opened up her heart and life to describe her background. She told me how she had been sexually abused by her father and uncles, had experienced lesbian relationships and had had one male lover after another. I sensed an almost magnetically irresistible attraction to this young woman although, from a human standpoint, it didn’t make sense. She simply was not that attractive. I got out of my chair, walked to the door, excused myself for a moment, stepped into my secretary’s office, told her I was going to leave the door partially open and asked her to pray for me, because this was a very difficult counseling situation.
I went back into the room. I told the young woman I would do everything possible to get her adequate help but that I was not the person who could give it. I referred her to my wife Anne, only at that point to discover a lessening interest in getting help on her part. Anne did follow through and provided some help.
What I realized was that my own vulnerability was as great as that of anyone else. You and I must be aware of our own vulnerability. The posture of self-righteousness that looks down at others who have stumbled into sexual sin is the epitome of spiritual arrogance and, frankly, sets us up for a fall.
I urge you to face the reality of your own sexuality and your own vulnerability to its distortion. It is important that we look at ourselves in the mirror and see ourselves as we are, created by God as sexual persons, healthy, vital, alive, but also engaged in a spiritual warfare in which that sexuality can quickly become distorted.
Action Principle #2: Deal honestly with the biblical theology of your sexuality.
Paul wrestles with this as he writes, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,’ and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (
This is saying that you and I are more than animals. We are not just made up of body parts and nerve endings. You and I have the freedom to do things, not just the way they come naturally, animalistically, but the way you and I were created to do things.
Far from being a negativist, the apostle Paul was a proponent of freedom in Jesus Christ. All throughout his missionary journeys as he established churches, he had to struggle with legalistic Judaizers who wanted to tie up the new believers in Christ into knots of Old Testament, Levitical laws. Paul was a proponent of freedom in Christ. He continually articulated what was the essence of the Old Testament teachings. His theme was that God had designed us to be fully human. We are more than animals. We have the privilege of living at a much higher level of existence.
At the same time, Paul was very aware that this teaching of Christian freedom could be distorted, so he quotes a saying, perhaps one he himself had articulated. “All things are lawful for me.” Then he adds a new dimension. He states, “. . .but not all things are beneficial.” He then rearticulates the statement, “All things are lawful for me.” But then he states, “. . .but I will not be dominated by anything.”
Do you catch the delicate balance of this? Freedom can be distorted into license. License can then be distorted into destruction of others and one’s own self-destruction.
One of the greatest New Testament teachings on Christian freedom is Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia. It’s a Magna Carta of Christian freedom. In it, Paul urges the believers to not again submit themselves to a yoke of slavery. He begs them not to step back and do a religion that is defined by do’s and don’ts, void of a personal relationship with the Lord. He exhorts them to freedom, not to a freedom that is license. He writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (
Paul was doing business in a first-century world in which the Greeks looked down on the body. There was a proverbial saying, “The body is a tomb.” Epictetus said, “I am a poor soul, shackled to a corpse.” The important thing was the soul, the spirit of a person. The body really didn’t matter to many of these Greeks.
One expression of this was a Greek philosophy called Gnosticism. It espoused the idea of “dualism” between the body and the soul. The soul was recognized as good and of God. The body was considered bad and not of God. This produced two extreme attitudes.
The first of these was “asceticism” in which everything possible was done to subject or humiliate the desires and instincts of the body. If the body was bad, we should deny its appetites, bringing it under severe discipline. Anything that feels good must be bad. This was the attitude behind many of the monastic movements. It is a distortion of biblical teaching.
At the other extreme, there was the more popular reaction, which chose not to neglect the body but to indulge it. We could call this “extreme sensuality.” This was the prevailing attitude in the city of Corinth. Since the body was of no importance, you could do with it what you liked. Sate and glut its appetites. If the soul is all that matters, what a person does with the body is of no significance. If they had bumper stickers on the chariots of those days, they would probably have read, “If it feels good, do it!”
You and I live in a similar society. Most of those around us have never heard of the Gnostics, but they treat sex as an appetite to be satisfied as casually as the need for food. It is met by having a snack. How many times has a person said to me, “My sexual needs are just like all the rest of my appetites. If I get hungry, I go to In and Out Burger and get a cheeseburger with all the works. And if I feel the need for sex and there is someone attractive to me who is willing, why not do it? What’s wrong with that? If I’m out of town on business, what my wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her. After all, it’s just an appetite.”
This argument is nothing new. Paul heard it addressed in a similar fashion. That’s why he talks about food being meant for the stomach and the stomach for food. That’s right. Food is made for the stomach, and the stomach is made for food. Both food and the stomach will someday be destroyed. But he says the body is not meant for sexual immorality. The body is meant for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Even as Jesus was raised from the dead, so will you and I be raised from the dead. Ours is an eternal existence. We will have bodies in the life to come, even as we have bodies in this life.
Then he goes on and emphasizes the fact that our bodies in this life are members of Jesus Christ. You and I are part of the Body of Christ. We are extensions of Christ in this world. Jesus is to be seen in us. God has created us sexual beings, male and female, privileged in our incompleteness to find oneness in assuming responsibility for each other that goes beyond using each other sexually.
What is the world going to see in the life of the believer if we practice sexual immorality, defacing the oneness that we are privileged to have in marriage?
Paul quotes from
God is making a once-and-for-all indictment against either of the extremes. You and I are not called to asceticism, which denies the doctrine of creation. God has given you and me our appetites to be healthfully expressed. Some first-century Christians were so ascetic that they were denying the right of a husband and wife to have sex. It involved the concept of “spiritual marriage,” so high, so rarified that they would not dirty the relationship with sex. Can you imagine the pent-up frustrations that came in that kind of a relationship and how one or the other might rationalize their way into sex outside of marriage as that which would not defile the beauty of a husband-wife spiritual relationship.
I remember presiding at the wedding of an attractive young couple. He had come to faith in Jesus Christ under my ministry in another church and had met a wonderful Christian young woman. Several months into the marriage, they came in for some counseling. They were experiencing sexual dysfunction. Prior to becoming a Christian, he had frequent sex with prostitutes. Now he was married to a beautiful Christian woman, and he could not sexually function, because he placed her on a pedestal of spiritual beauty and Christian virtue that made him impotent. He was aroused only by sexual fantasies of down-and-dirty sex with women who were paid for such activities.
Confused by what he was experiencing, I went and got some additional training as a pastoral counselor. I discovered what psychologists call the “Madonna/Prostitute syndrome,” found often in Roman Catholic cultures that venerate the woman as beautiful, chaste and almost other-worldly. That’s the way we picture the Virgin Mary. It’s hard to imagine your mother having sex, isn’t it? In the process of such spiritualization and idealization of one’s partner, there can be encouragement of sexual dysfunction.
Paul repudiates asceticism. On the other hand, he repudiates that libertarian approach of the epicureans that says anything goes, because the body is bad. He states this clearly in
Then he adds this final dimension as he declares, “. . .your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. . . .” Whereas in Old Testament times, God’s presence was in the tabernacle and then the temple at Jerusalem, now God dwells inside each believer. You are His temple. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (
Action Principle #3: Sexual sin destroys. Flee from it!
Paul writes, “Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (
Sexual sin, by its very definition and reality, is dehumanizing. You become an animal. You declare yourself to be nothing but body parts and nerve endings. It destroys you, and it destroys others.
Why would God be so strict? Is He a sexually starved, angry old grandfather somewhere up in the sky who wants to destroy our fun in life? Not for a moment! He created sex. He gave it to us as a positive, fulfilling activity. He wants it to be channeled for your very best interest. Far from His commands being negativistic and inhibiting, they are guides to the healthiest kind of sexual living possible. Analyze contemporary life and see how sensible are His commands. In fact, even if one is not a Christian and has no respect for biblical teaching, there are some good, common-sense reasons for avoiding premarital or extramarital intercourse.
One reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is the possibility of pregnancy.
Yes, even with “the pill,” the frequency of unwanted pregnancies continues to increase. What is more tragic than for a child to be brought into this world unwanted. I have spent literally days at a time with girls impregnated out of wedlock. I have watched young couples, who once thought they were in love, struggle with the decision of whether or not to marry. Abortion is one way out, but it has its serious moral and psychological considerations, when it is used simply to cover up a mistake. There is no foolproof method of contraception. Scientific knowledge must be used. Many couples are not well enough informed. Sometimes romantic ideas prevent necessary precautions. And sometimes contraceptives are difficult for the young people to obtain. Although the pill is considered by most doctors to be foolproof, persons taking it are not. Either because of simple forgetfulness or some deep-seated inner motivation to conceive in order to hold on to that fellow, a woman who thinks she’s safe may become pregnant.
The second reason for avoiding premarital or extramarital intercourse is the danger of disease.
Venereal disease has not been checked by modern medicine. The increased incidence of sexual promiscuity has brought about a tragic soaring incidence of this. Venereal disease is exponential in its increase, as society is less and less careful about sexual behavior. And we have not even mentioned to this point the topic of AIDS and the havoc of death that it is bringing throughout the world, in both the homosexual and heterosexual communities.
The fact is that AIDS, genital herpes, syphilis, hepatitis and pelvic inflammatory disease are tragic realities in our world. These illnesses cost our country billions of dollars.
And if you want to read a tragic story of what venereal disease can do to a person, read William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill, in which he describes how Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, contracted syphilis through premarital sexual involvement. He describes how this promising British politician gradually eroded in the very public eye and, over a period of years, self-destructed and died. You read a few stories like that from secular biographies, and they make you think that God’s ways, far from being negative, are positive.
A third reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is that many men are driven to sexual conquests to prove their masculinity.
I pity the woman who gets trapped into this false situation. If only the average young woman could listen in for a few moments to the conversation in a men’s locker room, she would take much less seriously the romantic pleadings, “If you really love me, you wouldn’t say ‘no.'” And now with women’s liberation, the stereotypical view of men being more interested in sex than women is no longer the case. How often we read about women who, having no desire for a love relationship and marriage, are simply on the market looking for the ideal male by whom they can become pregnant.
The fourth reason for avoiding premarital and extramarital intercourse is that it can be personally destructive, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
Premarital and extramarital sex is habit-forming. In most cases, it is not something a couple does once or twice and quits doing. It develops a personal interdependence wherein no real ultimate commitment has been agreed upon. It is an agonizing experience for a pastor to deal with the emotional, psychological and spiritual fragmentation, which so often is the experience of the man or woman who then gets jilted. I would be the first to acknowledge that sometimes people seem to walk through the maze of various sexual relationships seemingly unhurt, settling down in marriage, having children and appearing to live happily ever after. I, as a pastor, see the casualties of a person who invested themselves in that other person, taking the relationship more seriously, believing that it had a future, and ends up in deep depression, often spiraling into other addictive behaviors. Sex is much more serious a matter than some of us would be willing to admit. It is symbolic of commitment, even when that commitment is not really there.
The fifth reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is that it is not a reliable test of sexual compatibility.
Many a man has told me, “I would never marry a woman without trying her out first.” He might just be surprised to find that there’s a major difference between sex outside and inside marriage. Secrecy surrounding premarital sex often heightens one’s excitement. Needless to say, both will be on their very best behavior, knowing that their failure to perform could lead to the end of their relationship. How different is sex in marriage where both have the security of ultimate commitment. Sex is not geared to one’s having to meet a particular standard. It is meant to share in the most intimate way possible a way which will procreate and also bring personal fulfillment. A normal healthy man and a normal healthy woman, from both a psychological and physiological standpoint, should be able to find sexual compatibility. Premarital experimentation will not necessary assure it. In fact, it is more likely to injure or at least detract from ultimate sexual compatibility.
A sixth reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is that it often creates an obsessive interest in sex.
I’ve talked with couples who have slipped into this relationship before marriage to find that sex is about all they think about. Whereas they used to have fun dating and being with other people, their life is pretty much geared toward sex. This is no way to live. A happily married couple spends a very small fraction of their time having sex compared to all the other activities that fill their lives. Obsessive interest in sex is abnormal.
And a seventh reason to avoid premarital or extramarital sex is that it can have a marring and spoiling effect on later marriage.
What I mean by this is that it can breed a later misunderstanding between two people who were weak before marriage, giving in to their impulses. There is always uncertainty. You know that your partner could once again be weak and move into an extramarital affair. There is always the potential of resentment going into marriage. I have talked with individuals who idealize waiting until marriage, but one pressured the other into premarital sex. Granted, they had agreed to it, but they carry with them a resentment which can subtly color their future relationship. This is why, in my premarital counseling, I urge couples to honestly face up to the relationship they have, laying aside any rationalizations which they manufacture. They can honestly discuss their disobedience to God and claim His forgiveness. It is possible for them to have a period of celibacy before their marriage. They then can go into their marriage with a much greater sense of integrity and honesty than would otherwise be present.
There are many other common-sense reasons for avoiding premarital and extramarital intercourse. We don’t have the time to go into all of them now. Simply stated, it is impossible to achieve in a premarital or extramarital relationship a spiritual, emotional, psychological and mental bonding, a oneness of the ultimate commitment, which is possible in Christian marriage. The potential for heartbreak and shattered dreams is enormous.
To put it bluntly, it’s smart to wait until marriage. It’s also smart to remain faithful inside of marriage. God’s way is not designed to spoil your fun. God’s way is the smart, the intelligent way.
Yes, sexual sin destroys. Claim the help of the Holy Spirit to flee from it, to shun it. You can’t play with fire without being burned. It is difficult to go right up to the line without stepping over it. Those lingering lunches with someone other than your husband or your wife can begin to set a chain of events into motion for destruction. I’m not here to tell you what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. I urge you to pray about how you act, how you dress, the signals you send and the signals you receive. Dedicate yourself to God in a way in which you claim His wisdom and sensitivity to that which would hurt another and hurt yourself.
Two Old Testament biographies come to mind.
One was a man who played with his sexuality and that of others like a cat plays with catnip. His name was Samson. Read his biography – such a gifted man with so much potential. What he didn’t do was flee, shun immorality. Look at the price he paid.
Another was Joseph. Alienated from his own family, a slave in a foreign country, he stayed close to God. He knew the standard God set sexually. When his employer Potiphar was out of town on business, Potiphar’s wife made her move. On previous occasions, she had flirted with Joseph. This time, she attempted an all-out seduction. What did Joseph do? He literally fled from her presence, ran away from her. No one gave him the “Moral Man of the Year Award” in Egypt. In fact, he went to prison, accused by her of rape. So angered was this rejected woman that she fabricated a story. But God honored Joseph’s faithfulness.
What is the intention of this message? It’s twofold.
One, it is to faithfully portray God’s view of what He created you to be as a sexual human being in a way that does not push you toward asceticism on the one extreme or sexual anarchy at the other extreme. It is to challenge you to claim the help of the Holy Spirit to keep yourself faithful to Jesus Christ and, in the process, be faithful to yourself and others, urging you to flee fornication, remembering that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Two, it is to minister a word of God’s grace if you have cut corners. God is in the business of welcoming you home if you’re willing to repent. To you, God offers His good news of forgiveness. He accepts you as you are. He gives you a clean slate. You may bear the scars on your memory of actions and thoughts that countered His will. Yet, He is willing and He yearns to transform you into a right relationship with Him. He promises to remove your sins as far as the east is from the west and to give you a brand-new beginning. He wants to lift you out of that grocery list of brokenness, which Paul gives in
John A. Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.