In reaction to the latest phase of the sexual revolution, in response to the discovery by a 5–4 majority of the Supreme Court of the United States of “right” to same-sex marriage, in reaction to the rise of a militant “transgender” (transsexual) movement and the normalization of homosexuality generally, it has become accepted wisdom in some quarters that sexual sin is no different than any other sin. There is a sense in which that is true, of course, since James 2:10 says that to break one commandment is to break all of them. Nevertheless, there is more to be said. The Apostle Paul issued pointed warnings to the Corinthian congregation about the special dangers of sexual sin.
Flee from sexual immorality (πορνείαν). Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:18–20; ESV).
Paul distinguished between sexual immorality and “every other sin.” Does this mean that sexual sin is worse than other sins? Not necessarily but it does mean that sexual sin is distinct from others. It is not easy to say exactly how sexual sin affects us differently from other sins. E.g., gluttony and drunkenness certainly affect the body yet not in quite the same way. Perhaps the difference is this: sex is about the union of two persons. In sex, we give ourselves to one another that simply is not true with other sins and vices. In sexual immorality, then we enter into a sort of false communion. That is different from over eating or theft. Sexual immorality leaves a mark on the soul in way that other sins do not.
Perhaps this explains why people are so quick to defend and justify sexual sin in a way that they do not regarding other sins and vices. There does not seem to be a serious movement to say that thieves are “born that way” but we are quick to conclude that sexual sins must be the result of a created disposition (and therefore good) even though there is virtually no evidence to support such a claim. In truth, after the fall, we do all have a natural inclination to sin. Idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality do all come naturally to all of us after the fall.
As Paul says, Christians, those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have justified by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide) however, have been “bought with a price.” Our Lord Jesus laid down his life for us. We are not our own. This is the first thing we learn in the catechism: “I am not my own but belong body and soul, life and death to my faithful Savior….”
Remember, as we work through God’s holy moral law, Christians seek to obey God’s law not as a cause or instrument of our free acceptance with God but we seek to obey it out of gratitude, by grace alone, in union and communion with Christ. In short: we do not obey in order to be justified and saved but because we have been justified and saved. This is precisely Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 6. “You have been bought with a price, therefore honor God with your bodies.” He did not write: “Honor God with your bodies in order that you might be bought with a price.” It is in this light that we consider the 7th commandment: “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14).
Thus, we confess:
108. What does the seventh Commandment teach us?
That all unchastity is accursed of God, and that we should therefore loathe it with our whole heart, and live chastely and modestly, whether in holy wedlock or in single life.
109. Does God forbid nothing more in this commandment than adultery and such gross sins?
Since both our holy body and soul are temples of this Holy Spirit, it is His will that we keep both pure and holy. Therefore, He forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words,1 thoughts, desires, and whatever may entice thereto.
There are two parts to every commandment: what is forbidden and what is positively enjoined or commanded. What is forbidden is sexual immorality and sexual impurity of every sort. What is commanded is, to use an old-fashioned word, chastity. It is a Latin noun, castitas, taken over into English that refers to purity and purity refers to single-mindedness. Recently I was standing in a busy deli ordering lunch. Just as I got to the register the cashier took a phone call. She stopped paying attention to me, the customer in front of her, and started paying attention to another customer. It was busy. It no big deal but I did notice it. Her attention was divided. That is a trivial example. Imagine this: you show up for work every day, you do your job well, but your boss passes you over for reasons that have nothing to do with the job. Have you ever been dumped by a friend for someone else? It is even more intense when we talk about marriage. Two people have stood before God and man. They have sworn vows to love and to cherish, to honor and obey, in sickness and health, til death do them part. Over the years they begin, in important and even mysterious ways, to become one person. Genesis 2:24 says that husband and wife become “one flesh.” The sexual union is a illustration and outgrowth of that spiritual, emotional, and psychological union.
There are two aspects to sexual union that are essential to understand. First is the creational pattern and second is the spiritual significance. As humans made in the image of God we were created to reflect God and to live according to the order that he established. We were created. This means that there is a giveness to things. Our late-modern culture tells us that everything is a construction, an arbitrary rule construction can be undone or deconstructed. That is not true. The real question is whether there is such a thing as nature and it is self-evident that there is. Here is a thought experiment. Climb to the top of a high building and jump off. What happens next is the result of what is called gravity. What goes up must come down. The law of gravity is not something that can be deconstructed. We fantasize about being about being able to float in mid-air but we cannot do it. So nature, creation is. There are limits built into the nature of things. The creational pattern established by God is heterosexual sex, i.e., sex between a man and woman. Homosexual activists are saying now “if the hearts fit, the parts fit.” That is not true. You, I, and they know that is a lie. We know that heterosexual monogamy is the creational pattern. Our Lord Jesus said that the polygamy practiced in the under Moses was allowed because of the hardness of their hearts “but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt 19:8)
Because there is a creational pattern, because we were intended to relate to one another a certain way, sexual infidelity is terribly damaging. It has been fashionable for a long time for people to say that commitment is outmoded but we already know that is a lie. When you take a job you expect your employer to keep his word and it hurts when he does not. It hurts when you are betrayed by a friend. What we are talking about here is fidelity to another person. If it is important in business and friendship, how much more important is it in marriage.
Thus, talk about “painless” divorce is nonsense. There is no such thing. I am not saying that there are no grounds for divorce but it is a short list and the only completely unambiguous ground is that expressed by our Lord Jesus:
But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matt 5:32; ESV).
When divorce does happen on the grounds of sexual immorality, it is a recognition of the damage that has already been done to the marriage and to the people in the marriage.
This is how terrible and damaging sexual immorality is: it is grounds for dissolving a union that illustrates the relationship between Christ and his church, that has been sanctioned by God.
Christians are to live chastely, i.e., with our eyes fixed on one other person, whether we are called to the single life or to married life. We are verging on the 10th commandment here. If we are married, we are not to be looking around at other people. God has given us a spouse. If we are single, we are to live sexually chaste lives and our focus is to be on the Lord all the more since we do not have the distraction of a spouse and children. As weird as it might sound in today’s pornographic culture, we are not to be imagining sex with other people. Christians are not to be having sex with other people, and we are not to be watching sex. Chastity means recognizing that we belong to Christ, that we have been bought with a price and ordering our sexual affections accordingly.
Next time: What does God think about sexual immorality?