Sexual Purity and Following Jesus Christ
What does sexual immorality mean for those who follow Christ today? The topic of sexual purity should be considered in allowing “your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
Recently a close friend challenged me with the fact that today some sexual immorality is generally accepted or at least dismissed as minor indiscretions while other areas such a homosexuality are considered taboo within the American evangelical church.
Generally, I must agree with my friend that the church often minimizes other types of sexually immoral behavior. For example, sexual acts outside of marriage are often at least tolerated quietly and and other acts of immorality such as pornography can often go undetected. But if someone is transparent about a temptation or illicit sexual desire, individuals often condemn the person.
Does this mean that the standards should be ignored and lowered so every act is considered acceptable? The obvious answer is “no”, yet we should approach every form of sexual immorality from the perspective of the teachings of the Scripture.
This writing does not attempt to discuss these topics exhaustively, but to provide a structure for teaching based on the Holy Scriptures and two thousand years of historical Christianity. I will avoid much commentary and let Scripture speak to the reader for the most part.
The Scriptures refer to Jesus as displaying the balance of grace and truth in light of God’s law (John 1:17). Those who claim to be followers of Christ should be balanced in our daily living and teaching of this life giving message. Presenting grace without truth may lead to license to live a life that is out of line of what the Scriptures teach. Presenting truth outside of grace leads to condemnation, guilt, and alienation.
The eighth chapter of John records Jesus’ interaction with a group of Pharisees intent on the punishment of stoning for a woman caught in the act of adultery. When her accusers left one by one, Jesus, in that balance of truth and grace, said to her…”neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Jesus did not simply look the other way ignoring the sexual immorality, his command to “go and from now on sin no more” required repentance and change in the heart and in deed. Jesus not only freed the woman from the immediate punishment, but he commanded her to live in freedom from the sin of sexual immorality. With this interaction in mind, consider the Truth through the eyes of Grace.
So what does the Scripture tell us of sexual immorality?
First, let us consider the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. When men and women who were outside of the Jewish community began to follow Christ, some of the Jewish believers required these new believers to follow the Mosaic Law and required them to be circumcised and follow the ceremonial requirements.
Acts 15 records the consensus presented by James, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols and from sexual immorality [emphasis mine], and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15:19-21).
Where does the command to avoid sexual immorality originate? Up to this point in history, the church in the first century did not have the New Testament as we know it today. The Jewish believers had two resources: The Law of Moses and the Teachings of Jesus.
The Law of Moses
Leviticus 18 and 20 record the most complete requirements regarding sexual actions including issues we face today: adultery, incest, homosexual acts among both sexes, and bestiality. The early church concluded that acts of sexual immorality should be avoided by followers of The Way regardless of culturally acceptable practices in the Gentile world. More than that, they acknowledged that the Law of Moses had been taught throughout the known world in every city and synagogue. Therefore, thanks to the exile of the Jews in earlier centuries, the commands of the Mosaic Law were not foreign or abstract law in the societies of their day.
So were these laws considered an obstacle for the new non-Jewish believers? Quite the contrary, these believers rejoiced because of the encouraging news when the letter was read to them (Acts 15: 31).
The Teachings of Jesus Christ
During Jesus’ ministry on earth several instances are recorded regarding sexual immorality and how those who would follow Him should live.
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus teaches on lust and divorce. In referring to the first example of sexual immorality listed in Exodus 20:14 and Leviticus 20:10 (adultery), Jesus goes beyond the requirements of the law regarding adultery and states that, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Later in the same passage he refers to divorce as being appropriate only on the grounds of sexual immorality (Matthew 5:27-32).
It is important to note that in on no occasion did Jesus condone or give approval to any type of sexual activity outside of the type of marriage first described in Genesis. This has significant implications for those of us who are to, “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me [Jesus]” (Luke 9:23b).
A Personal Note
Over the years, I have seen several men who have chosen to leave their wives for another woman, as well as one woman and another man who each left their spouse for someone of the same sex. On one occasion, a man who was part of a small group stated that his happiness was the only thing that mattered regarding the adultery he was involved in. He blatantly stated that, “if God doesn’t want me to be happy, then I want nothing to do with God.”
We are in a very precarious position when we place our happiness and feelings or desires ahead of the clear teachings of Scripture in any area of life; including, but not limited to, sexual purity.
What’s the big deal above sexual purity?
In Paul’s writing to the Church at Corinth, he urges the believers to flee from sexual immorality. In chapter six he says that, “every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Earlier in the same chapter he stated, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10).
Some revisionists say that the original Greek does not include the word homosexuality. This is true, but the words translated refer to “passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.” In a related matter, the word “heterosexual” is also not found in the Scripture though the implications are clear from both the Old and New Testaments that sexual acts within marriage are approved and encouraged by God.
There is Encouragement!
Paul continues, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Paul is saying that some have lived a life immersed in greed, stealing, substance abuse, sexual immorality (including heterosexual and homosexual acts outside of marriage), and many other sins, but now they are clean. And to what does Paul attribute this cleansing? To absolutely nothing but the sacrifice and grace of Jesus Christ – to whom we are to be eternally grateful! Our response to the ultimate sacrifice and grace is to live a life honorable to God.
I could continue to refer to the teachings of the Scriptures in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, 1 Timothy 1: 8-10, Ephesians 5:3-17, or Romans 1:18-32 of the Pauline epistles. Peter writes of similar warnings in 1 Peter 4 and Jude.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Let no many say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself temps no one.
Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
(James 1: 12-15)
On the subject of sexual immorality, we should, in light of the teachings of Christ, challenge each other to live a life of right actions defined by the clear teachings of the whole of Scripture.
Life isn’t easy. It is a journey. A total surrender of our thoughts, ambitions, and desires to Christ will result in a life that is fulfilled. Regarding the issue being discussed, we should flee sexual immorality and lust of any kind and instead offer our bodies, “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1b).
A final thought
The truth is that all of us have failed. We all have sinned (Romans 3:23). We are all tempted. Some of us have been tempted and have succumbed to the temptation resulting in sexual immorality of all kinds.
Thanks to the Grace provided by Christ’s sacrifice, we can be free to “go, and from now on sin no more.” So let us forget what is behind us and move forward toward our goal of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3: 13-15).