Sexual Immorality and the Gospel

In my last article I wrestled with the role of Adam in the garden in contrast with the better Adam of Romans 5. The argument presented was: Homosexuality is incompatible with the gospel because it confuses proper gender roles and therefore confuses an orthodox understanding of Christ and the church. In the broader context of sexual immorality there will still be gender role confusion, but more than that, there will be significant identity issues. Considering the relationship of Genesis 1-2 to Romans 5 from last week’s blog, I will focus this week on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5-6.

Paul is calling out the church for tolerating a man who is having an immoral relationship with his father’s wife (1 Cor. 5:1). Before moving on in this discussion, it becomes important for us to establish the proper understanding of the word immoral. The word translated immoral is the Greek word πορνεία (porneia), from the root meaning prostitute (porne). This is the same word from which we derive pornography, or sexually explicit images and media. This word is translated fornicate in the KJV and represents sex (sexual acts) outside the bounds of natural marriage. The case has been made that this word even includes homosexuality when used by Jesus in Mark 7:21.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 5-6, Paul is rebuking the church for tolerating such behavior. The apostle gives direct instruction to discipline the man for his illicit behavior. Paul continues by giving reasons for his instruction. This reasoning can be found throughout these two chapters, but they come to concentrated point in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20:

“Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body.”

Notice the breakdown of this text into eight thoughts:

  1. Paul gives an imperative to flee, or escape sexual immorality
  2. Paul is distinguishing sins outside the body from those against the body.
  3. Immorality is a sin against the body.
  4. The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
  5. The Holy Spirit is given by the Father.
  6. The Holy Spirit distinguishes ownership.
  7. The price of ownership is the blood of Christ.
  8. Because you have been purchased out of sin and death, honor God in your body.

In order to understand the need to reclaim the Imago Dei (image of God), as laid out in Genesis 1, it becomes necessary to understand how πορνεία (immoral) is used in the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant of God is described as harlotry; the Hebrew word translated as harlot or harlotry in the LXX (Septuagint) translation of πορνεία (Hosea develops this concept, but also consider Ezekiel 43 among others). This demonstrates something vitally important to the 1 Corinthians 6 text previously mentioned.

The use of harlotry to identify Israel’s spiritual adultery by worshiping other gods is used by comparison to the temple worship of the New Covenant. By this I mean, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The connection cannot be missed here. God created Adam in His image to glorify Him (worship). Adam was tasked with the job to be fruitful, multiply, subdue the earth, and have dominion over it. The typology portrayed in the marriage relationship revealed in God’s covenantal relationship to His people has been well documented, but the focus in this article is the means of that marital relationship—namely, the sexual nature of a husband and wife’s physical intimacy.

It is the act of intimacy Paul is discussing in 1 Corinthians 5-6. This is the intimacy that is to be reserved for a man and a woman within the confines of a covenantal marriage; this is why Paul develops his teaching on marriage in chapter 7. To step outside of what is lawful is considered immoral. Paul calls this immorality a sin against the body. A sin against the body equates to defamation of the temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the issue of sexual immorality as an issue of worship.

God defines throughout the Old Testament how He is to be worshiped. Israel committed spiritual adultery by disobeying the standards of worship provided by God when they committed acts of harlotry with foreign gods (Hosea 1). The New Testament concept of worship still employs the same standards, but understands them through the New Covenant sacrifice of Jesus.

In effect, fleeing sexual immorality is to properly understand the function of gender roles, biblical marriage, and the role of sexual intimacy—all as acts of worship. This is communicated through Paul’s exhortation: you are not your own, you have been bought with a price, honor (worship) God with your bodies. As was previously mentioned, this is an identity issue. We were created in the image of God and tasked with giving Him honor and glory through obedience to the covenant made with Adam in the garden. Paul talks about this New Covenant identity throughout the book of Ephesians when he repeats the concept of ‘identity in Christ’ some 19 times throughout the letter.

How then should Christians live in light of this explanation of sexual immorality? Allow me to give you three brief points I think will help.

  1. Understand matters of biblical sexual fidelity are issues of worship. Misguided or selfish worship inevitably results in idolatry. In this case, it is proper to understand sexual immorality is idolatrous in that it takes attention off of Christ.
  2. Understand matters of biblical sexual fidelity are intensely matters of the gospel. A soft approach to sexual fidelity will result in an incomplete understanding of the gospel.
  3. Understand God ordained sexual intimacy as a good thing. Communicate the goodness of sex in light of the gospel. Stop trying to scare teens into celibacy; rather, explain to them the beauty of the gospel in its fulness and let the Lord have His way.

One thought on “Sexual Immorality and the Gospel

Add yours

  1. “Stop trying to scare teens into celibacy”
    The fear of the Lord is what causes people to flee from evil. The reason it often didn’t work in the past is that the folks trying to scare the teens didn’t fear God themselves, and the teens saw through their hypocrisy. My father was a Godfearing man, and he put the fear of God into me. He let me know that on account of fornication and adultery many went to hell, and that these sins were greater because they were against the temple of the Holy Spirit. I have kept free of those sins on account of being correctly trained up in the way that I should go. I’m not sure if some positive message would have been enough to overcome my robust sex drive, like the knowledge that an eternity in the flames of hell awaits the sexually immoral. Solomon was wise enough to try to put the fear of God into his sons. Proverbs 7:27 [Regarding a harlot] Her house is the way to hell, leading down to the chambers of death.


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