Modern society laughs at the Biblical attitude to sex. Marilyn Monroe said, ‘Sex is part of nature. I go along with nature’, and Western culture in particular endorses the view that there are no longer any moral absolutes to follow regarding sexual behaviour. Robert Heinlein’s view that ‘sex without love is merely healthy exercise’ might not be everyone’s opinion, but the prevailing attitude is that we are free to do as we please and that sex is an appetite, just like eating or drinking. Cohabitation (living together without marriage) is the new family norm in the UK (‘the fastest growing family type’, according to the Office for National Statistics, with 2,893,000 heterosexual couples recorded as living together in the UK in the 2012 census compared to 1,459,000 in 1996.) How, then, can Christians swim against this tide? Why do we even try?
Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 6:12-20 is fundamental to the traditional Christian view of sex. Sex is a gift from God, but as the giver of all gifts, He also has the right to set the boundaries for it. When God created the first man, Adam, and brought to him the first woman, Eve, He joined them together in marriage and pronounced it very good (see Gen 1:31, Gen 2:18, Gen 2:24). Sex in the Bible always comes back to this creation account (see also Matt 19:6, Mark 10:8). Paul, in warning the Corinthians against sexual immorality, does not cite sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, or unwanted pregnancies as reasons to refrain from sex outside of marriage (valid though these reasons may be). Instead, he refers to the sacredness of sex within marriage (as the Message version puts it, ‘There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact’) and reminds the Corinthians that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by God Himself, and therefore we have a duty, a responsibility and an obligation to live in such a way as honours and pleases God. (1 Cor 6:19-20)
Sex outside of marriage is not part of God’s best for us. The intimacy of sex reflects the intimacy of our relationship with God (see Eph 5:21-31) and those who wish to live holy lives, set apart for God, will not be swayed by today’s casual attitude to sex or indeed by today’s indifference to God’s rules. They will want, ultimately, to live in a way that pleases the Lord (see Eph 5:10). In many respects, things have not really changed at all, for Corinth was, in the words of Warren Wiersbe, ‘a permissive society with a philosophy similar to that which the world has today.’ (‘Be Wise’, P 78) The French proverb ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ is true; things may well change in all kinds of ways, but actually, there’s very little change at all. Sinful people always want to do things their own way; the way of abstinence, self-denial and self-sacrifice is anathema to the natural mind (see 1 Cor 2:13-16). Only as we allow Christ to dwell in us and the fruit of the Spirit to grow within us can we receive the power to live holy lives, lives of sexual purity and not sexual immorality.