** This article first appeared on BibleStudyTools.com. You can find the original article here.
Not so long ago, when I was a teenager, a girl or boy who was known to have sex without marriage was known to be “loose” morally. By and large, it was seen as an act of rebellion. At the very least, it would lead to having a poor reputation, and quite likely to lead to unwanted consequences such as an unplanned pregnancy or catching a sexually transmitted disease.
I find it interesting that we used the word “loose” to describe the choice. The word speaks of boundaries that have been relaxed, and not just in conservative circles where people professed to believe the Bible. This word was applicable in the secular world as well; there is a God-given sense of conscious in all of us which tells us we have crossed a line, although without spiritual understanding, that line is blurred. And, as we’ve watched the world’s moral compass go horribly awry the last forty years, our innate boundaries of what is good and right will eventually disappear completely if led by our human, fleshly lusts.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what our culture decides about this issue of engaging in a sexual relationship with someone outside the covenant of marriage. You see, culture won’t pronounce the final judgment on you. It might make you uncomfortable if your moral choices aren’t within the bounds of what is acceptable to the general population, and even in some countries, you might go to jail for your behavior. Those are temporary declarations on your character.
The real issue is what God thinks of you, for in the end, all men will stand before God and give account for their lives – what they did, what they said, and most importantly, what we did with the words and actions of Jesus. As our Creator, only God has the final say of what is or is not acceptable concerning our actions and conscious decisions to either stay within His divine boundaries, or “loosen” the restraints we define as too narrow or restrictive.
What does the Bible say about our moral choices in the area of relationships?
Within marriage, sex is good, right, and proper. Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). Its purpose is to bind the hearts, minds and bodies of a married couple to one another, and to create new life to populate the world, fulfilling one of our original God-given mandates. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28a). For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother; and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
The Bible uses two words in particular to describe sexual conduct outside the bounds of marriage: adultery and fornication.
Adultery is translated from the Hebrew word nā’ap̄, literally to “break wedlock.” The English word is defined as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s current spouse or partner.” In the New Testament, the original Greek is moicheuō, “to have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife.”
While adultery describes the breaking of the marriage covenant, fornication is a broader term, used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe immoral conduct of single men and women, adultery among married spouses, pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and any other illicit sexual conduct. In the Old Testament, it’s often used to describe the unfaithfulness of God’s people to worship the idols of the heathen nation, essentially breaking faith with Him and committing spiritual adultery.
The Old Testament law was given to God’s people, the children of Israel, to show them the holy standard of God’s character. What God condemned was unholy and against His will – it was sin, and often punishable by heavy consequences. While God provided a temporary blood covering through the sacrifice of animals for many sins, sexual sin was often punishable by death. We see this lasted into the New Testament, when the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and quoted the laws demanding her death (John 8:5). God is serious about sexual sin.
The New Testament is clear that sex outside of marriage displeases God and is a sin. In fact, Jesus not only affirmed God’s holy standard of practical conduct defined in the Ten Commandments, He elevated it to matters of the heart.
Hebrews 13:4 – Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
Matthew 5:27-28,31-32 – You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. … It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Mark 10:2-12 – Some Pharisees came up to Jesus, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. 7 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” In the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. And He *said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
Matthew 15:19 – For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.
It’s not surprising that the unsaved world rejects God’s boundaries for our moral conduct. What is surprising is how little many professing believers regard God’s commands when it comes to our relationships. There is no longer a sense of shame in living with your boyfriend or girlfriend, even among Christians. Many young men and women, growing up in homes that ended in the divorce of their parents, have rationalized it is better to not get married at all. But this is not God’s way, nor is it acceptable for those who claim faith in His Son.
Romans 6:1-2 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:11-15 – Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!
Ultimately, it comes down, as Jesus said, to a matter of the heart. Do we want to please God and live in holiness? If we truly know Him, and are indwelt by His Holy Spirit, there should be a conviction on our heart when we choose to literally, “live in sin.” If we convince ourselves that God’s standards are old-fashioned, out-of-date, and not practical for our modern-day sensibilities, then we must question the state of our heart.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 – Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
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.
Jesus died to make us holy. When we sin intentionally, as a way of life, it reveals one of two things. Either we do not know Jesus and are deceiving ourselves by simply calling ourselves Christians, or our sins have hardened our hearts to be cold and callous toward our Savior and the great sacrifice He paid for our holiness, so that we willingly choose to live in disobedience.
1 Peter 1:14-19 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
God’s plan is for one woman and one man to commit to one another in covenant marriage until parted by death. It was His original plan in the Garden of Eden, as He brought Eve to Adam, the one who was perfectly designed to be His partner in life. Our enemy has distorted this relationship, and made the pleasures of sexual intimacy all about self-gratification. Sexual sin affects our body, soul, and spirit.
Is there grace for the sins of immorality? Yes! Jesus came to make us holy and to clothe us with His own robe of righteousness. As followers of Jesus, let us put on the holiness of a life committed to faithfulness to God’s commands, and lay aside the deceptive practices that are destroying our own souls and marring the image of Christ that we portray to the world.