Inevitably thought and emotions lead to actions, which is why it is so important to catch thoughts early and keep our hearts pure. I don’t wish to dwell on the negative here, but many people have written to me asking questions about what sexual sin is, how it is defined, and what is acceptable and not acceptable for a believer. Some issues are obvious; others are not so obvious.
Adultery or fornication
Obvious sexual sins include adultery – a married person having sex with someone who is not their husband/wife; and fornication – promiscuous sex between unmarried people or simply “sex before marriage”. Society tends to turn more of a blind eye towards fornication than it does to adultery. The world’s mindset is, “We love each other, we respect each other and we’re not hurting anyone, so it doesn’t really matter.” But for believers, it really does matter! If you truly love and respect one another, then remember the covenant!
Modern society has tried to erode the value of the marriage covenant. People live together in trial marriages because they want to make sure that, among other things, they are “sexually compatible”. But in this business, you don’t get to test drive! Do you know statistics show that people who live together in trial marriages are much more likely to divorce and separate? The Bristol Community Family Trust has recently warned that three-quarters of all family breakdowns affecting young children now involve unmarried parents. Their research shows that unmarried parents are five times more likely to break up than married parents.
Also, many women are pressured into sex before marriage by men who say, “I’m interested in you and I’m thinking maybe we’ll get married so what’s wrong with going to bed?” But the Bible says this is fornication.
One subject on which many people have questions is masturbation. It is a difficult area and I don’t want to bring anybody reading this post under condemnation, but there are some principles to consider which should guide us as to whether masturbation is permissible or not.
A question that crops up time and again is, “Surely it is OK to give yourself some sexual relief occasionally?” I believe there is need for a lot of compassion and understanding here, especially for single people who have not emulated their peers, but have sought to keep themselves exclusively for their future partner in marriage. But there are three things that must be considered:
i. The context of sex is not self-enjoyment, but to bring pleasure to and bless your husband or wife. When you have sex with yourself (if you can describe it as such) it is so inwardly-focused that it becomes the very opposite of the purpose of sex.
ii. The Bible speaks about self-control and not being mastered by anything. The difficulty with masturbation is that it often can end in habitual masturbation and bring a person into bondage. As a Christian pastor and counsellor I’ve seen down through the years what a terrible bondage this can be.
iii. Finally, masturbation inevitably involves lust. I remember one pastor preaching and trying so hard to help people in this area. He was trying to be loving, but he said something so ridiculous: “Masturbation is OK as long as you don’t think lustful thoughts and it doesn’t become a habit.” But lust and habitual bondage are the very things that masturbation tends to lead to!
Compared to the damage that such sins as adultery can cause, masturbation is, by all accounts, not the worst sin in the world. But the worst aspect of it is the guilt, condemnation and self-destruction that it produces. Guilt just complicates and worsens the problem of bondage, but thank God with the Holy Spirit’s help it is possible to break out of this.
Other physical acts
Another area where people have difficulty drawing clear lines, especially courting couples, is what is permissible (ruling out intercourse) before marriage? There are other physical acts between people which, a little like playing too near the edge of a cliff, can cause them to eventually plummet into sexual sin. Initially it may fall short of fornication, but unchecked it will certainly end by going further than either person imagined it would.
The fact is, no one can stand in a pulpit and say, “When you go out with a boy or a girl you can do this, you can do that, but you can’t do this, you can’t do that.” Nowhere in the Bible do we have such a set of rules. Each of us is made differently, so what is important is for you, if you are a single person, to understand what are your limits before you are brought into a place of temptation and sin against your own body and somebody else.
Clearly, any sort of genital acts constitute sexual sin; and kissing and touching in a way that stimulates your boyfriend or girlfriend to the point of distraction and utter temptation is, at the very least, stupid. The rule is: if you want to avoid doing something, you don’t get as close as you can to it without actually doing it – you’ve got to set sensible boundaries according to your own limits.
Pornography in itself is debasing, but it is also a gross perversion of the truth because it focuses only on the physical act of sex and totally, utterly removes it from the covenant of marriage and the context of love. Added to which, pornography really is destructive and addictive.
Base sexual talk
Keeping a purity to your language is so important to your purity as a whole. The things you say, especially if they are suggestive and full of innuendo can set an unhelpful train of thought in motion in someone else’s mind. So much talk that is full of sexual innuendo takes place in the workplace that, as believers, we need to avoid participating in it and make a decision to be distinctively different.
The subject of homosexuality is dealt with in another post, but let me just note here that, if there is such a thing as heterosexual sin there must also be such a thing as homosexual sin. Unfortunately it has become so politically incorrect today to even mention that, but in a subsequent post we will look sympathetically at what God says about same sex relationships. I mention it here to keep the list complete.
What is the standard of God in all of this? Ephesians 5:3 says,
“But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints.”
I really like the NIV version of the particular verse which says,
“But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”
Not even a hint of sexual immorality is God’s standard. God doesn’t want you to play so close to the edge that you are likely to fall over, even if you haven’t fallen over yet. Why walk that close if you don’t want to fall over? Walk somewhere that’s safe instead.