Sex: Is It Sin?
There was a time—within the lifetimes of some of you reading this article—when it was considered scandalous for popular entertainment to make light of sexual immorality. Moviemakers adhered to the “Hays Code” and television networks looked to their “broadcast standards” departments to ensure that their programs were appropriate viewing for the whole family. Sexual activity—when it was discussed at all—was portrayed as something meant to be shared in private between husband and wife.
Today, however, sexual perversity is commonly—even routinely—displayed in movies and on television. Numerous studies have documented that pornography is the most popular content available on the Internet. In the media, as in so many personal relationships, infidelity is increasingly taken as a source of humor, and sexual promiscuity is accepted as normal. The idea that some sexual practices are inherently immoral—however pleasurable some may find them in the short term—is dismissed as antiquated by millions today.
Even the ancient institution of marriage is under attack in our modern society. Old standards are crumbling as millions live in “open” marriages—while others strive to redefine the meaning of marriage itself. “Gay marriage”—unthinkable even 20 or 30 years ago—is increasingly becoming accepted. The Gallup Poll reported in May 2011 that 53 percent supported same-sex marriage—a startling increase since 1996, when just 27 percent favored such unions (“For First Time, Majority of Americans Favor Legal Gay Marriage,” May 20, 2011).
So, where does sex fit into all this? Should married couples treat sex as something shameful? Is celibacy a higher ideal for true Christians? Is it “sinful” for two consenting adults to share physical intimacy? Are there objective standards of sinfulness that still apply today? Who is qualified to define sinful behavior and attitudes? Is there any reason, in our modern age, to follow what the Bible teaches? If so, what happens to those who disregard the Bible’s standards?
Historically, we see that when men and women have practiced adultery and unfaithfulness in their marriages, the family unit has suffered. At its height, the Roman Empire emphasized strong families, but this emphasis later changed and the Empire declined. Scholars have documented the decline in character and morality that contributed to the Empire’s demise. Historian E. B. Castle wrote that in addition to the problem of businessmen’s absence from their families, another problem contributed to the decline—“the consequent easy attitude to the marriage tie, the increasing frequency of divorce, and the growing freedom and laxity in women’s morals, all of which ended in a loosening of the old family unity in which the best in Roman character had its roots” (Ancient Education and Today, p. 119).
Will our modern civilization follow the pattern of Rome’s decay? The Roman philosopher Seneca, writing in the first century ad, observed that in his day, “some noble ladies reckon the years of their lives, not by the number of the consuls, but by that of their husbands, now that they leave their homes in order to marry others, and marry only in order to be divorced… Divorce was only dreaded as long as it was unusual; now that no gazette appears without it, women learn to do what they hear so much about. Can any one feel ashamed of adultery, now that things have come to such a pass that no woman keeps a husband at all unless it be to pique her lover? Chastity merely implies ugliness” (On Benefits, Book III, xvi).
Men, too, are seduced by the false promises of adultery. With increased access to birth control, and the easy availability of abortion on demand, sexual activity has increased in the last few decades, as men and women alike have come to believe they can avoid the consequences of that activity. Even the mass media contribute to a culture of immorality that brings about many ruined lives. Millions fail to take seriously the simple biblical admonition: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Yet if everyone kept this precept—the seventh of the Ten Commandments—lives would be far happier and society would be far more stable.
Just as God is the Creator of the physical laws that govern matter, He is the Lawgiver whose spiritual laws govern our lives. He defines sin (1 John 3:4). We would ridicule someone who tried to “deny” the law of gravity, and risk his life falling from a great height. But how many in our society try to deny the consequences of violating God’s spiritual laws?
Our modern Western world increasingly rejects the Ten Commandments and continues its slide into immorality. Just how bad is it? The Barna Research Group surveyed ten moral behaviors among Americans, and gave this startling report: “Of the ten moral behaviors evaluated, a majority of Americans believed that each of three activities were ‘morally acceptable.’ Those included gambling (61 percent), co-habitation (60 percent), and sexual fantasies (59 percent). Nearly half of the adult population felt that two other behaviors were morally acceptable: having an abortion (45 percent) and having a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse (42 percent). About one-third of the population gave the stamp of approval to pornography (38 percent), profanity (36 percent), drunkenness (35 percent) and homosexual sex (30 percent). The activity that garnered the least support was using non-prescription drugs (17 percent)” (“Morality Continues to Decay,” November 3, 2003).
What will happen to a society that holds such immoral values? From beginning to end, the Bible reveals that obedience to God’s laws brings blessing, while disobedience brings cursing and penalty. This is not just an “Old Testament” concept. Notice: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7–8).
Yes, there is cause and effect in life. When we do what is right, we enjoy a good effect, but when we do what is wrong, our sin causes a painful effect. Even if sin may seem pleasurable for a time, its after-effect will be devastating.
Considering all this, is celibacy the answer? Some professing Christians have the idea that it is somehow more holy to remain unmarried. The Apostle Paul, however, disagreed with this idea, explaining that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). We have seen the scandals surrounding thousands of men who—in the name of their religion—pretended to live as celibates, but privately engaged in the most reprehensible behaviors. God does not value such hypocrisy. He gave marriage as a good thing, an institution valued from the very beginning of the human race. It was God who told Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
Godly sex, in marriage, binds husband and wife together in love and intimacy. The relationship between husband and wife also has a spiritual dimension, as the Apostle Paul explained: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25–27).
Yes, a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves His Church! Paul continued: “So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (vv. 28–33).
God values marriage, and gives His blessing to sexual activity within marriage. “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). He even instructs husband and wives to submit to each other sexually (1 Corinthians 7:1–5).
The Bible is clear; God made sex to be shared by husband and wife in marriage. Any other sexual relationship is sin. Note the last part of Hebrews 13:4, that “fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Yes, God is the judge! Sexually immoral individuals need to repent of their sinful “lifestyles”! Further, the Bible describes specific sexual acts that are prohibited, including forms of sexual perversion (see Leviticus 18).
Just one chapter after outlining such prohibitions, God revealed the second great commandment, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus quoted that passage from Leviticus in Matthew 22:39. Of the Ten Commandments, the first four show us how to love God, and the last six show us how to love our neighbor. Jesus said: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). Are you willing to obey God and keep the commandments?
Some states and nations are acting as if they know better than God! Support for same-sex unions is becoming more and more common. Consider that in the United States, though many state constitutions contain language defining marriage as between one man and one woman, at least nine states have legalized same-sex marriage. Around the world, same-sex marriage is legally recognized in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. The Middle East state of Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, as do several states in Brazil and Mexico. What confusion!
In the first century ad, the city of Corinth in Greece was a center of worldwide commerce—and also a center of paganism, idolatry and sexual immorality. Nevertheless, many Corinthians repented of their sinful lifestyle and became Christians. The Apostle Paul warned them against the temptations of their day: “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 homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).
Are you practicing any of those behaviors? God says that none who are will inherit the Kingdom of God! Some of the Corinthians had repented of those sins—and they were forgiven. The Apostle Paul continues: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).
In today’s society, many who pose as religious leaders mislead people by telling them that they are not sinning when in fact they are violating the commandments of God. The prophet Jeremiah lamented such false leadership, and foresaw dire consequences. “‘Shall I not punish them for these things?’ says the Lord. ‘Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?’ An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:29–31).
People may be deceived, but they “love to have it so.” According to the Barna Research Group, many who call themselves “Christian” approve of behaviors the Bible defines as immoral, including cohabitation (defined as living with someone of the opposite sex without being married). Barna reports: “The biggest gaps between Protestants and Catholics were found in relation to cohabitation (deemed morally acceptable by 50 percent of Protestants and 66 percent of Catholics), sexual fantasies (51 percent and 63 percent, respectively), and gambling (52 percent and 70 percent, respectively)” (“Morality Continues to Decay,” November 3, 2003).
Some who are careful to avoid physical adultery think that they can avoid sin by keeping their adulterous fantasies in their minds. Yet Jesus Himself revealed that it is possible to sin in the mind, even without illicit physical conduct. “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
As our Savior warned: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:18–19).
How much sinful sexual fantasy finds its way into your mind? Plenty, if you watch television! With its title The New Normal—a title seemingly not meant to be ironic—one television program that debuted in 2012 is a sad example of where our media seems to be headed. Consider the show’s description as promoted by NBC, the network on which it airs: “These days, families come in all forms - single dads, double moms, sperm donors, egg donors, one-night-stand donors… It’s 2012 and anything goes.”
How do these trends affect young people? One report noted: “In the top 20 shows among teen viewers, more than eight in ten (83 percent) include some sexual content, including nearly half (49 percent) that have sexual behaviors, and one in five (20 percent) that have sexual intercourse. The top teen shows average 6.7 scenes per hour with sexual content” (Sex on TV 3: a Biennial Report of the Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003). The report continues: “If you ask teens what role sex on TV plays in their own lives, nearly three out of four say it influences the sexual behaviors of kids their age, and one in four admits it influences their own behavior” (ibid.).
Yes, the mass media does influence our attitudes and behaviors. We need to be on guard against those temptations that lead us to sin. Pornography is a booming business around the world and leads many to sexual crimes, including child sexual abuse. In a Canadian study of convicted child molesters, 77 percent of those who molested boys, and 87 percent of those who molested girls, said they were regular users of hard-core pornography (Report on the Use of Pornography by Sexual Offenders, Report to the Federal Department of Justice, Ottawa, Canada).
Although our world’s media are filled with sexual images, messages and temptations, a Christian must not give in to these influences. As Scottish novelist Margaret Oliphant famously observed, “As a general rule, temptations come when they are sought.” We must turn away from evil, and stay close to God. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in heaven: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
If you are indulging in pornography—or any other sexual vice—you need to repent! You need to quit sinning! You need to take decisive action to prevent your easy access to sexual temptations! The Apostle Paul gave this urgent instruction: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Some believe that sexual sin is a “victimless crime.” But God says that sexual sin is a sin against your own body!
Paul continues: “[K]now ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy [Spirit] which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (vv. 19–20, KJV).
Will you make the commitment, if you have not done so already, to glorify God in your body and in your spirit? God’s way of life through Christ is the abundant life, as Jesus stated in John 10:10. You can have that life of genuine happiness, if you follow the awesome and wonderful spiritual laws of God!