by Mike Ratliff
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (NASB)
I was a teenager in the 1960’s. That period has often been called a time of the beginning of a great sexual revolution. I remember that time as magazines and movies becoming more and more open about nudity and sex. At the same time I remember people from my grandparent’s generation scoffing at all that saying that none of that was any different from what was going on in what they referred to as the “Roaring 20’s.” My parent’s generation was the one that grew up in the Great Depression and then went to war during World War II. My parents were both very much Southern Baptists with a strict moral code. However, what we need to understand is human beings have practiced sexual sin since the very beginning, but for many centuries in the West, sexual sins were met with public disapproval such as that expressed by my parents and grandparents. Since at least the 1960s, however, Western culture has increasingly accepted a sexual ethic in which nearly everything goes. Sex between unmarried people, premarital cohabitation, homosexuality, and a host of other practices today enjoy widespread societal approval. However, I am convinced that if a professing Christian holds that approval then it is a marker that shows their disingenuousness.
This is not the first time that Christians have lived in a society that tolerates and even promotes sexual decadence. The first-century Greco-Roman world, where the first Christian churches were planted, was filled with sexual license. Homosexual behavior was widely tolerated. It was customary for pagan husbands to have mistresses and to use female slaves to satisfy their sexual desires. Prostitution was rampant, and there were even forms of pornography in that era’s art and literature.
When people converted to Christ, however, they were expected to put away all these things. As we see in the passage I placed at the top of this post, the will of God for His people is their sanctification, which includes abstinence from “sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). The Greek word translated as “sexual immorality” (porneia) refers to all sexual activity outside of the one-man/one-woman marriage covenant. Christianity adopted the ancient Jewish sexual ethic, which is not surprising since that ethic comes from the Old Testament. Consequently, sexual activity is reserved for the one place God has ordained it—the one-flesh marriage bond (Genesis 2:24). Thus, homosexual activity, bestiality, premarital sex, adultery, polygamy, and other sexual behaviors that occur outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage are forbidden to God’s people. And since Jesus makes it clear that sexual sin extends even to our desires (Matthew 5:27–30), lusts that are never realized with another creature are also forbidden. This makes the mere desires for things that are forbidden by God sinful as well.
Christians are not to be controlled by their sexual desires; rather, we are to practice self-control and abstain from all forbidden sexual activity, whether in thought, word, or deed (1 Thessalonians 4:4–5). Any professing believer who claims otherwise is in grave spiritual peril. The gospel sets us free from sin to honor God with our minds and bodies, so believers will seek to bring their sexual activities and desires into conformity with our Creator’s Word.
The pressure is on Christians to bow the knee to the culture on sexual matters and to embrace and approve of what God has forbidden. We cannot and must not give in, for our Creator has told us what is lawful and what is unlawful sexually. Let us resolve now not to surrender on these matters but to stand firm against sexual immorality, no matter the cost, trusting that the Lord will care for us as we do so.
Soli Deo Gloria!