One of the bravest interviews I've heard was with a third year student at my last church. She stood at the front to tell us how she'd come to trust in Jesus. And it was through the fall-out of the sexual relationship she'd had with her boyfriend for most of her time at uni. And I still remember her saying, 'The party line was that we were all having fun. But the truth was that it was no fun, but left me feeling used and dirty. And looking back, now I know Jesus, I wonder how I could have been so deceived.'
We're in a sermon series called 'The Christ-centred Life'. And tonight's is on 'Obeying Jesus With Sex', which is an area where it's easy to be deceived.
We get deceived by our own desires, when they say things like, 'You must indulge me,' or, 'You can't say 'No' to me,' or, 'It can't be wrong if it feels good.'
We get deceived by the world around us, when it says things like, 'Everyone else is doing it,' or, 'You're missing out if you're not,' or, 'You're not a success or a complete person if you're not.' (And our part of the world now rally has only two rules for sex: no.1 is, 'You're free to do whatever you want,' and no.2 is, 'But it must be consensual, if it involves anyone else.'
But we also get deceived by the church – by people who'd call themselves Christians. So, for example, the first time I spoke on tonight's Bible passage was at Edinburgh University Christian Union. And I just unpacked what it says – which, among other things, is that sex is for marriage only (and these days you have to clarify: that means heterosexual marriage). And after the talk there was a queue of angry students lined up to tell me they were sleeping with their girl- or boy-friend or fiancé – and that because they loved each other, that was fine. And I told them the Bible said it wasn't – and was never invited back. But what they were saying is now being taught in parts of the church – including the view that homosexually active relationships can also have God's blessing.
It's easy to be deceived, which is why, as someone wisely put it, 'The most important sexual organ you possess is… your mind.' Because we'll only use sex rightly if we get our thinking right. And if you're a Christian – ie, someone saying, 'Jesus is my Lord and I'm aiming to live for him', you do that by listening to Jesus. Now I know not everyone here is a Christian. And if that's you, tonight's Bible passage gives a very clear idea of what it means to have Jesus as Lord of this area of your life – and why it's good to. But for those who are Christians, we get our thinking right by listening to Jesus – which, as we heard last week, means listening to the Bible, where we can hear both what Jesus said when he was on earth (in the Gospels) and what he said through guiding his apostles, after his death and resurrection. One of those apostles was Paul, and we're going to look at something he wrote – originally to the church in Corinth, but also for us.
So would you turn in the Bible to 1 Corinthians chapter 6. And the first thing Paul says here is:
1. Don't be deceived about where you stand with Christ (vv9-11)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians partly because they were misbehaving sexually. As we'll see, some of them were even using prostitutes – but thinking that what they were they doing was entirely compatible with being Christian. A bit like the Edinburgh CU people thought what they were dong was entirely compatible with being Christian. To which Paul basically says, 'Look, being a Christian means aiming to live for Jesus as your Lord or King. So if as a matter of habitual lifestyle, you're not doing what he wants in this area, you may be deceived about where you stand with him.' Look down to v9 again:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous [ie, those whose habitual lifestyles are against God's will] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (vv9-11)
Now let me say what that's not saying. That is not saying that if you've messed up this past week by going too far physically with your girl- or boy-friend, or drinking unwisely, or falling for pornography, then you're definitely not a Christian. It's not talking about people who are aiming to live for Jesus as King, but still mess up (as all Christians do). It's talking about people who, as a matter of habitual lifestyle, are not even aiming to live for Jesus.
So here's a picture to try to make that clear:
The crown to the right stands for Jesus. And the crown to the left stands for myself or yourself. And that's a picture of what v9 calls 'the unrighteous': the grey arrow stands for their habitual direction of life – which is 'doing what I want'. And that habitual attitude works itself out in the habitual sins of v9, for example:
• 'Sexual immorality' – where the original Greek word covers all forms of sex outside marriage, whether by single or married people, heterosexual or homosexual.
• 'Adultery' – ie, married people having sex outside their marriages.
• 'Men who practise homosexuality' (and in Romans 1.26-27, Paul makes it clear that female homosexual practice is equally outside God's will).
And it's important to say: he's not talking about people who are tempted in those areas – we're all constantly tempted, and between all of us here we're almost certainly tempted in all the ways mentioned here. Paul is talking about people doing these things as a matter of habitual lifestyle. So 'men who practise homosexuality' is a good translation – because experiencing desires for what's outside God's will is not sin; whereas practising those desires is.
So now look at v11, where Paul says to the Corinthians:
And such were some of you. (v11)
Ie, he's saying to them, 'Some of you singles were habitually sleeping around. Some of you marrieds were habitually unfaithful. Some of you with same-sex desires were habitually acting on them.' And if they'd had the internet, he'd also have meant, 'And some of you were habitually looking at porn.' But then read on in v11:
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (v11)
Have a look at my next picture as we unpack that. Picture 1 was the picture of someone who's not a Christian. But then, they hear the gospel: they hear that the Lord Jesus whom they should have been living for, died on the cross – to offer them forgiveness for not living for him, and a new start in the right direction, with him as King:
The trouble is: by nature, we just don't want him as King – because we don't trust him to run our lives as well as we think we can. So left to ourselves, none of us would ever make that U-turn. And what has to happen is in Picture 3: God has to come into our lives by his Spirit, and overcome our resistance to him. He has to change our hearts so that we do want him as King, and do make that U-turn, and become people, who as verses 9 and 10 say, 'will inherit the kingdom of God' – because you can only be part of his kingdom beyond this life if you've accepted him as King in this life:
So Picture 3 is the picture of the second half of v11, which says:
But you were washed... in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ... (v11)
Which means that, through the cross, a believer's entire record of sin right up to the present moment is washed away. Which is why, in Picture 3, the arrows have turned white and the sins are crossed out. And that – however you've sinned, however you've sinned sexually – is how God sees you if you're trusting in Jesus – washed clean. As that student I mentioned at the start said, 'Coming to trust in what Jesus did for me on the cross was like having bath on the inside.'
Then v11 also says:
you were justified… in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (v11)
Which is similar to 'washed', only it means not just that I'm right with God now – but that I can be sure I will be on the day of judgement. And that's because Jesus didn't just die for all our past sins, but all our future sins as well. So we can be sure they'll never jeopardise God's acceptance of us.
Now what I've missed out is the work of God's Spirit, which is all mixed in with being washed and justified in v11. But if I unmix it for a moment, v11 also says:
But you were... sanctified... by the Spirit of our God. (v11)
And 'sanctified' means 'set apart'. It means the work of God's Spirit in changing what I want, so I'm set apart from being on that top arrow and wanting my own way – to being on that bottom arrow and wanting his way.
So my question for all of us is: which arrow are you on? You remember the Edinburgh CU people – saying, 'I'm sleeping with my girl- or boy-friend or fiancé, and I think that's fine with God. If I'd used this picture then, I'd have said, 'Look: you're talking as if you're on the bottom arrow, but living as if you're on the top one. So which is telling the real truth about where you stand with Christ – your talk or your life?'
Don't be deceived, says Paul. It's not that people on the bottom arrow don't still sin this side of heaven. But the difference is: they're aiming to live for Jesus as King – and when they don't, they regret it and repent of it in a way they never did before.
The second thing Paul says is:
2. Don't be deceived about the nature of sex (vv12-17)
The Corinthians had all sorts of wrong ideas about sex. So, the next thing Paul had to do was: correct their thinking. Now because the Bible has to correct us in this area, it's often misrepresented as being negative about sex. But it's not.
There are Christians who've been negative about sex – for example, Bishop Yves of Chartres who, in the Middle Ages, encouraged the married to abstain from sex on Thursdays to remember Jesus' second coming, on Fridays to remember his crucifixion, on Saturdays to honour the Virgin Mary, on Sundays to remember the resurrection, and on Mondays out of respect for the dead. So the week with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday would have been a complete write-off as far as sex was concerned.
Whereas the Bible is profoundly positive about sex. What it's negative about is the misuse of it. So Paul has to be negative in order to recover the profound positive of God's design for sex. So look on to v12:
"All things are lawful for me"... (v12)
Now this translation puts that in inverted commas, because Paul is almost certainly quoting the Corinthians. And he quotes and corrects three views of sex that are still common today:
Wrong view no.1 is: 'I'm free to do what I want' (v12)
"All things are lawful [ie, permissible] for me"... (v12)
Now the reason the Corinthians thought that way was that they had the peanut view of the person. You know how a peanut has two halves – stuck together, but basically separate compartments. Well that's how the Corinthians thought about the body and the spirit. So they thought, because they were separate compartments, what you did with your body didn't really affect anything spiritual. And so, v12:
"All things are [permissible] for me"... (v12)
And our culture says the same – but for a different reason. It says the reason is: each of us is an autonomous individual and my ultimate human right is to do whatever I want – because that's our culture's definition of freedom. (Only, you have to remember rule no.2 when it comes to sex: 'But it must be consensual if it involves anyone else.')
And Paul's correction is in v12:
"All things are lawful for me", but not all things are helpful [ie, helpful to others, good for them]. (v12)
So, take the student I began with who was left feeling used and dirty. Was that relationship helpful for her? No. Now the boyfriend would say, 'I did nothing wrong because it was consensual – I kept rule no.2.' Whereas the Bible would say, 'No, you did do something wrong because you consented to something harmful – which sex outside marriage always is, to some degree.' Now I know I'd be howled down by people saying their experience of sex with a boy- or girl-friend or in co-habitation (or whatever) is great. But all the social science findings are that it's not great – certainly not compared to marriage – and that it may seem great now, but give it time and statistically it's the fall-out that'll be great. And you know from your experience or your friends' or family's experience that beneath the cultural propaganda about sex, the harm caused by the sexual revolution is massive.
But it's not just harming others that God wants to protect us from, but harming ourselves. So look on to the second half of v12:
"All things are lawful for me", but I will not be enslaved by anything. (v12)
So the sexual 'freedom' the world offers actually delivers enslavement. For example, why did that student I began with take so long (nearly two years) to get out of what she knew was bad for her? She said in that interview that it was because she was enslaved to the sense of need to have and keep a boyfriend – even on terms she didn't want. And 'freedom' can become slavery in many ways – for example, the person who thinks, 'I'm free just to look at the odd bit of porn' and ends up not free to stop looking.
Whereas the Bible says: freedom is not doing whatever I want to do, but whatever I ought to do. It's not the ability to say 'Yes' to every desire, but 'Yes' or 'No' depending on whether the desire is for the right thing – or for the right thing in the right context. So people often say to me, 'But don't you believe that sex is good?' To which the answer is: yes, but only in the context for which God designed it – namely, heterosexual marriage. It's like saying, 'Is fire good?' The answer is: it all depends where. On top of candles and in my fireplace, yes. Up the curtains or on the sofa, no.
Wrong view no.2 is: 'What really matters to God is my spirit, not what I do with my body' (vv13-14)
This is one you're more likely to find inside the church – a form of false teaching. Look on to v13.
"Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food"—and God will destroy both one and the other. (v13)
And I agree with those who think all of that is quoting the Corinthians – not just the first bit, as this translation suggests. So the Corinthians were saying something like this: 'Sex is like hunger – it's just a bodily appetite that needs feeding. And one day, stomachs and food will be destroyed because we're in the spiritual world of heaven. And likewise, we won't have bodies or sex anymore. So surely what we do with our bodies now really doesn't matter.'
And Paul's correction is to say, 'No!' – second half of v13:
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord [ie, Jesus] and will also raise us up by his power. (vv13-14)
So Paul says: think what happened to Jesus. He didn't leave his body in the tomb in Jerusalem and just go back to heaven spiritually. He was bodily raised from the dead, and he has a body in heaven right now – and so will you one day, if you're trusting in him. So what you do with your body now matters absolutely.
In parts of the church today, people talk about their 'spirituality' while using their bodies in both heterosexual and homosexual sin. And Paul says that's a nonsense, because 'spirituality' is living for Jesus as Lord. And you can only do that bodily – whether it's using your tongue to say a kind word, your hand to help someone, or your whole body either to forego sex as a single person, or to be exclusively faithful with sex if you're a married person.
Wrong view no.3 is: 'Sex is just like hunger – just an appetite that needs satisfying'
And some of the Corinthians were satisfying it with prostitutes. Look on to v15:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two will become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (v17)
So the Corinthians were saying, ''Sex is just like hunger. So, if you get hungry you go out for a pizza. If you feel like having sex you go out for a prostitute. And just like you form no relationship with the pizza – it just satisfies your hunger – so you form no relationship with the prostitute; it doesn't mean anything.'
And Paul says: that's a total misuse of sex, because God designed it to be profoundly relational. So at the end of v16 he quotes the Bible's foundational verse on marriage – Genesis 2.24 – which says:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they [or 'the two'] shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2.24)
And 'hold fast' is the word for permanent, lifelong commitment. And 'one flesh' is the word for a profound union – two into one. And the point is: sex is not just an appetite. Our sex-drive is actually a God-given desire for marriage. And he designed it to draw us towards marriage and, if we do marry, to bond our marriage relationship. In fact, the Bible says sex has three purposes.
Purpose no.1 is to bond people in marriage
Sex doesn't by itself create a marriage – Paul wasn't saying these Corinthians were now married to these prostitutes. But it's designed to bond people in marriage: along with the couple's promised commitment, it's the 'glue' that holds them together. Which is why it's so harmful to use sex for relationships that are not for life – because you're taking something that, relationally speaking, is superglue and using it like it was bluetac. And that hurts, when you tear apart what's been glued. And the more you do that, the less well the glue works, the less prepared you are to be able to form the lifelong commitment we all long for.
Purpose no.2 of sex is to be the body-language of marriage
We use body language all the time, don't we? So a hand-shake means, 'friendly but formal'. A hug means you're good friends, or siblings – or Tellytubbies. So what does sex mean? One Christian writer put it like this:
To be naked with another person is a symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment, and if the heart is not naked along with the body, then the whole action becomes a lie… the giving of the body but the withholding of the self. (The Mystery Of Marriage, Mike Mason)
So the Corinthians wanted to say, 'Sex doesn't mean anything – it's just a release.' Whereas the Bible says, 'Sex is meant to mean everything. The Bible says that, in sexual intercourse, a man and a woman are saying to each other, 'I give myself to you totally, permanently, exclusively.'
So to have sex with a prostitute, or a one-night stand, is telling a lie with your body. But so is having sex with your girl- or boy-friend, or even your fiancé – as I said to those Edinburgh CU people. They were saying, 'But we really love each other, so it must be fine.' And I was saying, 'No, you don't yet love each other in the only way that permits you with integrity to say it with sex.' Take them up the aisle and commit yourself to love them in marriage, and then you can take them to bed with total integrity. But not before.
Purpose no.3 of sex is to bring children into the world in the context they need – which is the security of a marriage relationship in which they have the love and role-modelling of their own father and mother.
That's got a bit away from the specific issue Paul was dealing with in verses 15-17. But the underlying truth he answers it with is that sex is the bond and body-language of marriage union. And if you're in union with Christ by faith, then he doesn't want you to take him into any sexual union except marriage.
Let me close quickly with Paul's closing application of what he's said, which is:
3. Run from sexual sin – for your own good and God's glory
Look at v18:
Flee from sexual immorality. (v18)
So the classic question is, 'If we're going out, how far can we go, physically?' But Paul says that's the wrong question. The question should be, 'How far can you run from sexual sin?' Because sexual intercourse and all the intimacies leading up to it, including nakedness, all belong to the territory of marriage. So the right question for single people is, 'How can we keep absolutely off that territory?' And for married people the right question is, 'How can we protect that territory from anything or anyone else that would invade its exclusivity?'
And Paul goes on in v18:
Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (vv18-19)
Now I'm sure Paul would agree that alcohol or drug abuse impacts your own body. But he's saying that misusing our bodies sexually impacts us profoundly – perhaps most profoundly of all. But if you're a Christian, the worst impact isn't on self-worth or image or any of the other things that get damaged by sexual sin. The worst impact is on your relationship with Christ, who as v19 says, lives in us by his Spirit. The worst impact is knowing that you've taken him into situatons of sexual sin and therefore clouded and spoiled your relationship with him with guilt and shame. Which is why, through Paul, in his love for us, the Lord Jesus says: run from sexual sin – for your own good, but also for my glory. End of v19:
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price [on the cross]. So glorify God in your body. (vv18-20)
The Lord Jesus is saying, 'I died to forgive you everything – past and future. I died so that you could belong to me, rather than to sin and all its consequences. So glorify me by trusting my wisdom, trusting my goodness – and obeying with me sex.'
This passage covers quite a lot – but there's obviously much more that needs saying on this whole area of life. One resource you might find helpful is the set of talks I did on the recent 20s&30s weekend away. The talks are: 1. Marriage in the service of God; 2. Singleness in the service of God; and 3. Seeking marriage. You can either listen to them or read them – and you can find them at: http://printandaudio.org.uk (the Print & Audio section of our church website) and look for 'Talks', then '20s&30s'.
Below are the three lists of helpful resources I put together for each of the talks – I hope you'll find something that touches on your question(s).
1. Marriage in the service of God
Married for God, Christopher Ash, IVP
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Grudem & Piper, Crossway (available online) – Chapter 1: A Vision of Biblical Complementarity – what 'mature masculinity' and 'mature femininity' look like according to the Bible; Chapter 2: Covers the main debated issues on male/female roles by Q&A
Questions About Divorce & Remarriage, Andrew Cornes, Monarch
2. Singleness in the service of God
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Grudem & Piper, Crossway (available online) – Foreword: For single men and women (and the rest of us)
Two talks by Andrew Cornes on the Bible's teaching on singleness and living in the light of it – available on The Christian Institute's website: www.christian.org.uk/singleness/
The Single Issue, Al Hsu, IVP – Biblical perspective and wisdom on singleness
The Heart Of Singleness, Andrea Trevenna, The Good Book Company
True Friendship, Vaughan Roberts, 10ofthose – on cultivating good friendships
Walking With Gay Friends, Alex Tylee (a woman), IVP and Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill, Zondervan – for understanding and supporting those for whom same-sex attraction is an issue
www.livingout.org – help for those experiencing same-sex attraction, but with articles on handling singleness that are very helpful for all
Captured by a better vision: living porn-free, Tim Chester, IVP – a wise book for those seeking encouragement in turning from pornography
www.covenanteyes.com or www.accountable2you.com – for accountability where the internet is a temptation
3. Seeking marriage
Love, Sex & Marriage – four excellent talks by Phillip Jensen – available to buy at www.matthiasmedia.com
I Married You, Walter Trobisch, IVP – older, but short, fresh and very helpful book on 'going out' and engagement
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Grudem & Piper, Crossway (available online) – Chapter 1: A Vision of Biblical Complementarity – what 'mature masculinity' and 'mature femininity' look like according to the Bible
Guidance And The Voice Of God, Jensen & Payne, Matthias Media – very helpful on 'demystifying' decision-making for Christians
God's Guidance And Our Decision Making, article by Ian Garrett – available at the JPC website. Click on Articles in the toolbar and find the one for August 2014
Boy Meets Girl, Josh Harris, Multnomah – good, but culturally quite American, book on 'going out' and engagement
Should we get married? 5 pre-engagement questions to ask yourselves, John Yenchko & David Powlison available online at www.cck.org.uk/shouldwegetmarried?
Holding Hands, Holding Hearts, Richard Phillips, P&R
(NB: I think the above three all refer to remarriage as permissible in some circumstances – with which I disagree)