Holy Sex

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

Of the many ways that holiness or sanctification impacts us, Paul focuses on sex. Why? In this particular context, with this specific group of Christians, as far as the apostle is concerned, this is the definition of holiness: Avoid sexual immorality. Why?

Think with me about this first century Hellenistic society in Thessalonica. There’s no real connection between religion and morality. The culture was such that as long as you provided for your wife and you didn’t abuse her physically, it didn’t really matter who you had sex with. No big deal. In this culture, as long as nobody got hurt, anything goes — wherever, whenever, whoever. Culturally, socially, mistresses, concubines, even religiously. Consider what was happening down the street at First Aphrodite Church: Naked priestesses and temple prostitutes — pagan worship rituals were based on and drenched in sex.

Now these brand new Christians are meeting in Jason’s house in Thessalonica for songs and prayers, words of encouragement and a meal. And these new converts to Christ have no understanding of a right or wrong way to behave sexually. This was the main issue for Christians back then.

And it’s the main issue for Christians in the United States today.

We live in a completely sexualized culture. I don’t have to tell you, I don’t have to point it out. It’s everywhere. And don’t think for a minute it’s not a problem in your church. In this country, three out of every four 4-year-olds has his or her own iPad or some kind of device with a search engine. We’re throwing our youngest into the line of fire and calling it good. In middle school, what they’re nonchalantly sharing with each other on Instagram and Snapchat is disturbing. The clothes we let our daughters wear — it’s a problem.

If the statistics are even close — recent surveys of church-going Christians in the U.S. — 77% of the men in your church are looking at pornography at least once a month. Thirty-five percent of the married men in your church have had an extra-marital sexual affair. Christians! Us! I’m not telling you this to point fingers, I’m telling you this so maybe we can get a better grip on the scope of the problem. We live in a hook-up culture where cohabitation before marriage and casual sex outside marriage are normal and we’re carrying easy and ready access to pornography in our pockets. That’s a problem.

How we behave sexually has everything to do with our Christianity. The two are very much connected. Paul shows us that “holy and honorable” are the opposite of “passionate lust.” He points out that “passionate lust” is self-centered and concerned only with my needs and my desires. “Holy and honorable” is concerned with what’s best for others.

Look at the contrast. The heathen don’t know God and they’re sexually immoral. They don’t control their bodies. If you do know God, you don’t act that way.

We know God. And that obligates us to honor him. With all of ourselves. With our bodies.

God’s will for us — to be holy, to be sanctified — is to enjoy sex only within the confines of holy marriage. Anything else — anyone else, anywhere else, anywhen else — is driven by passionate lust and self-seeking desires and it’s not holy.

But, look, my girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yeah, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex. We can’t wait that long. I’m a 21-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have sex before marriage or I have to go to porn. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you do have a choice! In the name of Jesus and by the power of his Holy Spirit, you have lots of choices! How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created and saved for his holy purposes?

We don’t talk about sex anymore in church because our culture tells us it’s nobody’s business. Sex is personal and private. No! Wrong answer! Sex is not personal or private! Every single sexual thing you do impacts our families, impacts our community, impacts our relationships with God, and impacts his Church. Holy sexual conduct honors and glorifies God and our relationships with each other and our community and our families and the Church. Unholy sexual conduct dishonors all that. It wrongs our brothers and sisters and takes advantage of other people.

God did not call you and save you and come to live inside you so you could live an impure life. We are redeemed and called by our loving Creator to be holy.




  1. Howard

    Once you boil down the Thessalonian text it all hinges on how one defines sexual immorality. In my day sexual immorality included ballroom dancing and mixed “bathing” among a number of other things. My day was a long time ago. We look back and criticize how narrow minded we were. Times have changed and so has the definition of sexual immorality. You probably are open to a little dancing and mixing bathing, yet you are not open to a little premarital sex. In my day, there was not a lot of premarital sex. Today it is ubiquitous. How do we know that we were mistaken about the ballroom dancing, but correct about premarital sex? Maybe we are mistaken about premarital sex. Maybe morality has a lot more to do with our attitudes about others than some specific legalistic line in the sand.

  2. Allan

    I remember hearing many years ago that we were against premarital sex because it might lead to dancing. Seems to me that the Baptists probably said the same thing.

    If we’re going to boil down this specific text, the author is clearly convinced sexual morality means controlling your body in a way that is holy and honorable, not acting on one’s lustful desires, but bringing all of one’s sexual urges under the consecrated lordship of Jesus and sanctifying work of the Spirit. Of course, elsewhere, Paul quotes Jesus and Jesus quotes Genesis 1-2 in that sex is created by God to unite a man and a woman in a covenant relationship that reflects his glory.

    As for mixed bathing, I never really understood the prohibitions. I don’t recall anyone going to a pool or to the beach with a bar of soap. As for dancing, some of it seems fun and innocent and some of it seems fun and sexually immoral.

    As to the definition of sexual immorality according to Scripture, it never changes. From Genesis through the prophets into the Gospels and letters, sex is strictly reserved for marriage. It’s very specifically regulated by Scripture. Dancing and swimming? Not so much. That’s like using past views of playing cards or going to the movies to justify stealing from your neighbor. I think that’s apples and oranges.

    Concerning your last line, I agree that morality has a lot more to do with our attitudes about others than some specific legalistic line in the sand. I couldn’t agree more and you and I both know that Scripture and our Lord affirm it. But this specific text claims that sexual immorality wrongs our fellow man/woman and takes advantage of others.

    There are many, many reasons our culture today is such that premarital sex is ubiquitous. That doesn’t change the wisdom or the truth of Scripture as it points us to the Creator’s eternal design.

  3. Howard

    You mention Paul quoting Jesus and Jesus quoting Genesis. What are those references?

  4. Allan

    I’m thinking about Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in Ephesians 5, both quoting from Genesis 2, both stressing the “united to his wife” and becoming “one flesh” in explaining their views of marriage.

    (I worded that line clumsily in my comment; I wrote it while watching Bush and Dyson fall apart in the Rangers bullpen.)

    My point on that — to expound just a tad — is the consistency of the Scripture from first to last on this particular issue. There are some things you see “soften” or “expand” in the Bible through the on-going revelation of God and the coming of Jesus. Those things can be discerned and argued. Sex outside of marriage isn’t one of them.

  5. Howard

    I’m limiting my discussion to sex acts by unmarried couples. The problem with the Thessalonians text is that it raises more questions than it answers. To be against sexual immorality or passionate lust or to be for what is holy and honorable sounds very worthy, but where does one go from there? If you use this text to condemn premarital sexual intercourse, or viewing porno I can use it to condemn french kissing and ballroom dancing. There is nothing holy and honorable about any activity related to sex. I can use it to condemn most movies and novels.

  6. Allan

    Yes, I think you’re right. But who wants to talk about dancing and kissing?

    Like most people, followers of Jesus struggle with being faithful in a culture that’s not. And some followers of Jesus don’t struggle with it much at all.

    You raise a valid point.

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