As disciples of Christ who are called to live holy lives, one of the areas in which we must strive for purity is the area of sexuality. Sexual sin is one of the main ways Satan destroys our minds, our bodies, our marriages, our homes, our churches, and our lives. In order to guard ourselves against sin in this area we must understand what the Bible teaches about the purpose of sex, the boundaries for sex, and the importance of maintaining sexual purity of heart and eyes.
1. The Purpose of Sex
If we are going to walk in sexual purity, we first need to understand what God has to say about the purpose of sex. The Bible teaches that there are at least three reasons God has seen fit to make us sexual beings: 1) procreation, 2) pleasure, and 3) avoidance of temptation.
The first purpose for sex is procreation (i.e., human reproduction). In Genesis 1:28, God told Adam and Eve they were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” This meant that they were to have children, grandchildren, and so forth, until the earth was full of God’s image bearers carrying out God’s work. Of course, God has designed it such that the way humans multiply is through sex. Thus, one of the chief purposes of sex is procreation.
The second purpose for sex mentioned in the Bible is pleasure. God did not give humans the gift of sexuality simply so they could have children, but also so a husband and a wife could experience the pleasure that results from sex. This is seen, for example, in the book of Song of Solomon. The entire book is a love song between a husband and his wife, and much of it speaks of marital sex. Solomon, the author of that song, also tells us that sex is for pleasure when he writes in Proverbs 5:18-19, “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.”
The third purpose for sex given in Scripture is that sex between a husband and a wife can help them avoid temptation. In 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Paul says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Paul is saying that husbands and wives should have sex regularly, and that one of the reasons for this is so they will not be tempted to fulfill their sexual desires with someone outside their marriage. One of the best ways to avoid sexual sin is a healthy sex life with one’s spouse.
2. The Boundaries for Sex
The fact that God has given humans the ability for sex does not mean people are free to have sex with whomever they want. Sex is a good gift from God, but it is a gift that must be enjoyed within certain boundaries. The Bible teaches that the only proper place for the fulfillment of sexual desire is in the context of marriage. The act of sex is part of what initially joins a husband and wife together as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), and it is only in the context of the one-flesh union of a marriage between one man and one woman for one lifetime that sex is to occur. This is why the Bible forbids both “fornication” and “adultery” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Fornication is sex before marriage. Adultery is sex outside of marriage. Both of these sins involve sex with someone to whom you are not married. This is also what the author of Hebrews means when he writes, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4, NASB). In other words, in order to hold marriage in honor we must keep the marriage bed (i.e., sex) undefiled by not committing the sins of fornication and adultery.
3. Purity of Heart and Eyes
It’s very important that we not commit the physical act of sex with someone other than our spouse. But Jesus went further than this and said that we should not even lust after someone with our hearts and eyes. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). This means that even looking at someone of the opposite sex and desiring in one’s heart to have sex with them is sin. This would rule out lusting after a physical person, but it would also rule out the use of pornography of any kind. This is why Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). We must guard our eyes, and therefore guard our hearts, from lust. Any sexual desire that is directed toward someone other than our spouse is sin, even if that lustful desire remains at the heart-level and never leads to the physical act of sex.
One of the practical out-workings of this is that we must be vigilant in guarding how we relate to the opposite sex so as not to fan the flame of lustful desire with someone who isn’t our spouse. This is why Paul tells Timothy to “treat the younger women like sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). No Christian is so strong that he or she cannot succumb to sexual temptation (e.g., David with Bathsheba). We would be wise, therefore, to set boundaries for ourselves with those of the opposite sex. For example, it is extremely unwise for a man and a woman to be alone together if they aren’t married. Likewise, we must guard against communicating with those of the opposite sex in ways that do not include their spouse, or at least a third party of some kind. Many cases of adultery can be traced back to texts, phone calls, emails, and other forms of private communication between unmarried people.
Questions for Reflection
Have you seen sexual immorality destroy the lives of people you know? How so?
Why is it helpful to understand that God gives marital sex for pleasure and not just for procreation?
Why is it unhealthy for a husband and wife not to have sex regularly?
What are some practical ways you can set boundaries with the opposite sex in your workplace, church, and other areas of life, to avoid the temptation of sexual sin?
What measures might you need to take to avoid the specific sin of looking at pornography?