The Original Design (Genesis 1:27, 2:18-24)
Genesis says God created humans in His image. And it says he made two kinds of humans: male and female. But the first male, Adam, was created alone. God did say the man shouldn’t stay alone, so He set about looking for a partner for him among every kind of creature. But none was found that was right. So God took out a piece of the man to make a counterpart: the woman, Eve.
The fact that the woman was created this way is given in Genesis as the reason for marriage. The text says it’s why a man leaves his parents he grew up with to instead unite with his wife. And man and woman were anatomically designed to literally unite: we were made for sex. Marriage is the proper design; this is sexual morality.
Sexual immorality, then, is when the design is altered from God’s original.
Sexual Immorality Defined (Lev. 18, 20; Deut. 22:13-30)
There are a few passages in the Law of Moses that outline what sexual immorality specifically is. Look at the following:
- Leviticus 18 lists several sexual sins, such as incest, sex with another’s spouse, homosexual sex, and beastiality. A good deal of the chapter addresses how the land the Israelites were taking over had already been defiled because of these sins.
- Leviticus 20 repeats many of these sins, but also includes punishments. The punishment is generally death. For example:
“If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” (Leviticus 20:13 NLT)
- Deuteronomy 22:13-30 contains a few more laws against sexual immorality such as:
“If a man is discovered committing adultery, both he and the woman must die. In this way, you will purge Israel of such evil.” (Deuteronomy 22:22 NLT)
So I believe that when the Jerusalem Church in Acts 15 decided to require that Gentile Christians not sin sexually, they understood those sins through the Law of Moses, not through say Roman morality or Greek morality. The Mosaic Law had been preached for hundreds of years in their synagogues, so this worldview is what the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were familiar with.
Such Were Some of You (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
So we’ve learned that abstinence from sexual sin, from eating blood, from eating meat of strangled animals (which contains blood), and from eating meat sacrificed to idols (which is idolatry) were the four customs from the Law of Moses that Gentile Christians are required to keep. No need to worry about circumcision, whether or not to eat pigs or owls or bats, the use of mixed fabrics—none of that extra stuff from the Law matters. Just those four that the Jerusalem Church decided on.
But there’s a question I’ve always been worried about. Should the punishments of sexual sin apply to Christians today? The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.”
But he does continue,
“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
So no one was required to die for being sexually immoral. Instead, the person was forgiven by calling on Jesus. This reminds me of how Jesus forgave an adulteress in John 8:1-11 despite, according to the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 22:22, she should have been killed for her sin.
Can We Continue Sinning Sexually Without Any Consequences, Then?
No. Paul, the same one who helped come up with the Acts 15 requirements, also wrote:
“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”
(1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NLT)
Having Said All That
You’ve heard, “hate the sin, not the sinner.” Give yourself the same courtesy whenever you stumble. And remember that temptation is not the same thing as sin. Jesus was tempted 40 days in the wilderness by satan but never sinned.
When we struggle, let’s do like James wrote:
“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” (James 4:7-10 NLT)