Foundations for the Christian Sex Ethic from 1 Corinthians Six
Western culture today is dominated by liberalism. Rod Dreher puts it well: "The cultural logic of liberalism [is] the progressive emancipation of the individual from unchosen cultural restraints." This has wide-ranging implications for every sphere of life. But to limit "the cultural logic of liberalism" to sexual morality, it means that people need to be freed from any restraints that would hinder their preferred sexual activity or expression. Your body is your own and all that matters is what you want to do with it. The only "cultural restraint" liberalism enforces is that we are not free to engage in sexual activity with people who do not wish to do so with us. That's why rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are still considered sins in today's culture. Let's hope at least this vestige of sanity lasts a good while.
Christianity has a different sex ethic. It teaches that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed exclusively by husbands and wives for the purpose of procreation and for strengthening the marriage relationship. To state the obvious, Christianity has several "cultural restraints" put in place in order to protect the sacredness of the marriage bed and to ensure, whenever possible, that children grow up with both mothers and fathers. These are more than just "cultural restraints," of course. They are commands of God. One of liberalism's chief goals is to harden our collective conscience so that we no longer feel guilt for rebelling against God's commands.
1 Corinthians 6 is one of the places where St. Paul exhorts his readers to follow the Christian sex ethic. He prohibits fornication, adultery, and homosexual activity (among other sins) and states that those who practice these things without repentance will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). But he doesn't just give commands and prohibitions. Toward the end of this chapter he grounds these divine commands in foundational truths that motivate Christians to walk the narrow path of sexual purity.
For starters, in verse 13 Paul writes that "the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord." Our bodies are meant for the Lord. We're not simply turning away from sexual immorality, we are turning towards the Lord, for whom we were made. Next, he writes that "God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power" (6:14). The resurrection of the dead is another positive motivation. If our bodies are so valuable to God that He will raise them up again then it makes sense to treat them with the dignity and honor that God intends for them. We're not gnostics who believe we will one day escape the physical body for the purely spiritual realm. We are Christians who believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting (in our resurrected bodies).
The next foundation for purity is that "your bodies are members of Christ" (6:15). In a mysterious way, our physical bodies are actually members or parts of Jesus Christ. Later in this letter (chapter 12) Paul teaches that Christ is the Head and we are His body. Paul's point in 1 Cor. 6 is that whatever we do with our bodies, we take Christ with us. So how could we, for example, take that which is a part of Christ and join it to a prostitute? May it never be! That would be like joining Christ to a prostitute! Paul makes a similar point in verse 19 when he writes, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" Think of it this way: if you were a Jew in Old Testament times, would you ever consider engaging in sexual immorality inside the Holy Temple of God? Of course not! Well, in New Testament times, Christian, your body is that Holy Temple. God the Holy Spirit dwells within us. This motivates us to lead holy and pure lives.
Finally, Paul concludes by writing, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (6:19b-20). This is the foundation for Christianity's sex ethic and it highlights the chasm between us and the world. The heart of the difference is that according to liberalism your body is your own possession. According to Christianity your body is not your own. Think of the implications!
Most of all, we should notice that all these commands and prohibitions are grounded in the Gospel. Paul writes, "For you were bought with a price." This price is made clear in 1 Peter 1:18-19, "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Jesus Christ gave up his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He died to save us from our sins (Matt. 1:21), from death (Rom. 6:23), from God's wrath (John 3:36), judgment (John 5:24) and condemnation (Rom. 8:1). He freely gives eternal life to all who believe in him (John 3:16). Dear Christian, your body is not your own. You were bought with the precious blood of Christ. Therefore glorify God with your body.
The Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not commit adultery.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we lead a chaste and pure life in word and deed, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.