I grew up in the south. I grew up in church whenever the doors were open. And by the time I got to high school, proms and dating; pretty much all I knew was I wasn’t supposed to have sex. I certainly didn’t know why that was the rule. I just knew it was the rule. In fact, one of the most important rules. And in this moralistic environment, I frequently found myself asking, “How far is too far?”
The problem is that’s pretty much the opposite of what Paul says to do:
Get your heart as far from sexual sin as possible.
Reminds me of when I was a kid. My brother and I got into fights. Frequently. Sometimes we aggravated her so much, Mom would tell us, “Stop touching each other!!” So of course, my little brother’s response was to “not touch” me. Instead, he would antagonize me by getting as close as physically possible. If I asked him to stop, my brother would calmly reply, “I AM NOT TOUCHING YOU!”
This is an unfortunately accurate description of my high school view of sex. I could justify everything by saying “I AM NOT TOUCHING IT.” I am not having sex. No matter what I happened to be doing with a girl, I could always tell myself that I wasn’t doing it. So it was ok.
Fleeing is the opposite of that.
Fleeing isn’t getting as close to sexual immorality as we can.
It’s running from it.
Wherever we are tempted to move towards it; we stop, turn and run. This is why Paul in another letter tells us not to have a hint of sexual immorality. My thought process was backwards. God’s design for all sexual expression to exist inside a marriage covenant is wise and gracious. It’s a good design.
Like the good dad that He is, He warns us that sex used outside of it’s intended purpose can cause harm to us and everyone involved. So of course His command is flee.
Ok...but doesn’t that make God’s view of sex restrictive?
Is that even realistic in the 21st century? Why does God care so much? Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
I asked all these questions and hundreds of others, because I was confused. When I was told I couldn’t have sex until marriage, my assumption was that God and His rules were dumb. I knew better than He did.
I heard sex is supposed to be satisfying. So then the idea of waiting until marriage seemed pointless and harmful. God must have been some kind of mean tyrant who made this rule just because He could.
But overtime I considered other questions:
- Why might a loving God have given this design and these restrictions for sex?
- What if there were real reasons why I should trust God?
- What if God is smarter than I am?
And the answer I slowly came to see is that God understands that sex is actually a really big deal.
Not the biggest deal ever. Not the only big deal.
But a big deal nonetheless.
Despite what we’ve been told, sex is much more than just physical pleasure. We know this even when we don’t want to admit it. I remember talking to a friend about her boyfriend and she told me “I know it is a good thing because it’s not just physical! It has actually brought us closer together.”
Her point was that sex was relational, emotional and even spiritual. The Bible describes this aspect of sex as becoming “one flesh”. Flesh doesn’t just mean body here. It’s the whole person. Their heart, their mind, their body and their soul. So the Bible is saying that sex is a physical picture of what’s happening at every level; two persons becoming one.
God designed sex to physically, emotionally, and spiritually bind us to our spouse.
Over the years it’s been interesting to see more and more research explaining how this happens at a physiological level. The brain literally starts to addict itself to whoever we have sex with. God designed orgasm to connect two people at deep levels. And not just anyone or everyone, but one someone who’s not going anywhere because we’ve committed to addict ourselves to them for the rest of our lives.
After wrestling with this for years, I realized that God wasn’t trying to hinder my pleasure. He was trying to maximize it. God designed sex for marriage because it’s unhelpful to form these deep, complex bonds with multiple people. There’s even research that indicates over time, having sex with multiple people negatively affects our ability to form these bonds.
Sex is an incredible bonding agent meant for you and your spouse. And no one else.
Because any sexual activity that doesn’t bind us to our spouse is powerless to accomplish what God actually intends for it to do.
Any orgasm outside of marriage fails to live up to its amazing design.
God’s view of sex isn’t restrictive. Our modern Western view of sex is restrictive. It restricts us from experiencing all that sex can be. It restricts from enjoying all that sex has to offer.
Ok...but what counts as sexual sin?
As I grew to understand God’s design and command to flee sexual immorality, I still found myself asking “but what exactly is sexual immorality?” A little study and I found out that the Greek word translated into the English phrase “sexual immorality” is porneia. It’s the same word we get pornography from. It means any sex act outside of marriage. So then I asked, “Well what exactly is a sex act?”
Let’s say I didn’t exactly love the answer I found.
Especially not when I found it coming out of Jesus’ mouth. On the sermon on the mount, Jesus describes lust in the mind as being equivalent to committing adultery. I knew adultery counted as a sex act. I didn’t really want to accept that lust counted as a sex act. Then Jesus says it would be better to tear out your eye than to continue using your eyes for the sex act of sinful lust.
Like it or not, it was clear that Jesus thought this was a big deal.
Lust, no matter where it happens, whether it occurs in your mind or your heart or your hands is porneia. And anything else that we would put on a spectrum between lust of the mind and cheating on your spouse counts too.
- So if you are making out and you lust... porneia.
- Fantasizing about that girl in the coffee shop… porneia.
- Daydreaming about that guy you work with… porneia.
- Steamy romance novels... porneia.
- Picking a movie because of its sex scenes... porneia.
- “What if we just use our hands?”... porneia.
- “What if our clothes stay on?”... porneia.
- “What if we didn’t plan on this happening?”... porneia.
- “But we’re going to get married so it’s okay, right?”... porneia.
- 1 out of every 8 internet searches... porneia.
Jesus undermined all my attempts at justification. The games I liked to play. He cut through all the noise and cut to the core of my heart motivations. Lust is too far. If it was sexual sin in my mind, I had already crossed a line.
Ok...but what about porn?
It doesn’t hurt anyone after all, right? This question is very personal to me. Around the age of seven I started watching porn and it became a regular part of my life.
I was seven.
However, even as a child I understood that porn was something I wasn’t supposed to be looking at. I was always very secretive. In fact, there was one instance where our laptop froze while I was looking at porn. I was so panicked about getting in trouble that I poured water all over it.
I destroyed the laptop rather than have anyone find out what I was doing.
I have had countless conversations with myself and others where I have asked “what’s the big deal?” It’s not like watching porn affects anyone other than me.
Well first off, we know Jesus says if we lust when we watch porn then it is a sex act; it’s porneia.
But there’s something else here too. When we watch porn we are taking human beings with souls that God made and loves and adores. And we turn them into objects that exist for our pleasure. As I’ve thought about porn in light of the gospel, I’ve become more and more heartbroken about it.
As a brother who has a younger sister that I love dearly... As a friend of some amazing ladies that I respect greatly... As a boyfriend of a beautiful woman that I really care about... It tears me apart that I have objectified women in this way. And it isn’t like that objectification stops at the screen, it sinks into all aspects of our life. Over time, I started to see almost everyone as objects and nothing more.
And I don’t even have time to talk about the unbelievable damage and destruction that happens to the sex workers in the porn industry.
But it’s not that porn just hurts other people. Paul is clear that it hurts us, too. For me, and everyone I’ve talked to, porn is never just a lust problem.
It is an intimacy problem.
It is easier for us to go to a screen for instant gratification than it is to recognize that we are sinners in need of true connection. We long to be known and loved. Porn tells us we are desired by gorgeous women and/or men but the truth is the feeling doesn’t last.
Only in Christ have I found any lasting satisfaction.
Only in Christ can we be fully known and fully loved.
What about masturbation?
Sometimes guys will ask me “but what about masturbation?”. The reality is that this is a growing question that many people have in our church and in our culture. It’s seen as the best, least harmful alternative if I’m trying not to have sex outside of marriage.
I tried to type up a short answer to this question and I realized it needs a more full answer so I’m going to write a follow up blog post on that question specifically: “Why is masturbation a sin?” For now let's wrap up here:
At many points in my life, if I had read this article, I would have been crushed. I would have found myself thinking, “I understand God’s good design. I understand His calling on me to flee from sexual immorality. I don’t even disagree with Him.
But I can’t do it.
It feels impossible.
Especially when I consider that God’s call is to perfect obedience.”
The good news is God knows we will never be perfect. And He still loves us anyway. The good news is He knew how deep my porn addiction would go. He knew how many women I would turn into objects of lust. He knew how much I would resist and reject Him.
And instead of rejecting me, He loved me so much that He sent Jesus to rescue me. He knew I would never uphold this standard so He sent someone who could. This is the unbelievable grace of the gospel. I’m loved despite my brokenness.
Now don’t hear me wrong: I’m not saying sin isn’t a big deal.
It’s a huge deal.
So big a deal that Jesus died and took that sin upon himself. And until I really understood this incredibly gracious love of God for me, I never tasted real freedom. God’s unconditional love for me is what gives me hope when I fail. Hope that empowers me to fight my sexual sin; not to minimize it.
I hope this blog has been helpful and clarifying about what sexual sin is and why it matters. But more than anything else, please hear me tell you this:
God looks at you and said “I know every way you will fail, I know exactly how impossible it is for you to perfectly flee from sexual sin.
And I love you.
And I want you.
And I sent Jesus to die for you.”
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)