If there is a definitive statement that explains Western society’s attitude toward sex, it would be that simple-yet-revealing claim: “It’s just sex.” The only remaining boundaries regarding sex in our society today are consent and not leveraging one’s institutional power for the purposes of sex. As long as you don’t abuse power and you receive consent from any and all involved, you are free to operate according to the mantra of our day. Sex is now expected not only in the realm of dating but even in an evening out on the town, after meeting someone for the very first time. As a pastor in a college town, I know students who pack an overnight bag before going out on a Friday night, because on any given evening out with friends, sex is a possibility. Richard E. Simmons III wrote a book on this modern-day approach to sex and calls it “sex at first sight.” He shares the story of a recent college graduate who recounted, “Sex pervades almost every aspect of dorm life that I have experienced. I have seen ‘dorm incest’ where the entire floor hooks up with everyone else on the floor.” To many students, sex is just part of the college experience.
I find it interesting that the “it’s just sex” belief system contradicts itself out of the gate. It fails to acknowledge that even the idea of consent amongst adults points to an important reality. If you must agree to it and you must be old enough that your consent is viable, then sex means something. Abuse runs rampant in our sinful society, and few things rightly create more outrage among sane people than witnessing abuse. It is so serious that we refer to victims as “survivors,” and all who believe that people are made in the image of God should be heartbroken and motivated to care well for those who have been victimized by the evils of abuse. Abuse cover-ups disgust people, and while there is certainly a long way to go toward changing the culture of abuse that exists in many spheres of life, outrage leading to action is finally starting to emerge due to survivors bravely coming forward to share their traumatic experiences. Once in the open, abuse usually receives the response it warrants, because people inherently know that sex is not to be taken by force.
I tread lightly as I explain this, but as hideous and horrific as non-sexual domestic abuse is, our responses to sexual abuse inherently convey that it is in a class of its own. I do not intend to minimize the trauma of domestic abuse in any manner. But in terms of both criminal consequences and general perception, rape or sexual abuse of any kind undeniably creates a different emotional response in our society. We know that sex coerced or taken is an evil thing. Sexual abuse is such a horrific departure from God’s design that even an unbelieving world can call it sinful.
Let’s delicately dial that back. Why is sex taken by force so disgusting? Because sex means something.
“Our physical bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.”
If it’s “just sex,” why would one need to give the disclaimer of consent? If a CEO of an organization is leveraging sex as a condition for job security or advancement in a company, or if a story breaks that a high school teacher is using his or her power abusively over a vulnerable student by having a sexual relationship, why does that outrage even the most secular mind? Because, in our gut, we know that “it’s just sex” is a lie. Sex outside of God’s design not only leads to brokenness but can also leave traumatized victims along the way. Sex is that serious, and the Bible is crystal clear in showing how ultimately catastrophic it is to take what God has given His people to enjoy and abuse it.
One important Scriptural argument against “it’s just sex” is found in 1 Corinthians chapter six. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul confronts a departure from God’s design for sex with a strong rebuke. It is not simply that they are having sex. Christian men had blended their faith with the pagan religions of their city and believed they could justify engaging in prostitution at the temple as acceptable religious activity. You read that correctly: professing Christians were having sex with prostitutes at a pagan temple.
To address the Corinthians’ sin, Paul builds his argument incrementally. He first writes that sexual immorality is not the purpose of our bodies, saying, “the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body,” (1 Cor. 6:13). That element is easy to understand—since my body belongs to Christ, I shouldn’t have sex with a prostitute. Got it. (Christians abstaining from prostitution is hardly a hot take.) Paul could have advised the church against prostitution for several reasons that would have made perfect sense, but instead he takes it somewhere otherworldly. He continues, “Don’t you know that your bodies are a part of Christ’s body? So should I take a part of Christ’s body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not” (6:15). He lands the plane in verse sixteen, where he lets the reader understand that his issues have nothing to do with prostitution but with what is taking place in the act of sex itself: “Don’t you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, ‘The two will become one flesh.’” Paul makes his appeal to the garden of Eden, to God’s design for sex and what happens when sexual intercourse takes place.
“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame” (Gen. 2:24–25). This is not about soliciting prostitutes; this is about God’s design—when two come together, they become one. Let’s be real—besides some hurt feelings, there are rarely deep scars after a breakup between a boyfriend and girlfriend who only ever cuddled on the couch watching a movie. But regardless of what the world tries to proclaim, there is much more to the emotional aftermath of a breakup when sex has been part of the relationship. Why? Paul points us to the beginning: the two become one flesh. Because the bond that sex creates between two people is so deep, there is trauma associated with sexual misconduct. Prostitution was simply the specific sin the Corinthians were committing. Yet Paul’s argument had nothing to do with the method of their sexual immorality but with what sex actually is—the bringing together of not simply two bodies, but two souls.
“The act of sex unites the body and soul to someone else.”
It is from deep love, then, when Paul concludes his section on sexual sin by pleading with the believers to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). I can visualize his pen shaking in urgency as he wrote, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (6:18–20).
Paul does not seem to subscribe to the claim that all sins are equal in the eyes of God. All sin is an offense against God and requires full atonement made possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but sexual sin seems to be differentiated here as having a unique kind of consequence. When we sin sexually, we sin against our own bodies, which God created and Jesus bought with the price of His own life. Our physical bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. In this context, Paul is not talking about wellness, diet plans, not eating too much sugar, or the need to do yoga. He is talking about sex. The act of sex unites the body and soul to someone else. Whether it’s with a prostitute at the Corinthian temple, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or your spouse, this union is the reality.
Yet Paul gives a lifeline of hope that is easy to overlook in the weight of everything else he is communicating. He pivots briefly from talking about becoming one flesh in the act of sex to a different and greater union: “But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him” (1 Cor. 6:17). In this broken Corinthian culture, Paul points the believers away from sexual immorality to their union with Christ. In his appeals to Genesis and to the believers’ union with Christ, Paul wants them to realize the original intention of God the designer.
by Dean Inserra
Few things bring more immediate scrutiny and impassioned angst among young adult Christians today than hearing the words “purity...
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