Rejecting the Christian Sexual Ethic
One of my friends once asked me if it was morally permissible to sleep with his girlfriend. She was pressuring him to sleep with her, and he was contemplating giving in to her requests. By the time he approached me, he had almost talked himself into it.
When we sat down over coffee, I turned to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 where Paul says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, now swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
I explained to him that Paul’s point regarding the sexual ethics of a Christian is that sex could only take place in the God-given boundaries of a covenant marriage between a man and a woman. This is why the New American Standard rightly translates the Greek word pornoi in 1 Corinthians 6:11 as “fornicators”. Fornication is defined as any sexual act outside the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.
As if this is not clear enough, when Paul refers to the “sexual immoral” he is clearly referring to what he had just expounded in 1 Corinthians 5, where a man was sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul not only condemned this as fornication and sexual immorality, but he commanded the Corinthian church to dissociate (excommunicate) from the individual because he no longer evidenced being a Christian. He writes, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
Judging Those Inside the Church
Paul’s command could not be any clearer. We should not be surprised when unbelievers in our sexualized culture engage in fornication or homosexuality, but we must take great measures to judge and even “purge” those within the Church who do engage in sexual immorality. In other words, the witness of Scripture is so clear on this point that Paul says that when God’s Word is not obeyed in the realm of sexuality, that the person is to be separated from the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:13). The reason for this is that this type of disobedience Paul says is evidence that that type of individual is not a true Christian and will “not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9).
Those who claim the title of Christian, yet reject Christ’s sexual ethic cannot claim to have submitted to the Lordship of Christ. Also included in this list, Paul says, are (as the ESV puts it), “men who practice homosexuality” (1 Corinthians 6:9). In the Greek text Paul is really describing two classes of homosexual partners. The first word he uses describes the more effeminate partner or passive partner (malakoi). The second word he uses is arsenokoitai and it is used for any kind of homosexual behavior, but also the active or less effeminate partner. It is literally a combination of the Greek words of man “arsen” and bed “koite” and means literally “bedders of men” or “those who take men to bed.” In the Greek Septuagint, a combination of these words are used in Moses’ prohibition against homosexuality in Leviticus 20:13. Most likely this is what Paul is referencing by using the word arsenokoitai.
When linked together, Paul’s point is that homosexuality is also to be viewed on the same level as fornication and drunkenness when it comes to church discipline. That is why Paul includes it in the same list in 1 Corinthians 6:9. And he prefaces it all with the imperative, “Do not be deceived.” Satan would love nothing more to deceive the Church on this issue. He would love for the Church to move with the prevailing secular culture and broader opinion. But such an act would be to compromise the gospel itself and to deny Christ’s Lordship.
Disagreeing with Paul
It might be asked, “What about those who are not practicing homosexuality, but call homosexuality good and also claim the name of Christ? What about those who disagree with Paul on this point? What about those who do not engage in the practice of homosexuality themselves, but “give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32)? What about the Christian, for example, who heartily and knowingly extends the hand of Christian fellowship to a practicing homosexual despite Paul’s prohibition?”
First, Paul says that this is evidence of the “wrath of God” being revealed in our current generation (Romans 1:18). We often think about God’s wrath in a future judgment, but Paul says God’s wrath is presently revealed in the practice of homosexuality and its hearty “approval”. So we need to be mindful that even the presence of this situation is God’s judgment and wrath upon an individuals and possibly a church. Second, such an explicit denial of Christ’s Lordship certainly means that the individual is walking outside the will of Christ, and might also mean that the individual was not a regenerate believer to begin with.
So what action should a church take with an individual who knowingly denies Paul’s sexual ethic? A church should take the same action as it would with those who teach that drunkenness or pornography or fornication or stealing is permissible. The church should begin the process of discipline, and if there is not repentance, the church should remove the individual from its midst (Matthew 18:15-17). This may seem harsh, but this is the method that Jesus lovingly brings sheep back to the fold (Matthew 18:10-14). This is also the method that Christ uses to purify His Church.
Implications for the Road Ahead
By holding fast to Christ’s sexual ethic we are actually serving as loving witnesses to the truth in a depraved world. Paul ends his list of prohibitions in 1 Corinthians 6 by saying, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). What strikes me about Paul’s statement is that obviously the witness of the Corinthian church had won both sexually immoral individuals and homosexuals over to the gospel. They did not do this by calling these sins ‘good’, but by calling them what they are: sins that must be repented of.
It is our duty as Christians in a secular age to follow the example of Paul and the Corinthian church. We are not saved by our sexual ethic, but we are saved through the gospel. And the gospel demands that we repent of our sins and trust Christ. In trusting Christ, we are submitting to His Lordship, which demands that we submit our sexuality to Him. This is what He demands: that we honor Him with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). For this reason, we should not extend the hand of Christian fellowship to those who cordon off the bedroom from Christ’s reign, either in word or practice. This is the “deception” Paul warned us about. This is the work of Stan in our midst. So like Paul, I plead with my brothers, “Do not be deceived.” Do not compromise the faith that “was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).