Sexual Immorality and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

The belief that we can do anything that we want, especially when it comes to sexual behavior, has been pervasive not only in this day and age, but in the New Testament as well. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul explains that we have freedom in Christ, but not everything we do is glorifying to Him, especially careless sexual behavior. Because we are one with Christ, we should flee sexual immorality.

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

About the Author

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In This Article

  1. Introduction
  2. Freedom in Christ
  3. The call to flee
  4. Why we should flee
  5. Final Thoughts

12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will do away with both of them. However, the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 God raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 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! 16 Don’t you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, The two will become one flesh. 17 But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. 18 Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. 19 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, 20 for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Introduction

I remember growing up in a Christian household as a grade schooler, and we would all be watching movie together (Friday nights were homemade pizza and movie night!). Everything would be wonderful until there was a scene where people were kissing, or worse yet, they were in bed together. These scenes would spark a somewhat comical chain of events: (1) Mom would hastily cover my eyes so I could not see and (2) sternly instruct dad to hurry up and fast forward the movie as he fumbled with the remote while (3) my sisters yelled “ew!” As a kid, I was quite confused about what was going on. Was there something bad about being in bed together, kissing, or sex? Once I matured, I learned that the answer was yes and no! I realized that my parents were trying to protect me from the messages about sex that our culture and mainstream media send: “You can sleep with anyone, and everyone!” “Do what you feel is right!” “There are no consequences if you are safe!” “You are free to do whatever you wish!” Instead, my parents encouraged me to read the Bible to gain a Biblical view of sex and how God designed sexual intimacy. These messages are still promoted almost everywhere I turn. But as I look to the Bible, I see that misunderstandings about sexual intimacy have been prevalent across cultures and are addressed in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, the apostle Paul addresses the issue of sexual immorality and how we as the body of Christ should response and act, which is opposed to the message culture portrays.

Freedom in Christ

Paul opens the passage by quoting what was a common maxim used by the people of Corinth to justify their sexual behavior, “Everything is permissible for me!” During that time, there were members of the church in Corinth who were sleeping with prostitutes and justified their actions by declaring that they were free to do as they wished. The people of Corinth also defended themselves with the maxim, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” John Macarthur argues that this saying was used to justify sexual behavior based upon the belief that sex was appetite and our bodies are finite, so it must be acceptable to do what one wished.

The audience that Paul is writing to believed that they were free to do whatever they wanted. They understood that because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross they were no longer under the law. The law in their context would be referring back to the Old Testament law. Because of Christ’s action they, and even us today, experience freedom. However, the Corinthians took this freedom too far. They were no longer thinking about their actions and asking themselves how it would affect their lives. They were operating under the belief that “I think it is good, so I am going to do it.”

Paul, seeing this behavior, quotes the maxim which affirms, that yes, we are free and are no longer under the law. Just because we are free, however, does not mean we should do whatever we want. Paul encourages the Corinthians to consider the greater consequences of their actions because freedom in Christ also requires responsibility and acting in a manner that pleases  Him. Actions rise from the love Jesus first has for us seen in what He did. This lesson that Paul offers is also important for you and me to hear today.

Call to Flee Sexual Immorality

There are many behaviors that Paul could address, but he choses sexual immorality because of its seriousness, the vast misconceptions about sex, and the hidden impact it has on people and the world. In verse 18, Paul calls us as believers to flee sexual immorality! No questions asked, we are to run away from actions that are sexually immoral. However, the question arises, “What is sexually immoral behavior?” Looking back at verses 12-13, we see that Paul urges us to run from anything that enslaves or masters us in regard to sexual behavior.

Today, there are many different types of behavior that relate to sex that can master us and turn into an addiction. If you cannot go a day without thinking about or doing a behavior, that is a good indicator you have been mastered and enslaved. If it pulls you away from dwelling on that which is of God, as laid out in Phil. 4:8, that is a good indicator that it is not pleasing to God. Not only do we have to take responsibility for our individual actions, but we have to establish lines of appropriate sexual behavior with other people as Paul indicates in verse 16. Having sexual desires is good and God designed, but sex is also very powerful. Stephen Um says, “Sex has the potency not only to please, but also to control. Anyone who’s wrestled with sexual addiction can testify just how powerful it is. But this is true not only for the sex addict but for everyone. Sex has a stronger grip on us than we know.” Brothers and sisters, let us be cautious of disordered sexual behavior so that we do not fall under its grasp and control.

Why should we flee if we are free?

The logical question now comes forth: “Why should I flee sexual immorality if I am free in Christ?” Throughout the passage Paul offers several different reasons.

Eternal Bodies

First, our bodies are eternal! In verse 14, Paul explains that our bodies will be raised by the same power that was used to raise the Lord from the dead! Therefore, our bodies are not just meant for this world, but also the next. Because of this, we should take great care of our bodies. Acting in a sexually immoral way long enough rewires your brain and body to act in unintended ways, which have lasting internal (and eternal) impact.

Effects of the Sexual Union

The second reason Paul lays out for fleeing sexual immorality, specifically the act of sexual intercourse outside of marriage, is the nature of the sexual union. Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 saying that, “The two will become one flesh.” This speaks to the special and vulnerable nature of the sexual union. It is more than a physical act; you are sharing each other’s soul. The effects of sex run deep. As the wise theologian Lewis Smedes puts it, “There is more to sex than meets the eye—or excites the genitals. There is no such thing as casual sex, no matter how casual people are about it… No one can take sex out at night and put it away until he wants to play with it again, nobody can go to bed with someone and leave his soul parked outside.” The sexual union means we are connected to that person forever on a deep emotional level. Therefore, we must be careful to use the gift of sex in a manner that it pleasing to God.

One with the Body of Christ

After showing the affects that sexual immorality has on the individual body, Paul shows how sexual immorality also affects others as well. Paul indicates that those who are with Christ are members of his body. This refers to the church and fellow believers. Since we are one with Christ because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, we share the same spirit and body as fellow believers. Therefore, the effect of our sexual immorality not only hurts us, but it also pollutes the entire body. Not only must we keep ourselves accountable, but we must also keep those who are around us accountable.

Bought with a Price

The last reason Paul offers for fleeing sexually immorality is because we are the temple of Holy Spirit as the body of Christ and that did not happen by accident (vv19-20). We were all once under the law and bondage of sin and slaves to it. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, however, we are free, and He offers the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who have a personal relationship with Him. This did not just happen! Jesus went to the cross in our place and died on the cross so that we may life. Our freedom came at a high price! Therefore, we should take this freedom seriously and be careful to act in a manner that is pleasing to Him, especially when it comes to sex. This is the case because of the high price of our freedom, the lasting negative effects of sexual immorality, and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

Final Thoughts

You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Lane, I am already in or have committed sexual sin, what should I do?” Well first, I want to say that there is hope for you. God still loves you and offers His grace and forgiveness to you. Sexual immorality is not the unforgivable sin, but it is a serious sin. That is why it is so hard to fight alone. For those who are struggling in the present from past sexual immorality, I would encourage you, first and foremost, to seek out accountability. There is healing found in confession and strength in accountability. Find a friend, counselor, or group, someone with whom you can be vulnerable and honest about what is happening. These resources can help you fight the hard battle, one that cannot be fought alone.

Secondly, you may also be asking yourself, “How do I know if a sexual behavior is pleasing to God or not?” This is an excellent question. The Bible is mute on a lot of behavior, but we know that God created and blessed sex (read the Song of Solomon). If you are having these questions, I would encourage you to pray to God for discernment, while also asking those mature believers whom you trust for their thoughts. Also, evaluate your through the lens of scripture. If Scripture speaks against your behavior, then I would encourage you to obey. Also, if you see the effects of this behavior pulling you away from God, then that is a good indicator you should refrain from participating in that behavior.

Conclusion

The belief that we can do anything that we want, especially when it comes to sexual behavior has been pervasive not only in this day and age, but in the New Testament as well. In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul explains that we have freedom in Christ, but not everything we do is glorifying to Him, especially careless sexual behavior. Because we are one with Christ, we should flee sexual immorality.

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