The Story: A new survey finds that a majority of self-identified Christians don’t care what God thinks about the issue of sex.
The Background: According to a new survey by Pew Research, half of self-identified Christians in America say casual sex is sometimes or always acceptable. The survey defined casual sex as sex between consenting adults who are not in a committed romantic relationship.
Catholics were the most likely to take this view (62 percent), though Protestants in the historically black tradition (56 percent) and mainline Protestants (54 percent) were close behind. More than one in three evangelicals (36 percent) also hold this view.
A majority of self-identified Christians (57 percent) say sex between unmarried adults in a committed relationship is sometimes or always acceptable. That includes 67 percent of mainline Protestants, 64 percent of Catholics, 57 percent of Protestants in the historically black tradition, and 46 percent of evangelical Protestants.
Not surprisingly, frequency of church attendance affects one’s perspective on this issue. A little less than half of U.S. adults who attend services at least once a month (46 percent) say sex between unmarried adults in a committed relationship is sometimes or always acceptable, compared with three-quarters (74 percent) of those who attend less often.
Not surprisingly, frequency of church attendance affects one’s perspective on this issue.
Still, about one-third of those who attend religious services at least monthly (35 percent) say casual sex is sometimes or always acceptable. Another 12 percent of those who attend religious services at least monthly say it is always or sometimes acceptable to have sex on a first date, compared with 38 percent who attend less than monthly.
Why it Matters: Many self-professed Christians in America have forgotten a fundamental biblical truth: because we belong to Jesus, God alone determines the use of our bodies.
A prime example of this teaching is found in 1 Corinthians 6:15–17:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
As the context shows, Paul means we are truly members of the body of Christ, and that some of the people in the church of Corinth are uniting Jesus with prostitutes. But how does that make sense? We are using our bodies to engage in sin, so how exactly are we involving Jesus in the act?
Think about the connection between a pregnant woman and the baby in her womb. The baby is a unique and distinct human being. The baby is not a part of woman’s body, but rather a person located in her womb. These two human beings are connected physically by the placenta and umbilical cord.
If a woman who is pregnant ingests cocaine or heroin, she makes her baby an involuntary participant in her drug habit. In the same way, a person involved in sexual immorality makes Jesus an involuntary participant in sin.
A person involved in sexual immorality makes Jesus an involuntary participant in sin.
Just as the mother and child are two beings connected physically, Jesus and the believer are connected spiritually. That’s what it means when we say we are united to Christ. Our human spirit and the Holy Spirit are eternally united. And because we are connected to Jesus spiritually, and because sexual intercourse is an act that involves not just the body but the spirit as well, we are involving Jesus in our acts of sexual immorality.
As Paul says in verses 16 and 17: “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”
When Paul says “the two will become one flesh,” he’s referring to Genesis 2:24 and how sexual intercourse creates a “one-flesh union.” This applies not only to conjugal sex in marriage but also to any sexual intercourse, including with prostitutes. When a believer—who is one with Christ spiritually—engages in such a bodily union with a prostitute, he is forcing Christ to be united with a prostitute. Paul finds that idea repugnant.
But why exactly is Paul so disgusted by the idea? It can’t be because Paul finds the prostitute repugnant. Jesus died for sinners, including prostitutes. What Paul is disturbed by is that we are taking a meaningful act—sex—and stripping it of all its meaning.
What Paul is disturbed by is that we are taking a meaningful act—sex—and stripping it of all its meaning.
Before we consider the meaning of sex, though, let’s ensure we understand how this passage applies in our context. Paul is talking about sex with prostitutes because the Corinthians were engaging in sex with prostitutes. But we shouldn’t think that is the only application.
The Corinthians lived at a time when commitment-free sex still had some monetary value. Today, though, casual sex has become so devalued and debased that it’s believed to have no value at all. Many Christians are willing to hook up with a stranger and not even bother to exchange names. And yet they would be deeply insulted if their partner offered to give them cash for the sexual encounter. To offer them money would be an insult since it implies that in sexual intercourse they’ve given away something of value—their bodies.
This also applies to sex with anyone who isn’t your spouse. Paul’s point is that a believer belongs body, soul, and spirit to Jesus, and any unholy union with anyone else other than our spouse is a betrayal of our union with Christ. That’s why sex is reserved for the holy union of matrimony.
What exactly makes it wrong, though? That’s something we have a hard time grasping. There are numerous reasons it’s wrong, ranging from “because God said so” to how it affects the reputation of Jesus and his church. But an oft-overlooked reason is that when we engage in sex outside of marriage, we are involving Jesus in a lie. We are involving the One who is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6) in an act of profound dishonesty.
Sexual intercourse is designed by God to be, in part, a form of physical non-verbal communication between two infinitely valuable human beings. In sexual intercourse, two human bodies physically “communicate” their commitment to one another. When you engage in sex with someone your body is communicating not only that you love that person, but that you have already made a commitment, before God and man, that this person will be with you for the rest of your life.
Some people may scoff at that idea, but intuitively, we know it’s true. We try to deceive ourselves, and even gaslight others who know that this is what sex is communicating. Even when we try to ignore it, though, the reality remains that sex binds two people, whether they want to be bound or not. If no level of commitment is intended, if the bodies are “lying” to each other, then this will inevitably cause psychological confusion.
Sex binds two people, whether they want to be bound or not.
Healing and restoration are possible, of course. We can be forgiven for the ways we’ve used our bodies to lie to others. But it’s so much better not to hurt ourselves and others in the first place. We should avoid such damage and stop harming ourselves by engaging in sexual sin.
And how do we do that? Paul gives us a simple solution: Flee sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:12).
To flee is to run away from danger or evil. And sexual immorality is a danger and an evil we desperately need to run from.
Our nation has taken extreme precautions in the past 18 months to avoid the dangers of COVID-19. Even people who wouldn’t be severely harmed by it, such as the young, are taking precautions so they won’t hurt others. If the church took sexual immorality as seriously as we do the coronavirus, we might avoid much of the brokenness and pain we are helping spread.