It has been a burden on my heart for some months now to write a blog post on the subject of sexual immorality in the church. I, like many other Christians, have been grieved in recent years to notice just how prevalent extra-marital sex is among church-attending conservative Christians. Frankly, I have never been surprised to see this kind of behavior in liberal churches that do not accept the Bible as the completely inspired word of God. This is behavior is normal for them because bad doctrine goes hand and hand with bad morals (II Peter 2:1,14).
But unfortunately sexual immorality is spreading rapidly among so-called Bible-believing, gospel-preaching, family-focused churches. Many of the conservative Christians who read this blog probably know about a currently ongoing affair or premarital sex between active members of their own church. They may not approve of what is going on, but neither are they willing to take loving, Biblically-based action to address what is happening and deal with the sin in their midst.
The problem with extramarital sex, (As I explained in more detail in a recent article), is that it mocks the sacrificial love of God by elevating false, temporary love to the same level as real, permanent love. True love is not about satisfying one’s physical needs, but about staying faithful and committed to the one you desire, especially when the going is difficult. This is the kind of love that God has for us. He sent His son to die on the cross for our salvation, and He remains committed to us even when we stumble and fall into sin. God is not going to cast us away the same way Americans cast away their many sex partners once they are done with them. His relationship with His people is permanent.
Those who claim to be Christians and go to church should model the love in their relationships after God’s love. The Bible says: “Follow God’s example… and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). The only way to practice this kind of love in a sexual relationship is by taking marriage vows and committing to loving and serving your partner “until death do us part.” That is why the next verse says: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (Ephesians 5:3). Notice how this verse makes a link between greediness and sex outside of marriage. Whenever someone tries to have sex with someone they are not married to I can promise you that they are motivated by selfishness. People have sex outside of marriage because they want to make use of another person’s body, money, or personality without sacrificing their future to securing that person’s well-being. They are only “giving” and “offering” themselves to their partner on a limited basis. They are holding back something for themselves, unwilling to put the needs of the person they supposedly love above their own. This is wrong. Anybody who is unwilling to live for and to die for the person they love has no business being involved in a sexual relationship.
I find it very frustrating that many conservative churches today are beginning to accept extramarital sexual relationships in their midst. More and more often churches that teach sexual purity from the pulpit are ignoring serious cases of fornication in their own congregations. While many of these churches would never allow an adulterer to be a pastor or an elder, they encourage those who are actively engaged in these immoral relationships to become deeply involved in church activities, hoping that ministry alone might open the eyes of the sinner and convict him of his error. For example, many churches will allow unwed couples who are living together to serve on stage as part of their praise band, or to take communion or become church members. This is wrong. I have no problem with churches that allow adulterers into their church to observe what true worship looks like (I Corinthians 5:12, 14:24), but they should not be encouraged to participate in activities that the Bible reserves for believers until they have repented of their sins. If you allow a person to participate in the ordinances of baptism or communion while they are still living like a pagan, you are publicly broadcasting hypocrisy in the church. You are very likely helping someone who is not a Christian pass themself off as a child of God. The Apostle Paul says, in the same passage that I quoted from earlier, “of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person… has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5). This passage is not saying that someone who has ever committed these sins can never be saved, but rather, that they are not true Christians if these sins continue to characterize their lifestyles. Therefore we ought not to assume that these people are our brothers and sisters in Christ as long as they show no more loyalty to the commands of God than they do to their temporary sex partners.
It is easy for me to anticipate that this article is going to make a lot of people mad, including many who claim to believe in the Biblical view of sex. They will probably say that I should be less judgmental of others and quote Matthew 7:1 at me while ignoring the second half of Matthew 7:5 as well as Matthew 18:15-17 and I Corinthians 5:9-13. They will argue that I am not showing love towards unwed couples because I would not allow them to partake of communion. However, I believe that it is more loving to carefully tell someone about their sin than to ignore it and allow them to think that their sin is alright (Ezekiel 33:6). I believe that it is necessary to follow Jesus’ command to help a brother deal with genuine sin, even if it is merely a “speck” in his eye (Matthew 7:5). It is not loving to let your brother continue sinning unharassed when you know that he is constantly offending his God and Maker. Neither is it right for you to give him your implicit approval while he destroys his family and hurts other people. There are many situations where true love requires you to disagree with someone and offend them (Proverbs 27:6).
God, of course, knows that it is very hard for us to be constantly on the lookout for sin in the church and to deal with it appropriately when we see it. Nevertheless, the Bible does not excuse us for taking the easy way out. It is very clear that the sins we have mentioned above must be dealt with, and no amount of misapplied rhetoric about “turning the other cheek” can change this. The Apostle Paul warns us in our primary text not to be swayed by such appeals to our emotions: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them” (Ephesians 5:6-7).
So let us, brothers and sisters in Christ, take the words of the Bible very seriously. God loves us very much, which is why He gave us these words to teach us how to live. We need to stop accepting sexual immorality in the church, and we need to do it now, before more families are destroyed. We need to bar fornicators and adulterers from service in Christian ministry for their own good and for ours. We need to show them love by telling them to repent of their sins and come to Christ for forgiveness. We need to teach them how to live lives that are honoring to God and beneficial to their fellow human beings.
Your Brother in Christ,
1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. (Ephesians 5:1-7) NIV