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What Is Sexual Immorality? Discover Its Meaning and Consequences

Sexual immorality means neglecting and defying God's law of sexual relations. Learn the practical and spiritual consequences of becoming a slave to your passions when succumbed to the temptation of sexual immorality.
Christianity.com Editorial Staff
What Is Sexual Immorality? Discover Its Meaning and Consequences

Meaning of Sexual Immorality

As defined in the Baker's Evangelical Dictionary, Sexual Immorality is...

"Interpersonal activity involving sex organs that does not conform to God's revealed laws governing sexuality. The account of creation (Gen 1:1-28) includes reproductive activity as an essential part of the developmental scheme. This important function is given special prominence in the narrative describing the creation of woman (Gen 2:21-24). In a process cloaked in mystery, God takes an aspect of Adam and fashions it into a genetic counterpart that is specifically female, and which matches Adam's maleness for purposes of reproducing the species. Adam and Eve are thus equal and complementary to one another, of the same physical and genetic composition apart from the slight difference that governs the characteristic nature of male and female fetuses. God tells them to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill all the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28)."

C.S. Lewis, many years ago in his book Mere Christianity, described our contemporary struggle with human sexuality in the following words:

The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism—for that is what the words “one flesh” would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact-just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which was intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again...

In simple terms, sexual immorality is essentially the engagement in sexual acts outside of the sanctity of marriage, the divine union of creating and fostering life. Continue reading to learn the practical and spiritual consequences of becoming a slave to your passions when succumbing to the temptation of sexual immorality.

Sexual Immorality and Biblical Teachings

You and I can’t read a newspaper, open a magazine, turn on a TV or go to a movie without being barraged with sex. We cannot avoid this topic, and fortunately, God gives us the content for our conversation. God, through the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, addresses this issue time after time in His Word, all the way from Genesis to Revelation.

He does it in a way that is primarily positive if we take the time to hear what He is really telling us. The apostle Paul confronts the issue head-on, as he writes to a church made up of men and women living in a society every bit as sexually distorted as ours, if not more so.

Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body, but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:18-20).

Three action principles leap out of this biblical passage.

Action Principle #1: Face the reality of your own sexuality and your vulnerability to its distortion.

A lot of trouble comes when we repress our sexual feelings. They are there. All of us have them. Some of us let them run free rein, getting ourselves into trouble. Some of us deny we have those feelings, pushing them down underneath the surface, only to find that they pop up at strange moments when we least expect them.

Paul doesn’t beat around the bush. He keeps bringing up this topic because he knows both the positive and negative realities of our human sexuality. We are all vulnerable. This fact has been driven home to me as I have observed several close friends in the ministry who have stumbled into sexual immorality, with the results being catastrophic for their personal and professional lives. Fortunately, the gospel is one of healing and restoration. In a couple of these situations, the marriages have survived and even been strengthened. But the pain and the ongoing side effects continue to be felt, both within their nuclear families and in the extended family, the Church of Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, I was raised in an environment that talked freely about one’s sexual vulnerability. I made some early commitments as a teenager to live according to biblical teachings. Although it was a struggle at points, I found the Holy Spirit was capable of empowerment. You and I must be aware of our own vulnerability. The posture of self-righteousness that looks down at others who have stumbled into sexual sin is the epitome of spiritual arrogance and, frankly, sets us up for a fall.

I urge you to face the reality of your own sexuality and your own vulnerability to its distortion. It is important that we look at ourselves in the mirror and see ourselves as we are, created by God as sexual persons, healthy, vital, alive, but also engaged in spiritual warfare in which that sexuality can quickly become distorted.

Action Principle #2: Deal honestly with the biblical theology of your sexuality.

Paul wrestles with this as he writes, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,’ and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (1 Corinthians 6:12-14).

This is saying that you and I are more than animals. We are not just made up of body parts and nerve endings. You and I have the freedom to do things, not just the way they come naturally, but the way you and I were created by God to do things.

Far from being negative, the apostle Paul was a proponent of freedom in Jesus Christ. Throughout his missionary journeys, as he established churches, he had to struggle with legalistic Judaizers who wanted to tie up the new believers in Christ into knots of Levitical laws. Paul was a proponent of freedom in Christ. He continually articulated what was the essence of the Old Testament teachings. His theme was that God had designed us to be fully human. We are more than animals. We have the privilege of living at a much higher level of existence.

At the same time, Paul was very aware that this teaching of Christian freedom could be distorted, so he quotes a saying: “All things are lawful for me.” Then he adds a new dimension. He states, “...but not all things are beneficial.” He then rearticulates the statement, “All things are lawful for me.” But then he states, “...but I will not be dominated by anything.”

Do you catch the delicate balance of this? Freedom can be distorted into a license. A license can then be distorted into the destruction of others and one’s own self-destruction.

One of the greatest New Testament teachings on Christian freedom is Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia. In it, Paul urges the believers to not again submit themselves to a yoke of slavery. He begs them not to step back into a religion defined by do’s and don’ts, void of a personal relationship with the Lord. He exhorts them to freedom, not to a freedom that is license. He writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:13-15).

Action Principle #3: Sexual sin destroys. Flee from it!

Paul writes, “Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sexual sin, by its very definition and reality, is dehumanizing. You become an animal. You declare yourself to be nothing but body parts and nerve endings. It destroys you, and it destroys others.

Why would God be so strict? Is He an angry old grandfather somewhere up in the sky who wants to destroy our fun in life? Not for a moment! He created sex. He gave it to us as a positive, fulfilling activity. He wants it to be channeled for your very best interest. Far from His commands being negative and inhibiting, they are guides to the healthiest kind of sexual living possible. In fact, even if one is not a Christian and has no respect for biblical teaching, there are some good, common-sense reasons for avoiding premarital or extramarital intercourse

7 Reasons to Avoid Sexual Immorality

One reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is the possibility of pregnancy.

Yes, even with “the pill,” the frequency of unwanted pregnancies continues to increase. What is more tragic than for a child to be brought into this world unwanted? I have watched young couples, who once thought they were in love, struggle with the decision of whether or not to marry. There is no foolproof method of contraception. Many couples are not well enough informed. Sometimes romantic feelings prevent necessary precautions. Although the pill is considered by most doctors to be foolproof, persons taking it are not. Either because of simple forgetfulness or some deep-seated inner motivation to conceive in order to hold on to that fellow, a woman who thinks she’s safe may become pregnant.

The second reason for avoiding premarital or extramarital intercourse is the danger of disease. The venereal disease has not been checked by modern medicine. The increased incidence of sexual promiscuity has brought about a tragic soaring incidence of this. Venereal disease is exponential in its increase, as society is less and less careful about sexual behavior. And we have not even mentioned to this point the topic of AIDS and the havoc of death that it is bringing throughout the world, in both the homosexual and heterosexual communities. The fact is that AIDS, genital herpes, syphilis, hepatitis, and pelvic inflammatory disease are tragic realities in our world.

And if you want to read a tragic story of what venereal disease can do to a person, read William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill, in which he describes how Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, contracted syphilis through premarital sexual involvement. He describes how this promising British politician gradually eroded in the very public eye and, over a period of years, self-destructed and died. You read a few stories like that from secular biographies, and they make you think that God’s ways, far from being negative, are positive.

A third reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is that many men are driven to sexual conquests to prove their masculinity. I pity the woman who gets trapped in this false situation. If only the average young woman could listen in for a few moments to the conversation in a men’s locker room, she would take much less seriously the romantic pleadings, “If you really love me, you wouldn’t say ‘no.’” And now the stereotypical view of men being more interested in sex than women is no longer the case. How often we read about women who, having no desire for a love relationship and marriage, are simply on the market looking for the ideal male by whom they can become pregnant.

The fourth reason for avoiding premarital and extramarital intercourse is that it can be personally destructive, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Premarital and extramarital sex is habit-forming. In most cases, it is not something a couple does once or twice and quits doing. It develops a personal interdependence wherein no real ultimate commitment has been agreed upon. It is an agonizing experience for a pastor to deal with the emotional, psychological and spiritual fragmentation, which so often is the experience of the man or woman who then gets jilted.

I would be the first to acknowledge that sometimes people seem to walk through the maze of various sexual relationships seemingly unhurt, settling down in marriage, having children and appearing to live happily ever after. But as a pastor, I more often see the casualties of a person who invested themselves in that other person, taking the relationship more seriously, believing that it had a future, and ends up in deep depression, often spiraling into other addictive behaviors. Sex is much more serious a matter than some of us would be willing to admit. It is symbolic of commitment, even when that commitment is not really there.

The fifth reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is that it is not a reliable test of sexual compatibility. Many a man has told me, “I would never marry a woman without trying her out first.” He might just be surprised to find that there’s a major difference between sex outside and inside marriage. The secrecy surrounding premarital sex often heightens one’s excitement. Needless to say, both will be on their very best behavior, knowing that their failure to perform could lead to the end of their relationship. How different is sex in a marriage where both have the security of ultimate commitment? Sex is not geared to one’s having to meet a particular standard. It is meant to share in the most intimate way possible a way which will procreate and also bring personal fulfillment. A normal healthy man and a normal healthy woman, from both a psychological and physiological standpoint, should be able to find sexual compatibility. Premarital experimentation will not necessarily assure it. In fact, it is more likely to injure or at least detract from ultimate sexual compatibility.

A sixth reason to avoid premarital or extramarital intercourse is that it often creates an obsessive interest in sex. I’ve talked with couples who have slipped into this relationship before marriage to find that sex is about all they think about. Whereas they used to have fun dating and being with other people, their life is now geared toward sex. This is no way to live. A happily married couple spends a very small fraction of their time having sex compared to all the other activities that fill their lives. Obsessive interest in sex is abnormal.

And a seventh reason to avoid premarital or extramarital sex is that it can have a marring and spoiling effect on later marriage. What I mean by this is that it can breed a later misunderstanding between two people who were weak before marriage, giving in to their impulses. There is always uncertainty. You know that your partner could once again be weak and move into an extramarital affair.

The Consequences of Sexual Immorality

Yes, sexual sin destroys. Claim the help of the Holy Spirit to flee from it, to shun it. You can’t play with fire without being burned. It is difficult to go right up to the line without stepping over it. Those lingering lunches with someone other than your husband or your wife can begin to set a chain of events into motion for destruction. Pray about how you act, how you dress, the signals you send and the signals you receive. Dedicate yourself to God in a way in which you claim His wisdom and sensitivity to that which would hurt another and hurt yourself.

Two Old Testament biographies come to mind. One was a man who played with his sexuality and that of others like a cat plays with catnip. His name was Samson. Read his biography—such a gifted man with so much potential. What he didn’t do was flee, shun immorality. Look at the price he paid.

Another was Joseph. Alienated from his own family, a slave in a foreign country, he stayed close to God. He knew the standard God set sexually. When his employer Potiphar was out of town on business, Potiphar’s wife made her move. On previous occasions, she had flirted with Joseph. This time, she attempted an all-out seduction. What did Joseph do? He literally fled from her presence, ran away from her. No one gave him the “Moral Man of the Year Award” in Egypt. In fact, he went to prison, accused by her of rape. So angered was this rejected woman that she fabricated a story. But God honored Joseph’s faithfulness.

What is the intention of this message? It’s twofold.

One, it is to faithfully portray God’s view of what He created you to be as a sexual human being in a way that does not push you toward asceticism on the one extreme or sexual anarchy at the other extreme. It is to challenge you to claim the help of the Holy Spirit to keep yourself faithful to Jesus Christ and, in the process, be faithful to yourself and others, urging you to flee fornication, remembering that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Two, it is to minister a word of God’s grace if you have cut corners. God is in the business of welcoming you home if you’re willing to repent. To you, God offers His good news of forgiveness. He accepts you as you are. He gives you a clean slate.

You may bear the scars on your memory of actions and thoughts that countered His will. Yet He is willing and He yearns to transform you into a right relationship with Him. He promises to remove your sins as far as the east is from the west and to give you a brand-new beginning. He wants to lift you out of that grocery list of brokenness, which Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 when he writes, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers-none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” 

Excerpts for this Article were used from Sexual Immorality: Beyond Body Parts & Nerve Endings by John A. Huffman Jr.

Use the following link to print a personal copy of this text to share with loved ones. Sexual Immorality: Beyond Body Parts & Nerve Endings


Originally published May 16, 2019.