Last week I discussed how a large majority of single Christians are engaging in premarital sex. Yet, I always thought the Bible was quite clear on this topic—God’s against it. How do these unmarried believers handle what appears to be a black and white issue?
It seems there are two possible approaches. Either they still believe that engaging in extra-marital sex is sinful—and end up feeling guilty—or they reinterpret the Bible and claim that there’s no problem.
As a fallen human, I can certainly identify with the first position. I’ve done lots of things that I knew were wrong when I did them. Eventually, the guilt became unbearable. I ended up alienated from God, feeling completely miserable. God gives us a conscience for a reason. At that point, we wake up, realize that things would be better if we’d just straighten out, and say (like the prodigal son in Luke 15):
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son….”
Thankfully, he’s always willing, eager, to take us back. Amazing.
It’s the second group that concerns me. How can we possibly argue for premarital sex from Scripture? I get the strong impression that this group has already decided what the answer is, and now they’re just looking for verses to confirm their position. We Christians do that a lot.
So. I did a series of word searches in BibleGateway.com and found 77 verses that apply to sex. Most of them were “negative”—things we should not do. Here are a few examples (I used the New King James version since the language was less ambiguous):
- Mark 7:21: For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, ….
- Galatians 5:19: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, ….
- Ephesians 5:3: But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; ….
- Colossians 3:5: Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
That seems pretty clear to me. Nowhere was there any indication that God approves of sexual intimacy outside of marriage.
We seem to think that we can pick and choose which verses to take seriously, and we explain away the rest as only appropriate for that culture, as obsolete, perhaps a translation error. The problem is, there are verses that are culturally limited or mistranslated. How can we tell the difference?
I’m not at all a Bible scholar, but there’s one “rule” that I find very helpful. I compare other verses on the same topic to see if they agree. What is the underlying principle?
Take, for example, the injunction about women not speaking in church. Are women really not supposed to talk during a service, or while inside the church building? Is the Bible consistent with that interpretation? No, in another letter Paul gives instructions for women who are praying and/or prophesying during the service. Clearly they had to be able to speak in order to prophesy! That tells me to look closely at the verse in question and see what else it might mean. (In this case, I’m told that it only applied to some women who were making a disturbance by talking among themselves during the teaching.)
We might explain away one or two verses on a topic. But 77 verses, all saying the same thing? It would take some very creative rationalization to make a case for extra-marital sex!
I’m not going to go into all the reasons God has for this proscription; there are plenty of well-reasoned articles on this topic online. As our loving creator, he knows what will benefit us in the long run. Our job is to trust him and obey. Pleasing ourselves rather than God will only damage our relationship with him. Don’t let sex become an idol:
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.
Or, as Jesus put it, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
In our current trend toward leniency and grace, we’ve lost our fear of the Lord. We need to remember that God is holy, and he cares a great deal about sin. If we’re wise, so will we.