“Flee fornication” — I Corinthians 6:18a
Our Lord Jesus Christ commands: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Jesus expects us to judge righteously according to facts (Proverbs 18:13), according to that which can be properly proved (Proverbs 31:8-9; John 7:51), according to that which can be established by witnessed testimony (II Corinthians 13:1). And Jesus fully expects us righteously to judge Christian doctrine and practice according to His Word, as the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong (Romans 16:17; John 12:48; II Timothy 3:16). Judgment which is “righteous” is judgment made on the basis of what God Himself says is right in His Word (Psalm 119:104, 128, 137-138).
The phrase “living in sin,” as used in this article, means “living together in a sexually intimate relationship apart from Holy Marriage.” Such illicit sexual intimacy, engaging in sexual intercourse apart from marriage, is known as “fornication,” a completely legitimate word in the English language, although it has fallen into disuse nowadays in favor of expressions that disguise the sin that God clearly forbids in His Word (Isaiah 5:20). Today, the term “cohabitation” is used to describe the situation that exists when persons not married to one another establish a household together and engage in extra-marital sexual relations with one another. Such people commonly refer to one another as “friends with benefits” and sometimes speak of their living arrangements as a “domestic partnership.”
Over the last 50 years the number of people “living in sin” has risen dramatically. Estimates range from a nine to a twelve-fold increase in the number of unmarried couples living together. Some surveys estimate that as many as 70% to 80% of all couples live together before marriage!
What are some of the reasons people give for “living in sin”? They include, among others, economic convenience; a trial run of their relationship; feelings of loneliness; the “escape clause”: If things don’t “work out,” one can always leave without a costly divorce; and freedom from a long-term commitment —Why get married when one can have the benefits without the “cost”? Evidently, for some, the reasons are the same as those cited for their cell phone choices: They choose “a plan” with no up-front costs, no long-term contracts, and no early cancellation fees! The old adage, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” applies as well.
Obviously, there is no longer much, if any, social stigma attached to what used to be called “living in sin.” The general moral decay of society has lowered the standards of “civic righteousness” in the eyes of the public, so much so, that what was once considered shameful is now legitimatized and even celebrated (Isaiah 5:20; Romans 1:32).
What is the righteous judgment of God in the face of this epidemic of “living in sin”? Scripture tells us that we should not “follow the crowd” of unbelievers and live as they live in flagrant disregard and despisal of God’s commandments: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the blindness of their heart, who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ if so be that ye have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation, the Old Man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the New Man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:17-24). Our theme-text states how we are to regard the sin of fornication with one simple verb: “Flee” (I Corinthians 6:18a). The Lord, through Paul, gives us a directive in clear and certain terms: “Flee [from] fornication!” Run like the wind away from it! According to His infinite wisdom, there is good reason why the Holy Ghost chose this verb of immediate and urgent action: If one dillydallies around the temptation, if one attempts to deliberate its pros and cons, he will fall victim to it (Proverbs 6:27-28)! He who delays is undone, so flee before it is too late! Fornication is a gross outward sin; of this there can be no question in the mind and heart of a true believer (Ephesians 5:3). The New Man abominates, detests and despises this loathsome carnal act (I Thessalonians 4:3; Galatians 5:24). So we are to escape, flee, run for our spiritual lives, as we would from an erupting volcano.
In the context of this imperative, we hear also other reasons why we should flee fornication: “…Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:18-20).
Fornication is a unique sin in one particular aspect: It is a unique transgression against one’s own body (cf. Romans 1:24). It is entirely opposed to, and incompatible with, God’s design and destiny for our bodies (I Corinthians 6:13b); and its moral and spiritual effects are devastating to faith (I Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 12:14-16).
A Christian should know this from the Word of his God! That is why the apostle uses “What?!” as an interjection of astonishment that the Christians at Corinth, at least some, acted as though they were oblivious to the sacred fact now stated: “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost.” Our physical bodies with all their senses and members, including all those used in the expression of sexuality and in sexual intercourse, are the holy sanctuary of God Himself — of the Holy Ghost, as their Sanctifier (Ezekiel 36:27), but also of the Son, as their Redeemer (Galatians 2:20), and of the Father, as their Maker and “Father” (John 14:23; II Corinthians 6:16, 18). Consider the two things pre-eminently obvious about a temple of God: First, it is a holy place — sacred as the dwelling place of God — and therefore dare not be profaned. Secondly, God owns the temple — it is His. Since the body of the Christian is God’s temple, it is also sacred as a dwelling-place of God and as God’s own possession and property (I Corinthians 3:16-17).
Our bodies are God’s temples; the Holy Ghost dwells in us. This is an undeserved gift of God. Every true believer has the living God dwelling in him. Our Lord promised this indwelling in these words: “And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes; and ye shall keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). The Savior promised His disciples, “The Spirit of truth, … the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him, for He dwelleth with you and shall be in you” (John 14:17). The Apostle Paul states in Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” And Paul asks rhetorically in I Corinthians 3:16: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” The Apostle John assures all true believers: “But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you” (I John 2:27a). Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). All genuine believers are God’s temple, filled with the Holy Ghost as a gracious gift earned by Jesus and freely bestowed through the Gospel (Titus 3:6).
As a matter of fact, one of the proofs that God the Spirit indwells us is our obedience to God’s Holy Commandments according to the New Man: “And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us by the Spirit which He hath given us” (I John 3:24). “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit” (I John 4:13).
A Christian must battle his carnal mind, his Old Adam, his sinful nature; for “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication” (Mark 7:21). The Bible says that the fallen nature of man is literally “filled with all…fornication” (Romans 1:29). Indeed, the very first works listed among “the works of the flesh” are “fornication” along with “adultery” (Galatians 5:19). The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). The Old Man must, on a daily basis by contrition and repentance, be terminated with extreme prejudice! “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (I Thessalonians 4:3). We must flee and avoid not only the outward acts of sin but also the evil impulses of the flesh which beget lust (which in itself is sin, Romans 7:7) as that which produces overt sinful acts (James 1:15). Our Lord Jesus warns, “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Lustful fantasy is mental fornication — We should put it out of our mind and heart with the aid of God’s Holy Spirit (Matthew 15:19; Psalm 51:10)!
The Lord has provided a Godly outlet for appropriate sexual desire: It is holy marriage! Unlike the sinful, abominable and dishonorable practice of “living together,” “living in sin,” “marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). In marriage sexual desire and gratification is to be expressed as “due benevolence” to one’s spouse, as the obligation or debt expected of the husband to his wife, and the obligation of the wife as what is owed to her own husband: “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence, and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife” (I Corinthians 7:1-4). To the unmarried, God has one word: Abstain! (I Thessalonians 4:3). We should rely upon the strength that Christ gives to remain chaste (Philippians 4:13)!
So, as God’s temple, we are to be consecrated as holy to the Lord: “But fornication, and all uncleanness…let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints” (Ephesians 5:3). A saint is “a holy one,” consecrated, set aside, for God’s use! The believer must be separated from sinful and profane activities, dedicated alone to the service of God; for “ye are not your own” (I Corinthians 6:19c). This fact lies in stark contrast to the boast of many in our day who claim: “It is my body; I can do with it what I will!” And even the train of sexually transmitted diseases, some fatal, does not seem to preach to them of the consequences of their irresponsible, lawless, amoral and immoral behavior! One would think that a possible death sentence would deter them, but no! They cry, “safe sex!” when the only truly “safe sex” is sanctified sex within the lifelong bonds of holy wedlock. So they are blinded by lust and self-deceived.
A true Christian has an altogether different attitude, a “right spirit” constantly renewed within him by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:10). He or she knows the truth from the inerrant and perfectly clear Word of God, the divine truth that God owns the Christian, body and soul. So we are the Lord’s (cf. Romans 14:8). He paid the infinite price for our redemption! “For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:20). “Ye are bought with a price,” Paul repeats in I Corinthians 7:23. What was the price? We were redeemed not with silver and gold, “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:18-19). “The Son of man…gave His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), “a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2:6). “God…hath purchased (us) with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). “[God], the Lord God of Israel…hath visited and redeemed His people” (Luke 1:68). Christ hath “redeemed us from the curse of the Law,” redeemed us “that were under the Law,” redeemed “us from all iniquity,” “redeemed us to God by [His] blood” (Galatians 3:13, 4:5; Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9). Indeed, the Son of God “loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5). The infinite price He paid, the ultimate sacrifice He gave, the ransom He made, should move us, as our reasonable service, to devote our redeemed bodies to His service and glory (Romans 12:1).
On the basis of Scripture, every believer should understand, without question and without doubt, how wrong, how terribly wrong, fornication is. We know how utterly opposed this sin is to God’s glorious purpose in making our bodies His temples; how insulting it is to His holiness; how it grieves God’s Spirit, who indwells true believers; how shameful this sin is in the face of our Savior, who made us His own at the cost of His life’s blood. His blood redeemed us to God because His sacrifice met all the demands of divine justice in payment for our sin and guilt. We are His; and our heart, mind and will should strive to glorify our Redeemer, our Lord and Savior. The Apostle Paul enjoins us: “Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:20b). Christ should be magnified in our bodies (cf. Philippians 1:20) by Godly living, that men may see our good works and glorify God because of them (Matthew 5:16). This is the opposite of desecrating God’s temple by fornication. A true Christian knows and appreciates the dignity of his body as God’s Temple and God’s purchased possession in Christ’s blood: “And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by His own power. Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, saith He, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (I Corinthians 6:14-17).
One day we shall receive the full benefit of the redemption of our bodies: “For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21). Then our bodies will shine forth in glory forever and ever with all sin removed. But until then we must battle against our sinful nature and devote ourselves to God’s service in holy living, by the grace of God through the power of the Gospel! “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the Law, but under grace…. But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness…. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life” (Romans 6:11-14, 17-18, 22).
“Ye are not your own!” (I Corinthians 6:19c). Therefore “living in sin” is not an option! It should “not be once named among [us] as becometh saints!” (Ephesians 5:3). It is rather our great privilege, for Jesus’ sake, to “live unto righteousness, by whose stripes [we] were healed” (I Peter 2:24). God grant it for His sake!
— E. J. W.