The first rule of sexual purity is that it isn’t so much something believers give God as it is something God gives believers. As with the entirety of righteousness, sexual purity is a reality for the believer from the moment that living faith in Christ is present.
1 John 3:20 teaches that even if our hearts condemn us, God is bigger than our hearts and “knows all things”. The divine knowledge spoken of here is not merely God’s factual knowledge of all things; rather, it’s the essence of his character as love commended towards us through all and in spite of all things (Rom 8:38, 39) as they work together for the good of those that love God (v28). God has always known believers, and he has always known their hearts as his. This is the knowledge to which Peter appealed when Christ, whom he had betrayed, asked three times whether Peter loved him. It was in that knowledge that Peter would not be condemned even if his heart condemned him. It’s the knowledge by which God in Romans 8:28-30 glorifies those whom he did foreknow, and by which he predestines them to be conformed to the image of his Son of his love. It’s a kind of knowledge only accessible to the infinite mind of God, which, in 1 Corinthians 2:10, we’re told God has revealed to us by his Spirit. From it, we know not just God’s factual knowledge of all things but something more precious: the essence of his character as love commended towards us. And we cry out in response, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:16).
No matter what a person does, God “knows” who that person is in Christ. That person is “hidden” with Christ. That’s the fundamental reality of who believers are and it’s the basis of their sexual purity as well as our boldness in declaring it.
Sexual purity is imputed as a gift of God and then lived out by believers. It is the new reality into which God has re-created the believer through faith in Christ.
This is not a righteousness that can be strained for any more than someone could, hypothetically, reverse an unchangeable divine decree made in eternity past. Religion is an attempt to repaint the sky or reinvent the wheel or sell ice to Eskimos.
This sexual purity is the first truth concerning all believers. This doesn’t mean that believers are without sexual appetites – voracious ones, in some cases – but it does mean that the defilement of lust is gone. The implications for our sexual ethics are huge. Consider two men, Romeo and John (not Apostle John, just a John Doe). Romeo is regenerate. John isn’t.
Sexual desire is the reason Romeo realizes that Juliet is probably the girl he wants to be with and marry. But sexual lust would be the reason John definitely shouldn’t marry Jane: at any rate, it’s the reason Jane, if she’s a believer, shouldn’t yoke herself unequally with John. And even if John does marry her, as permitted by the Law he is under, it’s because the Law supervises all those that are under sin’s death sentence. But the Law cannot redeem ransom or sanctify them – it “brought nothing to perfection” whereas Christ, by once offering his life, has sanctified those that are being made holy. And once they’re holy, they no longer are under the Law.
This is why, for example, the rule concerning sex within marriage is powerless to end rape within marriage and other forms of domestic abuse within marriage. Lust is still there. The issue isn’t that a marriage certificate has the power to make bad men good or make dead souls alive; the issue is that the Law as a whole presupposes the nature of father Adam, so it can only supervise what’s there. If John struggles with lust and can’t distinguish it from desire, it’s because he sees everything through the eyes he inherited from his spiritual dad, Adam, and cannot imagine a reality in which he’d see everything through the eyes of the other spiritual father, Daddy God. He’s never been declared righteous, he’s never been unconditionally embraced by God or seen as pure so he cannot possibly give fellow men the benefit of that doubt. He cannot give what he’s never received. His conscience is seared through and cannot tell real-bad from nit-picky-law-bad.
He thinks the Law exists to tell him something about God when it exists to tell him how spiritually dead he is and how he must be guarded. To John, all sexual desire is lust. If he becomes religious (not believing), he’ll become a Pharisee and will never be able to give people anything other than religion. Strangely, most people go to Pharisee John to hear the Gospel. But his is a Gospel of rules which is no Gospel at all. If he hadn’t already been caught out by 1 Timothy 4:3, he would even go so far as to “forbid people to marry” and maybe “order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth”. He would subject believers to regulations like “touch not” and “taste not” even while knowing instinctively that they are powerless at subduing the flesh.
Yet to them that are pure, all things are pure. This has got nothing to do with what the person does but who the person is, or, more accurately, whose the person is. Even if our hearts condemn us, God is bigger than our hearts and knows all things. He knew us from before we were born, and he whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. If it were the other way around – if what you did could define who you are in God – the Gospel would be no Gospel at all. It would devolve to endless sin-management and nobody would ever “arrive” at holiness. Read Romans 7 in order not to live through it before realizing that victory has already been declared and we’re more than conquerors through him who loved us.
The struggle for the new believer isn’t to become different or to act differently; it’s to be himself. Who this new self is will be found in the love Christ showed him by dying for him on the cross, and the life Christ raised him in when rising from the dead. It is the identity of one loved and animated by God. What does this identity do? It loves and gives life to others because it too has been loved and given life. This is the character of God, and it’s the real identity of the believer. If you think a man having sex outside of marriage or in love with someone of the same sex is inherently the antithesis of that identity (and not just scandalizing the sensibilities of his religious, uptight society), then you have missed the Gospel altogether. You also won’t understand how it’s possible for Jesus to have been friends with prostitutes and tax collectors while his church strongly repels “sinners”.
If getting the identity of Christ is so difficult, why does God speak about it as though it were as simple as looking and believing? 1 John 3:3-10 says, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure”. In Matthew 21:31, Jesus tells the respectable people of his age, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you”. In Mark 5:34 he told the woman with the issue of blood, “Your faith has made you whole” but we know that even faith is a gift from God (Rom 5:1; Rom 4:5) as is the sexual wholeness and purity towards which so many strive and labour.
There’s nothing wrong with celibacy when it’s a gift. But there is a problem when it’s a work that we give to God in order to give him sexual purity when he’s already given that as part of our identity in Christ. That problem is that the Gospel is being denied left, right and center. What do we do with verses that seem to contradict this simplicity that is in Christ Jesus?
1 Corinthians 6:9 New International Version (NIV) reads “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
At this moment, I won’t go into the history of how and why the translations and readings of certain words have become something other than what Paul wrote in the original manuscripts – reliable copies of which are available, I’m sure – except to say that Pharisee John, whom we’ve described above, has been translating some of your bibles. He’s been translating them to protect the interests of the Pope, and of certain States that don’t know whether they’re theocracies or democracies, as well as the interests of religions and fear-mongers as well. He’s been translating them to protect anything and everything except the clarity and simplicity of God’s Gospel.
A fornicator is revealed in 1 Corinthians 6:15 to be someone who sleeps with a temple harlot acting as conduit to another god. This is why Paul uses the word-play around the concepts of “temple” and “body”. If the harlot shrine embodied a god, which God do Christians embody, and why will they join their bodies – which represent their God – with bodies that represent other gods, especially under such dehumanizing circumstances? I could go into further detail about all the steps that the word “fornication” took to reach a point where it’s synonymous with “sex outside of marriage” and “Law-keeping” but to do so, I’d have to hang out the dirty laundry of the greatest sectors of the visible church currently in existence. At any rate, the NIV and NKJV, as translations, interpretations and cultural artifacts, fail to intuit boundaries that are organic to the Gospel of God’s grace. These translations make a deadly mistake that is visible to the naked, untrained eye: they make the Gospel a matter of doing instead of being.
As for the translation into “men who have sex with men”, I don’t want to bore you too much about the original terms, which can also be translated “man-bedder”, nor bore you with stories about the value, significance and commoditization of bodies in the first century, or the bearing that this has on the NIV’s very clumsy translation, the import and nuance of which the translators ignored. It’s enough to ask whether the reader would like to be under the Letter that crushes, or under the Spirit that gives life. The key difference between these two is that the Letter is the approach of believing that from acts we can infer standing before God. The Spirit is the approach of believing that from standing before God we are free to act.
For freedom Christ has set you free.
Stand firm in the freedom wherein Christ has made you free.