Sex sells. Even a short sampling of books, TV, movies, and advertising makes that statement abundantly clear. Given Christianity’s rather prudish reputation, you’d think that the Bible rarely talks about such things. Quite the contrary. Sex even makes an appearance in the Ten Commandments. The 7th commandment simply says, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14, NASB95)
Let’s clear up a few things. God is not anti-sex. Sex itself is part of creation and its continuation. But God did create some boundaries for human sexuality. Neither does this command neglect other sexual sins. Like the preceding commandment on murder, this commandment recognizes adultery as the pinnacle or worst case. Adultery breaks the marriage covenant and causes no end of heartache.
Jesus also clarified this commandment, reminding us that it extends beyond the physical act and into our thoughts and fantasies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27–28, NASB95) Adultery and other sexual sins always begin in our thoughts and feelings before they become a reality.
Getting this right is difficult because there is a proper context where sex is to be celebrated and plenty of improper contexts where it is harmful. Add to that our tendency to justify our actions, and it quickly becomes confusing. It’s kind of like eating and gluttony. We need to eat; eating is good. But the Bible also warns us about the sin of gluttony which is the wasteful overindulgence of food. By the way, gluttony is also a form of lust.
Paul writes to the church of Corinth, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18, NLT) The big lie when dealing with sexual sin is that no one is gets hurt. But even if we are just indulging in sexual fantasy, we are harming ourselves. We are creating unrealistic expectations and objectifying someone in our own mind by making them a tool for our pleasure.
Where does love fit in all of this? The confusing part is that love is often the justification for sexual sin. Saying something is love doesn’t make it so. And we must also consider that love has many definitions, but the love we’re desiring is God’s kind of love. When we look at this command from the lens of “love your neighbor as yourself,” the way becomes clearer. To truly love means that we value others and do not treat them as a means to an end. Objectifying anyone is dehumanizing and is the opposite of love.
It may be easy to blame a highly sexualized culture for our sins in this area. Tempting images are perhaps easier to indulge in than any time in history. However, we’re not that much different than the ancient city of Corinth, which was also highly sexualized, to which Paul emphatically said, “run from sexual sin!”