Is Sex Outside of Marriage Okay for Christians Today?

Before I take on this subject, I want to explain why I am writing about it. I don't want to be mistaken for moralizing, being a legalist, or laying guilt on anyone. I am not trying to sic the law on anyone or be judgmental. 

I am writing this article because I am concerned that the secular humanist society we live in and which dominates the media and education is beginning to have more of an influence on Christians than Scripture. In fact, this reasoning is behind much of what I write. But, in this area of life particularly, the effect of our secular humanist culture, the failure of parents and the church to pass on a truly biblical world view, and the neglect of Christians to studiously examine the Bible for themselves are resulting in Christians becoming ignorant of the standard of behavior that becomes a Christian. Or, if they are aware of this standard, they fall for the relativist argument that it is old fashioned and no longer applies to Christians today. And so we have people—usually young people but not always—who think that petting, casual sex, friends with benefits, and even living together unmarried are acceptable behaviors for Christians. They are not, and I want to explain why.

We live in a world that considers itself in a state of moral flux. That is, right and wrong are thought of as not concrete but change as society develops. In such a society, it is common for even Christians to wonder whether sex outside of marriage is okay.

If you ask different people, you will get different answers. That’s because there are various theories of morality. In one, for example, whatever the majority thinks is right or wrong is what should really be accepted as right or wrong. Another theory is what I’ll call evolutionary morality. According to this theory, morality evolves as human civilization evolves. What was wrong yesterday may not be wrong today. In fact, it would be childish to live by yesterday’s “old fashioned” morality because society is now so much more “mature” than it was back then. Another theory of morality is utilitarian. That is, if a moral standard is useful, it is right. If it is not useful, it is wrong. All of these standards of morality are, at their root, ultimately subjective (people determine them) and based on the assumption that people are inherently good and, therefore, are qualified to determine what is right or wrong.

Christians, however, are supposed to have another standard. It is called the Bible, which is the Word of God. It is objective (outside of us), given to us from God. Also, it is based on God’s knowledge that man is (since the Fall in the Garden of Eden) inherently bad: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12); and “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12).

I said that Christians are supposed to have this standard. Unfortunately, experience shows that, all too often, Christians (or those who claim to be) are living as the world, using the world’s moral standards to determine how they behave.

In this article, I intend to briefly address one specific area of behavior: sex (all forms of sexual intimacy) outside of marriage. I do this in the hopes that some Christians who have been swept away by the flood of this world’s ungodly views of right and wrong may regain a mooring and rest secure on the Word of God.

Is sex outside of marriage okay for Christians today? The plain answer is no. Both direct commands and several principles teach us that sexual intimacy is to be confined to marriage. I could give even more reasons than the ones listed below, but I think these should be sufficient to convince anyone bearing the name Christian. Some of them might surprise you.

1. Sex outside of marriage dishonors Jesus Christ and makes a mockery of His marriage to the church.

Romans 7:4 says, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Spiritually speaking, Christians are married to “him who is raised from the dead,” that is, Jesus Christ.

We see this pictured again in the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 19:7, we read, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” Revelation 21:2 and 9-10 show us this in an allegorical figure: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…. And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”

Being spiritually married to Christ does not mean we cannot be physically married in this life. But it does teach us that marriage is something very real and very sacred to God.

Ephesians 5:22-33 is very clear about this. I am going to quote this passage and give comments every so often.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” A wife cannot submit herself to her “own husband” if there is no such thing as marriage, and living together outside marriage would violate this Scripture. In John 4, we read of a woman who was living with a man who was not her husband. Jesus clearly agreed that the man was not her husband: “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.” Without any doubt, Jesus did not consider living together to be the same as marriage.

Continuing in Ephesians 5: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” Marriage is a type or picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. Sex outside of marriage breaks that picture and dishonors Christ.

Continuing: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” This beautiful relationship between a husband and wife, which pictures the relationship between Christ and the church, cannot exist outside of the commitment of marriage.

2. Sexual intimacy outside marriage violates God’s purpose for sex and marriage.

After God created Eve from Adam’s rib, we read, “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:23-25).

Jesus verified the accuracy of this account in the New Testament: “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:3-6). Notice Jesus’ use of the phrase “for this cause.” What cause? The cause that God made them male and female so that they could cleave to one another and become one flesh—in other words, sexual intimacy.

But if sex outside of marriage is okay, what would be the purpose of marriage? Clearly, God never intended a couple to share sexual intimacy without being joined together by Him in marriage.

3. Sex outside of marriage is directly forbidden by Scripture.

The two most common Greek words used in the New Testament for sexual intimacy outside of marriage are moicheuō and porneia. Moicheuō is the word translated adultery. It refers to a married person having sexual intimacy with someone who is not his or her spouse. Matthew 5:32 uses both of these words and is revealing: “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication (porneia), causeth her to commit adultery (moicheuō): and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery (moicheuō).” Matthew 5:32 is often understood as saying that adultery is the only biblical grounds for divorce. But, in fact, Jesus uses the more general word porneia, which includes both adultery and sexual intimacy before marriage. In other words, God considers sex before marriage so serious a sin that, if, after marriage, a spouse finds out about a sexual relationship the marriage partner had with someone before marriage, it is grounds for divorce.

By the way, the Bible calls a person who commits moicheuō a moichos (adulterer) or a moichalis (adulteress). The Bible calls a person who commits porneia a pornos. In the King James Version, this is translated as either fornicator or whoremonger. First Corinthians 6:9-10 states, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators (pornos), nor idolaters, nor adulterers (moichos), nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind…shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers (pornos) and adulterers (moichos) God will judge.” God could hardly be any clearer.

Notice 1 Corinthians 6:16-18: “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot (pornē) is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication (porneia). Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication (porneuō) sinneth against his own body.” Basing his argument on the Genesis account of the institution of marriage, Paul says that a man having sex even with a harlot or prostitute joins the two of them as one flesh. This is a sin against the man’s own body because he has joined his body to that of a prostitute. The principle, of course, would apply to any sex outside of marriage. Flee fornication!

4. The Bible specifically says that living together before marriage is a non-Christian, worldly way to acquire a wife that is based on lust and is forbidden to a Christian.

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

“Possess his vessel” in this passage is not telling us how to hold a bottle of power drink. Nor is it saying “control his body” as some Bible versions mistranslate it. The Greek word translated “possess” here is ktasthai. In other places in the Bible where this word is found, it means “acquire,” “obtain,” or even “purchase.” But it does not mean “possess” or “control.” The word translated “vessel” is skeuos. In 1 Peter 3:7, this same word clearly relates to a husband honoring his wife: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”

“Lust of concupiscence” can be translated, “passion of desire.” So, this passage is saying that a man should acquire his wife in sanctification—in a holy manner, not in the passion of desire as those who do not know God do. To do otherwise is to defraud his brother, and we are solemnly warned that “the Lord is the avenger of all such.” God does not take our society’s casual approach to sex lightly. A Christian man is not to acquire a wife (and a Christian woman is not to acquire a husband) by trying things out first by living together. This is something that only ungodly people do.

I want to add that sex before marriage blinds the couple to seeing whether they are really a good match. Many times, couples live together thinking that this will help them know whether they should get married. The opposite is true. Sexual intimacy is blinding and binding. A man and woman should keep their relationship non-physical so that they can unemotionally determine whether they are suitably matched. Once the passions are involved, this cannot be done. Couples who live together may eventually marry because they are unable to break their ties of intimacy. But, months or years later, when their incompatibilities surface, the marriage becomes rocky and may break up. It does not pay to violate the order that God has ordained.

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Copyright © 2009 Peter Ditzel