The Perils of the 'F' Word:
The High Price of Fornication
By Lionel Letcher
Fornication is a word that elicits varied responses from people, especially when asked if they have ever fornicated. Sometimes when Open-Air preaching I will read from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which provides us with a list of people who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Included in that list are fornicators. The mere mention of that word often causes hecklers to begin shouting things such as "I love fornication", "What's wrong with fornication? You're a right-wing fundamentalist trying to take away everybody's fun", or "If it doesn't hurt anyone than how can it be wrong?"
The last question is the one that interests me. Does fornication really not hurt anyone? From a pastoral perspective of having had to deal with issues relating to people's moral sins, counselling, and seeing the devastation it brings, I have concluded that this statement is definitely wrong.
Fornication is a scourge in today's world. We see the consequences of fornication everyday; young boys and girls who are not ready for parenting, not financially established with secure employment and even still attending school, are having sexual relationships without boundaries. Many times these sexual relationships are happening under their parents' roof, with many parents saying “at least they're in a safe place and not in a car somewhere”. Unfortunately these young people are behaving in a manner that God has commanded belongs within the safety and sanctity of marriage.
However, my main concern is regarding fornication and "Christians" (a term we will use very loosely in this article)! I have frequently encountered people who attend church, claim to be Christians and are even in ministry within a local church, who admit to having fornicated, or worse still, confess that they are currently in a sexual relationship. Some have even said that their church does not see it as wrong as long as they are committed to each other; they're married "in the eyes of God." Imagine that—a church sanctioning fornication! (Just a side note of interest, one local church in our area has had a man who is a practising cross-dresser involved in ministry!)
So, what are the problems? Where do we begin?
Firstly, scripture describes fornication as sin (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; Acts 15:20; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3; 1 Thess. 4:3 etc). That should be enough for the sincere Christian to cause him to repent (confess and forsake). The Old Testament teach marriage right from the very beginning - Adam and Eve. The Ten Commandments teaches against adultery and coveting (lust). This is most important in view of today's "Christians" who misapply sayings like, We're not under the Law; we're now under grace" to mean that we don't have to obey the ten Commandments or God's moral laws. However, Paul asks:
Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? - Romans 6:1-2.
Sin is transgression of the Law.
Certainly, the Old Testament Laws cannot save anyone, and teaching anyone to follow them as a path to salvation is spiritually blind legalism. However, people under Grace will obey the teachings of Christ:
the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
Jesus made it clear that His disciples are those who continue in HIS Word (John 8:31). The New Testament standard is much higher than that of the Old Testament, as revealed by Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28 in His startling sermon on the mount. Knowing that Christ surrendered Himself to the cross, becoming sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21) should be enough for sincere believers to abstain from fornication.
Secondly, there is a serious deficiency in the lives of those who commit the sin of fornication. God has ordained a structure for every Christian home. Simply stated it is this: Christ is the head of the man; the man is the head of the wife; and the children are to be in subjection to the parents (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3 with Ephesians 6: 1-4).
Fornication reverses all of that. It removes Christ from His position of authority over the relationship and it damages the foundation for the future (though we should add that it is possible, by God's grace to have restoration).
Why is the foundation damaged?
There are several reasons:
- Fornicators have removed Christ from His position of authority by usurping His commands against immorality. There is a huge violation of the commandments. If a couple makes the excuse, "We love each other; God will understand", there is a myriad of issues. They justify disobedience and commit idolatry by effectively creating an image of how they think God is, rather than submitting to the God of the Bible.They fail to put God first. They bring His name into disrepute. They dishonour their parents. They go against Jesus' explanation of the 7th commandment. They lie to themselves. This is also a form of stealing, as they engage in behaviour that is reserved for married couples and they are caught in lust. Thus, Christ has been removed from His position of authority simply because two people have placed their own lust above the commands of scripture.
- The man has abdicated his position of leadership in the relationship, under the authority of Christ. God's intention is that the man learns to lead, and that means he will have to make some tough decisions. One of those decisions is concerning moral purity. At this crucial time of temptation, whether it is instigated by the man, the woman, or mutually, God has provided a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is no need to surrender to temptation. When the man surrenders to this area of temptation he is not showing the leadership that God is calling him to demonstrate. It is at this exact point that he needs to stand upon the Scripture and exercise obedient leadership. Without doing this he has shown a devaluing of the Word of God, a devaluing of the woman involved (whom he has no right to cause to, or to involve in, sin), and a disregard for the biblical structure of the relationship. In fact, the man should be the primary way of escape from the temptation to fornicate. He should display manliness (called virtue in the KJV!), heed the Word of God, and be obedient to it by saying to her that it is not right for them to do this sin. Unfortunately, this seldom happens, leaving the relationship in a state of chaos, biblically and morally.
- Both the man and the woman have sacrificed their long term benefits of personal purity for the immediate gratification of the flesh by surrendering to their lusts.
The result of this is usually that the woman steps into the vacuum of leadership, whether she wants to or not. He did not accept his responsibility - now she will usurp it. Consider Eve's temptation to sin in the garden and note that Genesis records that she was involved in a conversation with the serpent, and that she surrendered to her desires, then gave the fruit to her husband with her! Why didn't he accept the responsibility of leadership? Men create serious problems by their lack of willingness to rein-in their own sexual desires and bring them under the God-given controls of a Spirit controlled life (Galatians 5:22-23)
Where does a couple go from here? Once a couple have fallen into the sin of fornication, there are some vital steps to be taken.
- Examine their salvation. It is possible for any Christian to fall into sin, but it should not be the normal thing to do. A Christian will be horrified by his/her own failure. Falling into sin should have the effect of making an individual humbly seek God in repentant prayer. But there is one important thing to remember when we are talking about sexual sin, especially fornication; People don't usually "fall" into sexual sin. Along the way there are many points at which a person can humbly seek deliverance from temptation. When those opportunities are ignored moments of passion can become overwhelming. BUT why would a couple let themselves get into that situation? Put up safeguards and respect and honour them!
- Examine the scriptures. What does the Bible have to say about their sin? What advice does the Bible teach regarding overcoming such an area of temptation? Put these lessons into place immediately.
- Confess their failure. A Christian will humbly come before God to seek His mercy, and will approach the leadership of the church they are part of to make them aware of the moral failure, their repentance, and be willing to take discipline from the church.
- Set boundaries on the relationship. It is usual that people will be tempted into moral failure whenever they are spending too much time alone. Courtship is a much more preferable way of going about things. Fellowship with one another in company with family and friends. Make times spent alone in public places where there is no possibility of temptation.
- Determine to make the relationship one that will greatly glorify God. This is the wonderful thing; God can turn this for His glory if the offenders are willing to surrender to Him.
- Finally, if one partner continues to put pressure on the other to be involved sexually, break the relationship!This kind of pressure means that there is an unequal yoking taking place, and that someone is really unrepentant regarding this immoral behaviour. Genuine believers will surrender their rights to God and not place demands upon another individual, especially when it comes to sexual satisfaction.
Lots of loving leadership will be required from the man to restore the dynamic of a God given structure in this relationship if it is ever going to continue so as to bring glory to God. There are many other things that could be added to this but make no mistake, God does not view moral sins lightly. Being under grace is a higher calling than being under the Law as we have the presence of the Holy Spirit within us to convict and strengthen us in righteousness.
About the Author
Lionel Letcher is the pastor of Cornerstone Gospel Church, Frankston, Victoria, Australia. Lionel and his wife, Suzanne, pioneered "Cornerstone" in August 2002—the third church they have pioneered, having formerly spent six years as pastor/missionaries in Macau, South East China. Their focus is to see the church grow to a place that functions in biblical evangelism and church planting, and biblical education and instruction. Lionel is committed to expository preaching and teaching within the church, and to evangelism and Open-Air preaching using the Law and Grace methods of bygone heroes of the modern Christian church. The Letchers have been married since 1985. They have four children and one grandchild.