The Sensual Sins
Having spoken of the war between the flesh and the Spirit that rages in the soul of the believer (the unbeliever experiences no such war as he has not the Spirit, though he may experience conflicts in his conscience), Paul now lists some of those sins of the flesh (i.e., sinful nature) that must be mortified in the believer through constant vigilance, guarding both mind and body. The first three sins Paul lists are sexual sins. Indeed, in other catalogs of vices, he lists sexual sins first (Romans 1:24; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:3, 5; Colossians 3:5). Is this because Paul was “hung up” on sex as some contemporary libertines among us suggest? No. The fact is that, along with idolatry, sexual sin is the quintessential pagan sin. This is why idolatry and temple prostitution went hand-in-hand among the Canaanites in the Old Testament and the later Greeks and Romans in the New. A cursory reading of the Greek historian, Herodotus (writing in the 400’s B.C.), is an education in itself of just how perverted pagan society was. It was this world that early Christianity addressed and “in nothing did early Christianity so thoroughly revolutionize the ethical standards of the pagan world as in regard to sexual relationships” (Fung, NICNT, 256), and that, of course, being one man and one woman in the context of holy marriage, which is used as an illustration throughout the Bible to describe God’s relationship with His people.
“Sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word, porneia (from which we derive our word, “porn”), which is inclusive of every sexual act outside one man and one woman in covenant marriage, including fornication and adultery. “Uncleanness” or “impurity” comes from the Greek word, akathartos (we derive the word, “catharsis,” meaning to “purge,” but with the Greek “a- acting as our “un-), and refers here to the misuse of sex as in the case of unnatural contact between members of the same sex, taking on the likeness and behavior of a member of the opposite sex, pederasty, and bestiality—and let us not forget an epidemic in our own day, pornography, and another misuse of sex rarely spoken about, masturbation. Each of these misuse intimacy as designed by God between a man and a woman in holy matrimony as is so graphically and beautifully portrayed in the Garden before the interruption of our sin. It is the addiction to these sins of the flesh that many believe is fueling human trafficking in our day. Finally, Aselgeia refers not only to all these sins but to the flagrant show of them without regard to public shame or common decency, so in our own day (Ibid., 253-55).
Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that sexual sin carries with it an added consequence of being against one’s own body and another’s because of its inherent personal nature; that is, through sexual union one is literally joined to another. And this is why sexual sin hurts in a way that other sins don’t; and this is why the Church must not stop preaching the truth about it as our increasingly pagan society cons young people into destroying their own lives.