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5 Principles for Sexual Sin

Old time evangelist Vance Havner once said, “The alternative to discipline is disaster.”[1] You know what? He was right. And what’s more? From beyond the grave his words are still piercingly true. When we apply them to how we deal with sexual sin in the church today, his much-needed words touch a sensitive nerve and must stir us into action.

Without question, sexual sin must be addressed and dealt with in the body of Christ. If we do not lovingly and firmly face our impurities, our lack of discipline will most certainly lead to disaster. Are you a church leader to whom God has given some level of responsibility in overseeing His flock? Do you have a biblical philosophy for dealing with sexual sin in the lives of those entrusted to you? Are you a believer who is discipling someone who is floundering in sexual temptation without a clear plan for waging war against sin? Use the following principles from 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Without a clear plan from God’s word, you may be found wanting in this area of your life and ministry.

#1 Be direct and specific

Nobody benefits when sexual sin is kept in the dark by those who know about it. When Paul addresses the sexual sin that was plaguing the Corinthian church he was not passive aggressive or dropping hints in the hopes that someone might catch his drift. He was direct, and specific. In no uncertain terms he wrote, “It is reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such kind does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). Well, there are you have it. Paul simply “goes there.” Pastors should use tact when doing this because Paul’s not necessarily mandating a public shaming for every case of sexual sin. In Corinth, this was blatant and unrepentant. It was happening without much challenge. It needed public discipline. How you apply this can vary depending on context. However, one thing is clear: when sexual sin is present it needs to be dealt with in a direct way.

#2 Mourn sexual sin

It may be our desensitized culture or the result of antinomianism in too many churches but sin isn’t always mourned the way it should be. Paul sternly reprimands the Corinthians saying, “And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead…” (1 Cor. 5:2a). He is unseated in frustration because the Corinthians are not broken over sin! Where is the agony? Where is the good kind of guilt that tells us something is very wrong and must be fixed? Too many professing Christians want to jump right to grace but they’ve never faced their guilt with genuine repentance. One can argue that the church is fattened with many false converts as a result. We need to know the bad news about our sin and face it before we can appreciate the good news of grace. If you’ve never mourned your sin, you may be living a superficial, American version of Christianity.

#3 Discipline sexual sin

Want to do something unpopular in today’s tolerant world? Call for the discipline of sexual sin when it remains without repentance and is blatantly unceasing. Call it what it is. Call the person what they are. Put them out of the church because they are not a part of the church. True believers will sin, but they will repent of sin and habitual sin will slowly fade from the pattern of their life. Grace doesn’t mean we keep on sinning. Paul exhorts the church to remove “the one who had done this deed” (1 Cor. 5:2b), to “judge those who are within the church” (1 Cor. 5:12), and to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). This is explicit and clear. Discipline sexual sin.

#4 Demand purity

Another unpopular and dogmatic step here we come! In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul continues by following up his demand for discipline with a demand for purity. The body belongs to the Lord and Christians are to “flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:17). The body “is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19a) and should be treated as such. There is no room for a sexually flagrant lifestyle in which sexual sin is not repented of. Every church leader is biblically allowed to demand purity from themselves and those they serve. It’s not man’s authority that calls for this. It’s the word of God.

#5 Point to Christ

All these imperatives can seem too intense if we’re not constantly reminding ourselves of the ultimate motivation for purity. Legalism isn’t our motive. Good behavior isn’t our motive. Pleasing men is not our motive. Christ is our motive! In light of the gospel and what Jesus has purchased, every believer can overcome sexual sin and “glorify God” in their body (1 Cor. 6:20b). Perfection doesn’t come until heaven, but we ought to be progressing in our purity while here on earth. Purity is desired when we remember that we belong to Christ (1 Cor. 6:15) and have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20a).  Could there be a better motivation when dealing with sin than to look to the One who shed His blood for it?

Much more can be said about dealing with sexual sin and various practical applications can be added here. But that fact remains, we must internalize what the Bible says about sexual sin so that we can equip ourselves to be striving for purity, and pro-active when helping others.

[1]As quoted in Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 21.