Commentary on Ephesians, 5:3 (2 of 2)

Ephesians 5:3

“3 But immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints;” ASV


“sexual immorality” (ESV, NIV, NLT, HCSB)

This continues our discussion about the sin of sexual immorality among God’s people. Here I want to talk about the level of seriousness of this sin, to answer the question of why this sin is so serious among Christians.

To begin with, our position in Christ is one of absolute purity. We are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). We have been given a new nature, in the likeness of God’s own nature. Thus we are to always be living according to who we are as true children of God, for like begets like. We are always to be growing into our holy position in Christ.

To live contrary to who we are, is to miss the whole point and purpose of salvation. Salvation is not simply about going to Heaven, it’s about being brought into a right relationship with God. It’s about being set free from the penalty and power of sin. It’s about a whole new life, a whole new direction. Those who profess Christ, but continue to live according to the ways of this world, with little or no concern about personal purity or faithfulness to God, either have strayed from true saving faith (or on their way), or they were never saved to begin with.

Professing Christians who have a casual view of sex outside of marriage, and engage according to that view, demonstrate a serious lack of sensitivity to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. If a Christian has gotten to that point, that is reason for great concern about where they’re at spiritually. The purpose of this discussion is to awaken readers to the gravity of sexual sin as followers of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this will apply personally, or perhaps you know professing believers in Christ who practice sex outside of marriage, or are engaged in adultery. Whatever the case may be, Christians need to be taught the truth about this sin, and alas, I fear that few are being taught as they should be today.

Why is Sexual Sin Such a Serious Matter?

To answer this question, we must go to the book of 1 Corinthians:

11 And such were some of you: but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. 12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things benefit. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of anything. 13 Food for the stomach, and the stomach for food: but God shall bring to nothing both it and them. But the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body: 14 and God both raised the Lord, and will raise us up as through his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid. 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body? For, the two, He says, shall become one flesh. 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body. (1 Cor 6:11-20)

To begin with, according to verse 12, we’re not to be “brought under the power of anything.” That is, as those who are to be under the control of the Spirit, we’re not be enslaved by anything. Sex enslaves.

In verse 13, Paul says that “the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.” Our bodies have been set apart by God for Himself, for His purposes, and that does not include sex outside of marriage, or adultery, or any other kind of sexual sin. God has set apart our bodies for purity and holiness, to be used in an honorable manner for His glory. When we engage in sexual sin, we dishonor the name of Christ. We’re doing something with our bodies that they were never intended for, except in marriage. We’re desecrating what God designed for absolute holiness.

Paul also says that “the Lord is for the body.” An unusual statement. What does that mean? Albert Barnes is very helpful here:
The Lord is in an important sense for the body, that is, he acts, and plans, and provides for it. He sustains and keeps it; and he is making provision for its immortal purity and happiness in heaven. It is not right, therefore, to take the body, which is nourished by the kind and constant agency of a holy God, and to devote it to purposes of pollution.” That there is a reference in this phrase to the resurrection, is apparent from the following verse. And as God will exert his mighty power in raising up the body, and will make it glorious, it ought not to be prostituted to purposes of licentiousness.

In addition, since God is going to resurrect our bodies some day, in total sinless perfection, we should live our lives with that in view. In other words, since the resurrection of our bodies into the presence of God is our great hope, it’s completely contrary to use our bodies in a manner that does not reflect that hope.

In verses 15-17 Paul talks about our spiritual unity with Christ. Through faith in Him, we become one spirit with Him. We have a spiritual oneness with God that is holy. Thus we are not to pollute that holy union, not by way of a “prostitute” or by way of anyone else, as Paul makes clear in verse 18 where he mentions “sexual immorality.” By way of reminder, this is the Greek word “porneia,” which is the general term for all forms of sex outside of a holy, marital relationship.

In verse 18 Paul tells us to “flee sexual immorality.” The Greek word for “flee” is pheugo, which means to seek a place of safety out of danger by way of flight. This is a very descriptive word. Paul is not simply telling us to avoid sexual sin or to walk away from it — he’s telling us to RUN for our lives! So serious is this sin, that we are to run away from it as though we were running away from a psychopathic killer. For sexual sin is, indeed, a killer. This sin destroys in a way that no other sin does. It affects us spiritually in a way that no other sin does. And that is what Paul is about to explain to us in his next statement:

“18 Every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”

Every other sin that we commit is outside the body. I believe what Paul is saying here, is that there are no other sins where our bodies are so directly and completely and intimately involved as sexual immorality. Paul says that such engagement is sin against our bodies, because in doing so we defile the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is our bodies.

Sexual sin pollutes the holy temple of God. Since we have a spiritual union with God, and since we come into a certain union with the one we’re having sex with, we defile the pure union we have with God when committed outside of His holy design for it. To join that which is holy with that which is unholy, is an abomination to God. Thus sexual sin affects us spiritually in a way that no other sin does. There is something very profane about sexual sin, something about it that has a powerfully adverse effect on our spiritual relationship with God.

Very clearly then, sex is not merely a physical act. There’s also a deep, spiritual aspect to it, especially for Christians within marriage. John MacArthur gives a wonderful description of the husband and wife relationship:

In marriage a man and woman are so closely joined that they become ‘one flesh,’ which involves spiritual as well as physical oneness. In marriage God brings a husband and wife together in a unique physical and spiritual bond that reaches to the very depths of their souls. As God designed it, marriage is to be the welding of two people together into one unit, the blending of two minds, two wills, two sets of emotions, two spirits. It is a bond the Lord intends to be indissoluble as long as both partners are alive. The Lord created sex and procreation to be the fullest expression of that oneness, and the intimacies of marriage are not to be shared with any other human being.

(John MacArthur Matthew 1-7, Moody, 1985, p. 311).

When we place our faith in Christ, we enter into a spiritual union with Him. It’s a type of relationship that can be compared to marriage. The Bible actually refers to the people of God collectively as “His Bride” (Rev 19:7-9). When we receive Christ, we enter into that union, into that marriage. We become completely His, and He becomes ours.

When Christians marry, they too enter into a union with each other. This is a holy union that God has ordained and blessed, and is in perfect harmony with the holy union that we as believers have with Him. Sex between a Christian husband and wife is a wonderful spiritual experience, for it’s a holy union in the sight of God, enjoyed in holy union with God.

The unsaved don’t have a spiritual union with God, so when they commit sexual sin, they’re not effected the same way Christians are. Nor is it the same sin. We’re talking about two different types of sin here. Sexual sin committed by Christians affects the whole of our spiritual being. When Christians commit adultery or engage in sex outside of marriage, there’s an unfaithfulness to God involved that is on a very deep and unique level.

As vivid as I attempted to be in describing the seriousness of sexual sin among Christians, I feel that it’s still inadequate to the actual reality of it. Only God is able to see the full reality of its sinfulness and how it affects our relationship with Him. However, what has been revealed to us should cause any true born-again believer in Christ to shake in their boots. If the above discussion doesn’t do it, then perhaps a discussion about the ultimate consequences of such sin will.

I’ll address that when we get to verse 5 (Eph 5:5).