Sexual Conduct of Christians
by Dr. Edward S. Williams
Christian teaching on sexual purity
The Bible teaches that sexual purity provides a solid foundation for marriage. ‘Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral’ (Hebrews 13:4). Sexual purity is an attitude of mind and desire of the heart that comes from an understanding of God’s holy character and is manifest in our thoughts, speech and the way we behave. Impurity, sexual immorality, fornication and adultery are the enemies of marriage, and God’s plan for marriage cannot flourish if sexual immorality is widespread and accepted as the norm.
The concept of chastity flows from the holiness that is central to the character of God. Young women are to be trained ‘to be self-controlled, chaste’ (Titus 2:5). The word ‘chaste’, which is related to the word holy, means clean, modest, pure, undefiled, without blemish. All immorality, impurity and uncontrolled passion are out of place for Christians. ‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity’ (Ephesians 5:3). ‘Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires…’ (Colossians 3:5). ‘It is God’s will that you should be holy; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
Christian sexual conduct is expressed in the four virtues—modesty, chivalry, chastity and fidelity. Sexual purity is the foundation on which these virtues are built. While each virtue applies to an aspect of sexual behaviour, together they form a coherent inner belief system that sets a standard for sexual conduct that gives meaning to marriage and the family.
Modesty is the virtue that recognises the rightful purpose of sex as something private, mysterious, and meant for the relationship between husband and wife. Modesty discourages lust and encourages faithful love. Chivalry is the virtue that teaches men to relate to women with honour and respect. It gives men the inner motivation to practise self-control, honesty and decency in relationships. Chastity is based on the desire for sexual purity, both before and after marriage. It welcomes the discipline of self-control and self-denial. Fidelity is based in faithfulness that rejoices in the lifelong nature of the marriage union, and so provides security for all members of the family. Modesty and chivalry are the roots from which the other virtues grow and bear the fruits of marital faithfulness and family security. Marriage and the family flourish when all four virtues are practised. And most important of all, these are the Christian virtues that guard children from danger and abuse—they provide children with God-given security, protecting them from the ravages that result from sexual immorality. In his great wisdom, God has instituted moral laws around human sexual conduct that preserve marriage, secure the family and protect children. These virtues are based in the holy, righteous character of God, and are reflected in his moral law.
1. Modesty – inner beauty, outward conduct
The apostle Paul emphasises the importance of modesty as a Christian virtue. ‘I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes’ (1 Timothy 2:9). A modest woman does not make an outward show of her female attributes and does not present herself in a way that is sexually provocative or that attracts undue attention. She is careful to abstain from any unbecoming or shameful conduct.
The apostle Peter explains the importance of modesty as a virtue that enhances the inner beauty of women. A wife’s beauty ‘should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight’ (1 Peter 3:3-4). Modesty is characterised by a quiet and gentle spirit, which demonstrates a woman’s true worth. It is primarily directed towards men, and makes a clear statement of a woman’s intention to preserve her sexuality for the one man who will be her husband and the father of her children. Because modesty reveals a woman’s inner beauty, it is attractive to the man who loves her and chooses her to be his wife.
The woman who parades her sexuality is foolish for she is attracting men for all the wrong reasons. The immodest woman, who appears to attract many men, finds that the respect she longs for is not there. Even in our sexually liberated society men lose respect for the ‘easy’ woman, although they don’t always say so. Immodesty has its price.
The great value of modesty is that it enhances the feminine attributes of womankind. It produces a woman of resolute character who understands the value and purpose of her sexuality. Her relationships with men are based on truth and genuine affection, not on sexual lust. She is not a sex object, but a woman with dignity and value. She understands that she has been blessed with the potential for reproduction and she does not abuse God’s gift of motherhood. She understands the value of chastity and knows why sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage. By her modest behaviour she earns the respect of men, and they desire her companionship because she is a real woman, not because she is sexually available.
2. Chivalry – treating women with honour and respect
Chivalry is the virtue that flows from the apostle Peter’s instruction to husbands to treat their wives with respect ‘as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life’ (1 Peter 3:7). It is a male virtue that recognises the true nature of womanhood. A woman is the weaker partner for she does not have the same physical strength as a man. And more important, she has been given the gracious gift of motherhood. And wrapped up in this gift is a woman’s sexual vulnerability for she is prone to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Recognising this gracious gift, a real man responds by treating women with respect and honour.
So chivalry is founded on biblical truth and provides the moral framework in which a worthy man relates to women; it teaches a man to become a gentleman, committed to honour and principle. Chivalry reveals itself in a man’s courteous behaviour; it is natural for a man to honour and protect all women, not only his mother, sister and wife. Like modesty, chivalry comes from the inner self and is a reflection of God’s moral law.
Self-control is an essential component of chivalrous behaviour. Christian young men are to be trained by the grace of God ‘to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age’ (Titus 2:12). According to Proverbs, ‘A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls’ (Proverbs 25:28). The discipline of self-control is to be applied in all areas of life, and especially to sexual behaviour. Worldly passions should not be given free rein, but should be controlled. A chivalrous man understands that for a woman there is no such thing as casual sex, for she bears the awful responsibility of conceiving a new life and all that that involves.
Chivalry is an attitude that puts women first, while sexual permissiveness puts self-gratification first and women last. Chivalry treats women with respect as future wives and mothers, while the contraceptive mentality treats women as sexual objects. Chivalry brings the best out of women, for it encourages them to behave with modesty and chastity. Sexual permissiveness, the antithesis of chivalry and modesty, degrades manhood, devalues womanhood and destroys marriage.
Practical advice from Proverbs
The book of Proverbs teaches young people the great value of true wisdom. ‘Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold… She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold on her will be blessed’ (Proverbs 3:13,14,18). So young person, ‘do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones’ (Proverbs 3:7,8). ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline’ (Proverbs 1:7). Here, in practical terms, are guidelines to help you safeguard a chaste way of life:
1. Listen to your parents’ advice. ‘Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching’ (Proverbs 1:8). ‘A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke’ (13:1). Your parents are the ones who truly love you and have your best interests at heart. The fourth commandment, ‘Honour your father and mother’ makes it a duty for you to obey your parents. Seek their advice with regard to your conduct. ‘A fool spurns his father’s discipline’ (15:5).
2. Do not keep bad company. ‘My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them’ (Proverbs 1:10). Remember that bad company corrupts good morals. So do not be misled by the boasting and proud talk of the mockers, those who follow evil ways. ‘Do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into sin’ (Proverbs 1:15-16). They cause trouble for others and for themselves. Young man, keep from the wayward woman ‘for her house leads down to death’ (Proverbs 2:18). Young woman, keep away from the man who is full of lust, who seeks to use you to satisfy his sexual cravings.
3. Avoid bad language and devious talk. Don’t think that it is smart, clever or grown up to use foul language and cursing. ‘Keep corrupt talk far from your lips’ (Proverbs 4:24). ‘The mouth of a fool invites ruin’ (10,14). Sex talk invites impure thoughts, and inflames sexual cravings.
4. Keep your eyes pure. ‘Let your eyes look straight ahead’ (Proverbs 4:25). Be careful to avoid indulging in sexual images and dirty literature. Jesus warned: ‘If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away’ (Matthew 5:29). The lust of the eyes inflames passions and leads to uncontrollable sexual temptations.
5. Do not make light of sexual temptation. Keep away from the immoral man or woman. Beware of the smooth talk that entices you into wrongdoing. ‘Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?’ (Proverbs 6:25-27). A man or woman who commits sexual immorality is showing a gross lack of judgement.
6. Do not dress in a way that is seductive. Young women must be careful not to dress in a way that is designed to arouse sexual thoughts in men. A beautiful woman who shows no discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout (Proverbs 11:22). Proverbs warns men to beware of the seductive woman who dresses like a prostitute with crafty intent (7:10). With persuasive words she leads men astray, but her house is a highway to the grave. Remember that men lose respect for the easy, foolish woman who dresses like a tart.
The wise and the foolish
The wise are those who base their decisions, actions and life choices on the wisdom of God. They know that the biblical view of sexual conduct is right. They base their conduct on the solid rock of God’s Word. The wise young woman accepts with joy that her sexuality is a gift from God that is meant for marriage and motherhood. A wise young woman radiates the inner beauty of a modest spirit; she strives for sexual purity and practises chastity. With joy she follows the narrow way that leads to life. A wise young man reveals the inner strength of a chivalrous heart; he practises self-control and sexual purity. He treats women with honour and respect. He is faithful to his wife; he loves and protects his children.
The foolish are those who hear God’s Word but do not put it into practice. They make their own ‘informed’ decision about their sexual behaviour. They are deluded into believing that ‘recreational’ sex is fun. They are deceived by the promise of ‘safer sex’. A foolish young woman has sex with men who say that they love her. She puts her faith in contraception. She hopes that the consequences of illicit sex can be avoided. She builds her house on sand. A foolish young man lacks self-control; he is a sexual predator who treats women as sex objects. When the storms of life come, as they surely will, the house built by the foolish young man and the foolish young woman crumbles. This is an eternal truth—sin has consequences, and sexual sin has serious physical consequences. The Bible issues this stern warning. ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. We reap what we sow. Those who sow to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life’ (Galatians 6:7-8).