Sex in Light of the Gospel (Part 1)

Based on the message from 1 Corinthians 5–7 that I was asked to deliver yesterday at the Pasadena City College Koinonia Bible Club.

I was given the surprising task of covering four chapters from 1 Corinthians in about thirty-five minutes time. There are so many rich truths to camp around and mine in these chapters, but I want to see a larger theme present that ties the text together.
There are two things I want to bring out of the text today, both of which are probably obvious from my title. One of them is sex, and the other is the Gospel. More to the point, I want to look at what these chapters have to say about sex and other periphery issues in light of the Gospel.
So, why the Gospel? Though the word “Gospel” does not occur within these chapters, I want to promote is a view of the Bible that says life is to be lived in light of the Gospel. By contrast, I could stand here and give you a list of “do’s and don’ts” about sex. However, we should view sex, just like every other aspect of our lives, from the basis of what Christ is doing in us and through us. It is only we conform ourselves according to what He provides us in the Gospel that we can say we are living in the vine (cf. John 15:1–17)
I’m not sure how much of an introduction to 1 Corinthians you have had, but here are a couple of important points to keep in mind, even if they are review. The city of Corinth was a bustling metropolis, right in the middle of major trade routes. It was also the host city for the Isthmian games, with tailgate parties second only to the Olympics. So, when thinking about Corinth, keep in mind big city, lots of people, and lots of fun.
In fact, some of the fun was just the problem for Christians. With so much bustle, ideas about morality became more inventive. As the city became more depraved, outsiders began to talk about people being “corinthianized,” kind of like the way my family back home talks about California. For instance, male visitors to Corinth may want to visit the religious hub, the temple of Aphrodite, where they could partake of one of the 1,000 temple prostitutes/priestesses as an act of “worship.” With booze flowing, suggestive artwork hung throughout the city, and with enough money, all manner of sexual pleasures available, it is not hard to see that Christians in Corinth faced the same, real-world temptations that we face today.

1. The Gospel calls us to be clean of impurity
If you are not already there, turn with me to 1 Corinthians 5.
We understand temptation. We also understand that, at some level, Christians should be examples of holy living—living only possible through the power of the Gospel. We further understand that unbelievers frequently charge the church with being full of hypocrites. Unbelievers see us when we fall prey to temptation and find us less-than-genuine when we speak of the sanctifying power of Jesus Christ and the holiness of God.
There was a man sleeping with his stepmother, and the sin was public. Paul expresses his shocked, saying this “is actually reported… among you.” This kind of sin “is not tolerated even among pagans.” When your sin is so bad that unbelievers are in awe, something went wrong miles ago in your Christian walk (and hopefully, we can catch it today if you are heading down that same road). But note that Paul’s shock was not merely over this sin, but the church’s toleration of the sin.
Recently, a woman in a church in Florida left her church after she said it was harassing her over her sex life with her boyfriend. The woman, placed under church discipline, was upset that her sins became public knowledge. She not only said the church should leave her alone, but also said (while apparently continuing her sinful relationship), “I am a Christian, and that will never change. My relationship with Jesus has to do with me and Jesus, and he knows my heart.”[1] She honestly believed that despite her sin and condemnation by her elders, she and Jesus had no problems.
(Incidentally, the wrong thing to wish is for Jesus to “know our hearts,” as if He will see our good intentions and forgive us of anything. Jeremiah 17:9–10 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.’” When God looks into our sinful hearts, we better have the good news of the Gospel on our side.)
Apparently, this man in Corinth also thought he was okay with Jesus, because there he is in the pew every Sunday morning. The Corinthians, in contrast to the church in Florida, allowed him to stay in the church. They actually became arrogant in the fact that they did not kick this man out! Why is that?
Some professing Christians smugly say, “We teach grace here, we accept everyone and don’t judge.” It sounds good, but the reality is that they were refusing to follow Christ’s instructions in Matthew 18:15–17, and they were boasting in their sin. Of Course, some people may object, “Wait a minute, Jesus hung out with sinners!” but they miss that He didn’t say the unrepentant were a part of church-life.
Paul’s admonition in Chapter 5 is that they need to purge the man out of their midst. He says to let Satan have hold of him for awhile, that the man may come to his senses. Paul warns here not to associate with flagrant sinners within the church, because just as a little leaven puffs up the whole loaf of bread, they will infect the life of your church.
Quickly, though, I believe we should note what he is not saying. The “leaven,” according to verse 11 is “anyone who bears the name of brother.” The leaven is not unbelievers. (It is true that Jesus went after folks who knew they needed help, unbelievers mourning their sin.) The leaven we must purge out is the one who says “I’m a Christian and a brother” and then is “guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler.” We are not to become cultural fundamentalists and demand unbelievers act like Christians if they want to be graced by our presence.
Now, think about this leaven. Matthew 7:21–23 says there will be some standing before Jesus who call Him “Lord” who will be turned away. Matthew 13:24–30 says that there are growing among believers weeds that look like believers. 1 John 2:19 speaks of professing believers who were never truly “of us.” We have to consider the possibility that there are some sitting in our churches that are false converts. We do not go on witch-hunts within the church, but when a person’s life is demonstrably unchristian and he refuses to repent, we must treat him as “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17), an outsider.
Part of our responsibilities to one another as believers is to try to lift up a fallen brother and to encourage the downtrodden.
There is a greater Gospel lesson here, and Paul uses the Lord’s Supper to illustrate. At the Lord’s Table, the unleavened bread is the symbol of Christ’s body which He provided for us (1 Cor 11:24). Since the church is called the body of Christ, the unleavened bread carries both the image of the sinless Christ and of the purified body of Christ.
Paul wants the Corinthians to get rid of the sin in their midst so they will be who they really are. The good news of the Gospel is that they are already “unleavened,” but they are allowing a spot of leaven to remain in their midst. Judge your brothers and sisters rightly, and judge yourself rightly, so that you may cleanse out all the unrighteousness both within you and within the church. Have nothing to do with that of which you have been cleansed. Lust is temporary, sex is only for a season, and sin in general is nothing compared to the eternal glory of our king.

To be continued...

[1] “Woman Says Church Threatening To Make Sins Public,”,

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