Over the years, I have noticed that Christians like telling you what is wrong and immoral, especially when it comes to sex. We know that we are not supposed to get divorced, have premarital sex, have extramarital relations, engage in incestual relations–the list goes on and on.
However, when one asks why we ought not to do these things we get varying answers from:
God said not to and that’s it.
God does not like things that feel good.
It’s “unnatural” even though nature does not prevent an individual from engaging in it.
It increases depression.
It’s super expensive and the next wife is going to be just as bad anyway.
It’s better for society and the children.
Rules help us become more moderate.
The importance of knowing why God commands something. All of the preceding reasons are ultimately not that compelling. When someone is in the heat of the moment and being attacked by lustful thoughts, the greater good of society does not seem that important. The reminder of “God just said so” also proves to be weak, as one may be nagged with the thought, “Did God really say that? Did He really mean it that way?” The latter is the reason why modern Christianity is capitulating on the issues revolving around traditional sexual mores. It is my assertion here if we know why rules in the Scriptures, especially those pertaining to sex, are important we will have a much more compelling reason to follow them.
The reason why sexual immorality is wrong. Reading the Orthodox Study Bible, I am struck by whomever did the commentary of Leviticus. He did a superb job. It is literally the best commentary I have ever read in a Study Bible. That aside, in his discussion on Leviticus 18, he brought up an important point in passing:
The reason why sexual immorality is wrong is because it mars the image of God reflected in creation.
This at first seems strange given this is never the reason we hear. It is a head-scratcher until you really start thinking about it. God says in Eph 5 that it is a mystery, but “the two shall be one flesh” is about Christ and the Church. Hence, any sexual acts inconsistent with God’s chosen image of marriage are wrong, specifically because they obscure the divine reality that the earthly reality of marriage was designed to represent. This makes no sense in an anthropocentric universe, but in a Theocentric universe it does.
God’s commands in a Theocentric universe. It is my assertion that all of God’s commands serve the same function: they point us to live in ways consistent with divine realities because we learn by doing. Living in accordance with a divine reality inculcates us with its divine significance.
Think for that for a moment.
We see this concept asserted in the Scripture’s admonishments pertaining to gender relations. For example, in 1 Cor 11, women are told to cover their heads when praying and prophesying and men are told not to. Why? Not because it belittles women to put something on their heads at church. Rather, the difference between what men and women have on their heads portrays visually the submission of women to men. The very reason this is important, according to Saint Paul, is that this willing submission demonstrates the reality that Christ submits to the Father (see verse 3).
Elsewhere in the Scriptures, we see gender-related admonishments demonstrate divine realities. For example, the whole reason why men are supposed to love their wives sacrificially and wives submit to their husbands (Eph 5 and Col 3) is because the man is an image of Christ and the wife the Church. Paul views such gender roles as timeless (see 1 Cor 11:8-9, 1 Tim 2:13) because the divine reality they portray is eternal. The Church, which is the Bride of Christ, will eternally submit to Him.
We have other principles set forth in the Scriptures that also calls us to live in particular relationships because they convey to us the submission of Christ to God or the Church to Christ. For example, the Scriptures admonish slaves to serve masters, children to obey their parents (Eph 6, Col 3), citizens to submit to the state (1 Pet 2, Rom 3), and parishioners to obey those God has put in authority in the Church (Heb 13). In every single one of these examples, we can see the same principles lived out within different contexts.
In fact, God expects the demonstration of Christological principles in all facets of our lives. Even the most obscure commandments of God, particularly in the Old Testament, serve this function. Let’s discuss a few examples: Jews are not to wear clothing made of two different fabrics, cross pollinate plants, or breed two different animals. Why? Because these are reminders to the Jews that they are not supposed to intermarry with non-believers.
This forces us to ask ourselves: Why is intermarriage between the faithful and non-believers admonished against in the Scriptures? The divine principle that the moral command about marriage pertains to the significance of the reality that Christ is only eternally in union with believing Christians.
This is not a minor point. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). We must be in Christ (i.e. in union with Him) to be saved.
Without exhaustively listing examples, it suffices to say that if one cares to look into all the rules pertaining to days, meats, and even various moral admonishments, they ultimately all point to, and offer a living example of, Christ’s love for His Church.
Hence, God’s commands all call us to live out Christological truisms in our respective vocations, because life is essentially a pageant where we play-act eternal realities. I even think that secular science bears this out, in my honest opinion. I do not think that it is a coincidence that the Trinity is reflected at the atomic level (Protons, Electrons, and Neutrons), creation reflects beauty and design, the four seasons repeat the death and resurrection perpetually, and etcetera. Creation is designed to reflect the goodness of the Creator, and as a result, it consistently displays His glory.
Why should I want to live out a divine reality in my life? “Who cares whether my life visually displays His glory,” many may say. “It is good enough to get into heaven by the skin of my teeth, I just want my sins forgiven and avoid Hell.”
No one with this attitude will enjoy Heaven. Why? Because they misunderstand how forgiveness works and what Heaven is.
Man is made in the image of God. When he sins, he does not lose this image entirely, any more than smashing the glass in a picture frame renders a picture non-existent. Rather, damaging the glass obscures the image within.
In the same way, sinning obscures the image of God in man. Christ came into the world to redeem man. He did this by being born a man, living a perfect life, and paying the penalty for man’s sin. Christ is the perfect man and in Him the image of God in human form is in its perfection without obscurity.
Those of us with faith in Christ, by virtue of our union with Him, are saved. By being joined to Christ we share in all that He has. We enjoy the fullness of God that we as image bearers are supposed to have.
This is why the birth, death, and resurrection are all literal, physical realities instead of lofty and inspiring mythology. Otherwise, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Unless humanity was completely restored and perfected in the God-Man Jesus, humanity could not be saved. To use the picture frame analogy again, unless there exists a new picture frame with intact glass that is real to put the image which is presently behind the damaged picture frame, that image will continue to be obscured. By being joined to a real Christ, we enjoy a true restoration and perfection.
God is not merely wiping off a slate and declaring us innocent, the result being we win the prize of salvation. Salvation is being “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3) and becoming “the righteousness of God in Him.” A union with Christ conforms us to divine realities, because we are joined to God Himself. Hence, living out divine realities increasingly transforms us into the image of God. In other words, it restores in us the image of God that is lost by our sinfulness. God forgives us by not holding our past sins against us and He saves us through a work of redemption. Redemption is not a fictional transaction, but a literal reality lived out by the Christian.
In light of this, living consistently with divine truths is not optional, but rather absolutely essential for salvation. Why? Because salvation is becoming the divine reality. One cannot be saved when he lives in complete defiance of God and has no desire to experience His reality in his life.
This is why the first recorded words of Jesus Christ’s ministry are, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Salvation is being made like and into God–one cannot lack the desire for Godliness and be saved. To not want Godliness is to not want salvation. This is why in order to be saved, there must be repentance–a turn away from sins and a willful desire to live out not merely a moral, but a divine life that conforms with His reality.
None of the preceding constitutes that men must be perfect to be saved. “No one’s perfect,” as they say. Yet, it is only those who strive to be perfect like their Father in heaven, no matter how feeble their efforts, that are saved. In other words, there must be repentance in word and, given time, in deed to be saved for repentance is joined to faith. In words paraphrased from Saint Paul, true saving faith works through love (Gal 5:6).
So, what does this have to do with sexual sin? The answer is easy, really. We as image bearers of God are happiest and closest to God when we bear His image most authentically. All sinful actions that are short of the glory of God tarnish this image in us. Traditional sexual norms are consistent with living a Godly life and authentically demonstrate divine, eternal realities. It is the internalization and living out of these realities, through faith, that saves us. This is because salvation is the eternal living out of divine realities with God.
“Why?,” Matthew Vines may ask. “I can live a moral life, with commitment and devotion but in a same sex context.”
Mr. Vines, you miss the point entirely!
God is not shallow. He does not merely extol us to moral virtue. The whole reason Christ came was not to flip the switch from “God is mad at you” to “God loves you.” Nor does He want us to be good for goodness’ sake–He is not Santa Claus.
God came into the world to restore us to Himself and all that entails.
As we said before, traditional sexual norms (where there is one husband and one wife) reflect the reality of Christ and the Church. The fact that traditional couplings can produce children is consistent with the picture of the Church as a woman in Rev 12, as she has children according to this Scripture. A homosexual coupling mars the image which marriage was designed to reflect. The individual who mars the image of God, forfeits his enjoyment that partaking in the divine reality which union with Christ entails. It is in this sense that those who do not repent forfeit salvation.
The same is true of all other forms of sexual immorality. Divorce mars the image of God in that it obscures His unconditional devotion to His Church. Adultery mars the image of God’s in that it obscures His loyalty to His Church, as He works all things for good for those that love Him (Rom 8:28). Premarital sex mars the image of God in that it obscures the uniqueness of His relationship between God and the Church, as only the Church is in union with Christ. There is no way to the Father, except through the Son and by being in union with Him. God chose Israel out of all the nations of the world–He has a unique relationship with Christians and no one else.
As for the other sexual sins and how they would misrepresent the divine realities that marriage was designed to portray, simply use your imagination.
Conclusion. In short, let me restate the preceding in very few words: the reason why we should not commit sexual immorality is simply because it is of the utmost importance to live a life consistent with divine realities. This is because living a life that represents divine realities in our vocations and personal habits inculcates us with their reality and conforms us to the divine reality. This transforms us increasingly into God, something that God is doing with all of us Christians:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18).
So, perhaps the cross you have to carry is not this or that sexual sin–it is your struggle against jealousy, gluttony, pride, idolatry, or whatever else. Be assured of this: God accepts us for who we are, and where we are. He looks past all our sins, puts them as far away from us as the east is from the west.
Repent and trust in Him. “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). His burden is easy and His yoke is light. He is understanding when we fall and He does not leave us where we are. Today you can begin enjoying the goodness of God, something that we will increasingly enjoy and experience every day for eternity. Leave your past sins and follow after Christ. To Him be the glory. Amen.