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Sermon Series

 

February 1, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction

During last October’s Congregational Meeting Ron Syme suggested that we spend a day together fasting as a congregation. The Elders considered the idea at our October meeting and believed the Lord was indeed calling us to a congregational fast, but not for 2014. So at our recent January Meeting we considered the idea of fasting again, and we agreed that the Lord is calling our entire church to seven Wednesdays of prayer and fasting across the upcoming weeks of Lent.

For those of us not familiar with the season of Lent: Lent is the forty days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. It has its origins in the ideas of spring and the lengthening of daylight hours. (Which is where Lent gets the name “Lent” from, lengthening.) And its forty day period is linked to an ancient church practice of Christians fasting across the forty hours leading up to Easter sunrise, celebrated as the hours the Lord Jesus spent in the land of the dead: From His death on the cross Friday afternoon through to His resurrection appearance Easter Sunday morning.

This year Lent begins Wednesday, February 18th – with what’s come to be called “Ash Wednesday”. So, we’ll begin our days of fasting that Wednesday, February 18th, with a soup supper here at the church beginning at 6:30pm. We’ll enjoy some soup together, and enjoy each other for a bit before going upstairs to the Sanctuary for a short Service of ashes and prayer, and then our fast will begin – just water – from after that simple soup-meal throughout the rest of Wednesday night, Thursday morning and afternoon, and we’ll all break the fast with our own dinners in our own homes Thursday evening. We’ll continue to have soup meals and prayer times at 6:30pm on the Wednesdays that follow: February 25th, March 4th, March 11th, March 18th, March 24th, and April 1st, breaking our last Wednesday, April 1st fast with our Maundy Thursday Church-Family Seder/Supper.

I’m going to preach and teach more about the actual practice of fasting next Sunday as some of us may be quite familiar with fasting and others of us might not be. So, I’ll take us step-by-step through the Scriptures about fasting and the practice of fasting next week. But this week I believe the Lord wants us to look at the whole upcoming season of Lent that’s now just a couple of weeks away, and how the Holy Spirit might be calling us to use the opportunity of this special church-season to develop more Christ-like qualities and character in us…

Isaiah 58:1-14 [NLTse]

58 “Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell My people Israel of their sins! 2 Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about Me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask Me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near Me. 3 We have fasted before You!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t You impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and You don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. 4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with Me. 5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?

6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. 7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. 9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ He will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! 10 Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. 12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.

13 “Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. 14 Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Sermon

The forty days of Lent have traditionally been a season of spiritual renewal among Christians. I don’t know what it is about us human beings, but it seems that we oftentimes need a little “extra help” to get focused and motivated to draw nearer to Christ. That “extra help” sometimes takes the form of a Christian retreat or conference, and we come back home so fired up we’re ready to start making some changes! God’s “extra help” is sometimes a moving Bible study or sermon or Worship service, or even reading a book or watching a show or movie that inspires us to begin putting into practice what the Lord wants to see going on in our lives.

Too often “extra help” comes in the form of hardship or disappointment or tragedy: When fear or discomfort or heartache “wakes us up” out of our hard hearts and old ways to consider the claims of Christianity, or to commit ourselves to deeper and greater surrender and service and praise. Of course, “extra help” can simply be a special day of the year – like New Year’s and its resolutions – or a special season in our lives – like when we’ve committed to accomplish a certain goal by this age or that birthday.

Lent’s been like that for many Christians over the years: A forty-day season of “extra help”, providing Jesus’ people with a focused time frame in which to begin growing more and more like Him in different areas of their lives.

I love this passage from the prophet Isaiah because our Father makes absolutely clear that it is when we serve others for Him that He then serves us. I know that many Christians have been tempted to “coast” in our faith because Jesus has promised to “be with us always”, so we can just enjoy that, right? And because the Holy Spirit continues to show us all the different ways that God’s with us, so we don’t have to do anything, right? And yet it was to believers, to those who trusted and followed Him that Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33) It was to God’s people that Jeremiah said, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:13) And it was to those early Christians that the author of Hebrews wrote: “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.” (11:6)

The Christian life is always “onward and upward”, as C.S. Lewis described it in The Last Battle. The Christian life is always about engaging the Lord in refreshed and deeper ways. (And when I say “deeper” I’m not talking about magical or mystical ways, I’m talking about us giving Him more and more of ourselves, surrendering more and more of ourselves, taking more and more thoughts captive for Him until every thought is captive to His glory! The Christian life is about always pursuing Christ, and keeping our first love for Him supple and new and vital! At the very same time, since the Scriptures have taught us, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, Whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20)

Which brings us back to our morning’s reading, because the prophet asks us, “Do you want to experience and enjoy God’s blessings in your life? Do you want to be someone who’s known for bearing Christ’s light and His healing and His righteousness? Do you want to know His protection, and be certain our Father will always answer your prayers? Then you must have nothing to do with crushing or ruining others; you must have nothing to do with accusing or slandering others. You must use your money to feed the hungry and to satisfy the needs of those who are weak in the world. Only then will His light shine from you in the darkness. Only then will those dark, confusing, and crushing times in your life become as bright as though it were ‘high noon’, having clear direction and a light and joyful heart. Then the Lord will always guide you, will always satisfy your needs, and will always give you whatever strength your circumstances demand. Then your life will be abundant, lush, and productive for the Lord, and your life will be a blessing and a refreshing to others. That which has been torn down in your life will be rebuilt (even from generations ago!). If you keep the Sabbath, doing only what God wants done, delighting in it, honoring it and having others honor it, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and then you will live above the troubles going on around you, and you’ll receive the fullness of all that God has promised. The yokes, the chains, the brokenness that has enslaved you and bound you and kept you down will then be untied and broken, and on account of God’s power at work in your life, that which is enslaving and binding and keeping others down around you will then be untied and broken, as well!

So this Lent, put into practice in your life at least one new way of loving God more. That might include reading the Bible daily, if you are not doing so now. Begin tithing, if you’re not doing so. Strengthen your daily prayer life, or begin praying with your roommate or spouse or family. Commit to never miss Worship, if you’re not as regular as you could be. Join a Bible study or Sunday School class, if you’re not already a part of such things.

But don’t just add these things to your already busy schedule. Put God first! If you simply add Him, likely it will only be a matter of time before He just doesn’t fit anymore. No, put Him and His things first, and look at what else in your life may need to go to make room for your Maker, your Savior, the One Who is life and has life for you still that you have not yet even tasted.

“How is God calling you to love Him more?” Whatever the answer, make plans for living into that as Lent draws near. Make a list. Make a plan for “seeking the Kingdom of God and living righteously above all else.” Be ready, come Ash Wednesday. If you don’t have any ideas, ask Him in prayer. And when some random idea pops into your head, bounce it off me, one of the elders, or a trusted Christian friend, and if it’s of the Lord, trust that the Holy Spirit has answered your prayer and then live into it!

Likewise this Lent, put into practice in your life at least one new way of loving those around you more. How is God calling you to love your friends, your family members, your co-workers, your neighbors more? Is He leading you to find a prayer-partner and establishing a regular, weekly prayer time together? Is He stirring you to start inviting different friends and neighbors to Worship? You’ve got a couple weeks to be asking our Father and to better understand, that is, if you don’t already know how He’s wanting you to be about this. Then commit to begin living these ways during Lent.

One of the great things about Lent is that because it begins on a Wednesday night, you start off with three days – Thursday, Friday, Saturday – to begin your new practices, and then you get a break, since Sundays are not a part of Lent. It’s a great time to begin new things and to let go of old things! Then, after those first three days and then the Sunday break, you then have six days with the new practice or habit or commitment, and then another Sunday break. Then six more days, and then another Sunday break. And on and on across Lent. By our Father’s grace, when Lent is over and Easter Sunday arrives, we’re all ready to continue the new practices He’s begun in us all the rest of our days!

Of course, our congregational fast will be a part of what we’ll all be doing across Lent. But it is your elders hope that this fast will work together with however else the Lord is calling us to “seek Him wholeheartedly”, and that the result will be loving God more and more, with Lent’s help, and loving our neighbor’s more and more, with Lent’s help.

(And let us know if you can provide a big pot of soup for our different dinners across the Wednesday night’s of Lent. When enough people help it gets to be a lot of delicious fun!)

Over the next couple of weeks I hope different ones of you will share your lenten plans for drawing nearer to Jesus and for showing those around us Jesus’ love…



January 25, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 [NLTse]
ELDER: 12 You say,
PASTOR: “I am allowed to do anything”—
ELDER: but not everything is good for you. And even though
PASTOR: “I am allowed to do anything,”
ELDER: I must not become a slave to anything. 13 You say,
PASTOR: “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.”
ELDER: (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by His power, just as He raised our Lord from the dead.
ELDER: 15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.
ELDER: 18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

Sermon
Last week we talked about sex, and we’re going to talk about sex this week, as well. I am going to be talking about sex respectfully and appropriately for each and every age-level here in this Sanctuary. I am saying this ahead of time in case you, parents, want your children to hear about sex from you before hearing about it from me and want to take them out for the sermon. However, I hope you will let them stay, because your children are already hearing about sex at school or from friends, and on TV, and in the music they listen to, and from the movies they watch, …

Just the other day a group of Christian teens, after hearing a speaker talk about the blessings of abstinence and sexual purity, were heard saying that they had never heard anyone at church talk about sex or sexual immorality or God’s desire that we save ourselves for our wives or husbands. (Many of you adults, I know, may be thinking, “Good! Church isn’t the place to be talking about sex anyway.”) Except then those teens went on to talk about all the different sexual experiences they’d already had at their young age… We need to talk about sex in church. Sex is God’s idea! And it is a beautiful thing to talk about when talked about respectfully and appropriately, and when talked about in the context of husband and wife enjoying God’s gift of their sexuality together within the relationship of life-long marriage.

So, moms and dads or guardians or chaperones, take your kids out if you feel you must, but I hope you will let your kids stay…

As I’ve already said, sex was God’s idea: His sacred wedding-gift to husbands and wives when we get married. When people express their sexuality outside of marriage they abuse and misuse the gift. Premarital sex, pornography, affairs, homosexual relations are all outside these boundaries. They all abuse the gift…

Last week we talked about some of the arguments people use to rationalize their sexual activity outside of marriage: Saying things like, “It’s not wrong if we love each other;” or saying, “Times have changed, and what was wrong in biblical times is no longer considered sin;” “We’re married in God’s eyes,” you can sometimes hear people say; and, “Even if I am doing these things, I can still have a good relationship with God because He understands.” We showed how these are all just lies so that we can get our way and do what we want, and that living in such ways denies the cross and keeps us in slavery to sin.

This week is “Part 2” of that message. So what’s still to be said?

People often want to know how far they can go before something is truly considered “sex”. Even Christians who know that we live by grace and by the spirit of the Law often want to argue what the letter of the Law allows us to do or not to do. Which, of course, is exactly the problem: Since Adam and Eve in the very beginning, men and women have treated God like He’s an enemy, keeping us from fun, keeping us from thrills, His commandments keeping us from the abundant life that we hear about in music, read about in books, and see on the TV and hit movies around us.
[Move the sticky to myself.] But the truth is that God’s the good guy. He’s been the hero – the only true hero – since the very beginning.

Ever heard the term “casual sex”? Ever heard the term “recreational sex”? You can hear these expressions all over in American culture and across many modern societies. But there’s no such thing. There is no such thing as casual sex because the depth of intimacy involved in sexual activity makes the participants a part of each other. Genesis says, and the Lord Jesus affirms it in the Gospels, “The two are united into one.” (Genesis 2:24 and Mark 10:8)

There is something unique about the sexual expression of human beings that binds us to our partners: Binds us physically, binds us emotionally and mentally, and binds us spiritually, as well. So much so that Paul can write, “Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, ‘The two are united into one’?” (vv. 15-16) Do you see all the connections? How sex “joins us” to the other, and how sex makes us “a part” of the other and makes us “one body” with the other. And for Christians, it affects Christ because it is a physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual joining, as well.

As you can imagine, or perhaps you’ve already asked this question yourself, “Then how far can Christians go? Is it okay if Christian couples only touch each other sexually or only kiss each other in sexual ways?” (I’m using respectful and appropriate language here, please understand what I’m referring to.)

Let me use the example of a sticky note.
If we take a sticky note and attach it to something, it will adhere. If we remove it, it will leave behind a small amount of residue; the longer it remains, the more residue is left behind. If we take that note and stick it to several places repeatedly, it will leave residue everywhere we stick it, and it will eventually lose its ability to adhere to anything. This is much like what happens to people when they engage in “casual” sex, or when someone has several boyfriends or girlfriends that they have been sexual with. Each time we leave a sexual relationship, we leave a part of ourselves behind and take something from the one we’ve been with. The longer the relationship has gone on, the more we leave behind and the more we lose of ourselves. As we go from partner to partner, we continue to lose a tiny bit of ourselves each time, and we continue to take a tiny bit of them each time, and eventually we may lose our ability to form a lasting sexual relationship at all. The sexual act is so strong and so intimate that we cannot enter into it casually, no matter how easy it might seem.

So when we ask, “How far can we go?” I think we’re asking the wrong question. “How far can we go?” is asking, “How much of me is it okay to give another?” “How much of me is it okay to leave behind?” And, “How much of another – and of how many others – is it okay for me to bring into my future marriage?”

And when we look at it that way – that is, when we look at it God’s way, the One Who thought up sex and gave it to us in the first place – we can see that the more we abstain-from before marriage, the more we will have to share exclusively with our husband or our wife when – by God’s grace – we finally get married. And the more special and unique our relationship in that marriage can become.

My friends, keep it to holding hands; keep it to hugging; keep it to modest kissing before marriage. Complete abstinence is God’s only policy when it comes to sex before marriage. He’s our hero. He’s the good guy. And His ways and commandments are good.

So many married couples have so many troubles that are all because they stepped over this precious boundary that God has set around sex. It may seem difficult while you are unmarried. But once you are married you will be happy that you did.

Now, for those who have crossed over that line, for those who have already misused God’s beautiful gift of sex, don’t despair. Yes, there will be consequences for your actions. Perhaps there already have been. Sin has consequences that we need to be willing to accept and live with, even as God’s children. But there is no sin beyond the reach of the cross of Christ. No Christian needs to live under the condemnation and judgment of wicked things we’ve done or sinful acts we regret. “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness!” (1 John 1:9)

You may have noticed that in the paragraphs just before our morning’s reading Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that,” Paul wrote to them. “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (6:9-11)
When we confess our sins, Jesus Christ is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all wickedness! Sin is gone. A new creation has come!

Even so, the Lord has much more for you and for me than even the majesty and glory of His forgiveness. God restores! The prophet Joel writes, “The Lord says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts… Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, Who does these miracles for you.  Never again will My people be disgraced. Then you will know that I am among My people Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other…

“‘Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out My Spirit even on servants—men and women alike… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (2:25-32)
?
Sex outside of life-long marriage between a man and a woman is a locust that eats away at our sense of self, self-esteem, our trust and faith, and our ability to bind ourselves to another as we were created to do. But our hero – our Father – restores! And He renews us, He replenishes us, the Holy Spirit replaces what’s been lost of our souls as we walk with Jesus each day.



January 18, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 [NLTse]

ELDER: 12 You say,

PASTOR: “I am allowed to do anything”—

ELDER: but not everything is good for you. And even though

PASTOR: “I am allowed to do anything,”

ELDER: I must not become a slave to anything. 13 You say,

PASTOR: “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.”

ELDER: (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. 14 And God will raise us from the dead by His power, just as He raised our Lord from the dead.

ELDER: 15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

ELDER: 18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

Sermon

Once upon a time there was a small rural community, so small, in fact, that the only church in town was a little Presbyterian church whose pastor also had to double-up as the local barber to make ends meet.

There was a man in that small community who had invested wisely and was enjoying his newfound comfort. The man got out of bed one day to go through his daily routine, looked into the mirror as he was about to shave and decided, “I make enough money now. I don’t have to shave myself. I’ll go down to the barber and let him shave me from now on.” So he did.

The man walked into the barber shop and found that the preacher/barber was out calling on some shut-ins. However, the pastor’s wife, a pleasant woman named Grace, was there and told the man, “I usually do the shaves anyway. Sit down and I’ll take care of you.” So she shaved him. When he asked, “How much do I owe you?” she replied, “$25.”

Now, the man thought that was somewhat expensive and he got thinking that he might only be able to get a shave every other day. But, he gave Grace the $25 and went on his way.

The next day, he woke up and found his face to be just as smooth as the day before. “No need for a shave today,” he thought, rather pleased, and began feeling better about such a very expensive shave. The next day he awoke once again to find his face just as smooth as the day before. “Wow!” he thought. “That’s amazing,” as he normally would need to shave daily to keep his clean-shaven business look.

Day 3 he woke up and his face was still as smooth as the minute after the pastor’s wife had finished. Now, somewhat perplexed, the man went down to the barber shop to find out what was going on. This particular day the pastor was in and the man asked him why his face was as smooth as it was the first day it was shaven. The kind old pastor gently replied, “Friend, you were shaved by Grace. And once shaved, always shaved…”

The grace God has shown us in Jesus Christ is truly amazing. There is nothing His grace has not, does not, and will not save us from, forgive us of, and cleanse us from! So amazing is God’s grace that in the early years of the Church some teachers and preachers from Rome wrote to the apostle Paul asking him if it was okay for Christians to keep on sinning. It seemed to these leaders that Christians’ continuing to sin would put God’s forgiving-grace on display for more and more of the people around them to see and be attracted to.

Paul responded, writing, “Should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (6:1-2)

Likewise, the majesty and enormity of God’s grace led the Christians in Corinth (in our reading this morning) to write to Paul, “[We are] allowed to do anything!” Yes, Paul replied, but remember, “not everything is good for you.” “[We are] allowed to do anything!” they declared. But Paul warned them: Beware that your freedom doesn’t lead you back into slavery.

The letter of 1 Corinthians is filled with Paul rebuking and correcting the Corinthian Christians  for thinking themselves better than others in the church because of who had converted and baptized them, ? because they were suing their fellow Christians in court, ? because they had twisted the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and made it into a mockery, ? because they had spiritualized the resurrection of the dead, not believing that Jesus would bodily-return someday, ? and not knowing that believers would, when Jesus returned, be given new, resurrected bodies to enjoy the Lord with and to live with Him in forever…

But across this letter so filled with rebukes and corrections, Paul spoke most strongly about the Corinthians’ misunderstandings concerning sex.

Before I go on I want to let you parents know that I am going to be preaching about sex today. I am going to be talking about sex respectfully and appropriately for each and every age-level here in this Sanctuary. I want you to know this ahead of time in case you want your children to hear about sex from you before hearing about it from me. However, I hope you will let them stay, because your children are already hearing about sex at school, or from friends, and on TV, and in the music they listen to, and from the movies they watch, etc…

Just the other day a group of Christian teens, after hearing a speaker talk about the blessings of abstinence and sexual purity, were heard saying that they had never heard anyone at church talk with them about sexual immorality and God’s desire that we save ourselves before, and then they went on to talk about all the different experiences they’d already had at their young age.

So, take your kids out if you feel you must, but I hope you know you can trust me to be respectful and appropriate in all I’m about to say…

The culture we live in today is a lot like the culture in which the Corinthian Christians lived to whom Paul was writing. In the verses just prior to our reading this morning Paul mentions the greed of Corinth, the casual sex and affairs being had in the public eye, the variety of faiths being practiced all around them, legalized prostitution, the drinking and drugging and partying going on, the acceptance of homosexuality, and the pervasiveness of dishonesty and abusive relationships. It’s like reading one of our newspapers!

And Paul writes, “I know you’ve heard that on account of God’s grace that we Christians can do anything we like. But,” he says, “remember, not everything is good for you. Remember, sometimes the things we give ourselves to take us and keep us and lock us up.” And as he wrote to those in Galatia, “Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure you stay free… Don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:1, 13) Of course, Paul focuses on sexual immorality as the chief among such snares.

In the New Testament, the word most often translated “sexual immorality” is porneia. (It’s where we get the word “pornography” from.) Porneia is also sometimes translated “fornication”, “unchastity”, or just “immorality” in general. It speaks of any type of sexual expression outside the boundaries of marriage between one man and one woman for life.

As we’ve just read, 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” Our bodies, as Christians, are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” Paul goes on to say. (vv. 19-20) Many of the practices of the other faiths being lived out around the Corinthians often involved perverse and immoral sexual acts taking place during their worship services. And Paul is telling us that when we Christians use our physical bodies for immoral purposes, we are imitating these other faiths and we are polluting our bodies – God’s holy temple – with behaviors He calls “detestable”!

Sex is God’s idea. And the Bible makes clear that sex was created to be enjoyed between one man and one woman who are in a covenant-marriage until one of them dies. Human sexuality is God’s sacred wedding-gift to humanity. Any expression of it outside of God’s boundaries abuses and misuses the gift. Premarital sex, pornography, affairs, homosexual relations are all outside these boundaries; all abuse the gift…

Even so, as I’m sure you could in Corinth, you can hear all sorts of arguments, excuses, and rationalizations across our society against abstinence, chastity, sexual-purity, and life-long marital faithfulness. One of the most prevalent, I think, is: It’s not wrong if we love each other.

Which sounds nice, except the Lord makes no distinction in His Word between “loving” and “unloving” sexual relations. The only distinction He makes is between married and unmarried people. Sex within marriage is a part of the blessing God has given husbands and wives (Genesis 1:28), while sex outside of marriage is always spoken of negatively and is always committed outside His blessing and favor.

You can also hear some people claim that, Times have changed, and what was wrong in biblical times is no longer considered sin. And yet most of the passages condemning the different forms of sexual immorality also include such evils as greed, stealing, drunkenness, cheating, etc… We don’t have any problem understanding these other things as still being sin. No. And sexual immorality is still sin, too.

Have you ever heard someone tell you, We’re married in God’s eyes? What they are saying is that the God Who created and calls us to be proudly, publicly, and joyously married, has taken back that command so that they can do something that apart from it He Himself has always called “sin”. No, God established marriage to be one man and one woman publicly-declared to be united for life. (Mark 10:6-9) His eyes see immorality for what it is, regardless of how cleverly we might try to “redefine” it.

Of course, you can hear all manner of Christians who are living in these ways say, I can still have a good relationship with God because He understands. But the Bible shows us that we only fool ourselves when we think that we can stubbornly choose sin and God doesn’t care. In his first letter John writes, “We can be sure that we know Him if we obey His commandments. If someone claims, ‘I know God,’ but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.” (2:3-4)

As Christians, we are to live a purified life because we have been made holy through the exchange of our sin for the righteousness of Christ on the cross; we have been made completely new creations in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) Our old natures, with all their impurities – sexual and otherwise – have died and now the lives we live we live by faith in Jesus Christ Who died for us! (Galatians 2:20) To practice any form of sexual immorality is to deny all that, and is to keep on living like our old selves and as slaves to sin. And yes, “we are allowed to do anything,” but not if anything leads us into becoming slaves, not ever again. It is through abstinence, chastity, sexual-purity, and life-long marital faithfulness that we honor God with our bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)

God’s rules, along with His acts of discipline, demonstrate His love for us. Following what He says can only help us during our time on earth. By maintaining sexual purity before marriage we avoid emotional entanglements that can negatively affect our future relationships and marriage. And keeping ourselves from sexual immorality guards our hearts, and our minds, and our bodies so that we can experience the unreserved love for our mates that is also one of God’s sacred gifts to marriage: A love which is surpassed only by God’s immeasurable love for us!