What’s the Big Deal with Sexual Sin

by Robert Jacobs

“What’s the big deal with sexual sin,” one of my family members asked me as I sipped on my ice tea one evening. “All sin is sin and separates us from God, so why do people make such a commotion about sexual sin specifically.”

Although you may not get asked this question in the middle of a busy family gathering, I am willing to bet that you have indeed pondered this very subject. What is the big deal with sexual sin? Is it the same as all other sins?

The biblical answer to this question is both yes and no. From an eternal perspective, sexual sin and any other kind of sin are equal in their ability to separate us from God. This is why when Paul says in Romans 3 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” he does not specify degrees to which one falls short (Romans 3:23). On the contrary, the literal translation of the word “sinned” is to “fail of one’s purpose” or to “go wrong.”[1] In this way, all sin causes us to fail in the purpose set out for us at the creation of Man: to glorify and worship God.

However, Paul also teaches that sexual sin is unique in that we are to “Flee from sexual immorality,” for “every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Clearly, Paul does not see “sexual immorality” as the same as all other sins. So, what’s the difference and why does it matter?

While all sin separates us from God—necessitating the sacrifice of Christ to bridge the gap between our sinful selves and a holy God—each act of sin carries with it different temporal consequences, with the severity of said consequences often compounding as we habitually engage in a particular sin. As many of the participants who have come through Living Hope can attest, there are large and often devastating consequences to be paid for sexual sin. In fact, I have found that many people will often not turn from their sin until they feel the sting of consequence. This is in spite of the fact that Christ continually warns them about the danger of their sin.

So, if sexual sin is so consequential, how do we “flee” from it as Paul suggests? Later in the same letter, Paul describes the need for self-discipline through a dietary metaphor. “Every athlete,” Paul asserts, “exercises self-control in all things” so that they can win a prize (1 Corinthians 9:25). The hyphenated word “self-control” here, while absolutely indicating self-discipline in a general sense—can also refer to what one ingests.[2] Taken in light of his earlier concept of sexual sin being internally consequential, this passage can instruct us in how to combat sexual sin.

If we seek to receive the prize at the end of the struggle, just as the athlete does at the end of the race, then we must carefully guard what we take into ourselves. What do you allow into your mind and heart through your eyes and ears? Is it fuel to run the race of life in such a way as to obtain the “imperishable” prize, or do you seek to fulfill an immediate desire? Do you train your mind like athletes train their body—only ingesting that which will help you obtain your goal—or do you work against yourself, throwing obstacles in your way as you seek Christ?

Be ever meticulous about what you ingest. In doing so, you fuel your body to “[strain] forward to what lies ahead [and] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

[1] Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), s.v. ἁμαρτάνω.
[2] Several early Greek texts use this word to refer to food consumption, including those by Vettus Valens Astrologus. See Liddell and Scott, s.v. ἐγκρατεύομαι.