As it turns out, old-timey pastors and your great-aunt were wrong. Though the term appears in some translations of the Bible, we’ve actually been misclassifying it for generations. Fornication is simply another sin hiding under a false identity.
Here’s the definition of fornication according to the Oxford English Dictionary:
Sexual intercourse between people not married to each other.
To those who preach abstinence to adolescents, it is also known as “sex before marriage.”
I’m sure most of us, especially those who grew up in the church, have heard most of this before. Unfortunately, teaching that sex outside marriage is a sin just isn’t enough to deter Christians who are conforming to a culture that says sex outside of marriage is okay and even good for you.
Society tends to regard sex with increasing emotional disconnect. The concept of “no strings attached” is popular because it promises instant gratification and no consequences. There seems to be an unspoken understanding that for two single people sex outside of marriage is okay, or even for two people in a relationship who are not yet married.
This brings me to exposing fornication for what it really is: adultery.
Most of us have the conscience not to infringe on someone else’s relationship or to draw a couple apart for selfish purposes. Adding home-wrecker to our list of achievements doesn’t appeal to the majority of us, yet some of us are unperturbed by fornication.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Hebrews 13:4)
Statistically speaking, most of us will end up married at some point. Having sex before marriage is essentially taking something that is not rightfully yours, defiling the marriage bed. You not only defraud your partner and his or her future spouse, but you defraud yourself and your future spouse. Think about how hurt your spouse would be if they caught you with this other person when you were married. What makes it any different that you haven’t gotten married yet?
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
God didn’t instruct us to abstain from sexual immorality just to be a party pooper. He gives us these commands for our own benefit. Joshua Harris, the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, conveys in his book how physical intimacy and even emotional intimacy outside of marriage can form unhealthy bonds and promise commitment the nature of the relationship cannot deliver.
In the Bible we see betrothals treated more seriously than many marriages today. Though their marriage had not yet been consummated, the two that were betrothed were already considered married in many ways. To annul a betrothal required what is essentially a divorce.
When we think of fornication as adultery, the stakes are raised. You might think you’ve found “the one,” but relationships that progress too fast physically often don’t last, and couples who live together before marriage are more likely to be dissatisfied and divorce. In a disposable society, we value emotional detachment and limited ties that come with commitment and responsibility. However, even with “no strings attached” relationships and hookups, the consequences cannot be avoided.
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 10:6-9)
Sexual immorality is a sin against yourself. Sex is intended to represent the sacred covenant between a man and woman when they are married, making them one flesh. Monogamy is not obsolete; it is God’s design for us. People who have sex before marriage are less likely to be satisfied when they do get married, when compared to those who saved sex until they tied the knot. It also creates emotional ties that were intended to be shared only by a husband and wife. Consider this verse:
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. (Song of Solomon 8:4)
Even within the Song of Solomon – a book once considered too erotic for young Jewish males under thirteen to read – the writer errs on the side of caution in regards to romantic relationships.
You must have guessed by now that, being a Christian, I have to bring up the fact that this is also a sin against God. That much should be apparent, as all sin is a way by which our fallen nature rejects God. I’m not here to say that sexual immorality is the worst of all sins that could possibly be committed, because they are all essentially equal in His sight. To break one commandment is to break them all (James 2:10).
Fornication is not only adultery against a future (if hypothetical) spouse, but it is adultery against God, much like any other sin. If we examine the Old Testament, we will find numerous times when the nation of Israel is compared to an adulteress during periods of her history when the Israelites lived sinfully. By sinning you essentially place yourself in Satan’s territory, which is under his authority. God calls us out of bondage. For those who live under Christ as their master, there is freedom and willingness to serve, but a life of sin only drags us deeper into bondage.
I don’t write this to condemn anyone who has made similar mistakes. In the church there is a particular stigma that comes with sexual sin that is absent in other sins that are somehow more socially acceptable. Often this results in shame and condemnation, but consider the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus rescued from being stoned. In showing mercy and not condemnation, He instructed her to “sin no more” (John 8:11).
There is grace for those who want to repent and leave behind the weight of their sins. I can’t promise there won’t be consequences in this life for our actions, but God promises forgiveness to those who seek it, leaving their sin at the cross. No sin can be un-done, but Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross was enough to pay for all our sins combined; there is nothing you have done that is so awful it can’t be redeemed by His death. If you’re looking for a clean slate, devote your whole self – mind, body, and soul – to Him. Our salvation is not based on our good deeds, but on God’s power to declare us righteous.