From every spot in the city of Corinth, the citizens could see the
Acrocorinth, an outcropping of rock the summit of which was
dominated by a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love,
beauty, and fertility. The 1,000 priestesses that served this
temple were little more than sacred prostitutes that honored
immorality as worship. Corinthians grew up and lived in the shadow
of this shrine to sexuality. It is no wonder that when Corinthians
became Christians they struggled with issues of sexual immorality.
Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul dealt with this Corinthian
baggage. Keep in mind that as the Corinthians read this letter for
the first time, they could look out the nearest window and see the
temple of “love.” It seems that some tried to argue that just
as food was necessary for the stomach, sex was necessary for the
body. Food was made for the stomach and the stomach for food. In
just such a way, the body was made for sex and sex for the body.
But Paul explained this is just not true. The body is for the
Lord. Therefore we must glorify the Lord with our body and in our
We may not be able to look out our windows and see a shrine
to immorality wherever we go. However, like Corinth, we are
growing up and living in the shadow of sexual immorality. It is in
the movies, on television, in songs. Commercials are filled with
it. Billboards display it. Magazines promote it. And everywhere we
go, especially at this time of year, folks are dressing for it. It
is no surprise then that when modern folks become Christians, they
struggle with issues of sexual immorality. The problem for us
today is Christians very rarely recognize the spectrum of sexual
sin. They merely think of fornication or adultery and believe as
long as they have avoided that they are good with God. Yet, notice
the works of the flesh in Galatians
5:19ff. The first three deal with sexuality. They are
sexual immorality, uncleanness, and sensuality. We find the same
triumvirate in II
Corinthians 12:21. We must not only guard against sexual
immorality, but also the attitude of mind and conduct of body that
lead to it beginning with the sensuality (lasciviousness and
licentiousness in other translations).
As we consider this, I am well aware that the Scripture
never gives us specific lines for where sensuality begins or
exactly what actions are deemed sensuality. Rather, God left us to
examine our own actions, attitudes, and motives. However, we need
to give some clear thought to this issue to make sure we are
glorifying God with our body. Therefore, I don’t plan to draw
any lines for you. I don’t plan to provide a list of taboo
actions (though I’m sure I’ll mention some I believe cross the
line). I simply want to share what the Bible reveals and offer
some applications for your thought as you strive to glorify God
with your body.
The spectrum of sexual sin
As we noted earlier, both Galatians
5:19 and II Corinthians 12:21 provide a spectrum of
sexual sin. It begins with sensuality, progresses through
uncleanness, and ends in sexual immorality. No doubt, these terms
all overlap. They do not have clear-cut separate definitions.
However, I think they clearly represent a spectrum of sexual sin
from the moment it begins in our hearts and minds, progresses into
inappropriate behavior, and culminates in immorality.
Sexual immorality refers to any and all sexual intercourse
that is not between a husband and wife (the marriage bed is, of
This includes fornication, adultery, homosexuality, sodomy,
incest, and other forms of sexual activity.
Uncleanness is sometimes used to simply refer to anything
that is defiling. However, in the contexts of Galatians
5:19 and II Corinthians 12:21, it is most
definitely dealing with a specific issue of sexual uncleanness. Romans
1:24 demonstrates that uncleanness (in this passage
translated “impurity”) is the acting out of the lusts of the
heart and flesh. It is when the sexual thoughts of the mind become
actions in our lives. In our contexts, it comes between sensuality
and sexual immorality. It refers to sexual activity outside of
marriage that falls short of actual sexual intercourse. This would
include things like pornography, petting, heavy making out,
voyeurism, exhibitionism, and other similar forms of sexual
Sensuality, the term I really want us to notice in this
lesson, is all about fleshly lusts. Sensuality is about being
driven by our senses of the flesh. Some translations use words
like lasciviousness or licentiousness. These refer to whatever
expresses or arouses sexuality. This is where it all begins. It
refers to an attitude that has little to no shame. The conscience
of the sensual is piqued not pricked by the expression of
sexuality outside of marriage. It is excited by and enjoys it.
Sensuality refers to conduct that promotes sexuality and sexual
thought. Whether a manner of walk that expresses sexuality or a
manner of dress that heightens and attracts attention to sexuality
(whether with tightness or through revealing too much flesh). It
refers to conduct that occurs when aroused. It refers to speech
that is sexually driven with hidden meanings and double entendres.
Sadly, this is the state of our society almost constantly. If we
are not careful, we will find ourselves giving in to this general
mode of conduct, dress, and speech.
If we can nip our conduct in the bud at the issue of
sensuality, then uncleanness and immorality will not be a problem.
We must flee sensuality, not become calloused to it.
explains our situation. The Gentiles, that is the worldly and
non-Christian, are filled with sinful excess. They are surprised
when we will not join them. They will malign us and say we
aren’t normal. They will make fun of us as if we don’t behave
naturally. They will mock and ridicule us as extremists who
don’t know how to have fun. But Peter is clear, the time is past
for us to behave as they do. We spent enough of our time when we
weren’t Christians doing those things. It is time for us to put
them away. Notice what tops the list of sins we need to put
away—sensuality, lasciviousness, licentiousness. Instead of
living for sensuality, we need to live for the will of God. If we
are dressing, acting, speaking just like the world, something is
wrong. There should be a difference.
Too many Christians aren’t fleeing sensuality. Rather,
because of the world in which we live, like the Gentiles, they are
becoming hardened and desensitized to it. Ephesians
4:17-19 talks about the Gentiles. Because they are
alienated from God and their hearts are hardened, they are
calloused to sensuality. It is the norm. It doesn’t faze them.
It doesn’t impact them. Actually it does. They just don’t
realize it. They do not see how it is building a foundation of
immorality in their hearts and minds that will naturally spill out
into action. Some Christians keep wondering why they can’t seem
to stop their uncleanness and immorality. They have said again and
again they won’t ever do that, but they keep falling back into
it. The problem is they have become calloused to sensuality and
don’t realize what it is doing to them.
Sadly, I hear Christians today respond to sermons about men
and women swimming together in their skimpy outfits, sermons about
dancing as it occurs in most clubs and school dances, sermons
about modest apparel, sermons about what they watch on television
and the movies by saying, “There is so much worse out there,
that just doesn’t affect me.” I realize we are all different.
Therefore, different things arouse each of us. Therefore, my list
of things I have to avoid doesn’t have to be your list. However,
I want you to notice from this concept of callousness that
claiming something doesn’t affect you is not always a good
thing. It may be that it doesn’t seem to affect you anymore
because you’re involved in so much more that you have become
calloused. Sensuality is like drinking intoxicating drinks. I’ve
heard too many Christians claim that one or two drinks won’t
affect them. How do they know? Because they’ve drunk so much
more than that they’ve developed a tolerance. One drink
doesn’t give them the buzz it used to. Brothers and sisters,
that is not a good thing. It isn’t good with intoxicants and it
isn’t good when it comes to sensuality. We must flee sensuality,
not become calloused to it.
The means and methods of sensuality.
How do men and women display sensuality? On the one hand,
I’d like to think that we can just say, “Don’t be
sensual,” and everyone gets it. Sadly, as calloused to
sensuality as our society is, we need to get a little more
specific. The Bible actually gets specific about sensual things.
It talks about what arouses men and women in a physical way. I
want to share with you not what I think, but what the Bible
actually demonstrates. Before I do, I want to give some caveats.
The Bible does not say that beauty is a sin.
The Bible does not say to be righteous you have to try to
make yourself ugly.
The things I’m about to share with you have a place in
our lives, but they are between husbands and wives.
What I’m about to share with you is not intended to cause
any of us, whether men or women, to think we have to wear a shawl
from head to foot in order to avoid being sensual. Rather, I just
want us to be aware of how our bodies and the way we present them
can provoke sensuality. We need to take care and be rigorously
honest about the reasons for how we dress, how we talk, how we
make ourselves up.
We find this look at sensuality in Song
of Solomon. We see both issues of how a man can be viewed
sensually and a woman. In this book, it is actually talking about
the relationship between a husband and wife. Therefore, in this
book it is glorified. That is the proper place for sexual
expression, arousal, and activity. However, sadly, too many today
take these things which are glorified in marriage and bring them
out for all the world to see. Examine with me the means by which
this married couple heighten their lawful sensuality and sexual
expression to note where we need to take care outside of marriage.
of Solomon 5:10-16. We generally think of the physical
issues of sensuality being what the women must be concerned about.
However, this story demonstrates that men must be careful in the
physical realm as well. We have to ask about our motives in the
way we present our bodies.
of Solomon 5:10. He is radiant and ruddy. Ruddy refers to
a red color. It demonstrates the issue of a deep tanning. No,
there is nothing wrong with having a tan. But why? What is your
goal? Is it to attract sexual attention?
of Solomon 5:11. Why do those guys on the covers of
romance novels always have that long, thick, full head of hair,
gently lifted by some unseen breeze? Interestingly, I was watching
a television show on the Internet this week and was repeatedly
subjected to a commercial for a shampoo. The tag line was use this
shampoo and get girl-approved hair. One of the statements was,
“Guys, if you want to hook up you have to fix your hair.” For
our older generation, hooking up doesn’t just mean having a
girlfriend, it means having sex.
of Solomon 5:12. No, you don’t have to gouge out your
eyes to keep from being sensual. However, we need to realize that
we can convey messages with our eyes. A glance at the right
moment. A certain facial expression can say it all.
of Solomon 5:13. Women swoon over chiseled features.
of Solomon 5:13, 16. The mouth can be very sensual both in
how it looks and what comes out of it.
Arms, body, legs—Song
of Solomon 5:14-15. I can’t help but think of those who
spend hours on top of hours working out in the gym to give that
amazing physique. No, it is not wrong to work out. But make sure
if you are that your goal is health, not hoping others will lust
of Solomon 4:1-11; 6:5-7:9.
of Solomon 4:5; 7:3, 7. I know we are not surprised to
find this on the list. I put it first because usually it is the
only thing we think about in the context of modesty and
sensuality. With today’s dress codes, we need to think about it.
The style is form fitting. While the flesh may not be revealed,
the breasts are not concealed but accentuated. Certainly, cleavage
revealing outfits need to be rethought. However, this is not all.
of Solomon 4:1, 9; 6:5; 7:4. Just take a look at the
latest make-up commercials. The way you fix your eyes is certainly
presented as sexual in many of these. By the way, Proverbs
6:25 says the adulteress catches her prey with her
of Solomon 4:1; 6:5; 7:5. As for the men, the way a woman
does her hair can be sensual. Remember that when Peter talked
about modesty among women in I
Peter 3:3, he explained your adornment shouldn’t be
about the “braiding of hair.”
of Solomon 4:2; 6:6. I know this is shocking on this list.
Yet, again we need to take care about our purpose behind how we
of Solomon 4:3; 7:8-9. What does everyone remember about
Angelina Jolie? Her lips. Why do so many want the puffy, pouty,
botox-smoothed mouth and lips? Is it because they know it is
of Solomon 4:3; 6:7.
of Solomon 4:4; 7:4.
of Solomon 4:9. What are you accentuating with the jewelry
of Solomon 4:6, 11. Just watch the commercials about
perfume to learn what many of the manufacturers are promoting.
of Solomon 7:1. What is the motivation behind the latest
of Solomon 7:1. What is the purpose behind the skirt or
shorts that show your thighs when you sit down? Are you wearing
something you constantly have to pull down?
Navel and belly—Song
of Solomon 7:2. What is up with midriff revealing shirts
and hip hugger pants? What do you want men to notice?
of Solomon 7:7. This word is specifically an issue of
height. However, the idea I get from it is one of carriage. The
way you walk, the way you stand. How do you simply present
yourself? Is it provocatively? Sisters (not brothers), watch a
video of models walking the runway. Their strut and stance is all
about sexuality. Are you mimicking them?
5:3; 6:24. It is possible to be dressed in a completely
modest way but speak immodestly. Dropping double entendres, trying
to steer the conversation into sexual realms, pushing the envelope
of propriety in order to test the waters. In a marital counseling
session, a wife who had cheated on her husband once told me that
she could tell when she could seduce a man by the way she talked
to him and how he reacted. Are we testing the sexual waters or
creating sexual tension with our speech? Some women like to tease
and they use words to do it.
I know this list is pretty shocking. I want to reiterate
some points before I’m misunderstood. First, remember that in
the context of these passages (except Proverbs
5:3; 6:24) all of these things we just mentioned were
glorified. However, they were glorified in marriage. Each of these
great qualities are to be shared between husband and wife. Second,
I have not presented these things to say it is wrong for men to
work out or it is wrong for women to wear sandals and have
pedicures. Rather, I just want us to see that each of these
aspects of our bodies can be used sensually. We need to make sure
we are not presenting our bodies in a sensual fashion to the world
in general. We need to give thought to how we speak, how we dress,
how we stand, how we walk, how we look. We need to be rigorously
honest. Are we hoping to be noticed for our apparent strength, our
tanned skin, our shapely bodies? The issue is not just do we lust
after others but do we want others to lust after us? Some are
saying, “I would never commit fornication, but I feel good when
others notice me in that way.” That is the beginning of
immorality. It is on that spectrum and we need to flee it, not be
calloused to it.
Don’t pervert God’s grace into sensuality.
provides a warning. Some Christians will pervert the grace of God
into sensuality. In this context, I believe the term
“sensuality” is not limited to sexual sensuality but just the
lusts of the flesh whether it be with gluttony, covetousness,
drunkenness, or sexuality. Yet, our topic is included. Some use
God’s grace to justify their sensuality even in the sexual
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read as
Christian women have defended wearing bikinis while around men
other than their husbands because they can’t find a law
specifically stating that is wrong. What are they doing? They are
looking to Christianity as a system of grace and suggesting they
can dress however they want without thought or concern. Men just
shouldn’t lust. Besides, since it is all about grace and not
about pursuing personal holiness, why does it matter? I’ll do
what I want and get forgiveness later.
God’s grace is not given to us so that we will have no
concern for these matters. God’s grace is given to us so we may
be free to pursue holiness. Our bodies are for the Lord (I
Corinthians 6:13). Therefore, we need to glorify God with
our bodies (I
Corinthians 6:20). We do not need to exhibit our sexuality
or sexiness. God’s grace does not mean we may pursue our senses
as much as we want. God’s grace means we are forgiven from
having done so for so long. God’s grace means we can be granted
the strength to overcome the flesh and pursue the things of the
Spirit. Don’t pervert God’s grace into a defense of
How to overcome sensuality.
7:21-23 says sensuality begins in the heart. Therefore, if
we want to overcome sensuality, we have to get our heart right. We
have to start with our attitudes. I know some today want to
establish dress codes. If we force everyone to wear a certain
length of pants and dresses, then we’ll be overcoming
sensuality. That just isn’t true. Clothes themselves can express
sensuality. The issue is get the heart right. As I
Peter 3:3-4 demonstrates, we need to let our adornment be
the internal person. What needs to be demonstrated is not the
clothes, jewelry, hairstyle, but the inner person that displays a
gentle and quiet spirit. When we no longer have a heart that wants
to attract people to us, but rather wants to point people to God,
modesty and sensuality will be dealt with.
highlighted these works of the flesh. In contrast, we must pursue
the fruit of the Spirit as seen in Galatians
5:22-23. The first of this fruit is love. If we have
hearts that pursue love, sensuality won’t be a problem.
Sensuality is a selfish expression. It is all about trying to get
folks to be attracted to self. Sensuality is about folks thinking
we are great. Love is about lifting others up. It is about helping
them overcome the flesh. It is about giving to them and putting
them above us. If we pursue real love, then sensuality won’t be
a problem. I’ve heard someone say that lust kills love. Just so,
love will kill lust, if we will pursue love.
I know after that list of potentially sensual displays from
Song of Solomon, many are going to be wondering where is the line.
Here is the line. Get the heart right and the body will follow. In
fact, when the heart is right, you won’t be worried about the
lines because you won’t want to hover at the line. You’ll want
to let your body be for the Lord.
Corinthians 6:13 says our body is for the Lord. That
doesn’t just mean avoid fornication and adultery. That means
avoid the sensuality that leads to it. That means we must present
ourselves with a modesty and shamefacedness that will cause us to
stand out among the worldly. They will mock us. However, we will
be glorifying God. Some of them, as they see our Spirit-changed
behavior, will take note and want the peace, joy, and love that
come from glorifying God. Don’t ask yourself how long your
shorts have to be, ask yourself how you can glorify God with your
body. Avoid sensuality. It is a work of the flesh.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ