Sex, Love, and Walking in the Spirit

Sex, Love, and Walking in the Spirit January 14, 2021

The Apostle Paul gives two significant remedies to help prevent sexual vice — that is, apart from encouraging Christ’s followers to glorify God with their bodies (on this point, see Part 3 of this sexual ethics series). Here are the two remedies:

  • “Walk in the Spirit,” which counters the works of the “flesh,” including porneia and other wrongful sexual activities (Galatians 5:16-26; Romans 8:5-6).
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which fulfills relational obligations (Gal. 5:14; 6:1-10; Rom. 13:9; cf. Matthew 7:12; 22:36-40).

Walking in the Spirit

In Jewish Scripture, earlier covenants involved walking before the Lord (Genesis 17:1-2; 24:40), walking with God (Genesis 5:22; 6:9), walking in the ways of the Lord, so as to keeping God’s commandments (Deut 8:6; Joshua 22:5; Jeremiah 15:6), and walking blamelessly, with integrity (1 King 8:36; Ps 84:12; Isaiah 57:2).[1]

For believers of the new covenant in Christ, the reality of God’s Spirit dwelling in and among them functions as replacement for following stipulations related to older covenants. As Gordon Fee affirms, “Since the Spirit is God’s own sufficiency for ‘obedience’ among the new covenant people of God, the primary new covenant imperative is ‘walk in the Spirit.’”[2] To walk or be led by the Spirit, then, involves transformation that includes change of former pre-converted behaviors so as to live in a new way that pleases God.

A primary way this takes place is for believers to be filled with the Spirit and operate in the “fruit of the Spirit”— practicing godly virtues, such as love, joy, peace, faith, and self-control. Being guided by the Spirit also seems to include praying in the Spirit (Gal. 5:21-22; Rom. 7:6-7, 8:12-16, 26-27; 2 Tim. 2:22; Col. 3:5-17; Eph. 4:22-24; 5:18-19; 6:11-18; cf. Jude 18-21), and exercising one’s spiritual gifts to edify others (1 Cor 12:4-31).

There is freedom from addictions through conversion, forgiveness, and the power of the Spirit. Although some of the Corinthian believers were formerly involved in sexual vice and other sins, Paul confirms that now they have been justified, cleansed, and sanctified from these activities by the name of Jesus and the working of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11). The apostle surely believed in deliverance via divine power, and he assumed that the community in Christ, fellow believers, would assist the struggling believer. Without love and the Christian community’s support, deliverance from vice becomes a difficult uphill battle.

Love Your Neighbor

Loving our neighbor as ourselves in a relationship with the opposite sex means we should treat that person with the same love and respect we wish to be treated. Since true love wants what is best for the other person, and authentic Christian faith involves sexual purity, we should want to encourage each other to sexual faithfulness if married and sexual abstinence if single.

It is unhelpful to argue the differences between our world and the New Testament’s as warrant for the legitimacy of non-marital sexual activities today. Paul’s arguments against porneia have little to do with the ancient world having or not having proper contraception, abortion options, the variable of “safe sex” and catching sexually transmitted disease, or societal problems related to children born out of wedlock.[3] The biblical answer on why porneia was wrong involves defrauding another person, essentially, not loving one’s neighbor as oneself (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; see Single Christians and Erotic Boundaries Part 3).

Committed Couples 

What if a Christian couple is engaged or have a committed relationship? Should they be having sex? Some people might reason that it is better for those in serious relationships to have sex— sort of like doing a “test drive before purchasing the car” in order to determine the couple’s sexual compatibility before marriage! This attitude arises sometimes from a misguided premise that genital size and sexual technique are the means to the goal of achieving personal sexual pleasure. Here the bodily-relational and social value of sex gets eclipsed by individualistic self-authentication.

If our purpose for premarital sex is to find out our sexual compatibility with someone, this may sound reasonable, but it leads to several problems:

First, apart from standard dangers such as unwanted pregnancies, the potential of getting sexually transmitted diseases, or guilty feelings related to committing sin, there is also the danger of experiencing severe emotional trauma should the relationship end. The more intimate a relationship, the more difficult the trauma.

Second, premarital sex provides no guarantee that the person who was so great in bed before marriage will remain so afterwards. A number of men and women can testify of their disappointment with their new spouse who lost much of his/her sexual consideration once they married.

Third, those who have premarital sexual relations tend to have their judgment clouded by the intense emotional sense of oneness caused by having sex with their partner. Consequently, they are often susceptible to ignoring red flags or incompatibilities in other areas of the relationship.

Finally, studies have shown that couples who live together before marriage have a higher divorce rate than those who do not.[4] One reason for this phenomenon might relate to the greater value placed on a couple who waits until marriage before having sex. Wendy Shalit suggests that if a person takes marriage serious enough to be concerned about it lasting forever, a person avoiding premarital sex is making a statement that there is a very significant thing to look forward to after marriage. And if it is worth that much value, perhaps it will last forever.[5]

All the negatives aside, there still remain legitimate reasons for finding out before marriage about one’s sexual compatibility with a partner. It seems inadvisable to go into a marriage sexually ignorant or with two completely different sets of sexual expectations, especially if the persons getting married have been married before. Having premarital sex with the second potential spouse is not the best answer, however.

If Christian sexual relations have a strong socially based dimension, the Christian community should be involved with instructing and mentoring engaged and serious couples. Sexual compatibility may be discovered by open and honest communication with each other and with a trusted counselor, therapist, or minister before engagement or marriage. As well, good sex after marriage usually involves more an attitude than physical limitations. It comes more from a mutually unselfish desire to please the other person, a couple’s commitment to work out sexual differences and preferences once married. It also comes from the on-going support of the couple’s spiritual community.

Our final instalment will focus on sex in marriage. Stay tuned.

[1] See Robert Banks, “‘Walking’ as a Metaphor of the Christian Life: The Origins of a Significant Pauline Usage,” in Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday July 28, 1985 (Winnona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1987), 303–13 (305).

[2] Gordon D. Fee, Galatians, Pentecostal Commentary (Blandford Forum, UK: Deo, 2007), 208.

[3] On ancient forms of birth control, see John M. Riddle, Contraception and Abortion from the ancient World to the Renaissance (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); see also Vern L Bullough, Sexual Variance in Society and History (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1976), 79, 99, 148-49.

[4] See statistic samplings in Judith K. Balswick and Jack O. Balswick Authentic Human Sexuality, 134-137.

[5] Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue (New York: Free Press, 1999).

Image 1: body couple female girl via Image 2: relationship love couple via Image 3: engagement couple via

About B. J. Oropeza
B. J. Oropeza is an author and professor whose many publications include biblical and Pauline theology, popular culture, and intertextuality. You can read more about the author here.

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