“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” – 1 Cor. 6:19-20
Ever heard someone say, “It’s my body, I can do what I want with it”? This has become a popular comeback, even in Christian circles, to espouse the idea that a person’s body is their property, and no one can tell them what they should or shouldn’t do with it. Instead, they believe that it’s up to each person to determine what they think is permissible to do with their body.
In 1 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul launches into a discussion on the spiritual dimension of a person’s body. His admonition is that each believer’s body is “part of Christ’s body” (v. 15), and because a believer is part of Christ’s body, that actually signifies something concerning their own physical body. Paul asks, in essence, “Is it right to take ‘part of Christ’s body and make it part of a prostitute?’” Absolutely not, he says. The reason is that a believer’s body is “for the Lord, and not for sexual immorality.” “Sexual immorality” is translated from the Greek word porneia, and it refers to any sexual behavior that does not conform to the will of God. In verse 16, Paul uses a similar Greek word, pornē,in referring to a “prostitute,” who is any person engaging in sexual relations for money. According to Paul, prostitution is a sexual behavior that is contrary to the will of God.
One might readily concede that such sexual behavior is obviously not congruent with the will of God; few would argue that being “part of a prostitute” under any premise is an unacceptable act for a Christian. But why exactly is Paul saying that it is wrong to be “a part of a prostitute”? In verse 16, he immediately alludes to Genesis 2:24, which says,
“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (ESV)
Paul’s rebuttal is couched in the biblical view of sexuality established by God at the time of creation: sexual intercourse unifies the bodies of two people, i.e., they “become one flesh.” Because believers are members of Christ’s body, it is unthinkable, says Paul, that they should take a part of Christ and then unite it with pornē. Paul is asserting that Christ and pornēdon’t mix—they are incompatible.
When a person believes the gospel message, they are joined to the Lord, and they become “one spirit” with him (v. 17). Paul wants to know, “How then is it right to take the Lord (who you are now united to as a member of Christ’s body), and unite him with pornē? There is a mismatch in principle here. That is why Paul ardently exclaims, “Flee from sexual immorality!” (v. 18). He then makes clear the underlying premise: committing the sin of sexual immorality is sinning against one’s “own body.” But the irony is that a believer’s body is not ultimately their own body any longer. True, it is their body physically, but it is not their body spiritually. Therefore, while Paul can claim that sexual immorality is a sin against a believer’s own body, he continues to explain that this is because their body is not entirely theirs anymore.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
Being united with Christ as a part of his body has forever changed the constitution and identity of a believer’s body. Their body is now repurposed as “a temple of the holy spirit.” That is why Paul gives the powerful declaration, “YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN.” Why is that, you might wonder? Paul ties the reality of being “owned” by Christ directly to redemption and the cross. On the cross, Jesus paid the ransom for the sin of the whole world, and purchased humanity back from the power of death. Thus, each person who believes in him is united with him spiritually and becomes “part of his body.” On account of this, Paul’s exhorts believers to “glorify God in your body” (v. 20). In other words, we must be careful what we do with our bodies.
Now, we might honestly never consider being “part of a prostitute” as a behavior we would ever engage in, but sometimes we may be tempted to hook up with the pretty girl next door, the guy at the gym, or the person we are currently dancing with at the party.
Being part of pornēis not just giving into “pay-for-sex” pleasures; the broader category of porneia(“sexual immorality”) extends to all sexual behaviors that deviate from God’s purpose and intention in human sexuality. Paul’s solution to sexual passion of any kind was marriage (1 Cor. 7:9). If one could not control their sexual urges, Paul says they should get married, because marriage is the God-ordained outlet for enjoying the pleasure of sexual intercourse. But this idea has become contested by some Christians who advocate for the permissibility of sex outside of marriage between two people who love each other and are in a committed relationship (at the time). However, this attempt to sidestep Paul’s instructions only promulgates the idea that we can decide what nuance we would like to give to God’s design and purpose in sexuality; that way, we can find a loophole to get what we want and still feel like we are submitting to God’s will. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.”
Our culture has downplayed the sacredness of our bodies. You might hear people protest, “It’s just sex…it’s not like we are going to get married or anything. Quit being so uptight about it.” The reason the Christian must not buy into this propaganda is because it’s not JUST sex. It is so much more than that. Even if the other person is a Christian too, sexuality is a sacred act that God does not take lightly. So then, why should we?
Remember, porneiais any sexual conduct that does not conform to the will of God, and God is expressly clear that there is a proper way to enjoy sex as He meant for it to be enjoyed. His purpose for sex is to be the intimate union between a man and woman who have committed themselves to each other in the covenant of marriage. This formula is hardcoded into the design of creation. That is why Paul brings up the principle of “one flesh” in response to the inconceivability of a person being part of Christ and also part of pornē.
In talking about this issue, C. S. Lewis said,
“The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.”
Previously in verse 13 Paul made the point, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” So, if our bodies are intended to be “for the Lord” as temples of His holy spirit, do we think that how we view our sexuality is independent from the Lord, as though the Lord plays no part in what we do with our bodies?
Our bodies are meant to be used to “glorify God,” to worship Him in humble obedience. Having sex in ways that does not agree with God’s intended purpose in creation defiles the temple of our body that is supposed to be dedicated to Him. I love this quote from Archbishop William Temple:
“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”
Worship is acknowledging that “we are not our own.” Our body, mind, and spirit are all designed to honor God and worship Him in every act we choose to do. We must realize that when we belong to Christ, we no longer belong to ourselves. And therefore, we are no longer the sole arbiter for what is acceptable behavior, because everything we do affects our relationship with the Lord. What we do with our physical bodies is what we do to Christ’s spiritual body; the two are inextricably linked together.
How could we claim that we have a right to do what we want with our bodies if we have chosen to give them to the Lord as a holy temple? Can we tell Christ that we choose him and that we commit our entire lives to him, but then deny him the right to tell us what is the proper use of our bodies? How can we turn over ownership of our bodies to Christ, and then deny the effect our actions have toward him? If we are Christ’s, then we are no longer our own master. We have chosen to be the servant of another master. And what servant can say to their master, “I will not do as you ask?”
C. S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
Thus, if we are truly not our own, our bodies belong to the Lord. How then could we not say, “Thy will be done”?
G. K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, October 23, 1909.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity(New York: Harper Collins, 2015), 105.
C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce(New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 75.