of Bodies and Temples (or "Sex and Religion")
When the Apostle Paul addressed the sexual promiscuity in I Corinthians 6 12-20, he did so by playing the Christian’s liberty (“All things are lawful for me”) against their equally prominent responsibility (“not all things are profitable…I will not be mastered”). Our liberty in Christ to seek fulfillment of human desires must be adequately tempered by our recognition of the responsibility entailed by our possession in Christ. We are members of his body, Paul reminds in vs. 15. We are raised up in, our bodies are for him (vs.13, 14), and we are to view our bodies, indeed, our entire earthly existence as a sanctuary of God’s presence (vs. 19-20). Our life is where people without God are to most readily and customarily encounter Him. Since this is the case, we must make sure our liberty in Christ is governed by our responsibility to Christ and, by extension, to our neighbors.
Although Paul’s lesson regarding sex certainly has a broad, general application regarding fidelity, abstinence, and the way we view the act of sex, there also seems to be a specific point concerning sex and religion or, better put, sex AS religion.
Notice that Paul, after using the more general term “immorality” or “fornication” in verse 13, goes on to specifically speak about a man committing immorality with a prostitute. Seeing as the city of Corinth hosted the temple of Aphrodite and its large cohort of temple prostitutes, it is not a stretch to cast Paul’s admonition here in the light of that reality and pose the theory that it was the idea of “sex as a religious ceremony” that was at the forefront of his mind at this writing. The phrasing he uses of the Christian’s body being “members of Christ” and the horror of joining those members to a prostitute take on even more significance when the reader considers the not-uncommon Corinthian belief that to have sex with a temple prostitute was to be joined to Aphrodite herself. This made the union of man and prostitute not merely morally repugnant, but spiritually abhorrent as well. The man was not merely unlawfully fulfilling his sexual desire; he was doing so in a way that coupled a temple of God with a “temple” of a pagan deity. The implication would be that, by avatar, Christ was consorting with Aphrodite.
While Paul is certainly pushing back against the pagan view that essentially made sex a religion while also ripping from it any innate meaning or significance, he is also more or less agreeing with the idea that sex and religion are connected. Or at least he affirms the reality that a) your religion ought to inform your sexuality and sexual choices and b) sex is a very poor god.
Since Christians are sanctuaries of the presence of God, Paul contends, then every decision made concerning sex and the fulfillment of sexual desires either promotes holiness or does not. Sex, like any desire, is not moral or immoral in and of itself. Having sex does not make you moral or immoral and neither does abstinence. What matters is the “how, why, when, what, and who” of it all. The manner in which we go about relating to our sexual desires is what will either propel us towards holiness or keep us from it.
Christians must also be careful not to create and idol by enshrining their sexuality or their sexual choices as what defines them before God, before man, or even in their own hearts. When sexuality or sexual choices, good or bad, become defining characteristic of a Christian’s life they will be twisted either to license or to legalism as they attempt to find justification through their sexuality, a role it was never meant to fill. Rather, the Christian finds their justification in the Gospel and allows their sexuality to be sanctified by that same power. In short, the Christian will either find that even their sexuality is a means by which to worship God or they will instead worship their sexuality. The former is befitting of someone called to be a temple, while the latter will always lead to the embrace of Aphrodite and her servants.