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What Does Sexual Immorality Really Mean and How Does the Bible Define It? 

What Does Sexual Immorality Really Mean and How Does the Bible Define It? 

Sexual immorality is a road I know too well, sadly. I was addicted to pornography and masturbation by high school. And at the age of twenty-five, I had a moral failure in ministry when I had sex with my boyfriend. There were some dark nights of the soul wrapped up in those struggles. By the grace of God, I’m now able to proclaim freedom from sexual addiction in my life and I can testify that I have been redeemed and restored from the mistakes I have made. As a result of being well acquainted with sexual immorality, I can tell you with certainty that it always has a cost.

Brokenness. Shame. Loneliness. Hurt relationships. Lost trust. Open wounds without proper healing. And that’s not a complete list. Sin hurts, and sexual immorality is no exception. It’s an ugly thing that sucks the life out of its victims and devastates the hearts of those they love. Please, run.

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What Is Sexual Immorality?

There are many verses in the Bible regarding sexual immorality but perhaps the best place to start is with the Creation story in Genesis. In chapters 1 and 2 we find reasoning as to why God created for Adam the woman Eve—to be a compatible partner. He continues to describe that the two should join in marriage and become one flesh. With that said, an emphasis is placed on the important role their relationship plays in procreation. In its purest form, sexual immorality would be any sexual act outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.

1 Corinthians 6 provides us with further insight regarding the dangers of sexual immorality and what it might entail. Verses 9-10 shares, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality...will inherit the kingdom of God.“ From this, we see right away that adultery and homosexuality would align with sexual immorality.

The root word for immorality in this passage is porneia, meaning illicit sexual intercourse, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, intercourse with animals or close relatives, or sex with a divorced person. It also stems from porneuo, which has a similar meaning but also is defined as prostitution and lust.

Those are a lot of words, yes. And attaching the word lust to sexual immorality creates room for a longer list including porn, pedophilia, and masturbation (in most cases). But if we return to the simplest context of God’s desire for sex in Genesis, we find that again, sexual immorality would entail any sexual activity outside of a husband and wife enjoying each other with mutual respect for God and each other.

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sexual immorality meaning in the bible

What Does the Bible Say about It?

God has a lot to say about sexual immorality and I’ve only brushed the tip of the iceberg on the topic. In 1 Corinthians 6 alone we find valuable instruction concerning these sins. We’re reminded that although all things are permissible, not all things are beneficial. Meaning, you have free will but that, and the grace of God, shouldn’t be an endorsement to engage with whatever sensuality you’d like. Sexual immorality is certainly not beneficial.

Paul continues in verse 18 by declaring that while all other sins are outside the body, sexual immorality is an act that sins against the body. A body that is a temple to the Holy Spirit. This is a vital warning to the dangers of sexual sin and its effects not just on you physically and emotionally, but spiritually. What do we do with this knowledge we have regarding the dangers of sexual immorality? We take to the words found in verse 18, “flee.” Run in the opposite direction of the temptation and scenarios that lead to such sin. It’s not worth it, friend.

In my many years of ministry, I’ve heard the question asked, “how far can I go before that’s technically a sin?” Please, never ask that question—it’s a dangerous mindset that plays with sin. I’ve always asked, and encouraged others to ask, what’s the boundary and how far can I stay from it? You see, a true believer in Christ who is healthy and flourishing will not flirt with temptation. They will not give Satan that foothold. In fact, they will stay far from the path of destruction. If you find yourself wondering how close you can get, that right there is a heart check that you’re not in a healthy place. But I’ll talk more about that in a moment.

We do have hope, however. A hope that there is always a way out of temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

God reminds us that in every temptation, there is a way out. This passage is used by Paul to encourage Christians to keep their focus on God, so they don’t stumble and fall. But even if they do, God is gracious enough to provide a way out, which will always involve turning back to Him. Grace is available to us, even on the other side of sin. When we reflect true repentance, mercy is extended. But again, that goes back to 1 Corinthians 6:12 that just because grace is available to you isn’t an endorsement to do what you’d like.

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Warning Signs of Sexual Immorality

What are those warning signs to keep an eye out for? First, remember that when you start asking the question of how close you can get, that’s a warning sign. It’s temptation knocking at the door and wanting to plant a seed. Trying to figure out how to justify an act you know isn't right, means you're already facing temptation.

Another warning sign is when you find yourself making compromises. A car ride with a married co-worker here. A little flirting there. Or watching questionable shows or movies with nudity. Perhaps it’s pushing the boundaries with your boyfriend or girlfriend, taking it a little further each time. Small compromises lead to big messes.

Another warning sign is that inner morality light that goes off when you’re flirting with temptation. If God is in you, and indeed He is if you’re a believer, then the Holy Spirit will set off an alarm when you start going in the direction of sin. It’s up to you to recalibrate your trajectory when you detect the warning signal. 

This is hard because those temptations and the flirting with the boundary line can send a wave of excitement. Additionally, that’s when the enemy starts whispering lies that this is good for you or you should follow your heart if you want happiness. The closer you get to the boundary the harder it is to pull back. Which is why it’s better to stay as far from the temptation as possible in the first palace.

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How Can Christians Avoid Sexual Immorality?

First, if you know there are certain temptations or areas you might struggle with, identify the weaknesses so that you can take the next step—establish boundaries. Implementing guardrails in your life is incredibly important to a flourishing life.

Don’t ride alone in the car or attend after-work happy hours with that coworker. Refuse to be alone in a space with the person you are dating. Get the app on your phone and computer that blocks porn and nudity. Do what you need to do, even if it’s hard or inconvenient, to put a guardrail between you and temptation.

Second, hold the boundary. You’d think this would be assumed but humans are very good at blurring the lines when they want to. I’ve done it. It was by blurring the lines and not holding the boundaries my boyfriend and I had established that led to sex outside of marriage.

Sexual sin is a serious and damaging matter. As someone who has been there and back, it’s not worth it. Don’t sin against yourself in an attempt to fulfill a momentary desire. God will always give you a way out, but you must choose to take it.

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Brittany Rust has a passion to see people impacted by the power of God’s Word and His abundant grace through writing and speaking. She is the founder of Truth and Grace Ministries, Truth x Grace Women, and is the author of five books. Brittany lives with her husband, Ryan, and son, Roman, in Castle Rock, Colorado. Learn more at www.brittanyrust.com