Reaction on Pre-Marital Sex

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Christians talk a lot about premarital sex. And I think that's a mistake. I don't think it's a mistake because the issue is unimportant but because the grammar is skewed. The word "fornication" is almost gone from contemporary Christian speech. It sounds creepy and antiquated. Instead, we talk about "abstinence" and "premarital sex."

In the most recent issue of Touchstone magazine, I argue that the loss of the words "fornicate" and "fornication" implicitly cedes the moral imagination to the sexual revolutionaries because the words "fornication" and "premarital sex" aren't interchangeable.

Fornication isn't merely "premarital." Premarital is the language of timing, and with it we infer that this is simply the marital act misfired at the wrong time. But fornication is, both spiritually and typologically, a different sort of act from the marital act. That's why the consequences are so dire.

Fornication pictures a different reality than the mystery of Christ presented in the one-flesh union of covenantal marriage. It represents a Christ who uses his church without joining her, covenantally and permanently, to himself. The man who leads a woman into sexual union without a covenantal bond is preaching to her, to the world, and to himself a different gospel from the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he is forming a real spiritual union, the Apostle Paul warns, but one with a different spirit than the Spirit of Christ (1 Cor. 6:15, 19).

This is important because the Scripture makes clear that "fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8). The language of "premarital sex" can enable a conscience to evade repentance. After all, if the problem is one merely of "timing" or of "waiting" then the problem is resolved once one is married. The event was in the past.

This makes fornication even more dangerous, in this sense, than adultery. Both fornication and adultery are acts of infidelity. But a man who has committed adultery, if he is...
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