The Christian, in his walk with God, is called upon to embrace certain character traits and practices and reject others. A compact yet significant list of many of these traits and practices are included in Galatians 5:16-24:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.
This passage, specifically in verses 19-23, contrast the “works of the flesh” from the “fruit of the Spirit,” and the Christian is called to avoid the former while embracing the latter. Let us now begin to analyze each of these characteristics, beginning with the first “work of the flesh,” “fornication.”
The word that translates in the ASV as “fornication” (many other translations use the more general and apt term “sexual immorality”) is porneia. Thayer defines porneia as:
1) illicit sexual intercourse
1a) adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.
1b) sexual intercourse with close relatives;
1c) sexual intercourse with a divorced man or woman;
2) metaphorically the worship of idols
2a) of the defilement of idolatry, as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols
This definition is very specific and does not mince word about what porneia is: it includes all sexual practice that deviate from the norms established by God in the Scriptures.
The above fact is demonstrated amply by the way this term is used in the Scriptures. We see in Matthew 19:9 (along with Matthew 5:32, not quoted here), Jesus uses the term as the only reason that would justify a divorce:
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.”
The term is also used twice by the Apostles and the elders in Jerusalem and once by James as a practice which the Gentiles should avoid (Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29, Acts 21:25). It is also used to refer to the deed committed by the one who “had his father’s wife” in 1 Corinthians 5:1.
We see that the term used for “fornication” in Greek is used often generally and even specifically to refer to sexual actions, and it is not spoken of positively. Galatians 5:19 is not the only place in the Scriptures, however, where those who would practice the sexual actions included in the term porneia are condemned. We see this same message exemplified in 1 Corinthians 6:18, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5, and 1 Thessalonians 4:3:
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as becometh saints.
Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication.
The words of God cannot be mistaken in these passages: it is contrary to the will of God to commit fornication (sexual immoralities), for it is unclean, a sin against the body, a stumbling block of sanctification, and actions that ought not even be named among the saints.
We have spoken at other times (specifically, in Adversities: Sexuality) about the many reasons why such sins occur: we live in a society (at least in the United States) that is addicted to sex and sexuality, and it is difficult to go anywhere without being exposed to some form of it. Immodesty is prolific, and it is difficult to abstain from sexual sin. Truly sexual sin is a part of the “lust of the flesh [and] the lust of the eyes,” (1 John 2:16), and the Christian must act diligently to avoid it.
The message we preach and teach must be clear and no exceptions are to be made: God does not accept sexual practices that are performed outside of the marriage between a man and a woman (Hebrews 13:4). These practices ought not to be named amongst saints, for they are sins against the body that are against the will of God, do not allow for the sanctification of the Christian, and will prevent one from entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Sexual immorality (fornication) is certainly a “work of the flesh,” and it ought to be avoided at all costs so that we may be able to stand pure before God.