As the children of Israel traveled from Egypt to the land of Canaan, the LORD warned the people of Israel not to imitate the ways of the Egyptians (do not turn back to the evil of your past), and He told them not to learn the behavior of the Canaanites (do not be seduced by new temptations).
You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. (Leviticus 18:3)
The Egyptians and Canaanites practiced sexual immorality as if they were obeying a legal code. This is why the Torah says, “You shall not walk in their statutes” (Leviticus 18:3). Rashi explains that “their statutes” refers to matters etched into the fabric of the society—so basic to the culture that they are observed as if they are laws. He points to the entertainments found in “theaters and stadiums” as an example of pagan statutes. In other words, the statutes of the world are those reflected in the entertainment values of the world. We are not to walk in them. God’s people are supposed to be a completely different breed of people, “So that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out” (Leviticus 20:22).
In the first century, sexual immorality wove through the warp and woof of the Roman world. Devotees of the gods followed their mythological, sexual exploits and imitated their base behavior in temple rituals which, in some cases, even incorporated sanctified prostitution. Roman culture, for all its austere talk of moderation, indulged in all manner of perversity, lewdness, and depredation.
The apostles applied the laws pertaining to strangers in the midst of the people of Israel to the Gentile believers. Leviticus 18 specifically includes those strangers in its jurisdiction: “You shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you” (Leviticus 18:26). Therefore, the laws that govern sexuality apply equally to Jewish people and God-fearing Gentile believers.
The apostles reinforced the ruling in their epistles. In passage after passage, the apostles exhorted the disciples to live lives set apart from the sexualized Gentile world and free from sexual immorality. The Gentile believers adopted Jewish standards of modesty, dress, and decorum. In the midst of the sexually charged atmosphere of the first century, the believers stood out as a people set apart. The apostle Peter observed, “[The other Gentiles] are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you” (1 Peter 4:4).