This past weekend we kicking off a new teaching series at Aletheia called Sex, Money, Politics (and a few other things you're not supposed to talk about in Church). Leading us off, Nick Nowalk (a good friend and teaching fellow for Christian Union) tackled the topic of sex. Sex is a personal decision, right? I mean basically, sex is like food. Your body wants it, so you satisfy your desires with whatever feels best. There's nothing moral or immoral about that, is there? Such is the current cultural mood about sex.
It's just not a popular time to hold onto Christian sexual ethics—I mean, they just seem outdated, don't they? How in the world is it good news Jesus is lord of sexuality.
Christians Usually Get the "What" of Sex Right, but the "Why" of Sex Wrong "Don't look at porn!" "Don't sleep around!" "Don't ___________ (insert your own sexual deviancy here)!"
In the church we're pretty good at telling everyone what not to do with sex, but not so good at why. But knowing the why is critical. If we only learn the rules and not the reasons, we become morally stunted, unable to navigate the sea of grey all around us. We come off judgmental when we should come off gracious. We seem unloving when we should be understanding.
Taking for granted that most people understand that (despite the exegetical acrobatics of some modern preachers) God's vision for sexuality is to be only legitimately expressed between a husband and a wife, let's ask, why?
Your Physical Body Matters to God For all kinds of reasons we won't go into, most of us think that the physical world just isn't the most important world. Our "true" selves are somehow disconnected from our bodies. If you believe that, then your view of sex will necessarily be skewed. If, for example, you believe that any second now God's gonna throw all of creation into some cosmic trash can and start over, then what you do with your body, the earth, and pretty much anything physical just doesn't matter. If the physical world doesn't matter, then neither do sexual ethics.
But the physical world does matter. It matters very much.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, Paul lays out a theology of sex. His basic argument (to a church that was engaging in all kinds of sexual craziness) was, "Listen, God raised Jesus from the dead, and He will raise you too. Therefore, your body matters." Ask anyone today if we should recycle and they'll say some variation of, "Yes. After all, the earth will be here for a long time." How ironic, then, that we treat our bodies like brain transportation devices, subjecting them to whatever sexual experience that our flesh demands we give it. What we do today echoes into eternity.
Sex is Greater Than You Thought Sex is not about sex. Sex is a sign and symbol of a greater reality. When we reduce sex to a physical activity like hunger or thirst, then we've missed the grandeur of sex altogether. First, sex is about covenantal one-ness. In Genesis 2, the author writes that the two (man and wife) are to become one (echad). This, by the way, is the same kind of one-ness with which God describes his own inner life. Therefore, we must see that in God's eyes, sex points to a much greater reality than desire. Nick summarized this in four basic ways:
- Monogamous - Sex is to be enjoyed exclusively with the covenant partner (husband or wife). This echoes of God's exclusive commitment to us.
- Different - Sex is to be experienced by opposite genders together. This speaks of God's relationship to us—we are not the same as Him, nor is He the same as us.
- Committed - Sex is a sign and symbol of our covenantal commitment to our spouse. This reflects the covenant love of God and his people—God never leaves us, therefore we never leave our spouse.
- Life-Long - Sex is to be enjoyed in a progressively greater way in this relationship for all of life. This reality reflects the permanent commitment that God makes to his people.
Any and every kind of sexual brokenness the world deals with today is a violation of this positive, beautiful vision of human sexuality.
What we Do with Sex Reveals what we Believe about Jesus Sexuality tells a story. For the Christian, we live according to a whole new and different story—the gospel. The gospel vision of sexuality celebrates the good news that Jesus Christ is lord of sex, and I am not. Our big problem with sex isn't that we don't know what's right. Our big problem with sex is that we fundamentally do not believe that Jesus lordship over sexuality is better than ours. We do not trust him. Whenever we live out a different sexual story than the one Jesus gives us, we say to the world, "I do not trust that Jesus is better than I am." The testimony of our lives is, "I am better than Jesus."
At bottom, any disagreements we have about sexual ethics aren't really about sex. They are about Jesus. The question which faces us is simply and only, "Do I find Jesus, and his vision for human sexuality, better than me and my own?"
We would all do well to ponder that question. For Christians, this question should make us patient and gracious. For, experience Jesus as better than self may take some time. Just as God is patient but resolved to lead us into progressive abandonment of sin and pleasure in Christ, we must do the same for others. For non-Christians, this question should clarify the argument. Disagreement about sexual ethics is not (for the Christian, at least) about bigotry, hatred, or "why can't you understand God made me this way..." It's about lordship. And for the Christian, Jesus is lord of everything, including sex.
And that is really, really good news.