I read an article recently. It is titled, “An Open Letter to the Church: Can We Please Talk About Sex?”
You can read it here: http://www.sarahkierstead.co/journal02/anopenlettertothechurch
On the surface, the author was artful and open. The opening lines came forth in a narrative that makes you feel like you are witnessing a discussion between two people over the vexing issue of understanding human sexuality. In view of the Scriptural demands for sexual purity and our inability to conform to God’s standards, this is a deeply difficult issue for many people — especially the younger ones to navigate.
The author opens with an admission that she is 20 years old and that there are those who are more experienced in this issue than she is. She is bold. Her words are passionate. You can almost feel what she feels. What follows in the article, however, is less than clear and underscores the need for a conversation along these lines.
I’d like to take a moment to let you know who I am. I’m a veteran pastor and student of the Scriptures. I’m an apologist who has defended the Christian worldview for nearly a decade in many places. I’m also a father of 5 children and husband to the same woman for 28 years. Humbly, I would like to consider myself qualified to enter this discussion.
I thought about taking her article to task in a kind of “point by point” critique, but I know how I feel when that is done to me. Let’s avoid that. She presented a few ideas that I would like to address in a clear and orderly way, that should help when the inevitable discussion comes. So I will address the following thoughts:
1. Don’t take your sexual transgressions too seriously. God made you a sexual being.
2. Religion is something evil that crept into the Church in an underhanded way.
3. Human Sexuality is for the human.
There are many more points I could take on, but this is not a thesis to earn me a PhD. As a member of the Church, I just want to enter the discussion this person asked for. So, let’s dive in.
1. Don’t take your sexual transgressions too seriously. God made you that way.
This idea could be more than a little harmful if wielded the wrong way. Would you say that to the pedophile? To the rapist? How about the pornographer? Sexual deviation touches all of us. In fairness to the author, she was trying to console a person who was guilt-ridden over some kind of sexual failure. An understanding arm around the shoulder is always appropriate when consoling a broken brother or sister. We all fail at times. But rationalization for sin is never a good thing. The truth is, God did not make you that way…sin did.
The Bible is clear that there is none without sin. I think an honest self-assessment will affirm this. Because of our fallen human condition, we are in a state of great need before God. We have this tendency to wander from what is good and true, and then reinvent “goodness” according to our own preferences. This is what it means to be a sinner. But God did not make us sinners, He made us with a holy purpose. Human sexuality is not removed from that purpose. This is fundamentally important for good discernment.
Mankind was created in God’s Image. Theologians call this Image the Imago Dei — literally, it means The Image of God. In the beginning, Adam an Eve were created and then united to one another for a Divine purpose — an ethical purpose. This may seem to get a bit deep for the person considering this for the first time. Bear with me, it makes a great deal of sense and helps us understand what it truly means to be human.
If anything is clear in Scripture it is that God created man (and woman) to bear His Image. What does that look like? God has revealed Himself to mankind as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know this relationship as the Trinity. Consequently, mankind, which was made in God’s Image, is similarly, a family — specifically, the husband, wife, and children. The three in one human family is the Imago Dei in the earth, with each member bearing the communicable attributes of God (i.e., love, justice, morality, honor, trust, etc.).
Have you ever wondered why Adam and Eve covered their loins, rather than make hats for themselves when they sinned? The imprint of God in the earth which would come from their bodies, was permanently stained because of their rebellion. The human family would no longer live up to the Image of God. Human behavior was thrown into a struggle between keeping God’s intended design and running after our more animalistic human instincts — including our sexual inclinations. The sprit no longer had preeminence in our frame; we traded that for the creature (read the first chapter of the book of Romans to get some perspective on this trade).
When you are inclined to say, “God made you that way” to ease the guilt of a person who may have violated God’s purpose for human sexuality, take a breath. Let that person repent. You don’t have to throw her “under the bus,” but don’t gloss over the sin that the Spirit of God convicts, either. Encourage that brother to pick up and seek to honor God once again. Remember, God did not make us to be deviant in any way— we do that just fine on our own.
If we allow the notion that sin isn’t serious to persist unchallenged in the church, we will undermine the very Gospel we say we affirm. I’m sure Jesus understood the severity of sin while the whip split His back, when the nails pierced his limbs, and when the crowd jeered at Him. Sin is no joke with God, and it took a High Price to deal with it.
Can a person be rescued from sinful sexual proclivities? Of course, but if you reject the reality of our human purpose, you can never really know what to be rescued from. Believing that sexual behavior is no big deal with God is an intellectual trap. The Bible is very clear on this subject. We are told to “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:8) for a reason. Sadly, many of us no longer know what that reason is and see this command as something out of step with the twenty-first century. We should be helping and encouraging one another to obey the Scripture, not telling people that sexual deviation is no big deal.
2. Religion is something evil that crept into the Church in an underhanded way.
How did it happen that so many would begin to see religion as a negative in the church? James 1:27 says this:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. ESV
Would the same person that thinks religion is a problem also believe that helping widows and orphans was a bad thing? Furthermore, how can someone rightly vilify keeping oneself “unstained from the world?” What, in Sam Hill, is wrong with that? Why would a self-professed Christian author repeatedly disparage religion when the Bible both affirms and clarifies it?
Could it be that the meme, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship” is leading people to misunderstand something? I think so. When we build our worldview on a foundation of memes and “bumper sticker” slogans, rather than a thoughtful understanding of the truth, it shouldn’t be a shock when things go a little off course.
Let’s get something straight. The Bible doesn’t say, “God created man to keep Him company.” God does not need that kind of a relationship from us. He created mankind to reveal Himself in the Earth. Such talk about relationship over religion can really muddle the truth and leave a person more confused about what the real purpose for humanity is. We need to cling to the objective truth of the Christian worldview. Relationship? Sure, but not apart from God’s purposes.
The word “Religion” has gotten a bad rap lately. This is primarily borne out of ignorance. The concept of true religion is simply to live up to the design God intended for us from the beginning. The relationship we enjoy with God can only exist within the proper context of our designed purpose. If we violate that purpose we are, by definition, in sin, and fellowship with God is impinged upon.
Religion doesn’t set the boundaries for our human sexuality, God’s purposes do. You wouldn’t speak evil of God’s purposes would you?
This brings me to my final point.
3. Human Sexuality is for the human.
This notion will not sit well with a lot of people. This was a clearly understood issue through long periods of Church history, but now we appear to be more “enlightened” than the early Church Fathers, or even the Apostles (sarcasm intended). The truth is simple, human sexuality, just like the rest of humanity, is for God.
Now someone will say, “But I get great pleasure when I engage sexually. Doesn’t that prove that God gave it to us as a gift?” What if I told you there were people who got pleasure out of stealing other peoples cars? Would that prove that God really meant for them to take the cars? No, that is ridiculous.
Pleasure is a great deceiver, and the pursuit of pleasure, for pleasure’s sake, is very dubious because we are fallen and lack discernment. Consider the mouse. It is his “pleasure” to sample the morsel set before him, not knowing it will lead to his broken neck when the trap is sprung. Just because sex feels good, and we want it, does not make it a good thing for us in every case.
It is the animal kingdom that pursues its own pleasure without restraint. People are meant to bear the Imago Dei. To chase pleasure, particularly that of a sexual nature, outside the bounds of God’s design, is to be more the animal than the human. We were meant for greater things.
This is not to say that pleasure itself is illegitimate, but human sexual pleasure is designed to come from a very particular context — the marriage context. If there was no such sexual pleasure in a marital context, the marriage would still be legitimate. This is, in fact, the case for many people. Think about it. Is it good to divorce a spouse who can no longer “please” a person sexually, or is it good to remain faithful, “till death do we part,” no matter what? I think the answer is obvious for the one who seeks godliness.
All pursuit of sexual pleasure, beyond the bonds of marriage, is illegitimate and ultimately sinful…period. That is a forcefully bold statement, I know. I also understand there are perhaps many who will write me off as some kind of anachronism from another place and time. But we need to be brutally honest if we ever want to clear up the confusion that is Human Sexuality — confusion existing in the Church of all places! The battle all Christians face is the struggle between the animal nature (called the flesh) and that of the purposes of God.
The gifts of life, marriage, children, family, love, and yes…sexual fulfillment are indeed, good. But God is the One who designed them, not people. They are supposed to look a certain way; the way He intended them to. When we distort these good things to serve our own fallen purposes, we err and allow ourselves to express a false view of the Image of God. I’ll say it this way, when we change the terms of our designed purpose, we actually “lie” about God. This can never be a good thing, and it certainly is not a gift.
There is a lot to say about this subject. We really do need to “talk about sex.” Honestly though, I think we really need to talk about what it means to be human. We have a real break down in the epistemology of our thinking in the Church today. In other words, we don’t seem to understand where we come from, consequently, we don’t really know what to do now.
But we need not feel our way through this. We can come to terms with the reality that humans are not the center of the universe, God is. We will never experience the satisfaction of fulfilling our purpose until we know what our purpose is.
The great catechisms of the faith put it this way:
Q: What is the chief purpose of man?
A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Until that is someone’s great personal pursuit, he or she will always be a bit lost. The myth of sexual fulfillment apart from God’s purpose, will always be a tantalizing lie that the untaught will fall for.
Come now! We know better than that. Let’s grow up and stop letting the ungodly culture tell us what it means to be human.