When Jake Sully tames Toruk in Avatar, James Cameron was channeling a story from old mythology about a warrior who hunted a dragon that wanted him dead. And he wanted the dragon dead also, but try as he might, he could not kill the dragon. So the warrior sought the counsel of a wise wizard, who told him, “If you cannot kill the dragon, then you must tame him, or he will surely destroy you. Perhaps you’ll find yourself with the strongest ally you have ever known.” Which is what the warrior did.
Of course, the story is really not mythological. There are great forces in our lives which you and I face continuously, which are bent on taking us over, destroying us even. One of the greatest of these is the force of our sexuality. Left untamed, the wreckage it leaves behind can scarcely be catalogued.
So how do you reel it in so that you don’t become a new inductee in sex’s Hall of Shame?
In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, the apostle Paul looks sexual temptation right between the eyes and gives a long list of very practical suggestions that helped his readers back then – and can help us today – hold the line for purity. (And don’t think that we’ve got it harder because we’re surrounded by technology. Sexual temptation was everywhere in Corinth – even in houses of worship (!) where temple prostitutes were available to enhance your, ahem, spiritual experience. When’s the last time you had to worry about that, walking down Church Street?)
For Paul, the battle for purity is waged largely with the mind, not the body. Here are the first three things he urges us to call to mind when tempted:
The Benefit Factor
“‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial,” he writes in verse 12. Why fight for purity? Because there are great benefits to it. Sex, practiced as God intended within the boundaries of marriage, results in a clean conscience (no shame), a clean body (no disease), a clean mind (no images polluting your thoughtlife), and a clean soul (no guilt knowing you’ve broken God’s heart). I mean, it’s better than dark chocolate.
But when you don’t do it God’s way, sex leaves a dreadful legacy. Unwanted pregnancy. Disease. Divorce. Jealousy. Confusion. Porn addiction. Depression. Emptiness. Poverty. Prison. Scandal. Job-loss. Rage. Rape. Murder. Sex trafficking. Prostitution. Pedophilia.
When it comes to sexual desire, be led by what’s between your ears, not what’s between your hips. Think it through, Paul is saying.
The Bondage Factor
In the second half of verse 12, Paul writes, “‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything.” Why fight for purity? Because if I don’t, I will become enslaved to terrible habits that I will not be able to control.
This has never become more true than in this age of digital technology. Growing up as a teen in the 70s, finding porn was like hunting for moose. It was out there, but it required a monumental effort to find it. I tremble to think of what would have happened to me had I grown up with computers. The best I could do back then was snatch a peak at the JC Penny catalogue when it came. “Well, let’s check out camping gear. Shoes. Oh, look at that. The swimsuit page. What do you know?”
I tremble for myself, but weep for the young today, who grow up breathing in the air of toxic immorality. My parents never talked to me about sex, and I certainly did not hear about it in church. I think the best thing today for a teen growing up in this sex-saturated world is for there to be full communication and full accountability and full honesty between parents and their teens.
“Yep my son, my daughter, this is what it looks like; this is what it feels like; it’s awesome, it’s mysterious, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful; it’s good and God-given, and it’s worth waiting for.” Anything less than that, and you are dooming your child to years of bondage that they will struggle to get out of. “I will not be mastered by anything.” The bondage factor is strong. But Jesus Christ is stronger.
The Bema Factor
At the beginning of verse 13, Paul writes, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food’ – but God will destroy them both.” “Bema” is the Greek word for ‘judgment seat’. Paul here reminds his readers that one day we will stand before God, and give him an account for how we lived our lives.
He made the point earlier in verse 9 when he said, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers now swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
We’ve been living in a day and age when we’ve heard so much of the God-is-love teaching, that we’ve forgotten that one aspect of God’s love is his holiness, and he will enter into judgment against all that is unholy.
Imagine you find yourself hiking in the middle of a field, and suddenly a thunderstorm rolls in and lightning starts crashing down around you. But then you see at the end of the field a abandoned barn – what do you do? You run for it with all your might, because you don’t want to be uncovered in a thunderstorm. And you do not want to be uncovered on the day you approach God’s judgment seat. It’s best to run into Jesus’ arms, and let him be your shelter.
Here are some questions to wrestle with for now:
- Do a cost-benefit analysis of purity vs. impurity. (The time to do this is before temptation knocks on the door.) Why should I do it God’s way?
- Paul says he will not be mastered by anything. Has sexual desire ever mastered you? What does that feel like inside?
- Why is it that if God is a God of love, then he must judge sin? Why might it be good to think more of the judgment of God than I usually do?