“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4
Sex and sexuality is good, because God made it and gave it as a gift to bless the human race. Yet sex is also very powerful, because this one act has the ability to create life, and to bond life at an emotional even spiritual level. To channel its power, and to protect us from its abuse, God gives us boundaries within which our sexual energy is to run. These boundaries are rooted in God’s holy nature, and so when we respect those boundaries, our humanity is ennobled but when we ignore those boundaries we become more animal-life.
Life to be lived well requires us to keep coming back to the boundaries which God has set up for us in his blueprint, the Bible. So what are these boundaries we’ve been hinting at? You don’t have to go very far before you come to God’s gold standard for sex. In Genesis 1, we are told that God created us in his image as ‘male and female’. In Genesis 2, we are given the essential, foundational boundaries that govern how male and female are to share their sexuality.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” ~ Genesis 2:24-25.
Here’s the template of God’s will for a well-ordered, well-lived life: You grow up with a mom and a dad. Then you leave their protection and tutelage. Then you marry someone of the opposite sex. Then you have sex and start your own family. Wash, rinse, repeat. And this is how you enjoy and share the gift of your sexuality in a way that will not lead to shame or harm. Try and express your sexuality outside of this framework, all bets are off.
Classical, historic, biblical Christianity knows of no other boundary for sex than this. Sex is to be shared between a husband and wife in the union of marriage. Anything else, any other arrangement, any other formula brings me into the realm of sin from which I need forgiveness and deliverance, without which my life will debase itself and fall into judgment.
How can such a simple verse be made to say so much? We know that this particular passage carries such weight because Jesus himself pointed to it when he was asked if divorce was OK with God. His answer? Genesis 2:24-25. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?…What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”(Matthew 19:4-5).
Have you not read? That sentence is loaded. It tells us that what we read in the Bible is revelatory. Meaning, this is God revealing his will to us on the written page. Because it is revelatory, Jesus assumes that the Bible has authority to instruct us and direct us in moral decision-making. Because the Bible has authority, Jesus also assumes that the Bible is understandable to those who read it. Because there’s little sense in submitting yourself to the authority of a book’s revelation if you can’t make heads or tails out of its message.
Every sexual boundary that the Bible teaches ultimately traces its lineage back to this gold standard which God set up at the very beginning of things. If you want to know what “sin” is, then start with the gold standard, and work your way outwards. The rest of the Bible fleshes out this sexual ethic (strange sentence, but deal with it.)
Be careful though when you read the Bible to distinguish between what is descriptive from what is prescriptive. It doesn’t take long before the human race abandons the gold standard for bronze, or worse. Abraham slept with his concubine. Judah a prostitute. David was polygamous, and Solomon…well, is there even a word to describe him?
Sometimes it seems that God is looking the other way. Don’t take that as an endorsement; take it as a sign that these societies were so far removed from God’s gold standard that God had to choose his battles, so to speak. There were things he put up with for a time to work on other matters.
By the time we get to Jesus and the New Testament, God’s gold standard is back in force, and in fact, Jesus comes along and not only throws a fresh coat of paint on it, but he reinforces it with titanium. Sexual sin is not just a visible, volcanic eruption of evil, but it resides invisibly in the inner magma chambers of the heart. Jesus commands purity from us at that level.
As Jesus’ followers took to the streets of the Greek and Roman world – a world so sexually loose and lewd that prostitution was woven right into the worship life of many of its temples – they called their listeners to sexual repentance. “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” (1 Peter 4:3, NIV)
If you were to graph this out, the Bible’s sexual ethic tells an interesting tale. A bar raised high from the very beginning to bless the human race. Then a descent, a fall, a plummeting from that standard, which debased the human race. A long, steady climb back through Israel. A death on a cross to seal the deal. And now an invitation to the world to share in a renewed humanity.
If you can picture this graph in your mind, it should give you a helpful way of looking at where our culture is at today. Because we are so much smarter than everyone who has come before us, in the name of freedom, we have all but obliterated every sexual boundary. And we are already paying the piper for it (which we’ll get to in the next reading.) Yet our culture is not about to pull back from the course it is on. In fact, it will double-and-triple-down on its behavior until you’ll soon be able to find a church where having sex is part of the liturgy (DaVinci Code, anyone?) We’re free-falling our way back to ancient Rome.
As you continue this 40-day journey, you have an important choice to make. Does God’s gold standard matter to you? If it does, then understand something. You reaching for the high bar which Jesus set will automatically put you at odds with a world that will find you odd.
Is doing things God’s way easy? No. The path to destruction is wide and easy, Jesus said. The path to life is narrow and hard. The path to destruction is marked with balloons, streamers and loud, festive music. The path to life is marked by a cross which you must pick up every day and carry, oftentimes alone. The path to destruction begins in flowery meadows and ends in the desert. The path to life begins in the wilderness and ends in paradise. The path to destruction begins in pleasure and ends in pain. The path to life begins in pain and ends in pleasure.
Those are the rules. This is the way life works. Which road will you choose to walk upon? The choice is yours.
What ideas in this reading did you find helpful or challenging?
In your own words, what is God’s ‘gold standard’ for human sexuality?
Jesus assumed the Bible was revelatory, authoritative and understandable. Define what is meant by each word.
Do I think of the Bible as Jesus did? Why or why not?
Does the modern argument that God has loosened his standards for human sexual behavior mesh with what we see in Scripture?
Prayer and Worship
“Father, I thank you for…”
“Father, please help me with…”
“Father, please be with…”
“In the name of Jesus, who died for my sins, who rose from the dead and who is with me now through the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Today’s Worship Suggestion: “Be Thou My Vision” (unknown)
This Week’s Memory Verses
(We encourage you to memorize both the verse and the reference, in any version you are comfortable with.)
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