In my Sophomore year of high school, our summer reading project for AP English was a book titled Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas. The story was about a high school student, Steve, who had an intimate relationship with another student, Wanda, that ended in disaster. Much of the story is a flashback, as Steve attempts to move on after the fallout of his relationship with her.
In our second English class of the year, our teacher had the class debate one simple question about the novel. “Should Steve and Wanda have slept together?”
The class originally began about 50/50 on either side of the question. By the end of the debate however, I alone held the opinion of the negative, couched primarily in my own Christian moral ethic of sexuality. While I was not condemned or discounted by my peers, many of them, if they hadn’t already, had begun to recognize that I was different.
Though there are many aspects of Christian morality that differ from a non-Christian lifestyle, sexuality is perhaps the most explicit. We are steeped in a culture that orients sexuality primarily around consent alone. So long as all members agree, sexuality is largely a voluntary, discretionary and recreational activity for anyone of age (though technically speaking Steve and Wanda were not of age in the story so perhaps that restriction is growing looser as well).
Others ground their sexual ethic in the sensation of ‘love.’ So long as the members love each other, sexuality is perfectly acceptable.
A more fundamental Christian (also Muslim and Jewish) ethic of sexuality revolves around one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage. Consent and love are not enough. An eternal promise is required. When we compare this to the former ethics mentioned we encounter a significant difference in lifestyle.
It is understandable then, considering the world we exist in today and the significant disparity between sexual ethics of Christians and non-believers, that issues relative to sexuality seem to take the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to Christianity.
Consider for instance that the issues that many “Christian” representatives today tackle in the media spotlight are largely bound up in sexuality. Abortion, homosexual, and transgender rights should come to mind. Christian efforts in other areas like immigration and correctional reform are almost nonexistent, at least from a public spotlight. This phenomenon has misled many people to see Christians not as “Followers of Jesus” but rather as “sexually conservative people.”
I shudder to consider then, that if the only difference someone sees in me is my sexual ethic, what does that communicate to them about the Christ I claim to love and serve? If Christianity is portrayed as merely a moral order to follow, how does that speak of a Christ who redeems people who could not redeem themselves?
The author Skye Jethani coins this approach to Jesus as ‘Crotch Christianity.’ It portrays a God whose primary concern is crotches and what is going on within and around them. The challenge is that scripture seems very clear about the appropriate scope of sexuality. It is one thing for Christians to be associated with sexual conservatism, but it is quite another for the God we represent to be labeled as ‘merely concerned with my sexual expression.’
If the only Christian representation non-believers hear is a God who does not approve of their sexual conduct, concluding that Christian salvation comes from a sexual moral ethic is a logical conclusion. While this understanding isn’t ‘wrong’ it certainly isn’t right either. Not to mention, the evidence of this message’s ineffectiveness at accurately representing Jesus cannot be understated. What if Christ intended to redeem more that just a sin-corrupted sexuality?
“Those who believe they have pleased God by the quality of their devotion and moral goodness naturally feel that they and their group deserve deference and power over others. The God of Jesus and the prophets, however, saves completely by grace. He cannot be manipulated by religious and moral performance–he can only be reached through repentance, through the giving up of power. If we are saved by sheer grace, we can only become grateful, willing servants of God and of everyone around us.” –Timothy Keller
Christian Sexual Ethics
Corinthians 6:12-20: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body.
Paul explains to the Church in Corinth the conflict between sexual immorality and a spirit-filled believer. Like oil and water, the two are not intended blend. Sexuality, like all things in God’s creation, had a specific intent and purpose. Violating the scope of its use is incongruent for the believer as the believer is a reborn and renewed image of God. How then can a Christian represent the Creator and savior if they conduct themselves in a manner that conflicts with that Creator’s original intention? Jesus did not join his flesh with a prostitute and therefore as followers of Christ, neither are we to operate in such a manner. In fact, Christ calls his people to such a high standard of sexual ethics (“Whomever looks upon a Woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart”) that reserving sexuality for the marriage bed is not enough. The heart itself must chaste in its singleness and faithful in its marriage also. It is clear that the sexual conduct of a Christian should absolutely look different than those whom have not yet believed in the Son of God.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 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, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
To the Church in Thessalonica, Paul further explains God’s justification for such a conservative sexual ethic. God created us to be both holy and sanctified. It was never his intent for his people to be impure. How frustrating then will the process of sanctification become if the Christian disregards the sexual standard that God has set before them. We ought to behave differently than those who do not know God because our focus has shifted. The Christian finds their happiness in the God who draws them daily to himself, no longer in the satisfaction of their unbridled desires.
Romans 1:18-2:5: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Now to the Church in Rome Paul builds upon these principles with a convicting truth. Christians have no place to judge the world by the same standards that God holds them to. We, like all those who do not believe, at one time behaved the same way. Now however, we know better. Simply put, God hold us to a higher sexual ethic because we know better. Judgement, upon those who do not know Christ as we do is highly misrepresentative of the God who redeemed us from the very same depravity.
“There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted.” –Rosaria Butterfield
A Cosmic Scale
Colossians 1:15-20: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
John 1:1-4: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
1 Corinthians 8:6: Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Romans 11:36: For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Hebrews 1:1-3: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
Hopefully these five passages are compelling enough to paint the wholistic picture of God’s design. Behaving as if all God cares about is sexual conduct denies the scriptural reality that he created and designed all things. Scripture does not reveal to us a God who only cares about sex just as it does not reveal a God who only cares about souls. God doesn’t only care about any one thing. He cares about all things.
He cares about the stars, the earth, the creatures that inhabit it, and every single person who lives upon it. He cares about who we are and how we live. He cares about our work, our families, how we spend our free time, and yes, our sexuality. He cares about our finances, or generosity, our kindness and our love for one another. He cares about our feelings and emotions, our likes and dislikes, our hopes, dreams and fears. He cares about our gentleness, our honesty and integrity. He cares just a greatly about our salvation and holiness and redemption for we were meant for him, not for ourselves. All this matters to God because he knows us as his children, something we all have forgotten because of sin. And recognizing that we were unable to fix what sin had done to us in these areas that came down to do it himself.
What the world ought to see from us is not merely how we live, by why we live that way. Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ our Lord, who loved us and gave his life for us.
“I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things. Everyone there is filled with what we should call goodness. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. –C.S. Lewis
Rev 21:1-6: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”
Further Reading: Zephaniah 3:9-13, Isaiah 11:1-10, Revelation 7:9-12
A better understanding of God’s redemption is on a cosmic scale. Jesus plans to renew all things. He is not focused simply on redeeming crotches. Sexuality is merely a part of a much large whole. As representatives of Jesus, we need to live in a manner that espouses wholistic redemption. The Gospel we proclaim should reflect our moral conduct as a response of love for our savior, not as a qualification for his mercy.
“The gospel is absurd, and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” –Brennan Manning