The Gospel and Sex

Our Sunday Bible study series deals with the Gospel and real life, as our friend Gil teaches with the goal of exploring what the Gospel actually looks like in action.  This past week we discussed sex and singlehood, next week it is marriage and so on for a few weeks into the summer.  But it was our time yesterday with sex and single people that gave my wife and me a great deal to talk about on the ride home.

Without beating around the bush, our conclusion is simply that in most cases people don’t have sex out of wedlock just for kicks.  It’s too complicated an action, unlike swearing in traffic.  (Even swearing in traffic is a sinful symptom of an underlying problem like anger or impatience).   And it seems like sex outside of marriage takes place, on some level, due to an innate desire for companionship and intimacy.  I would argue that is in fact the primary reason that people engage in this behavior.  People are not animals; our primary motivations are not physical.  If physical pleasure is our primary motivation (pornography, some rap music, etc.) then it is only because our emotional concerns about companionship and intimacy have been so mangled that all we can act upon is a base desire for physical fun.  I might also add that the prevalence of pornography and other forms of media in our culture are capable of distorting our emotions can attack at an early age, which may explain why a fourteen year old looks at sense in a purely physical context. 

Nevertheless my wife and I thought that if we approached sex from an emotional standpoint, it might lead to a more compassionate, Gospel-driven sense of ministry.  We both heard plenty of youth group talk about abstinence, and it was always framed in terms of pregnancy, STDs and then SIN.  But it never, ever got to the point of noting that sex was good but it was designed by God for purposes of marriage, because the act itself was so significant, so mighty and awesome that it could only be contained within the confines of a holy union between man and woman.  It was never explained that sex was almost always engaged in by people looking for companionship and intimacy and love, as opposed to a bunch of perverts and sluts looking to get their kicks in the parking lot out behind Food World. 

And the most offensive thing about youth ministry and sex is that it often fails to appreciate this disconnect.  It takes an almost Platonic, pagan view of sex when we assume that young people can avoid sex just as they can avoid buying a Dr. Pepper at the convenience store.  Not so!  We have a natural, God-given desire for sex and all of the vulnerability that comes with it.  And until we learn to speak clearly and bluntly about sex as sin but also as an example of our endless desire for companionship and love and openness – desires only cured by the Gospel – then we fail ourselves and a confused generation of young people.

All of this really could lead to a more thorough discussion of our capitulation to a culture that says marriage must come after education and work and financial stability, but without even approaching that very important conversation we can take the Gospel to sex in a way that is Christ-honoring.  One of my favorite quotes about the Cross comes from the late Richard John Neuhaus, who stated that “it is not all our fault, but it is our fault, too.”  And in that contradiction we start to understand sexuality in the sense that we can manage to not have sex, but on some level we cannot not have sex.  And here comes the Gospel to say that we are not animals or automatons, despite what pornographers and rappers tell us.  But it is only the Gospel that saves us from ourselves and our culture!  And the Gospel tells us that our problems are deep and pathological; they are not surface level.   Again, sin is not just a matter of stopping for too many cheeseburgers.  It is more than that, as we come to know that our real issue is lust and greed and gluttony.  The seven deadly sins are vague for a reason, after all. 

So when we tell teens and college students and single adults that sex is a sinful act and we must avoid and repent when it happens and true love waits and just date God and so on and so forth, we are missing the point, just as sure Bill Bucker missed that grounder to first.  The real issue is our inherent need that is present whether we are chaste or not, and that need is for a Savior who knows better than we know ourselves.  And while we remain sinners despite our justification, a grace-initiated knowledge of this condition makes us far likelier to avoid destructive acts like sex outside of marriage and we do so not out of fear or insecurity, but because we have hearts that have been changed by the grace of a bloody Cross.