Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

sex, and the city, and shame, and more...

There's an issue floating around in the Christian single sub-culture, sometimes near the surface, sometimes deeply subterranean.  The issue is the vast disconnect that appears between practice and profession when it comes to our sexual ethics.  A recent survey indicated that over 90% of engaged young people who professed to know Christ and follow His teachings agree that sexual intimacy is to be confined to the bounds of covenant relationship, i.e.: marriage.  In spite of this clear sense of conviction, however, roughly 2 out of 3 reported that they'd violated this principle, and roughly 1 out of 2 reported that they're presently violating this ethic, as they sleep with their fiance.  

The sample from this survey was arguably too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, but it does represent a reality we ought to address:  when it comes to sexuality, there's a chasm between what we say we believe, and what we actually do.  What factors contribute to this chasm?  

1. Our culture's attitude towards sexuality.  Whether it's Seattle's "Stranger", reruns of "Sex in the City", advertisements for beer, cars, deodorant, or the text of a recent hip-hop song, let's not kid ourselves into believing that we're immune from the sexualized nature of it all.  We're trying to hold our sexuality according to God's redemptive plan, but God's ethic requires some serious swimming against the overwhelming tide of our culture.  At every turn the message to "touch me", "taste me", "do me" is present, either directly or subliminally, declaring through it's presence that our sexuality is an appetite, like food - and we all know what to do when we're hungry.  

I'll note before moving on, that this isn't some sort of 21st century phenomena.  1st century Rome shared these values, as have countless cultures scattered across time and geography through the ages.  To think differently than the prevailing culture is, of course, one of our primary challenges, and primary means of transformation.  So, it helps to be aware of the ocean in which we're swimming.  

2. Shame - The Christian community elevates virginity as a virtue.  This, of course, is appropriate, because this is what Scripture teaches.  However, there's something inherent in how we talk about virginity that makes its maintenance tantamount to the free climb of a rock face:  fall once, and you die.  Thus have many shared, in the confidentiality of pastoral work, or with friends or counselors, that "it's over.  In a moment of weakness I took off my purity ring, and then, well you know what happened."  Dejected, and feeling a sense of shame never intended by Christ, he or she decides that, since they've already lost it, there's no point in battling.  Purity is now unattainable.  Why bother?  Of course, most wouldn't say it that way, but that's the way it actually plays out.  

I suppose there are 30 more reasons for the battle, but I got a late start today, so I'm going to limit my comments to these two, offering some thoughts about how we might best navigate the waters of our sexuality, in light of these realities.  

1.  The culture piece is gigantic, but of course, we knew that from Romans 12.  If there's a current pulling me in one direction, and it's not the direction I want to go, I need to find a way to travel against the current.  The answer isn't withdrawal from culture, because there are other factors at work besides culture (just ask the monks who wrote this poetry).  Instead of trying to be a fish out of water (which is what it would be like to try and be a non-sexual being in a sexual world), I simply need to flood myself with right thinking, which will help me understand my identity, sexuality, and calling, from God's perspective.  

You might try this, or this, or this, to get you started.  The reality is that if I read the Stranger and watch Friends or Sex in the City, more than I read my Bible or listen to my pastor's podcasts, I'm failing to swim upstream.  Thus I shouldn't be surprised when I land downstream, my boat having been dashed to bits by the rocky realities of sex without covenant, realities that exist for certain, but which aren't addressed by "Friends" or in "The Stranger" 

2.  It's this shame thing that really enrages me, because it comes from the damned accuser, AND it comes from the church.  We need to talk about the incredible restorative power of God's grace and the reality that His mercies are new every morning, that yesterday's failures are gone, gone, gone.  We need to speak of the reality that all of us are fallen, and thus stop throwing rocks and begin blessing and healing.  

There is o so much more to say about this important subject, because I know that people are living with confusion, shame, guilt, and anger - having been abused, or hardened, disillusioned, and shamed.  Let's start the dialogue.  

What else contributes to our sexual struggles and confusion?  

What other things have people found helpful?  

If you stay respectful, you can stay anonymous... and thanks for responding.  

30 Comments:

At 22/9/09 15:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if "swimming against the current" is an inappropriate image, first and foremost because it would once again pit Christianity against human culture, as though the two are by definition exclusive of one another. It seems to me that the problem of sin, and necessarily the problem of sexual sin, is that it causes us to attempt satisfaction of our desires with less than what we truly want: instead of seeking satisfaction we settle for momentary gratification, and the intimacy of covenant relationship is thus supplanted by the convenience of casual sex. If that is the case, is sin less of a turning away than it is a stopping short? Is the redeeming power of the Kingdom found in standing against and conquering the monolithic onslaught of sin, or is it found through showing a world that sat down on the path and settled for less than what they were created for the fullness of life found only through completing the journey? I think we need to find ways to understand this issue without relying on combative imagery, and find space within ourselves to trust that all of those wrong parts of our world will be made right.

 
At 22/9/09 16:03, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the way we aren't allowed to talk about it with anyone who could help us in the middle of the situation without feeling shame.
It's dating and not having older Christians ask you candidly how you're doing and then NOT BE SURPRISED when they hear the answer, but offer helpful advice and wisdom.
It's the fact that we don't really have anyone holding us accountable... perhaps because they/we think that since they/we have also fallen into the same sin/trap that "who am I to tell you that you shouldn't do this" (in love of course).

 
At 22/9/09 16:55, Blogger nach said...

Another factor only aluded to here is the role of the enemy. It wasn't until I learned how to fight (How's that for combative language?!) spiritually that I began to experience any freedom. We fight lies (not culture wars) by renewing our minds with God's truth.

I also agree that the general weakness of my generation's relationship skills (30 and under) only accelerate and amplify the effects already mentioned.

 
At 22/9/09 21:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But who says that we are so weak? Who has convinced you that humanity is in such dire straights that fighting is the only alternative? The posture that Christ assumed in conquering sin was not that of a warrior but that of a pascal lamb, led willingly to the altar to assuage our own aggression and need for bloodshed, and it was only in that moment, when Christ finally gave in to the prevailing current of the surrounding culture, that the Kingdom of God finally broke through. Fight if you want and mock me if you must, but I am profoundly convicted of the belief that we cannot afford to keep trying to bludgeon out a position for the church amongst those who we would wish to serve, all while doing so in the name of God's love. If you want to understand why our sexual ethic has become what it is, may I suggest that we all start listening with an open heart to the experiences of those who feel set upon by their own sexuality.

 
At 23/9/09 05:12, Blogger nach said...

You're not hearing me anonymous. Jesus was a warrior to DEMONS. He fought our spiritual enemy. This is what I'm talking about. Part of why shame is such a huge issue is that we, culturally speaking, ignore the middle tier of spirituality. The world and the flesh contribute, but so does the enemy. We ignore him at our own peril.

 
At 23/9/09 11:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear you, Nach, and I do not agree with you. I don’t regard Jesus as a warrior because the very idea of combat and battle imply some form of contest, and there is no power or being which can contest the supreme reality of the Kingdom of God. Christ had authority over demons not as a warrior but as one who represents the Kingdom. Having experienced my own encounters with the demonic, I am not ignorant of the presence of demons, nor do I want to diminish the effect that such encounters have on us. I was profoundly shaken by my experience and it caused me to reexamine the way that I interact with spiritual reality. I also believe, though, that the same authority exercised by Christ was given to me when I began to participate in the Kingdom of God. I don’t want us to ignore the presence of demon’s but, rather, to regard them in the same manner as Christ: no contest. I’m proposing that if we truly believe that the Kingdom of God brings redemption for the beleaguered, reunion for the estranged, power for the powerless, and all that is implied and experienced through intimate relationship with the Creator—the ground and source of all being and reality—that we begin to live that way. In terms of our sexuality, I think this means that we start by considering the ways in which we have been working to protect and defend. What is at stake when we consider the question of sex and sexuality? How do we understand the nature of desire? Do the gender identities of others really affect our own? Does sexuality exist in the absolute or does it manifest in distinct and unique ways for each individual? If so, how do we, as those who go forth in the name of love, hope, and compassion, orient ourselves in such a context to be witnesses of Christ?

 
At 23/9/09 11:24, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What doesn't add up to me is that having sex with the person you love and have promised to spend the rest of your life with (outside of, or prior to getting married) is equated with sexual immorality. I've read the passages and in typical Biblical fashion (no disrespect), they are far from clear. It is no shock that we all have different interpretations of Biblical teaching. Is it as if the act of getting married somehow magically makes the commitment real and the risk of breaking that covenant relationship any less tenuous? I appreciate and subscribe to the importance of marriage for many reasons but I don't necessarily interpret Scripture as saying premarital sex in all circumstances is wrong. I feel like the Church is missing the point when it condemns someone for having sex with their fiance or even their boyfriend/girlfriend whom they are exclusive with and committed to spending their life with. I know this is a fragile balance and certainly I am trying to figure it out still...thoughts?

 
At 23/9/09 12:46, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I loved that last question. You asked: Is it as if the act of getting married somehow magically makes the commitment real and the risk of breaking that covenant relationship any less tenuous?

In point of verifiable, objective fact, YES! Marriages are nearly 2x more likely to end in divorce when a couple is sleeping together prior to actually being married. One could argue about why, but one can't argue with the reality that marriages are more likely to fail. Isn't that reason enough?

 
At 23/9/09 15:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also thank the person that left that last question. And now I would like to ask a follow up to Pastor Richard's response: Why do you believe that the statistic is the way it is?
Is it the act of sex that comes back to separte the couple or other areas of the marriage that fail? I guess I would just like to know from a Pastors perspective of why you believe it is that way?

 
At 23/9/09 17:42, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, one can argue the cause. you could rephrase that statistic "more likely to fail when couples are having sex before making a true commitment to each other." so i guess that is not reason enough. if sexual desire and intimacy were such inocuous impulses we wouldn't be having this conversation. i guess what i am really interested in here is the Bibilical teaching on the matter. I find myself looking closer lately to see if certain Christian "rules" I grew up being taught are really so explicitly outlined in the Bible. In this case, it doesn't seem so clear. I think the concept of abstainence before marriage is a positive one. But a marriage certificate and a wedding do not make or break a marriage. I probably don't need to google the divorce rate among Christians to make that point. But I for one would love to have a clearer picture of this because although we would all like to espouse the value of abstainence, intimacy is an important part of a relationship and it is so easy to screw up (no pun intended) when you are in that loving relationship. Then the guilt mentioned in the original post comes into the picture and that is a horrible thing that ruins what should be a wonderful thing. We are always taught to look at the historical and social context and the entire Biblical witness as a whole when we interpret its teachings. I don't have my mind made up on what is ok on this issue but I still don't see premarital sex condemned in the Bible, only sexual immorality. Who decides what is immoral here?

 
At 23/9/09 21:45, Blogger Virgie C said...

These responses break my heart. I was once like the person "not entirely convinced" of what God taught in the Bible. "Not entirely convinced" chipped away at Biblical teachings in favor of following whatever I thought was best. For years I had premarital sex, thinking I was doing no wrong because there was no wrong to be done. Finally I became truly convicted and truly gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ. From that day on I stopped having premarital sex. Four years ago I married a wonderful man, after three years of chaste dating. Did we struggle? Yes. Was it worth it? I can't tell you how wonderful our relationship is, in every aspect.

But I can tell you that even now, seven years removed from sexual sin and fully, gloriously forgiven by Jesus Christ, I still hate and regret my past. I regret those empty "intimacies". It is not the guilt that ruined the relationships, it is that the relationships should never have been. My spouse is truly God's provision for me.

Thank you, Richard, for speaking about this topic in a loving, Biblical way.

 
At 23/9/09 22:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like many evangelicals, I grew up being taught that virginity was of utmost importance and that if that was lost, there could be no restortaion. I'm just wondering how to see sex (before and after marriage) in more realistic terms, acknowledging failures but also acknowledging God's forgiveness, and seeing how sex is not just an isolated physical act but is wound into a person's whole being. Focusing on that instead of abstinence at all costs seems like a healthier approach.

 
At 24/9/09 03:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a couple of comments I’m seeing an interesting trend of associating premarital sex to sex without intimacy and/or casual sex. I think there’s another layer of granularity to this.

I tend to look at relationships in three buckets.

Casual relationships – Relationships of convenience, friends with benefits, hooking up, one night stands, no strings attached, and that ilk.

Committed relationships – Relationships where two people are invested in each other and love each other (or well on the way to the big word). Legit marriage potential.

Marriage (or covenanted relationships) – Obvious.


Additionally, I distinguish sex into two classes.

Pleasure – Sex that’s more for the physical feeling than the emotional connection (note: the latter isn’t absent). Most sexual vernacular in literature (e.g. carnal act) or in speech (e.g. got it on, rode the bone, f***ing) refer to sex for pleasure.

Making love – Sex that’s rooted in emotional connection and Love. Making love, in literature or speech is unambiguous. And there’s really no other term for this.

In modern culture, it is sex for pleasure in causal relationships (therefore, casual sex) that is the challenge for me. And I agree that as Christians, we need to “swim against the current” on this. It is truly what “devalues” sex, lead people into unsavory life situations, and in really unfortunate cases, mess people up.

One thing I want to call out specifically—there’s nothing I can find in the Bible that says Sex for Pleasure is wrong. We are sexual beings. We were given the gift of enjoying sex. We are designed to enjoy physical stimulation. It is OK to enjoy the feeling of orgasm.

It’s just not OK in casual relationship. (Fornication in Acts 12, landscape of 1st century Rome.)

So this brings us to the gray area. What about sex in committed relationships?

Certainly, it is possible to “make love” in a committed relationship. The signed piece of paper marking the transition from a committed relationship to a covenanted relationship does not create love. Love cannot be written through the letters of the pen but emanate from the spirit. There are no shortages of stories, likely in every single person’s family, where a pair married out of love.

Therefore, I can only conclude that if two people are truly in love each other at a mature age and have a sexual relationship, this is perfectly fine. Yes, it’s possible that relationships can end. Marriage can too. I see Richard’s statistic above and having spent many hours fascinated on Gallup.com, can’t accept this at face value, especially in light of the variables outlined here. Correlation does not imply causation—the classic statistics adage.

-- The Anonymous G.

 
At 24/9/09 07:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Word of God says that Christians that sin should be confronted in private first, then if they do not repent you need to take two or more other Christians and confront them, if they do not repent take it to the church. If they still do not repent of their sin they need to be excommunicated by the church, this discipline is done out of love.

The problem of fornication or any other sin being widespread in the church today is due to lack of church discipline.

 
At 24/9/09 09:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This conversation has gotten somewhat muddled. While the responses are definitely divided on the topic, they are united in one unique fashion: both sides are objectifying the role of scripture. On the one hand, there are those who claim the infallible and unmovable word of God, and find the roots of this issue simply in deviance from scripture; on the other hand, there are those who point to everything the scripture doesn’t say as license for radical interpretation. Both of these paths objectify the living word of God, one making it the objective bulwark of their faith, the other making it into an objective obstacle to be circumvented. Both of these paths are different sides of the pharisaic coin.

How about a fresh approach to questions of sexuality? If the physical act of sex is the expression and manifestation of our spiritually rooted and transcendent sexuality, and if that sexuality is itself only one aspect of our desire to be reunited with the God from whom we’ve been estranged, then the most pertinent question to ask of sex is: what do you want? If the entire array of human desire stems from this one primal desire, then what is that we really want? If the pursuit of intimacy found through physical and spiritual love with another human being stems from our desire to be within Intimacy itself, will sex ever actually give us what we want, whether or not we’re in covenant relationship? Dividing the issue into those who can and who can’t have sex misses the point, for there are many who can—in the eyes of the church, at least—who objectify the transcendent act of sex in the exact same way as those who can’t.

I think that the Christian community need to take some time and ask some hard questions about the nature of sex, love, marriage, and intimacy before it makes anymore definitive prescriptions for the sexuality of others, and it is my hope that they sit with those questions for a very, very long time.

 
At 24/9/09 11:18, Blogger Raymond said...

Really? Excommunicated from the church? That's ridiculous--unless your playing religion like a Mormon. If...we are living life according to the example set by Jesus, and there is grace, and there is forgiveness, then why on earth is it up to us, who will also stand before the Judge, (standing NOT as collegues/peer judges with the One)...who, are WE to cast out? Isn't that some of the point? That people are feeling beat up and condemned by the church/religious leaving bitter tastes in their mouths to the point of washing their hands entirely of pursuing any relationship with Jesus? That whole, "I feel more comfortable in a bar" mentality because church is filled to the brim with portraits of the pious. In my experience, being shunned has not helped me become a better person, or see the error of my ways, or in aiding me in any way.    

Should the church (we comprise the body of the church) discipline? Absolutely... IF there is a relationship. Should the church encourage a moral code/compass? I think so. For myself, I'm doing the best I can. My understanding of how to have a relationship with Jesus is limited. I struggle with the basics like extending grace & forgiveness & being a true friend. I look to those who surround me to walk along side helping me grow like-mindedly. I doubt I'd have much success on my own. 

Excommuniction? Bad idea.    

 
At 24/9/09 12:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the basic biological pull of it? It's awfully hard to hold yourself back when you're making out and physically aroused with someone you deeply care about. I have to wonder if the Bible's relative "mum-ness" on the subject is due to the fact that everyone got married so early back then. What about us young adults whose bodies are rarin' to go... even while our hearts and souls would beg us to wait?

So glad you addressed the shame bit.

 
At 24/9/09 13:52, Anonymous Davey said...

There have been many excellent questions raised, and I'd like to see more people's thoughts. To the most recent post by anonymous, I would like to offer some encouragement...

The encouragement is that it is possible in today's culture, super-saturated with sex, to remain sexually pure until marriage. My wife and I stand as real-life examples of this.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, it has been worth it. In spite of our hormones and emotions raging, particularly in the months leading up to our wedding, God gave us the strength to abstain.

I know some who have written above would debate wether this extremely difficult struggle my wife and I endured was biblically based. I don't feel qualified to answer that question, although as I've read the Bible, the conclusion I come to is that sex is to be saved solely for a committed relationship in the context of marriage. All I can say with utmost confidence is that abstaining until marriage has been worth it on so many levels, not only physically, but surely emotionally and spiritually as well.

I hope some of y'all can take this as some encouragement.

 
At 24/9/09 14:09, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bodily drives... yes - supremely challenging. I have two responses, maybe three:

1. there's a larger conversation about prolonged adolescence in our culture, and the challenges that come w/ confining and denying sexuality at the time when, biologically, it's at the peak. The age for marriage grows older and older... why is this? Industrialization? Urbanization? Disillusionment with seeing marriages that don't work? Fear of commitment? Whatever it is, I agree w/ the last post, that it's a challenge

2. it will always be a challenge, so learning to live with unfulfilled desires is part of life is valuable. Once married, the realities of illness, travel, emotional upheaval, and other realities means that whatever mythical 'sex on demand' we were taught as being a benefit of marriage was a myth. Behind this myth is a larger issue still: Sex on Demand? Where did that come from? Two individuals need consensual interaction, not coerced. Thus must lust give way to love - a skill perhaps learned during the chastity of singleness.

3. can't agree that the Bible is in any way ambiguous about this subject. The very word "porneia" in the Greek language is defined as sex outside of a covenant relationship. Giving words their historical definition isn't Pharisaical - it's just good communication. After all, words do have meaning. When I say, "RED" you think of a color don't you - a sort of generally agreed upon range. Why should the word "fornication" be open to self-created definition?

 
At 24/9/09 14:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My first thought is that we don’t live up to God’s standards for any of the Christian virtues, so why should we expect chastity to be any different. If they did a similar study concerning other Christian virtues they would find similar results. We are never as generous, hospitable, humble, serving, etc. as we say/believe we should be. Couple that with the fact that sex reciprocates physical pleasure and it’s easy to see why many do not remain chaste. I think it is helpful to discuss the virtue of chastity rather than virginity, because the latter can never be fully redeemed. One can always pursue chastity even if one has lost his/her virginity. The focus of the Christian narrative should always express redemption rather than damnation.

I have another thought for anonymous G. I agree that there is a difference between casual sex and sex in loving relationships. That is an important distinction and we could probably add a few more permutation to the conversation. I think God understands intent, and the intention of people who engage in recreational sex is often very different than those who are sexually active in loving relationships. Before I married I had recreational sex and at times it made me feel sick…literally. The only purpose was to satisfy a physical/animalistic need. I also had sex in loving relationships and to be honest it felt every bit as full and complete as sex in marriage. I truly believe that I loved some of my sexual partners before marriage and sex with them was an extension of our love. I wouldn’t go as far to say that God honors sex in loving relationships before marriage. When the authors of the bible condemned sexual immorality, I think they were condemning sex before marriage as well, because they viewed sex outside of marriage as immoral. Therefore, I think your argument that the bible condemns sexual immorality but not sex before marriage breaks down, because under the umbrella of ‘sexual immorality’ includes sex before marriage. If you want a yes or no on biblical basis, it seems to me that the answer is no sex before marriage.

One final thought. These conversations can be very misleading, because they may lead one to believe that sex outside of marriage is bad and sex within marriage is well….amazing! Not true…at least not all the time. I know many married couples that entered marriage as virgins and are now very frustrated that sex is not at all what they thought it would be. They believe that by doing it right (no sex before marriage), they would be more eager, compatible, passionate, etc. and they struggle mightily when their expectations are not met. Men in these relationships usually turn to porn, and women often ignore their libido and deny their partners. I don’t mean to suggest that sex before marriage is better, however it would be dishonest to suggest that sex after marriage is always fulfilling.

 
At 24/9/09 17:17, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Above, an anonymous poster referred to the word "porneia" as the original Greek term behind the modern translation of fornication (and other terms, as it turns out).

I hadn't heard of this term before, so I Google'd it. The translation, definition, and application is not as clear as mentioned above and if you have a heart for this topic I'd recommend reading through a few of the results--I found them pretty fascinating.

I agree with the anonymous poster which writes, "[...] what do you want? If the entire array of human desire stems from this one primal desire, then what is that we really want? If the pursuit of intimacy found through physical and spiritual love with another human being stems from our desire to be within Intimacy itself, will sex ever actually give us what we want, whether or not we’re in covenant relationship? Dividing the issue into those who can and who can’t have sex misses the point [...]"

I like this because it pulls back from the digging and digging deeper into the rabbit hole. Unlike the popularized story, I don't believe there's a wonderland of understanding at the bottom. No matter what you choose, God's love and grace are still there (though the church may not be!). It resonated with me when Richard referenced last week 1 Tim 1:5. The goal is love, which comes from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. As God shapes my life, I always feel that regardless of the details I am being centered on these principles. And "center" is unique to each of us.

Pinocchio anybody?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOZzNOkcEgM

 
At 24/9/09 19:28, Blogger nach said...

How about this: what is sex for?

How we anser this question will go a long ways towards clarity. It is amazing to me that an entire comment thread can talk about sex without ONCE mentioning children. Isn't that kind of the big 'E' on the eye chart?

One of the primary reasons for sex outside of a committed covenant relationship is the children. Children, up until 50 years ago, were the number one consequence of sex.

Sex isn't about personal fulfillment.

Sex doesn't make you fully human.

Neither does marriage.

 
At 25/9/09 16:58, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two words to discuss: purity and redemption. Davey, I appreciate that you used the term, "pure," as I think this is the actual issue at hand, but has otherwise gone unmentioned in the above discussion thread.

I will admit that I myself have groaned at the word, and as a teen I was unable to make it through Elizabeth Elliott's book "Passion and Purity," judging it irrelevant and out of touch with my generation. I find myself in my mid twenties, still single and by definition a virgin, yet not without sexual sin and years that brought shame and tears. Whether from expectations put on me by the church, or my parents, or my own understanding of scripture, I felt that I'd crossed a line that should have been kept sacred. And due to that, I felt shame - even though I had never actually "had sex."

Growing up in the evangelical church, I heard so often, "don't have sex, don't have sex!" and think this message can be just as damaging as our culture's view on free-sex. The fact that this subject is so often taboo in the church has tended to create two groups of thinking; on one side, those that fear sex and think of it as bad; and those who believe that as long as they aren't actually engaging in sexual intercourse that everything is fine. Neither of these seem to be what God intended for us. Someone already mentioned the expectations one has going into Christian marriage, and I've had many friends share how challenging it was to go from the idea "no sex, sex is bad" to an attitude of "sex is good! and you should be having it daily, and what do you mean you aren't able to have an orgasm?" The chasm can be very great. So how do we bridge this divide? And is there a middle ground between the two groups that would allow us to embrace the fact that God created us as sexual beings, even while abstaining from sex before entering a covenant relationship?

The question comes back to purity. Why does that term make me so uncomfortable? Maybe because the term can be difficult to define. Or the word-association game in my mind goes instantly to "prude." Maybe because for years I've tried to convince myself that as long as I'm not having sex, my relationship with my significant other is honoring to God. But really? Lust can still be pervasive, even with all our clothes on. In 1 Tim. 4:12 we are told to "... set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity." Yikes. Somehow the call to live out the first four aspects feels easier than the last.

So what does it mean to strive for, and set an example to others, by living a life of purity? I welcome your thoughts and input. But I, for one, have been convicted that this command should not be ignored, just as we should not ignore the command to love our neighbor.

As for me, I'm striving to learn what it means to live a life of integrity in every area of my life. That one day when I sit down to tell my [at-this-point-hypothetical] children about God's views on healthy sexuality, I will be able to be proud of the story my husband and I built together. And that story begins now, in my current relationship, as my boyfriend and I seek to honor each other and God. We've both been involved in sexual sin previously, and the temptation to repeat it is big. But the desire to "do things right" is stronger. Our God is a God of redemption. If you doubt this, read Hosea. And as a community, let's pause to ponder the relevance of difficult issues, such as purity, in our world today.
-E

 
At 25/9/09 21:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Raymond - neglecting church discipline tacitly affirms the lie that verbal profession of Christ is saving even when unaccompanied by a lifestyle of genuine repentance and progress in practical holiness. It gives false assurance to people who have no biblical reason at all to feel sure about their salvation.

 
At 27/9/09 21:35, Blogger Roy said...

"...if I read the Stranger and watch Friends or Sex in the City, more than I... listen to my pastor's podcasts"

HA HA HA!

 
At 28/9/09 14:30, Blogger Becca said...

thanks Roy. that was my first thought too. hahaha.

 
At 2/10/09 13:57, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our cultures attitide:
As a Christian I believe we are to be apart from the world, we are to behave differently, we are to clothe ourselves in Godliness. If we didn't we would be just like the world, the world we see no difference in us, that said, we are to have the heart of Christ, love those who are of the world differently, as Christ loves them because they are lost. I feel it is entirely different when someone becomes a believer and professes faith in Christ. At that point we are called to a higher standard, we aren't perfect by any means but we are expected to be a witness for Christ. It is a maturing process and we need wise Godly counsel who will hold us accountable.
Shame: From the dictionary: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another: She was overcome with shame.
Sin is sin. Whether it is sexual sin or not. I think to give less creadence to sexual sin and shame you lesson the reason God forbade sex before marriage. That "guilt" we feel I believe is God given. Timothy said to flee from sin and I think his Godly advice was spot on. God knows what we humans can get ourselves into and how we can stretch the truth and bend it into something that makes us feel better about our sinful behaviour, less shameful if you will. There are consequences to sin, and yes, God is an all forgiving God, time and time again, but when do WE start to take responsibility for OUR choices? I think that this "forgiveness syndron" or the "victim mentality trip" is why we as a society, we as Christians find ourselves asking for forgiveness for the same sin over and over and over again! We as Christians need to take control of our lives and be accountable for our actions and stop playing the woe is me game and we need to do it NOW!
The "shame thing" you say comes from the accuser and the church, I would have to say partly true, I agree to an extent. If so, when do you decide to draw the line? This Shame thing, as you call it, can be a moral compass for some Christians who struggle with sexual sin day-in-and-day-out. I was married to a man, who because he felt he could be constantly forgiven, had extra-marital affairs and he never learned from his sinful behaviour (he called himself a Christian), I forgave him once, the second time I divorced him, I drew a line and held him accountable.
Sexual sin is rampant, could it be because that dastardly shame you speak of has been taken out of the equation? Yes, we all are fallen but when does a believer take the moral obligation/the moral responsibility and stand on Godly principles? We could forgive all day long, and we should but there comes a point when you say enough is enough. If you don't you end up muddying our witness to the world and confusing those who are young in Christ. We as Christians need to love as Christ loves but discipline, done in love, when Godly dicipline is needed. People, when sincere, want to know when they've crossed the line, if we keep making excuses for them they'll never grow, there are times when we need to hold them accountable, just as I need to be held accountable and learn from my sinful choices.
God's grace is amazing, like you said, restorative. But like a child, a new believer needs guidance they need to have a mature Christian, a mentor, who will hold their feet to the fire when they are finding it hard or refusing to follow Jesus and leave their sinful nature behind them, but like I said before, always done in love. If we don't, I feel that we are being spiritually negligent to our young sisters and brothers in Christ.

 
At 2/10/09 15:06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, this has been an absolutely great read and very timely as I was discussing how I've not heard this topic addressed much in church.

Bottom line, Why is a Christian's response to sexual purity different from that of the secular culture? We've made a choice to love Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. We are fallible humans with the ability to choose. As a single women I face this head-on in the dating world, and I try to date men who share in the decision to remain "pure" until marriage. This doesn't mean that neither one has messed up and thankfully God's grace heals. But so often people say they can't help themselves and that their hormones are raging and well I just need this act to release myself or experience true love. It's likely important to evaluate and understand how much of the world's view has crept in vs. the Biblical word?

Does anyone ever encounter..."I really want to enter a pure marriage 'someday' but for now I need to get all of this sexual energy out, because I know God will forgive me?" Well I feel like I come across this too often and sadly in the church.

It seems simple... stop making excuses and live it...look to Christ and not to advice from friends (particularly those who aren't saved). It's brutal sometimes living out the virtues of a Christian and remaining pure without a label, but God's love is best and worth being under His cover.

 
At 5/10/09 11:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I have been realizing lately as a single woman in the dating world is that this call to take control of my sexual appetite comes from within ME, the pain of personal experience and my own conscience. That is the place from which the Holy Spirit, that spirit of truth, speaks. The fact that it is further affirmed in Christian tradition and scripture validates it as truth. However, it is important to note that I did not just decide to place a boundary around sex because my religion told me so. I did it because I discovered that the only true love, the only love to trust completely that will never leave is in Jesus.

So what do you do with this truth when most of the dating world, especially men, does not understand or want to hear it? Rather than beating our brains against the boundaries, why not consider them an opportunity instead?
If God is imparting to me that this is important, He would be doing so out of love (Hebrews 12:10). In this culture of instant gratification, we're losing the value of discipline. This boundary is a gift, because it invites us into exploring ourselves and others more deeply than we ever would have if we settled for sexual pleasure in the moment. What do we really want when we have sex? To know and be known, to be completely naked and unashamed, to be loved.

This paradigm shift is so difficult, but so important. When we forget the idea of disciplining ourselves and being patient enough to earn this pleasure, we run the risk of seeking the pleasure, NOT the person, first. The person becomes a means to our own ends and a thing to control. So much brokenness comes from this.

These days I am praying for PATIENCE with each new dating experience. I don't want to be so caught up in the whole sex-or-no-sex conundrum that I miss the person, worthy of knowing, that God has placed in front of me. I also pray for my very real passion and sexual appetite, for caution not to awaken it before it's time (Song of Songs, 8:4), and cloud my vision whether this person's soul really fits mine as a companion.

 
At 6/10/09 15:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If any of you are interested in hearing more voices that are a part of this dialogue, there are a few books that have been very helpful for me as I've struggled to figure all of this out. Rob Bell wrote a really fun and encouraging book called "Sex God." Another good one that I read together with my wife was called "Sacred Sex" by Tim Allen Gardner. While I was single in college, I thought a lot about my own sexual purity and a helpful book was "Every Young Man's Battle" by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. Of all three of these books, Sex God by Rob Bell was the most positive and thought provoking. It touched on many of these issues that have already been discussed in this thread.

 

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