Women and Sexual Sin, Part 3


Through the discussions posed by many Christian writers and thinkers, a realization has been made that the “big” sins associated with physical infidelity are  behaviors that are the natural end of increasingly sinful thought lives. In other words, if a woman asks the question, “How close can I be with my co-worker without having technically cheated on my husband?” then, according to Scripture, infidelity has already occurred. When Jesus taught, He addressed this correlation between the thoughts and the actions of man. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). He also told his followers, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

While the issues of fornication, adultery, and homosexuality must be addressed and the behaviors replaced with good, godly behaviors, the Scriptures are clear in teaching that the real issues began not at the moment of physical immorality, but at the moment the thought of infidelity was first entertained. This is a concept that is lost on people today. Society tells people that anything is ok as long as you are not caught. Christ taught that the mind, the inner thoughts that can technically never be caught, are the starting point for sinful living.

For the person counseling a woman involved in sinful sexual behavior, the key to being restored to right relationships is an understanding that the root issue is not the behavior, it is the heart. While it is the behavior that has shattered relationships, if there is not change in the heart and mind, the change in behavior will not be a lasting change. “Though people involved in sexual sin say that they ‘fell in love,’ suggesting a response outside their control, every person has the ability to choose his or her actions. Choosing to sin sexually generally results from pursuing a feeling of closeness to another person without risking true intimacy or responsibility.”

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul gave this explanation to the Romans concerning the relationship between the thought life and the behavior of believers: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2). Simply stated, if a woman will study the Scripture, will submit herself to intensive discipleship that is focused on the “renewing of your mind,” then the offering of her body as a living sacrifice will the natural response.

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Women and Sexual Sin, Part 2


Many are unwilling to completely abandon the Freudian ideas of a sex-driven society and have attempted to explain Christian morality with a psychological bent. Secular ideas have been given Christian-sounding names and have been sold as biblical truth. According to a United Methodist clergy member and clinical psychologist, sexual sin has only occurred when “genital contact involves an imbalance of power.” This definition was followed by two examples, child molestation and abuse by clergy. Dr. McClintock writes that the church should rid itself of sexual shame not by talking through the biblical stances concerning sex, but rather by accepting the varying sexual activities taking place in the lives of church members and celebrating them all as an expression of God’s love for humanity.

This argument is an attempt to gain approval of society’s embrace of all sexual behavior as good. By saying God is love and any showing of love is from God, the attempt is made to put God’s seal of approval on activities that are blatantly against teachings in Scripture. But many in Christianity are unwilling to call sin what it is, and instead of teaching about a God who is simultaneously loving and just, they teach that God simply wants his children to be happy. Dr. Heimbach also stated that “with the rise of modernism, an opposing, permissive approach to sexual morality rose to usurp the traditional approach in American culture.” This modern approach makes the argument that “families depend on being happy, and no one is compelled to stay in a family if he or she is unhappy.” No where in Scripture will a passage be found that says that God just wants his children to be happy.God desires what is best for His creation, and the laws He gave concerning our interactions with one another are for our own good, to bring us hope and a future. Much like a father that truly loves his child will set parameters on her behavior, God’s rules are not to stymie our happiness, but to protect us and bring us joy from experiencing His gifts in the best way possible.

There are many passages, however that do say how God expects his children to behave; God expects his children to behave in a holy manner. “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Leviticus 20:26). The Heavenly Father doesn’t necessarily expect his children to be happy, but he does expect them to be holy, and this holiness should be an integral part of every facet of the life of a believer.

Many consider “holy sex life” to be an oxymoronic phrase, but the Bible has much to say about healthy, holy sexual behavior. Scripture also includes many passages concerning unhealthy and sinful sexual behavior and how an individual can get from unhealthy to healthy, and vice versa. God’s high standard for holiness in sexuality is described well by one Christian writer:
Countless adults enter into all sorts of sexual sin through illicit conversation, off-color teasing, flirting, and inappropriate demonstrations of affection. As long as they don’t commit fornication, they rationalize that they haven’t done anything wrong.

If we’re going to be protected against sexual seduction, we must recognize a radical standard of holiness…. The Word of God uses a very strong command for times when we are tempted to sexual immorality: flee! (1 Cor. 6:18). Scripture tells us to run for our lives from sexual sin (Beth Moore, When Godly People do Ungodly Things, p.164).

Many women find themselves in serious trouble sexually because they wanted to see just how far they could go without crossing the line of appropriateness. God’s call to holiness is not one of toeing the line and seeing just how much one can get out of the world without being in the world. Holiness is a call to be as close to the Father as possible, of clinging to him wholeheartedly. Another author describes holiness in this manner:
Holiness is the image of God put in moral terms…Scripture presents holiness as something extremely positive. We could list a lot of things the Bible says are not holy, but that would tell us nothing about holiness in a positive sense… Holiness in the positive sense is nothing other than measuring up to the character of God, which qualifies us to receive wonderful benefits from an intimate relationship with God (Daniel Heimbach, True Sexual Morality, p. 142-143).

There is absolutely nothing in the character of God that allows for the attitude of finding out how far is “too far.” If Christians are commanded to flee even sexual temptation, there is certainly no indication that one would be ok spiritually to stick around and just find out what may happen next.

While there are many aspects of sexuality and relationships that are viewed as “gray areas” in Christianity, there are certain sexual behaviors that are blatantly outlined in Scripture as being sinful. In the book Women Helping Women, counselor Diane Tyson lists and defines those behaviors. Tyson lists adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and celibate marriage as sexual behaviors that are strictly forbidden. Also included in the discussion are masturbation and sexual fantasies, topics not specifically discussed in Scripture.

I will go into more detail about these issues in next week’s posts.

Women and Sexual Sin, Part 1


For many years, sexual sins were addressed almost exclusively from a male perspective. Most of society held the belief that sex was a male-oriented activity in which a woman may or may not be a willing participant (Letha Dawson Scanzoni, Sexuality. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984, 30). And, with few exceptions, sex was almost never discussed. With the concurrent sexual and feminist revolutions of the 1960s, sex was thrust to the forefront of society, and the repercussions have been enormous. The cultural pendulum concerning sexuality has now swung from the Victorian attitude of shame and silence to the other extreme of exhibitionism and experimentation. This can be seen in the story of Kate Logan, a young woman who, at her high school graduation ceremony disrobed and delivered her valedictory address completely naked. “Afterwards she said it was an effort to express the spirituality of graduation… She believed is made perfect sense and deserved special praise… To Kate Logan, disrobing in front of everyone at graduation made sense because she believed unrestrained sex is the one true path to spiritual life” (Daniel Heimbach, True Sexual Morality, Wheaton: Crossway, 2004, 35). Sex is now the prevailing topic of discussion in secular society. One needs only to pick up a magazine or turn on the television to be completely inundated with sexual images.

This constant exposure to sexuality has led to many issues almost unheard of in previous decades. Divorce rates have sky-rocketed, the invention of reliable birth control and the legalization of abortion have instilled in youth a no-consequences attitude concerning sexual experimentation. The current sexual activity at the forefront of society is homosexual behavior. Television shows are centered on homosexual relationships, and the topic is even a priority in politics.

One place that has been strangely quiet concerning the issue of sex has been the conservative, evangelical church. Most people raised in church receive this advice concerning sex: “Sex is bad until you get married and then you should only do it with your spouse.” There is little discussion concerning the overwhelming exposure to sex in society, and sex is often still seen as something inappropriate to talk about in a church setting. While commenting on the lack of communication in the church concerning sexual issues, Dr. Paige Patterson wrote,
Indeed, Christians have sometimes failed to address sexual issues in a thoughtful and helpful fashion, giving instead the impression that Christian living is an endless series of prohibitions aimed at preventing any enjoyment in life…[The] secular community has never been seriously challenged to reflect on the claims of Christ and the Bible about the purpose, function, and success of human sexuality. Most simply have no idea what the true basis and purpose of Christian sexual morality is all about (Ibid., 17).

Because of this, many sexual struggles have simply been buried by many in the church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once commented on this issue in the church: “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we live alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.” Sexual sin is still the greatest taboo in the church, but in recent years, many people have begun breaking the silence concerning sexual strongholds. It is interesting to note that many people breaking their silence are women. The church’s silence concerning sex led a generation of people to seek answers from the world. Now that those answers have proven empty and devastating, many people are turning to the church seeking healing, real answers, true joy, and fulfillment.

In her book Passion and Purity, author Elisabeth Elliot made this statement concerning Christians and sexual desire: “It is a powerful lie that, because sexual desire is natural, healthy, and God given, anything I do because of that desire is natural, healthy, and God given…. Christians who are buying such rubbish today are without honor. They have lost the notions of fidelity, renunciation, and sacrifice, because nothing seems worth all that.” The world has convinced the church of the aforementioned lie, and now, much of the church is scrambling to find a response.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 5


This is part 5 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Heyward concludes her argument with a rallying cry for change. As is the case throughout her article, her call to change is correct, but the direction in which she desires to enact this change is deadly. The following is Heyward’s proposed solution to the issue of a misunderstanding of sexuality in the church:

If we are to live with our feet on the ground, in touch with reality, we must help one another accept the fact that we who are christian are heirs to a body-despising, woman-fearing, sexually repressive religious tradition. If we are to continue being members of the church, we must challenge and transform it at the root. What is required is more than simply a “reformation.” I am speaking of revolutionary transformation. Nothing less will do (Heyward, 16).

Heyward’s call to recognize the past sins of the church is valid. Only when sins are acknowledged and repented of can true healing take place and forgiveness be granted. A vast number of problems within the Church today would be resolved literally overnight if believers were willing to repent and humbly seek forgiveness from their God and from their fellow believers. God confirms this promise in 2 Chronicles 7.14: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” True change occurs not through bitter retribution, as Heyward suggests, but through humble repentance and forgiveness.

This issue of creating idols out of sex and self ultimately stems from a misunderstanding of the person, nature, and work of God. Most claim that their disdain for God’s moral law has little to do with their “personal” relationship with God. They claim to love God. Their problems is with Scripture. Some may think that this type of thinking is extreme and could never be found in the mind of the average church member. But it is creeping into the pews and can be heard in excuses given concerning sexual immorality, divorce, exorbitant debt and a host of other self-gratifying sins. When people make statements like, “I know the Bible says it’s wrong, but God wants me to be happy,” they are judging Scripture through the lens of personal experience—the exact thing sexual pagans do to justify the worship of sex and self.

This idolatrous thinking has made its way into the local church, and it will not be corrected through a “revolutionary transformation,” but only through a humble reformation, by a return to the recognition that the God worthy of service and worship is powerful and sovereign, and He alone ensures that His will and ways have been communicated to His people without error or confusion. Those who think that Scripture is irrelevant today because it has been corrupted throughout time do not have a low view of man or of Scripture. They have a low view of God and his ability to maintain His promise that “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is 40.8).

Carter Heyward has so much right in her argument: sexuality can be seen as an aspect of humanity that is fluid and changing. While people (with very rare, medical exceptions) are born biologically heterosexual, through the influence of man’s sinful heart and the impact of the sinful choices of others, some go against the loving and unchanging one, right way of the loving Father and go astray, seeking to do things their own way (Is 53.6). Choosing to follow the sinful desires of the heart is not a liberating way of finding oneself and realizing one’s full potential, as a loving bodyself like Heyward tries so hard to claim. Rather, when man chooses to go his own way, his iniquities are not laid upon the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. By going one’s own way, one is committing to pay the price for sins committed against an infinitely holy God.

For too long the church has silently sat back and uncomfortably watched society claim sex as its own. Before it is too late for the next generation of believers, the church must heed the warning of those who seek to take the good gift of God and further corrupt it in sexual paganism: “Our silence will not protect us…. We are shaping history with our words. Either we speak as best we can or our power… will slip away like a thief in the night” (Heyward, 16). Unlike Heyward, who believes that humanity’s power comes in unity with one’s self and with one another, Christians must remember that God’s grace is sufficient in whatever battle may be faced when standing in the truth of the Word. Christians are called to speak out against those who claim to speak for God but spread lies. Silence will not protect us, but it will most certainly condemn us if we remain silent concerning the increasing attack on biblical sexual morality.

CS Lewis and Sexual Morality


While researching for a paper, I reviewed Lewis’ chapter concerning sexual morality in Mere Christianity. Lewis concludes the chapter with this word of warning:

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of  power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who regularly goes to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

In his classically biting and convicting style, Lewis forces his reader to consider first the plank in his own eye. As Christians, we claim to subscribe to the ridiculously high standard of Christ, who declared that adultery starts in the heart, not in the sex act. This idea was not unique to the “new” ethic of Jesus; Proverbs 23.7 says, “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Our thoughts say much more about who we are as people and as disciples of Christ– like a blinding headache or paralysis are external symptoms of an internal brain disease, our actions are just outer symptoms of an inner heart disease called sin. The Pharisees were notorious for judging others by their actions, but Jesus reminded them that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16.7). So many times we judge those around us by their behaviors– or worse, by their behavior before they surrendered their hearts and their lives to Christ. We would do well to remember that in the eyes of God, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23). But even for those of us who have committed supposedly more grievous sins, Paul declares, “such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6.11). In God’s accounting, sin is sin, and even the smallest sin in man’s eyes is an infinite insult requiring infinite separation from an infinitely holy God. Let us not forget that in more than one of Paul’s lists of sins which deny entrance to heaven, disobedience to parents, lying tongues, and envy are listed side by side with the “big sins” of murder and theft and sexual immorality.

Just as Lewis closed his chapter, we will do well to remember that we are not to remain in any sin. Previously in this chapter, Lewis discussed the difficulty of striving against sin and the benefit of fighting through and overcoming our temptations. He wrote:

For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process [of fighting and overcoming temptation] trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

May we never be content with anything less than perfection! Though we will never reach it this side of our glorification, may we never cease seeing it as our goal! May our single desire be that we would be holy as He is holy.