If we talk about Jesus as Lord of our lives, and neglect ever mentioning sex, we truly are tiptoeing around the elephant in the room. Sex, after all, is a huge part of the human experience.
God invented sex. It’s normal. He didn’t, however, leave the details up to us as if to say, “I put an itch in you, now scratch it however you want.”
When forward is backward
Christians believe there are limitations on sexual expression, and largely due to this caveat, we have never been popular with the mainstream. The Bible’s teaching on sex collides with social progress. But that alleged progress is illusory. The world might feel as though it’s moving forward into sexual open-mindedness, but it only seems that way.
The progress we think is happening is actually a regress back to the times of Roman paganism, in a world where the Bible didn’t figure in to the lives of most people. The church can’t afford to go along with this move. We have a hard enough time going forward without contemplating a backward trajectory.
The Dangers of doing what your feelings say
We’re not cherry picking a stray issue. Over half the books of the New Testament mention the dangers of sexual immorality. You’ll find prohibitions against adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and the lust of the eyes (which includes pornography). The world tells people who have these feelings they must act on them, because they are fated to act them out, anyway. May as well enjoy it, otherwise you’ll pop, or end up with a weird neurosis.
The Bible warns us Christians not to listen to such advice. Sexual sin retards the work of God in your life to produce the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, kindness, meekness, gentleness (Gal. 5:22-23). It also dulls the spiritual condition, since impurity of heart causes one not to see God (Matt. 5:8). Finally, it leads to enslavement (Rom 6:19), where habits become so entrenched we could never imagine ourselves free of them.
The good news is that when Christ is Lord of our personal space, freedom from sexual sin is normal. Three principles are useful toward this end.
1. Be Willing to Learn
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 (1 Thes. 4:2-5).
Abstinence from sexual immorality involves a serious learning curve. It’s not easy. As believers, we each have an individual responsibility to know how to control our bodies, not to the standards of society, but according to the holiness of God. Unfortunately, we prefer to tackle other, easier areas of life.
Sex—a typical area of Christian defeat
Phil Yancey, celebrated Christian author, speaks of a man named Harold who had befriended him in the church of his youth. Harold excelled at being offended with behavioral minutiae such as women wearing makeup, contemporary musical instruments in church, and anything that didn’t conform to his extremely particular nuanced views of how things ought to be.
True to his cranky, judgmental nature, Harold eventually left the church. Much later, Yancey began writing his long string of best-selling Christian books. As a courtesy, he would send a copy of each one to his old friend Harold, who would respond with long, disapproving critiques. In one case, Harold was so offended with a title —Disappointment with God—he didn’t even bother to open the book. But he still managed to write a scathing, three-page dismissal of it. Nothing was moral enough, correct enough, for Harold.
This only heightened Yancey’s utter shock when he eventually found out that his old legalistic church friend had been arrested for distribution of pornography.
And before anyone thinks such failures belong solely to seedy basement perverts of the male gender, it’s also a female problem. I had a conversation a while back about a young worship leader who had a lot of muscles and a great haircut. He would get notes from female congregants who complimented his physique in inappropriate ways with requests for a “hook up.”
In another case, a young church leader reported how, as he helped to pass the bread and wine during the Lord’s Supper, he received a note from an attractive woman with her bustline measurements written inside and an offer for “action” after church.
Circling back around to Christians of both genders, I haven’t even touched “Christian” dating. That world often operates by its own playbook with even mature singles acting as irresponsibly as any hormone-driven teenager.
We’d rather not talk about this
We Christians have learned how to grow churches, argue doctrine, and build ministry empires. But the area of sexual purity is not one where we post a lot of victories. In fact, when it comes to talking about sex, we’ve been programmed to resist the discussion. Who wants to talk about something where defeat occurs regularly?
When we do listen, historically it’s been to the wrong people—the ladies on “The View,” Oprah, professors at junior colleges, preachers who talk a lot about love while dumbing down the rest of the Bible, and so forth. Real believers, though, listen to apostolic source material given through Jesus Christ. As Paul said, they gave us instructions, and we need to learn how to implement them.
That’s why we need to come to the second great principle.
2. Start on the Inside
Our problem with sexual purity doesn’t begin with things we do. It begins with the personal space of the heart. Jesus said,
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matt. 15:19).
It stands to reason, that if we want to deal with sexual issues, we must start inside, where sinful impulses first appear.
Paul picked up on this theme and constructed his famous list in Galatian 5. Notice it begins with the usual suspects:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).
The Galatians were thoroughly gentile people who prior to their conversion had no exposure to the Scriptures. Like all non-Jews of that time, they had been entrenched in the behaviors and lifestyles condemned in the list above, believing it was all normal.
Now they were probably asking, How do we even stand a chance of departing those things, especially the sexual ones? They’re all so internal that they’re part of us. These drives demand gratification.
But Paul had started off this section by writing, “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). He no doubt agreed that their feelings were internal, but reminded them that the Holy Spirit was now internal to them as well. After someone truly repents and believes in Jesus, the Spirit takes up residence within them.
As a result, those Galatians had all the power in the universe for holy living inside of them. They only needed to walk according to it. Neither Paul, nor any of the apostles taught techniques, because they believed God had maxed out the typical believer with the Holy Spirit, who is the ultimate resource for holiness.
This sounds terribly naïve to Christians today.
Cursed out for believing the Apostle Paul
During my time in the service when I was a new Christian, the Army sent me to a school for special training. I carpooled in a van to class with a number of other young men, most of whom were under 25. A few in the vehicle were Christians. We had already been away from our wives for one week and some of the guys had begun to have issues. The talk in the van became sexually charged, graphic. I felt since I was with Christians, it was safe to voice the obvious, so I did: “Maybe we just need to walk according to the Spirit.”
Instead of grudging agreement, each fellow took turns hammering me with profanity. I was lambasted and cursed. Even the Christians present found it ludicrous to suggest that men might be able to walk above sexual temptation.
Thirty years have gone by and I’ve learned some things about human life. When I look back at that van at my younger self, so fresh-faced and green, I smile and wink and say, “The kid was right.”
Galatians 5:16 isn’t naïve, it’s the truth.
Walk in Spirit—Let everything be real
It may have been a while since you felt the inward presence of God. Under those circumstances, of course spiritual things are going to sound impotent. Although God has invested the spiritual equivalent of a billion dollars into you, you may very well be living as though you’re in a spiritual third world country, making 37 cents a day.
But before you start thinking that to walk by the Spirit is some type of secret or spiritual hack, or unusual experience, it’s not. There’s no programmer code here. It merely means living a life that gives preferential treatment to the Holy Spirit.
Prayer, for instance, stops being a perfunctory exercise and turns into worshipful conversations with God that go deep. Confession no longer skims the surface of our shortcomings, but draglines the bottom of our heart, dredging up our most honest and painful failures.
Church changes from being a time slot to being a group of companions that endlessly encourage you forward, even when you’d rather drift away. Your daily life loses all the fragmented little buckets that separate sacred from secular, and starts to coalesce into one long continuum.
A walk by the Spirit is not one practice—a single silver bullet—but all of them coming together in a way that utterly changes our inward orientation from fleshly to spiritual. One of the most immediate results of this close proximity to the Spirit’s ministry leads a person to confess and realize “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3).
But even at this wonderful stage, we’re not done yet with making Christ Lord of our sex life.
3. Make Changes on the Outside to Support the Inside
This last principle involves supporting our inward spiritual experiences by making practical changes on the outside. Scripture says,
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom. 13:14).
The verse literally tells us not to plan opportunities for our flesh. This means we’ll need to think proactively to insure that doesn’t happen, and implement practical measures in our daily life experience. After all, what good is it to pursue inward revival, but keep old things in place that will continually sabotage it?
Be honest with yourself. What are the outward triggers that tempt you toward sexual sin? Is it a time of the day when you’re tired? Lonely? Upset? Make arrangements to mix things up so as to remove the trigger.
Is it a location like the beach, where there’s a lot of skin scenery? Try a vacation destination that’s less risque—trout streams and mountain ranges, maybe. Is it a gym where the people who work out there don’t really need it, but love being seen in yoga pants? You might want to switch to a gym where the members look like me.
Is your trigger related to an activity, like watching women’s sand volleyball? Learn guitar instead. Or go mow the grass.
Is it literature such as romance novels that read like soft porn? Celebrity gossip rags with photos of beautiful, almost naked folks? Mags with fully naked folks? Pick up a Bible. Or classics. Or comics instead.
Is your trigger a television show, like the series programming people binge on? Some like Game of Thrones offer voyeuristic thrills that wear down resistance to harder forms of sexual stimulation.
And don’t forget the wild, wild west of the internet. Do you frequently get in trouble there? Try setting up boundaries for yourself that only allow for work related surfing. Keep your computer in a public place. Install accountability software.
None of this of course, will matter if you’re not willing to be honest with yourself. Don’t say you’re doing pretty good. “Pretty good” is not the standard. The holiness of God is the standard.
The standard, the norm for a Christian, is Christ enthroned over sex.
This is part 3 of a 4 part series called Jesus Christ, Lord of Your Personal Space.