1 Thessalonians 4:3–8 (ESV) — 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 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. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
I’ve encountered some folks who, when in discussions about sexual ethics, love to point out the apparent hypocrisy in the church at large. Sexual abuse, pornography, divorce, molestation, and such, are seemingly rampant in the church. It seems odd to many that we would invest so much capital on the issue of sexual ethics for those outside the church. “Why must we live by your standards?” they ask. Or: “Worry about your own damn body!” While I believe in the objectivity of sexual sin and that it’s clearly something that needs to be repented of in the act of Christian conversion, and also believe the state has a scriptural role in public policy regarding human sexuality for the common good (1 Tim. 1:8-11), I am willing to concede that it must sound condescending to our neighbors when we’re addicted to porneia in our homes. And, sadly, in some cases, we are hateful. And even more sadly, many of us have been far too occupied with the matter of public policy alone, neglecting any attempts of intentional ministry to those who seek to follow Jesus in their sexuality. At the same time, I don’t place much stock in the idea that such critics will automatically repent if the church displayed 100% purity on this matter. The charge of our own infidelity is usually a red herring, nothing more, but that doesn’t excuse us from soul-searching on the matter. Right or wrong, the evangelical church is being hindered by what appears in the minds of many to be a preoccupation with sexuality. While the issue is at the forefront, owing more to the push from advocates on the other side, it is somehow seen as something initiated and instigated by us. Those are the realities of the narrative, and instead of crying foul, we must recognize the enemies’ traps and opt for a different narrative.
One’s infidelity (including our own) doesn’t negate the objectivity of the truth (and our witness to it), but it should humble us when we take up any discussion on sexual matters. We are fellow sinners who know all too well (more than most of us would like to admit) the challenges of temptation in the sexual realm. If we believe that God’s way is one that leads to greater joy and fulfillment, we must view discussions about sexuality first and foremost as a gospel discussion, a way to share good news. The narrative must link with God’s benevolent creational intent, our rebellion and misery, and the pathway to redemption. This is an existential problem for all people at all times. The early church pushed forth a revolutionary message on sexuality that corrected the abuses at extreme ends of the spectrum: licentiousness and strict asceticism. In a sexually perverse culture, the church gained a reputation for authenticity in familial commitments. This new way displayed the goodness of God. These marriages displayed the gospel. The world was turned upside down, not through legislative and judicial victories but trough the salt and light emanating from the people of the way.
Even if public policy deterred more overt sin, and even if we were successful in shaming people into heterosexual fidelity, not a single soul would be added to the kingdom. We could rejoice over the victories in the courts while at the same time ignoring the more loving and sacrificial act of coming alongside people in the midst of their sexual brokenness and helping them walk the pathway of grace. It’s not an either/or proposition, please don’t misunderstand, but a both/and. What should be the cause of rejoicing, however, is the sinner who repents. I know the angels rejoice over the sinner who repents.
Just as conservatives criticize liberals for enlarging the arm of the state in enforcing and compelling their vision for humanity, let’s not resort to the weaponry of that warfare alone. God didn’t ordain the government to fight a proxy war on behalf of Christians. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual. No, I’m not advocating some radical dualism that detaches spiritual realities from their physical manifestation but rather the implementation of other means when we may have foolishly dedicated all of our energies in the flesh and blood game. During a time when the fields are ripe for harvest, do we want to go down as the generation who fought the Cold War for a monopoly on public policy?
Yes, God is going to judge sexual sin (and that means all) and, yes, his wrath is being stored up on account of all such sin. But let this sober reminder sink in, that God is an “avenger” in response to the sexual sin within the church and our own lives, because we’ve been especially called as his vessels of grace and mercy. As we work to keep our own marriage bed pure with great humility and dependency upon grace, and as we’ve experienced God’s restorative grace when we’ve grieved him and fallen in such ways, let’s view not view the sexually immoral around us as enemies to be defeated through the proxy of the state, but rather as fellow sinners in need of abounding grace. This is not a call to total abandonment in the sphere of the state, but a reallocation of our resources and energies. We need not compromise our convictions, but need to start living them out, as in being more intentional about winning people to Jesus. This isn’t a call to spineless sentimentality but to sacrificial service. If we become marginalized martyrs, let it be because of our love for others, not just because we insisted on our rights.
© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.