Jon Moffitt: Hi, this is Jon. Before we get started, we want to give parents a heads up that we are going to be talking about something that you may not have had conversations with your children yet. You may want to use this opportunity to listen to the podcast before you do. We do know that several families listened to the Theocast, and we’re thankful for that.
Today, Justin and I are going to be covering weakness, sexuality, and the gospel, and how often our culture is trying to press upon us that if we hold any other position, then that position is barbaric. We also talk about how we can come in using the gospel to present something that is refreshing that leads people out of bondage and back into joy in Christ.
In our members’ podcast, Justin pulls out a very interesting proverb where we are warned that if we engage in sexual deviancy, that we can carry around that shame. How do we understand that from a covenantal reformed perspective? Also, how has the church has failed in explaining God’s purpose for sexuality?
Today is one of those subjects that are heavy. There is a lot that could be said, and we’re going to be challenged to try and keep this within the allotted time that we have.
Justin Perdue: This introduction to the topic might be a little bit longer than normal. I’ve already green-lighted Jon to jump in and trample on me at any point that he feels like he needs to.
This came from a sermon that I preached recently in our church. I’m preaching in the early chapters of Proverbs. There’s a lot in Proverbs about sex and our sexual lives. Sometimes the church is thought of as being this prudish place where we don’t talk about sex and it’s taboo. The reason that’s the case is not because of the Bible. The Bible is not silent on these matters, and God has revealed a number of things to us in His word, including what we might call a biblical sexual ethic. By that, I mean that there is a framework in which we are to express ourselves sexually and we are to enjoy the great gift that sex is. That framework or that context is the covenant of marriage. It’s one man and one woman in a covenant relationship. We get that from God’s word and we believe that it’s genuinely good for us because God has told us that this is how we’re to live together, and this is how we will flourish.
Before we launch into this conversation, I want to be clear that biblical sexual ethic, and it’s important to say this in our current cultural moment, is not about being holier than thou. It is not about power or oppression. So much of the rhetoric and dialogue in our culture today is about those things – it’s always this framework of power and oppression. This is not about that. This is not about imperialism or some sort of patriarchal way of thinking.
It’s clear that in our culture, we’ve reached a moment where a biblical sexual ethic is seen as savage or barbaric. There are a number of ways to illustrate this. I’ve mentioned this in my sermon intro the other day: there’s a new hit song by an artist named Cardi B called WAP. I don’t need to go into what that even stands for. The listeners could search it if they wanted to. If you look at the non-edited lyrics, it’s a tough read. There are a number of things that song says but it’s being celebrated by many as a sex-positive anthem for women.
I bring that up to illustrate a point that it sounds insane to the modern ear when we limit the expression of our sexuality or that we would ever say that there is an appropriate framework in which it is to be expressed. It has always been this way in the history of humanity, but the religion of our current cultural moment certainly says something like this: look inside yourself, see who you are, go be that person, and don’t let anybody stop you.
Jon Moffitt: Which it should not be. To Justin and I, we wholeheartedly agree that this is not a surprise to either of us. The Christian should not be surprised because the Bible makes it very clear that through the fall of Adam, all kinds of sin shall come and it has happened for thousands of years. This isn’t the fault of the United States; this is the fall of man.
Justin Perdue: This is fallen human culture.
Let’s be really clear: sex is really good. It’s a great gift from God. We may talk about this more later, but there has been a tendency in the church to depict sex as a less than good thing. This has been very unhelpful because that is not at all how the Bible presents it.
Sex, as good as it is, is powerful. Like any good and powerful thing, whenever we use it in a way that God has not designed it for, it becomes very self-destructive and it produces unbelievable amounts of pain in people’s lives. If we just look around within the church and within the culture, people are hurting because of this. The culture today thinks that a way that we can mitigate that pain is to stop everybody from ever saying anything about what we might be doing sexually, get everybody to applaud what we’re doing in how we seek to express ourselves, and get everybody to agree that nothing that I’m doing sexually could ever be wrong. We think that somehow this will mitigate pain – but it doesn’t work.
If you look at fallen man, there is within all of us a haunting suspicion that God’s Law is right and we don’t want it to be right in our flesh. In addition to what I just said about mitigating pain, we think that we can somehow keep God’s Law from accusing and condemning us if we just speak really loudly over it. Or we think that we can somehow escape the accusing and the condemning nature of God’s Law against our sin by running as far and as fast as possible away from it, just screaming and celebrating our freedom as we go. It’s very clear that it doesn’t work.
The difference between the church and the world is not that we have our house in order sexually. The difference is we understand that we do not have our house in order, and we are trusting Christ.
Jon Moffitt: We should understand it.
Justin Perdue: Right. I’m just going to say it for the sake of presentation.
The difference between the church, rightly thinking, is that we know we don’t have our house in order and we trust Christ for that. We’re looking to Jesus for his atoning work that has satisfied for our sin. We’re looking to Jesus for his obedience and his righteousness that are counted to us by faith. That is the only way that we can actually stop God’s Law from accusing us and condemning us. If we seek to silence God’s Law or to stop that accusing and condemning that God’s Law rightly does to us any other way, we will fail. It is only in Christ. He is the only answer.
Jesus and his work for the Christian allows the church to stare God’s Law in the face and assess what it actually says to us about our sexual lives. Christ has paid for the failings, God has adopted us, we’ve been made righteous in Jesus, and his holiness is counted to us. We’re safe. Then we strive by the power of the Holy Spirit to conform our lives to what God says is good. That’s how the church approaches this issue.
There’s a lot more that I could say, but I think that’s a long introduction. Let’s chop it up a little about God’s Law, sex, the church, and everything.
Jon Moffitt: That was a very helpful introduction.
One of the things that I see in our current culture – and when people call it savage and barbaric, this is why – is how Christians have failed in the communication of pointing out the error of sexuality in our cultures. In Genesis 6, God tells Noah of what the sexual ethic shall be for all of humanity. This is not for Christians but for all of humanity: they are to procreate – one man and one woman together.
This is part of understanding Kingdom theology, and VanDrunen’s book is helpful here: there are only two commands given to all in this context and those are bloodshed and sexual ethic. When an inappropriate sexual culture begins to revolutionize, what they don’t understand is that they’re falling into bondage. Christianity comes in and says nowhere else in our society do we want to try and identify ourselves by a particular act. You will see people identify themselves as human beings, and then they will explain what they do as a human being. I might be a politician, a lawyer, a doctor, a stay-at-home mom, a mechanic, or whatever it is you do. No one wants you to accept what they do for a living as who they are, but they want you to accept what they do, which is the unacceptable, and their conscience knows it. The Law in their hearts knows that it’s wrong.
I watched a video recently of parents who are concerned because of certain videos popping up on their children’s iPads. They’re really trying to make normal for our culture the things that the Bible has said is bondage. It is enslaving. It is anti-God’s nature. It is anti-God’s Law. As Christians, when we come in and speak to this, we need to understand that we are trying to free people from bondage. We are not here to condemn them but we are here to preach God’s Law in its full weight – but we do so with grace and mercy. Because if it were not for the grace of God, we too would fall into the same bondage. We as Christians have and often do fall in bondage to sin. Galatians 6:1 comes in and says to restore such a one with a spirit of gentleness lest you to fall into sin.
I would say on both sides, our culture has failed in pressing in on this, though we shouldn’t be shocked. Christianity has failed in our response. We don’t need to get up and preach angrily at these people, but we need get up and preach at them with a spirit of compassion and mercy. Preaching angrily would look like this: “Oh, but you don’t understand. You were trying to justify your position and all we’re saying is you’re actually in bondage and you don’t know.”
Justin Perdue: Many listening to the podcast will be familiar with the term “purity culture”. Purity culture was, and still is, a thing in the evangelical church. The ’90s and the 2000s might have been the peak of this.
Jon Moffitt: I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris came out around this time.
Justin Perdue: The real emphasis on a different dating culture in the church over and against the secular dating culture, and other things like that. In its poor moments, the purity culture rhetoric could almost be reduced to something like this for a younger person, in particular: you are a good Christian if you have a quiet time, if you do not look at pornography, and if you don’t have sex. That is the definition of a good and faithful Christian. In that context, there is a lack of the gospel and a lot of confusion over Law and gospel. It was and even still has been harmful to people – maybe that’s the wrong word, maybe that’s too strong – but it has been confusing and less than helpful for many. A number of people have been burned by it.
Within that purity culture context, it’s threatening, it’s always negative, sex is presented as bad and dirty and evil, and it is this thing that is to be avoided at all costs. At a minimum, we can say it confuses the gospel and throws a lot of clutter on top of it.
Jon Moffitt: Unfortunately, for the first eight years of my ministry here in Tennessee, I did college and young adults which means I did four to eight weddings every summer. In these premarital counseling moments I would have with these couples, what I began to realize is that they had never really been given the positive side of what intimacy was designed for. All they’re told is not to do it until they get married, and that’s it. I would be counseling couples after they got married and there would be so many complications in their marriage. I’ve had conversations with couples where they have a hard time enjoying sex because it’s only been negative. They are thinking, “How can something that has been so negative for 20-something years of my life now be a positive?”
There is a failure there because we are trying to prevent something. The gospel always comes in and says something is bondage and dangerous, but it doesn’t leave it there unless it is always that way. There are certain things in our life that are always bad and there are certain things in our life that are always good, but sexuality is one of these things where the context absolutely determines whether it’s bondage or joy, whether it’s pleasing to God or offensive to God. What we get right is it is displeasing and bondage – and it really is bondage. Paul says some very pointed things about the body and what it brings upon our body and the danger of that. It’s not like telling a lie. Intimacy outside of marriage is very damaging not only to yourself, but also to the other parties involved.
When it comes to the positive, this is where we have failed as a church. There are certain pastors in the last 10 years that have tried to make it positive and in my opinion, all they did is make it dirty. It wasn’t helpful. It was comedy for them. It was just a way to shock jock people into thinking they’re cool because they can say the word “sex” in church and it doesn’t bother them. That’s not helpful either because you’ve opened up another can of worms. It’s not designed for the church.
I’ll give Tim Keller the credit here with his book The Meaning of Marriage. It was very helpful for me in trying to describe to people what is going on as it relates to the word of God and the view we should have on sexuality. The way it’s described is selflessness versus selfishness. The world only gives you selfish intimacy: you can choose however it is that you want to do something and it’s always you choosing what’s best for you. If you look at the New Testament and Paul’s encouragement to the believer that the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, he’s giving an illustration of selflessness. Selflessness becomes the priority of the marriage, not only outside of the bedroom but inside of the bedroom, where it is not about what I must do and what’s best for me, but it is about how do I make this person feel loved and cared for as Christ loves and cares for his church. So all of marriage changes, including the marriage bed.
What I try and do even with my own children is to help them see the joy of serving and loving my wife, as their mother, and how they can look and anticipate how much joy there is. It requires a lot of grace on my wife’s side because I’m not perfect at this, but my ambition is to selflessly love her and care for her needs in all of our marriage, and this includes intimacy. That’s just so foreign to Christianity. You don’t hear that.
Justin Perdue: We were talking about purity culture and how bad it is. One tendency that we all have as human beings is to swing on pendulums and overreact to things. Something that we can do, if we’re not careful, is we can throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s good for us to maintain that purity and uprightness is a thing when it comes to our sexual lives, and righteousness and holiness are to be sought after.
One of the big issues in this arena, like in so many others in the church, is the presentation, the tone, and the tenor of the conversation about sex and about how we are to live sexually. Rather than it being this condescending, exacting, threatening stuff, and just condemnation being hurled every place, it’s better for us in particular as preachers, but just as Christians in the church, to use “we” language and to acknowledge our collective weakness and the fact that we all are weak in this area.
Our cravings and our lust in this particular arena demonstrate, without any question and beyond any shadow of a doubt, our corruption and our fallenness. It’s important for us to acknowledge that there is not one person saved by Jesus who, put in the right set of circumstances, would not fall sexually. Lest we have this holier than thou, or this condescending tone in our discussions about this, we need to acknowledge that sex is the undefeated champion of the world. Nobody gets in the ring with sex and wins. This helps us to then make sense of something like Proverbs and the language that Solomon will use to his proverbial son. In chapter 6, he’ll ask this rhetorical question: can a man carry fire around close to his chest without getting his clothes burned? Of course not. Solomon’s wisdom in some senses could be summarized to his sons with respect to sexual sin. Don’t go there. Don’t go near it because we all know what’s going to happen. But that’s often not how it’s discussed.
In Proverbs 7:6 and following, there is this compelling and gripping presentation that Solomon offers to his son. He says he looks out through the lattice of his house and sees this young man in the street. The young man is walking around and this woman comes to him, saying all these things about how she has made her vows and sacrifices that day. She then says she has come to find him and now she has, that her husband is gone and she has prepared her bed. “Let’s take our fill of love until morning.” This young man goes with her and Solomon’s words are sobering. He says, “All at once he follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter.” Or as a stag is caught fast until an arrow pierces its liver, or as a bird rushes into a snare. He does not know that it will cost him his life.
God’s Law is good and it has different uses. We certainly see the first use in all of this that we would be driven to Christ. We have all transgressed God’s Law; none of us had kept it. How desperately do I need a Savior? For some people listening, their need for Christ will be more obvious in no other areas of their lives than when it comes to this sexual corruption.
The second use of God’s Law is to restrain our wickedness. This is basically Solomon saying, “Son, if you do this, it will destroy your life.” We need that. We need to be reminded that this will not go well. Our tendency, and this is Satan’s ammo as well, is we always see the gratification that will come if we act on the desire. What we are not mindful of is the emptiness that follows it immediately and the fact that nothing but pain will ensue. Sin is never worth it. That’s essentially the message of Proverbs 7. “This is not worth it, son.” This is a much more compassionate presentation than what you typically hear though.
Jon Moffitt: To say that there are no uses of the Law is like to play with fire and assume you’re not going to get burned. The Law is good; it is right. As David says, he loves the Law of God because the Law of God can and should be used to protect us from bondage. But the motivation to pursue God’s law comes from a position of not to gain the seed of child. This is where we get very upset. I get upset with Law preachers who say, “Do this or else you shall not be the child of God.” It is the Father’s hand on the shoulder of the son saying, “Dear son, I love you. Because I love you, here are things that will absolutely ensnare you and lie to you and will leave you empty. I’m guiding you. I’m giving you a light unto your feet.” This is the way that the Law is described. It’s a light unto our feet. It’s a direction for our path.
Justin Perdue: “I’m telling you this because you’re my son.”
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. The Law becomes precious to the believer when they understand all is good in the sight of God, Christ is their righteousness, and God does not require any more obedience. I have all of the earned love of God and the earned righteousness that God requires in Jesus. Now I’m free to obey for the sake of enjoying the Father. I obey to enjoy His presence, not because I must earn something. When we understand our hearts are full of corruption, that sexuality has plagued humanity forever, just read the Old Testament and the New Testament. The church is full of sexual corruption in the New Testament.
Justin Perdue: A lot of times we’ll act like it’s unique in modern culture that sex is a big deal, even the church, like you and I are having this podcast today, are trying to make sex a big deal. I don’t think sex needs our help. It has been a massive deal throughout the entire history of the world. Read the Old Testament and think about the Greco-Roman culture and its history. Think about how sexuality has been interwoven with pagan religion since forever. Sex always has been and always will be a big deal. It sells and people talk about it. We need to talk reasonably, compassionately, and clearly about it right from God’s word.
Jon Moffitt: We know there are people who have tried to live in a cave with no outside influence for a year and they come out saying they still struggled with lust. The problem is not outside of you. That’s this is where the real conversation has to go. The problem is not outside of us, the problem isn’t that pornography exists or nudity exists, but the problem is within and we have to deal with the problem within now.
It is great that you brought up Roman 7. Just because the problem is within you, you don’t throw common sense out the window. This is why you and I don’t do counseling with women in a room by ourselves – because we know their corrupt heart and our corrupt heart. It’s just not wise. There are certain things we do not do.
One thing I will want to say, and I love where you’re going with this, is because we understand the corruption of our heart, we have to allow Scripture to correct what the world is absolutely putrefying. When the church only points out what’s wrong, that’s only Law. The gospel frees people. An expression of the gospel is this: we have been unconditionally loved, mercy and kindness have been poured over us, and we then can take that and love our spouses in a very intimate way that cannot happen anywhere else in the world. You have the opportunity to love in ways that is glorifying to God. That is what we should be focusing on: here’s the negative, now here’s how to turn it positive. What the world only hears is, “That’s horrible. Don’t do that.” They never hear the positive part.
One of the problems in the church in terms of how this is discussed and presented is there is a fundamental misunderstanding of repentance and how God’s Law might be used with respect to that. If the cravings of our flesh and our corruption become very obvious to us, as we are being confronted by God’s Law and God’s design, I’m mindful again of how Solomon starts Proverbs in Proverbs 1:7: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. What is that? In my mind, that’s a verse about repentance because the fear of the Lord involves knowing Him, having reverence for Him, and understanding who He is and what He requires.
Then we need to talk about what repentance is biblically: it’s something that God does to us. He repents us. It’s a change of mind about God, who He is, and what He requires about ourselves, our corruption, and our need of Christ in the way of salvation. If I had to boil it down again, the difference between the church and the world is not that the church does not sin sexually and the world does. The difference is that in the church, by God’s grace alone, we have actually come to agree with Him. We have sided with God against our sin rather than siding with our sin against God. That’s the difference.
What does that do? When that change of mind happens, where do we run and where do we flee? Only to Christ. Where else could we go? I want to stand on the tabletops and say that the only solution to the painful pursuit of fallen man, to escape the accusations and the condemnation of God’s Law with respect to our sexuality, is Jesus. We hold him out.
Justin Perdue: In this area – and we could maybe riff on this for a little bit – I would wager that we all carry guilt, shame, and disgrace around with us as it relates to this topic in a unique way. The beautiful thing about the gospel is that we need not carry guilt, shame, and disgrace around with us anymore because Jesus has taken all of that away. That message, that truth, has never sounded sweeter to a sinner’s ears than when we’re having this conversation. Everything that I’ve ever done that I’m ashamed of, the cravings of my flesh that I hate and am embarrassed by at points, and as I see my corruption – to know that Christ has dealt with that, that I am his forever, that I really encountered righteous in him, and that he has taken all of that mess away from me is absolutely essential. I can’t help but think that, as a Christian and as a pastor, in an evangelistic sense, this is what the world longs for. It’s this kind of liberation. It’s not the liberation that’s being sought in culture, but this. This is liberation.
Jon Moffitt: I’ve counseled people where they think that since they have already given in this much, then they might as well just give in all the way. Why fight anymore? When you bring in the gospel and forgiveness and say, “Dear friend, you have been forgiven of that sin. I know that you feel like you have failed and because you have failed, you might as well give up. But the gospel comes in and says you don’t have to live in bondage. God does not consider you righteous because of what you have not done. He considers you righteous because of what Christ has done. Now, let’s get up and fight again. Let’s keep fighting because there’s more joy in resting in Christ than there ever would be in indulging in this sin.”
As men who understand a covenantal perspective – a covenant of works and a covenant of grace, and this confessional idea – we know for a fact that there is the battle between two thoughts: joy through resting in Christ versus stolen joy by giving in to the flesh. Every day we wake up, we fail, yet there can be hope and joy because of the forgiveness, mercy, and kindness of my God. He will come and restore me. This is 1 John 1:9. This is why we must confess our sins. It’s not “if you sin”, it’s “when you sin”. God expects you to sin because otherwise, why would He command you to repent? He demands it of you to repent. He knows you’re going to sin.
What I love is that when people discover the gospel and understand that resting in Christ is not on their performance but Christ’s, they actually have the energy to keep fighting even though they keep failing. They’re not going to give in because joy can be found in resting in Christ versus being enslaved to sin.
Justin Perdue: Our pursuit of obedience, righteousness, and uprightness, when it comes to how we conduct ourselves sexually is always grounded in our identity as children of God. It’s always grounded in our identity in Christ. It’s grounded in our status as justified and safe. Like I alluded to earlier, the posture of the Christian is to confess that I don’t have my house in order on my own, that I have sinned, I have fallen, and I look to Christ for my righteousness in my atonement, and I look to him to take away my guilt and shame. Then by His Spirit’s work in me, I seek to have my life conformed to God’s good and holy Law. It’s not threatening, it’s not scary, and it’s not oppressive. In our flesh, can it be hard? Sure. But we understand is that sin is not worth it and the pursuit of what God says is good, within the context of freedom in Christ, actually brings joy and lasting peace. It will save all of us from a thousand things that will break our hearts and destroy our lives. We’ve all seen this happen. Using sex in a way that God has not designed brings is a unique kind of wreckage and pain.
As Christians in the church, rather than screaming at people, shaming people, and guilting people, let’s talk this way: Brother or sister, you’re safe in Christ. I love you and I don’t want this for you. I want good for you. I want to keep you from pain.
Jon Moffitt: Sin will always rob you of joy and you will always be searching for this sense of it being acceptable. Our culture pressures us to be accepting of certain types of sexual deviancy and to make everyone be okay with it – this only reveals that what the world is really looking for is the feeling of being accepted. They want to be a part of something that is good but they want their sin. This is what the New Testament talks about when it says they turn what is evil into good and good into evil. They want their evil to be accepted. What we can come in and say is that the acceptability you were looking for can be found, but it can’t be found in the way in which you were pursuing it.
Justin Perdue: That’s a great observation. The unconditional acceptance that people are looking for is offered freely to us in Christ.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. When I interact with people who are in these circumstances where they are struggling with this, the gospel is foolish to them. But I don’t allow that to distract me because I know that the power of the gospel can come in and give that acceptance to people. But as Paul says, we have to die; everything we have has to die.
We’re talking about acceptability within sexuality, but this applies to a lot of other things: it can apply to your parenting, your career, and your gender. We want to feel accepted by what we do, but the only accepted that we would ever feel is in what Christ has done. When you live in that, you can let that wash over you, you wear that guard, you put on that robe, you feel that acceptance of God and you don’t want anything else. You want to shout it from the rooftops, “Did you all know this existed? Did you know you could have this? Did you know this could be for everyone?” It changes everything.
Justin Perdue: This is not Jon’s or my opinion. This is what we can pronounce and say to one another based upon the testimony of God’s word: to the saints who are listening, we don’t know everything that you’ve done, but we can promise you beyond a shadow of a doubt that you cannot out sin Christ’s power and ability to save you. That is a wonderful thought.
Jon Moffitt: If I may interject, you don’t want to try because it’s miserable.
Justin Perdue: For those who have a tender conscience and who are thinking, “Brother, you have no idea what I’ve done,” you’re right. I don’t know what you’ve done now. I could surmise it. I’m not surprised by very much as a pastor, and even knowing my own heart, but if you are trusting Christ, you will never out sin his power and his ability to save you. He will not lose you. He won’t fail you.
Something that we could talk about in the members’ section is this: you brought up a covenantal framework and things like that. There are some verses in Proverbs, and Proverbs 6:1 in particular, that mentions how the man who commits adultery will have wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will never leave him. People might look at that and ask how you can reconcile that with the gospel that you guys are talking about and how Jesus takes away sin and shame and guilt? I am convinced that a covenantal framework helps us answer that question quite easily. Perhaps we could start with that in the member section and see where that conversation leads.
Jon Moffitt: The other conversation that we want to have in the members’ section is how the church has been confused on what its mission is. It’s not to fix the sexual culture of our city. What is the purpose and what is the result of that?
Justin Perdue: There are a couple of good topics for the members’ podcasts. Jon and I are about to make our way over there. If you’re listening and you’re newer to Theocast, you might not know what we even mean by members podcast. It is a part of our total access membership at Theocast. You can find more information about that membership and what it all means for you over at our website, theocast.org.
We’ve got some good things to discuss. We look forward to having the conversation. We hope that as many of you as possible make your way over to the members area to partake in and listen in on that conversation with us. We will talk with you again next week.