Today I thought I might write a few thoughts that stem from yesterdays blog-sweep. They largely collect around the subject of sex, which is seemingly one of the deepest idolatries of our day.
Tim Keller has some observations that since reading them have not left me. He says people in our culture won't become Christians because they think it means they can't have sex any more, which I think is possibly true. He unpacks this all in more detail in his book 'The meaning of marriage'. It's an anathema, says Keller, to most teens and 20's to practice sexual abstinence. Also, he notes, those raised as nominally Christian (kids in the youth group who eat the snacks during bible study week by week but are not yet born anew) often fall off their chaste and religious bicycles once they leave the watchful eyes of parents and youth workers- in reality probably before. And single people in the church are all having sex with each other too, if the evidence is to be believed.
'Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience. Honestly, as a Millennial and college director myself, I’ve seen it with a number of my friends and students—the Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more “doubtful” for some of them once they’d had sex.'
I am preaching on Mark 7 tomorrow where Jesus calls the Scribes 'hypocrites' which was never likely to make him terribly popular. It is an interesting thought that we become more lax and questioning of God as we witness are own inability to keep His standards and commands. No sex before marriage being one of the most unreachable, yet it's so crucial as 1 Cor 7 makes abundantly clear. The rejection of faith is therefore a better or inevitable option for many rather than living inconsistently.
I worked for a time with someone who had trained to be a Catholic priest and was a gay man and his reason for giving up the priesthood was not so much his lack of devotion to God but the fact that so many of his fellow priests were practicing homosexuals. He decided that if he couldn't adhere to celibacy it's better to leave rather than be forced to lead a double life or one contrary, as he saw it, to scripture and the church. I always admired his conviction and honesty. When Jesus quotes Isaiah in Mark 7:6-7 it strikes all our hearts and if it doesn't it should do.
Lauren Winner has written a good book called Real sex and in this interview she says that good intentions and religious will don't work without grace.
'And while I think the will is certainly a part of Christian living, it's the will that is empowered through God's grace. The catch phrase of 'just say no' places too much burden on our will and doesn't acknowledge the crucial place of God's activity in our faithful living.'
As with all other things, the gospel of grace holds the key to issues of sex (as it does to money and all other matters) and it all stems from a revelation of the finished work of the cross. Yesterday, a pal recommended to me Larry Crabb's book 'The pressures off' as the best articulation of the gospel that he'd read. We can only live differently, joyfully and hopefully out of what Jesus has done for us. It's comprehending this grace that releases the resurrection power to live purely whereas, in contrast, legalism/moralism too easily enslaves, condemns and kills.
In preparing for marriage Mrs Cooke to be and I have been listening to these talks and our most recent listen Sex: God, Gross or Gift was helpful. Incidentally, whilst I know Pastor Mark is not everyone's cup of java, I can't think that many couples would not find it helpful to work through these talks. They are truly real, biblical, hugely honest, practical and we are finding them a blessing to think about and discuss.
As a final slightly unrelated aside, I really enjoyed reading this wonderful conversion story.