As Christians we are adept at looking at the culture around us and seeing how it is violating God’s good standards when it comes to sexuality. Not too long ago, though, I was asked to reflect on the ways in which Christians may compromise God’s standards for sexuality–some of those hidden or sanctified sins in which we allow compromise in our lives, our marriages, our churches. I came up with five ways that Christians may compromise God’s standards for sexuality.
We compromise God’s standard for sexuality when we leave the gospel out of the marriage bed
Christians consistently have trouble extending the reach of the gospel from salvation all the way to sex. Yet the gospel isn’t just about that one-time commitment; it’s about how we live today and every day. It extends through every part of life.
The gospel says, Whatever my marriage is to be and whatever our sexual relationship is to be, it is to be a part of that portrait of Christ and the church. When I am considering sex in this way, I’m first asking, Would this look like an accurate portrait of Christ and the church? What reflects Christ giving up his life for his bride? What reflects the church joyfully submitting to Christ? This completely reorients us away from self, from self-love and self-service, and orients me toward my spouse. This portrait of marriage does not come to an end when we close the bedroom door.
When we compromise this standard we become bound by law instead of freed by the gospel; we have become self-focused instead of other-focused. Law is always focused toward self, gospel is always focused toward the other and, ultimately, toward God. If we allow ourselves to fall back into that age-old temptation of law, we will inevitably harm our relationship with the one we love most.
We compromise when we disobey the clear biblical command that in marriage we are to have sex, and that we are to have it frequently, willingly and joyfully
There is a difference between understanding the Bible and obeying the Bible. There is a difference between believing the gospel and living out the implications of the gospel. This is why so many of Paul’s letters fall into two parts; in the first part he talks theology and in the second part he talks application. There is a reason for this: he knows that good theology needs to be worked out in life and he knows that we can’t do this without the right gospel foundation.
There are many couples that fully believe what the Bible teaches about marriage, and they may even believe what the Bible teaches about sex within marriage, but they do not have sex together. One has refused for so long that the other has stopped even asking or trying. One has given up and let himself go and the other has lost interest. Together they have become disobedient and their compromise grieves the Lord. They claim to believe what’s true, but they refuse to practice it.
God places stipulations on the sexual relationship. You are allowed to stop having sex, but only for a limited time and only if that limited time will be devoted to prayer. That’s it! And yet every marriage goes through seasons of sexlessness and too many marriages just abandon the sexual relationship altogether. There is something in 1 Corinthians 7:3 that has always jumped out at me. Paul talks about “conjugal rights.” The Bible says very, very little about our rights. In most cases talk of rights is opposed to gospel. But in the marriage relationship we are told that a husband and wife have the right to one another, the right to one another’s bodies. Sex is not a suggestion, it is not just a good idea or a nice gift to give. Sex is a right because in God’s economy of marriage, it is a necessity.
What happens when we compromise God’s standards here? Well right from 1 Corinthians 7 we see that we allow the possibility of sexual sin in our spouse. A husband who denies his wife is not protecting her from sexual sin. A wife who denies her husband is not protecting him from sexual sin. Abstaining from sex is selfish and unloving and compromising. Yes, it will be your spouses’ fault if he or she falls into sexual sin because you have stopped having sex; but you will bear part of the responsibility. Have you ever considered that Satan’s great plan for you is that you would have as much sex outside of marriage as possible and as little sex within marriage as possible? God’s plan, of course, is just opposite to that—to have no sex outside of marriage and a whole lot of it within marriage.
There is another consequence: we are blatantly disobeying a clear command of the Lord and a command that flows from what is true of the gospel. The sexual relationship is not a little isolated pocket of Christian obedience, but something that flows right out of the gospel. Too many of us isolate sexuality from everything else in life.
And finally, when you compromise in this area you are denying your marriage a great means of grace. It can be helpful to look at sex as something like a marriage sacrament, something deeply symbolic that is far more than the sum of its parts. It’s far deeper than the physical, far more than just the act. We trust that in this act God extends grace to our marriage. We obey him and are right to expect his blessing. The marriage that forgets sex is like the church that forgets Lord’s Supper—it is weakening itself and denying itself one of the strange and unexpected ways that the Lord blesses it.
We compromise when we do not train our children to understand God’s good design for sex and when we do not train them to avoid sexual temptation.
When it comes to sex we are all pretty good at telling our children what is bad and dangerous and what they need to avoid. This is easy to do because most of us are very careful with what our children see and experience when they are very young. We censor conversation and even censor our Bible reading to protect them from what is just too heavy for their young hearts. This is well and good. I love the story Corrie Ten Boom tells about this. When she was a little girl she heard of sex and asked her father what sex was. He simply put down his big, heavy suitcase and asked her to pick it up. She tried to lift it, she tugged and pulled, and said, “It’s too heavy for me.” And her father said, “Exactly. Some things are too heavy for little children to carry.” That is wise parenting! But it isn’t wise parenting when our children are 16 or 18 and getting close to moving out.
We need to prepare our children to live in this world and to see that sex is a good gift of God. Too many young men go into the world unsure of what sex is all about and how it is anchored in God’s good design; too many young women go into marriage convinced that sex is not for good Christian girls to enjoy. And many of them believe these things because their parents just haven’t done a good job of teaching them what the Bible says about sex.
I’ll grant that we are getting better at this, but we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to teaching children to honor sex. If all our children know when they leave our care is that sex is bad, we have compromised God’s standards by not teaching them that sex is a good gift of God meant to be enjoyed in its proper context. As much as we want to hedge sex, we also need to celebrate its inherent goodness. When we compromise here we compromise the next generation. We make our disobedience their problem or their addiction or their pregnancy.
We compromise God’s standard when we swim in the cultural mainstream
In Ephesians 5 Paul says, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” When we read these words, we can’t help but think about TV and movies and magazines and books and just how dedicated they are to these very things.
Just think of comedy and what our sitcoms and romantic comedies make us laugh at. When we laugh at what God calls evil, when we enjoy watching what God says is private, when we speak too crassly or even too frankly about things that are vile, we compromise God’s standards. There is to be no filthy talk among us and no crass words. We are not to delight in what God says is evil.
Paul tells us that there are some things that are too shameful to even speak of. There are some things that are never to be the topic of conversation among Christians; they are just too evil and to even talk about them is to compromise. Yet sometimes we as Christians enjoy talking about things that are just so evil. We would never do them, but we will read about them and enjoy them in a secondhand way.
As we watch filthy movies or listen to music, we can find pleasure in hearing about the sexual dalliances of other people or in seeing the idolatrous wealth of other people. We are essentially taking pleasure in their idolatry, finding joy in their acts of hatred toward God! We would never do the things they do, but we find joy in imagining others doing them or reading about others doing them. And yet we are told here that the things we are taking pleasure in are the very things that call down God’s wrath on the people who do them.
We compromise God’s standards for sexuality when we swim along in the cultural mainstream, being entertained by the things that the Lord hates. When we laugh at sin or are entertained by sin, we are putting ourselves on the path to rationalize and then embrace that very sin. Compromise tends to creep in more than explode in, and by looking at what entertains us, we can sometimes get a glimpse of the challenges to come. If we are laughing at adultery today, we may be embracing it tomorrow.
We compromise God’s standards when we commit sexual sin
The ultimate kind of compromise is just to go ahead and commit sexual sin and to deal with the consequences later on. Sexual sin may be as obvious or as horrific as committing adultery against your spouse but for many people it is far more subtle.
Pornography is a plague in the church and one that primarily afflicts men and boys (though increasingly women are also becoming susceptible to it), but pornography is far from the only sexual sin Christians are dealing with. Many women are prone to demand unrealistic, romantic comedy standards of their husbands. There are women who demand the impossible from their husbands, who fight against their husband’s masculinity. Even Christian women are reading 50 Shades of Grey.
Sexual sin falls into a great spectrum from the subtle and selfish to the overt and spectacular. But every sexual sin is in some way a compromise of God’s standards. And the big compromises begin with the little ones. The path to a sexless marriage is just one refusal at a time, one word of apathy or criticism. Few marriages go from having a great sex life to having no sex life overnight. The adulterer does not begin by seducing another man’s wife but by not controlling his eyes and not keeping his mind from wandering.
It is not only unbelievers who compromise God’s standards for sexuality. We, as Christians, allow compromise to creep into our lives, and from there into our marriages, and from there into our churches. We, too, as compromisers. We, too, need the grace of God to resist the endless temptations to give up God’s good standards and to live by our own.