Sexual Integrity

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9

The two defining issues of our time are racial reconciliation and sexual integrity. Majority opinion seems to be for us when it comes to racial reconciliation, but majority opinion is against us when it comes to sexual integrity. But only because we’ve landed in 2015. A century ago, it was the opposite. Majority opinion was for sexual integrity and against racial reconciliation. Who knows what it will be a century from now? All we need to know is that our Lord is calling us to be peacemakers in our time.

What is at stake here is nothing less than Jesus and his gospel. Both racial reconciliation and sexual integrity are gospel issues. It’s not like a denominational difference over baptism – you say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to. The Bible tells us where our King stands. But will we stand with him? He is calling us to demonstrate two things at once: both clarity about his truth and beauty toward those who disagree. This is no time for anger or panic. This is a time for gentle honesty. But on both issues, every one of us will take a stand for or against Christ, because both racial reconciliation and sexual integrity are really about him.

Last Sunday we saw that, by his cross, Jesus took our racial suspicions and aloofness and superiority and resentments – he washed them all away by his sacred blood. By dying equally for us all, Jesus created one new body, thus making peace (Ephesians 2:15). Today I want to speak to you about sexual integrity. And the message of God to us today is that we make peace by restoring and celebrating his design for our sexuality – men being responsible and noble, women being safe and respected. That is God’s good and wise will. But it is not loving, it is not kind, to encourage anyone further in sexual brokenness. It is peace-making and shalom-creating to walk in sexual integrity by God’s grace in our generation. You can be pure again. You can have your virginity back. You can be free again. Jesus took our brokenness into himself on the cross. It has no claim on us any more. And he sends out his Holy Spirit to re-create what we have thrown away. We can have our better selves back again by having Christ. God is calling every one of us today to come to him and accept his gift of sexual integrity through Christ. In this life it is not sinless perfection, but it is substantial healing. The Bible calls it “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Don’t tell God you’re stuck where you are. God works miracles when we turn back to him. Will we say to him today, “Yes, Lord, I trust your power for my newness”?

Last Sunday my tone was forceful. This Sunday my tone will be gentle. Why? In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis points out that there are sins of the flesh and sins of the heart. Sins of the flesh, like sexual sins, are serious. The Bible clearly and repeatedly says that sexual sin pulls down the judgment of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 21:8; 22:15). We must press forward by grace into integrity, or our behavior is saying we don’t really want God at all. Let’s honestly confront our God-avoidance. But the sins of the flesh are sins of weakness, while sins of the heart are sins of malice, which is worse. Here is what C. S. Lewis said:

There are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous bigot who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.

Jesus was tender with the harlots, and he was tough on the Pharisees. And let’s face it. We are all sexual sinners. Everyone above puberty is a sexual sinner, because sin infiltrates everything we are. I myself am always five minutes away from total disaster. So are you. But the Lord is for us, and he will help us.

Peacemakers are men and women who spread not temptation, not confusion, but they offer a zero-stress, gentle relaxedness to everyone around, especially the weak and vulnerable. Peacemakers bring shalom to all around. The recent decision of the Supreme Court failed that test. It gave a short-term euphoria to some. But that cannot last. As a church, let’s get ready to receive more and more wounded people over the next few years. Personally, I would consider it an honor if Immanuel became a go-to church among the gay community of our city. They are our friends. We just know that, when God calls something sin, he has a reason. When we think we know better, it’s like trying to get home by the wrong road. So the decision of the Supreme Court will influence many people toward more disappointment and more pain, including eternal pain. No judges should ever have blood on their hands. But that is what the court has done. As a peacemaker, I object. I object to this highly influential body in our nation making it easier for more people to participate in behavior that God says he must and will judge. We are all sinners. But our leaders should not reinforce what’s wrong with us. There is a lot wrong with me. Just about every sexual sin that can be committed I have either committed or been tempted to. I don’t see this as an us-versus-them issue. It’s just us. We all need God’s mercy. But are we promoting God’s shalom, or are we undermining it by how we behave and by what we applaud?

Since the Supreme Court made the definition of marriage the focal point, let’s go there. I want to show you how God defines marriage, with one insight from the garden of Eden, a second from Jesus, and a third from the apostle Paul.

The garden of Eden

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

This is where the Bible defines marriage for all time. I say, “for all time,” because this verse is not talking about Adam and Eve back in the garden but about men and women today in our broken world. The context in the chapter is the garden, obviously. But this verse is describing why people today do this crazy-wonderful thing of falling in love and getting married. Falling in love is a form of temporary insanity, tricking us into making the mega-commitment of marriage that in our right minds we would never dare make. Fortunately, in a healthy marriage, we never fully regain our right minds but we stay permanently goofy, at least a little. And the Bible is saying that this remarkable arrangement called marriage goes all the way back to the garden of Eden. When God kicked us out of Eden after we sinned, we didn’t lose everything. God let us keep marriage. How then does he define original, authentic marriage? Let’s take it phrase by phrase.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother . . . .” That was a radical thing to say. In a culture of strong bonds between the generations, God calls a married man to form a stronger bond with his wife. A man’s primary human relationship is no longer with his parents or ancestors but with his wife. Our problem today is too many men staying with dad and mom too long. Young men need to break those ties, strike out as independent men standing on their own two feet and get married.

“. . . and hold fast to his wife . . . .” The word translated “hold fast” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament of soldering. Marriage fuses a man and woman together. A man, in marrying, enfolds his wife into his heart at the deepest level of his being. He rejoices to identify with her as with no one else. Only of Eve did Adam say, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). A married man becomes wholeheartedly devoted to his wife, as to no other. He wears his wedding ring proudly.

“. . . and they shall become one flesh.” “One flesh” is the biblical view of marriage. It means one mortal life fully shared. One mortal life, because, as Jesus said, we won’t be married in heaven (Matthew 22:30). But “as long as you both shall live,” you do become one at all levels. Two selfish me’s start learning to think like one unified us, sharing everything: one life, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, one mission. No barriers. No hiding. No aloofness. Now total solidarity, “until death us do part.” What we see then, is that marriage did not appear along the way in human history as a product of social evolution; marriage came down from God. Of course, if we did invent marriage, then we have every right to change it. But if marriage is the gift of God, then we must be more cautious, more careful, more grateful.

One mortal life fully shared between a man and a woman — this is marriage, according to the Bible, because Genesis 2:24 is not a throwaway line. Its very purpose is to define. Even great friendships have boundaries and limits. But that is how marriage is set apart. It is a total sharing of everything, which is why sex is included. Total trust, total vulnerability.

Any expanded definition of marriage – and more definitions are already being proposed – any definition of marriage that cannot fit into Genesis 2:24 must be rejected by everyone who says they accept the Bible. God has spoken. And the insight God has for us here in Genesis is the genius of sexual asymmetry. Same-sex marriage favors sexual symmetry. God’s heart resonates with two unlikes uniting to complement one another, rather than with two likes uniting to duplicate one another. God prefers unity in variety. That is why a man and a woman, in being unlike one another, fit really well. If your own heart resonates more with sexual symmetry, you need to ask yourself why. What insight have you picked up that improves upon what God gave in the garden of Eden? And if you say, “But I was just born this way,” that’s a good answer. Then I will tell you about instincts I have that are obviously wrong. The Christian gospel leads us into a radical reassessment of ourselves, including our unchosen feelings. And God offers help at that level. We are not superficial sinners, and he is not a superficial Savior. But I hope none of us will ever make peace with what comes naturally, if our Father says it wounds his heart. Jesus

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:3-6

When asked about divorce, Jesus did not say about Genesis 2:24, “Oh, that verse is so yesterday. We’ve moved on. We know better now.” Jesus believed Genesis 2:24. He taught it. And not because he was a man of his times and everyone believed it back then. What got Jesus into trouble is that he was not a man of his times. He thought for himself. So when he treats Genesis 2:24 as definitional of marriage, every true follower of Jesus will pay attention.

Here he gives us two additional insights into Genesis 2:24. First, Jesus saw the word “they” in “they shall become one flesh,” and he made it clearer. Where the Genesis text says “they,” Jesus says “the two.” In a way, that’s obvious. But Solomon found a way around it. He had 700 trophy wives (1 Kings 11:3). Jesus didn’t like that. So he made it obvious that marriage is one man with one woman: “the two.”

His second insight is amazing. Jesus saw the word “become” in “they shall become one flesh,” and he tells us more. Behind the word “become” Jesus sees God at work: “What therefore God has joined together . . . .” A husband and wife don’t become one by some mysterious process. God joins them together. I love to tell young couples before I conduct their wedding, “You’re not there to entertain an audience. There are only three important people there – the bride, the groom, and God. The rest of us are, properly speaking, mere witnesses to what God is doing between the two of you. He is joining you together, soldering you together, as husband and wife. God is in your marriage. It is sacred. It is a miracle. Open your eyes to the miracle!” Marriage is of God. Jesus said so.

The apostle Paul

No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:29-32

Now the apostle Paul gives us the most amazing insight of all. Marriage is common. In meeting someone new and introducing Jani, no one has ever said to us, “You’re married?!? No way. I mean, I’ve heard of marriage, but I’ve never actually met a married couple. This is amazing. Hey everybody, look at this – a married couple!” Marriage is common. That is why Paul tells us it’s a “profound mystery.” We need new eyes to see that. There is a reason why marriage appears in Genesis chapter 2. What’s the context there? The creation of the universe, in chapter 1. I’ve never seen a creation of a universe. But I’ve been to a lot of weddings. Marriage may be common, but it’s why the universe was created. Not for Adam and Eve only. But for you and Jesus, the Lover of your soul.

Look what Paul is saying. We are members of Christ’s body (verse 30). We are near and dear to him. By the grace of his cross Jesus so removed every barrier, he so drew us in, he so cherishes us now that we are, to him, his very self, his very heart. He cannot endure the thought of heaven, even heaven, without us. He could not cherish us more tenderly. All of that glory is embedded here in verse 30: “We are members of his body.” Now Paul explains, in verse 31, that that is why people get married. The love of Jesus is why. The eternal romance – not ultimately the love of the couple getting married but the love of Jesus for us and our joyful choice of him – the eternal love story is why God created the universe and gave us marriage. Every time a couple stands there and takes their vows, they are reenacting the ultimate romance, even if they don’t realize it. The eternal romance of the Son of God pursuing and winning his Bride as his very heart and body – that is why marriage exists, and that is why all sex outside marriage is wrong. Human sexuality tells the story of the eternal romance.

So God’s opposition to every “creative arrangement” we come up with for our sexuality is not some quaint Victorian taboo. It’s because of why created reality exists – to show forth the passionate, committed, marital love of Jesus for little whores like me and like you. That’s why marriage is sacred. And that is why, no matter what social and legal penalties we might pay, we must never support any redefinition of marriage. The gospel, in its most beautiful aspects, is at stake. If we want to walk away from Jesus, then we can go along with whatever comes next. But if we want to follow Jesus, we will stay true to him, whatever the cost.

And if you’re single and never get married in this world, you aren’t missing out on a thing. In significant ways, your life is simpler and freer for kingdom purposes. And when we are all with the Lord above in our resurrection glory, our souls and bodies fully restored and formidably glorious, Jesus will come to us as our bridegroom, he will gently wipe away every tear, he will carefully wash away every stain, he will sweetly calm every regret, he will smile and hold out his arm, we will smile and put our arm through his, and he will lift us upward as we rise together through the heavens, surrounded by millions of cheering angels, and he will lead us to the Father, who will raise his hands in eternal blessing upon us, and the Son of God, who died for us and rose again for us, will lead us by the hand into the palace of his glory, that place he is now preparing for us, where we will enjoy him with no more distance, no more absence, but only the full consummation of our deepest hearts’ desires forever, forever.

Much more could be said, but our time is gone. I conclude with two appeals. One, let nothing rob you of that wedding day above. Be honest with yourself about the seductions of this world, and give yourself to Christ today. He calls you to sexual integrity, because he longs to bless all that you are. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Consecrate your body to Christ. Confess your sexual sins to him and to a trusted Christian friend. Walk in the light (1 John 1:7). Pray for a fresh touch from God upon all that you are. Let your friend pray for you. And God will comfort you. But you must decide who owns your sexuality.

Two, pray for revival in our land. God can save the Supreme Court and God can save us all. Pray for a great outpouring of divine power on the gospel in this generation. Our nation is in deep trouble. No law can save us now. We need God. Pray for his presence to come down to give us all a wonderful new beginning. He is able to renew our nation – not by turning the clock back but by displaying his glory with unprecedented power.