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What Does Our Identity Crisis Have to Do With Sex

  
  
  

Part II of a series on sex, God, and Scripture by guest blogger Dr. Nijay Gupta. Read part I here and part III here.

 

In the last post, we talked about sex and Scripture. Scripture is not a rule-book with loopholes, but a story about God and his world in which he created humans to live and serve him. In a sense, Scripture is a commentary on identity – especially the identity of God and our identity. It addresses a serious problem: our identity crisis.

Identity Crises

We have many such crises. I want to talk about 3 identities: body identity, sexual identity, and social identity.

First off, it is very unfortunate that American Christians tend to associate their faith primarily with “heart and soul” and “life after death.” Actually, spend some time in the Old Testament and you will see, Israel knew their relationship with God to be very “here and now” and very much “in the body.” God redeems our soul, but he also wants our whole self – including our bodies. The apostle Paul underscores this in many places. When writing to a very dysfunctional church in Greece (Corinth), he reminds them, you think you can do whatever you want with your bodies, but you have forgotten one important thing: when you accepted the lordship of Christ, you filed for bankruptcy on your body and God bought it out. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. Your body is worth a lot (a lot more than you think), and God paid a high price for it (the blood and honor of his only Son). (This is my very loose paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20!)

Jesus died for your soul. Yes. Jesus also died for your body.

Secondly, we need to understand our sexual identity based on God’s perspective (and as taught in Scripture). The stale, old, traditional (though inaccurate) view is that sex is dirty and bad, and one should at least have the decency to hide it in marriage. Basically, for this view, “sexual purity” means “no sex. Ever.” I found a study from the 1970’s done among a group of Christians which asked this question: “Did Jesus feel sexual attraction?” According to 81% of respondents: “no.”

Apparently Jesus never read the Song of Solomon either! You may have heard that Biblical interpreters throughout history have had a hard time explaining why the sultry Song of Solomon is in the Bible at all. Well, that is because God wants to remind us sex is good! It is a gift!

Here’s the thing, though. It is a powerful gift. Why? Because it is a bonding agent. It is relational duct tape. God is not anti-sex. But he wants to teach us that it has a meaning and purpose.

Thirdly, we must think about our social identity. We are not alone in our sexual choices. We are a part of a community called the Church. Like it or not, God has given the Church a “say” in our sexual partner.

If you don’t like that – too bad. No man is an island. No Christian is a lone ranger worshipper. To quote Cyprian, “He who does not have the Church for a mother, cannot have God for a Father.” What you do with your body affects the “body of Christ,” the Church. Your choices are part of a community of friendship and fellowship (the Greek word for fellowship, koinonia, by the way, means partnership). By allowing Christ to enter and rule your life, you are joining the Church and submitting yourself to her authority as well (that is why pastors “officiate” weddings; God permits the Church to consecrate marriages and the context in which sex should properly take place). To decide to have sex is not an independent decision. You are part of a sacred community (the Church) and your decisions must take that into account.

On Being God’s Image

The last thing I want to mention in this post is the notion of being made in “God’s image.” To be an image-bearer of God (as all humans are), is to recognize our role and responsibility as leaders among all creation. We humans (especially the Church as the marred image of God being renewed into the likeness of Christ) are God’s ruling agents. This is an awesome privilege, and we need to take our responsibility seriously. How we behave affects the reputation of God whom we “image.” I believe we can empower our youth with a clear sense of self-respect by reminding them of who they really are – representatives, proxies, agents of the king of the world. We need to remind teens that sexual “freedom” is not really freedom at all (in the same way that not training for a sport is not freedom either, especially when they get tackled or outrun in the big game). Freedom is not the ability to give in to cultural pressures. It is the power to always choose what meets the fullest potential of who you were created to be. I often repeat to students the powerful line from a Switchfoot song: “This is your life, are you who you want to be.”

Stay tuned for the third post, which offers some tips for how to talk to teens about sex. 

In these posts, I have barely scratched the surface of the subject of sex, God, and Scripture, but I hope you will find it to be a helpful start. Below is my “starter” list of suggested reading.

 

Boulton, E.M. and M.M. Boulton, “Sacramental Sex: Divine Love and Human Intimacy,” Christian Century March 22, 2011: 28-30.
Hollinger, D.P. The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Baker, 2009).
Winner, L.F. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Baker, 2006).

 

Dr. Nijay Gupta

 

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta
Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis
Northeastern Seminary
gupta_nijay@nes.edu

What Scripture Says About Sex

  
  
  

Part I of a series on sex, God, and Scripture by guest blogger Dr. Nijay Gupta. Read part II here and part III here.

 

Sex is a big deal right now for teens, culturally as much as hormonally. Recent studies tell us that 90% of Americans have sex before marriage. The stats for Christians are not encouraging: 80% of “born-again” Christians have had sex before marriage.

This is certainly a societal problem in terms of teen pregnancies and abortion. But it is also a problem that affects emotional health.

Here is the bottom line: if teens don’t learn about sex from their parents, pastors, teachers, mentors, and the Bible, then they will learn about it from a movie, a rap video, or locker room stories.

Throw the Book at Them?

The refuge for many parents and pastors is simply to “Throw the Book at Them” – here are some Bible verses that tell you not to have sex. That should settle it.

OK. For starters, that approach seems sensible. The Bible condemns adultery and fornication (try Hebrews 13:4). But here’s the problem. Teens who have sex aren’t (usually) committing adultery. And they don’t know what “fornication” is. (The only times they heard the word were from a street preacher and also the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Californication.” It sounded cool to them. They still don’t know what it means.)

Even when it comes to the Bible, young Christians think that, if it doesn’t explicitly say “Don’t have sex before you are married,” then it is not off-limits. (We’ll get to why that is a bad way to read the Bible in a moment.)

In any case, I agree with Lauren Winner who says, “Repeating biblical teachings about sex is simply not enough…What we need is something larger and deeper: a clear vision of what chastity ultimately is and the most important context in which it is practiced.”

Winner is not saying there is any flaw in the Bible. She is saying that we need to do more than rattle off a string of “finger-wagging, turn-or-burn” texts. We need to have a conversation. Sex is a big deal to teens because it has to do with popularity, friendships, emotional fulfillment, love, pleasure, new experiences, curiosity, and adulthood. Digging into these subjects takes time and thoughtfulness.

Handling Scripture

So, we don’t throw the Book at them, we share its wisdom. It is important for all Christians to understand that the Bible is not a law-book. It is not like the constitution. We are used to hearing about the “Old Testament Law.” Well, it’s a long story, but that is a misunderstanding of the meaning of the Hebrew word Torah. Torah does not mean “law” (feel free to correct your pastor). It means “guidance.” The Bible is a guide on the path to wisdom (God’s wisdom). Remember when the Gospel of Mark says that Jesus always spoke in parables (Mark 4:33-34). Why did he do that? Parables are riddles. They have a plain style that is easy to follow, but their real purpose is to get you to think. They are like puzzles. He always spoke in parables because he knew that true wisdom is hard-won. Jesus did not spout out fortune-cookie wisdom. He wanted people to fight for their wisdom.

So, Scripture is not a book of rules (for which you can happily find loopholes). Rather, it is a constant and creative invitation to see reality through God’s eyes.

Scripture is also an identity-shaping tool. It tells us who we are in God. It tells a long story into which we fit. THE PAST: our origin is in God. He created us. With a purpose. He wanted to see us happy and fulfilled. God is “for you.” He loves you. He is your anchor. He is your Father in Heaven. THE PRESENT: The world is messed up. This is not the way God wanted his world to be. Sin is real and it is ugly. It has distorted our natural, God’s given loves and desires. Pleasure is not the goal. Addiction is not inevitable. Freedom and fulfillment are possible. THE FUTURE: Our decisions do have consequences. Casual sex only happens before an Eternal God. We are going to be judged by God, not because he hates us or is wrathful, but truly because he invested so much potential in us. If you don’t show up to soccer practice for a week, you will eventually have to face the coach. If she is a good coach, she will be mad. You will be punished. Not because you are a bad person or she hates you. But because you let the team down. You put your own desires before the needs of the team. You put the mission of the team in jeopardy.

Ultimately, Scripture tells us who we really are, as God’s creation, and, as believers, sons and daughters of the living God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I return, time and time again, to a small line written by the philosopher Kierkegaard: “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” Yes, only God can help us become our real self. Sex won’t. That boyfriend or girlfriend won’t. That in-group won’t.

A wonderfully provocative statement comes from G.K. Chesterton: “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” But every teen is not going to find the God they are looking for by turning to sex. So, how do you approach talking to a teen about sex? That is the subject of the next post!

 

In these posts, I have barely scratched the surface of the subject of sex, God, and Scripture, but I hope you will find it to be a helpful start. Below is my “starter” list of suggested reading.

 

Boulton, E.M. and M.M. Boulton, “Sacramental Sex: Divine Love and Human Intimacy,” Christian Century March 22, 2011: 28-30.

Hollinger, D.P. The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Baker, 2009)

Winner, L.F. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Baker, 2006).

 

Dr. Nijay Gupta

 

Dr. Nijay K. Gupta
Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis
Northeastern Seminary
gupta_nijay@nes.edu

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