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.
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 K. Gupta
Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis