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Little word, big meaning

Sexuality | Attitudes about sex are changing, even among Christians who should know better

Issue: "China's abortion regime," July 26, 2014

Q: Why are Christians so obsessed with sex?

A: Everybody is obsessed with sex. Why single out Christians?

Not “everybody” in the literal, individual sense, but throughout history the little word with immense power has been lurking in the human mind, if not front-and-center, then very near the surface. Humanity in general (especially within a certain age range), when not eating or fighting, is either mating or thinking about it.

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Christians are called “obsessed” for attempting to control sex. This is a fight we appear to be losing, to judge by a Gallup poll from May that indicates “new record highs in moral acceptability.” Of the 19 contemporary moral issues listed in the survey, nine are directly related to sex and its consequences (such as marriage—or the absence of marriage—and babies). To no one’s surprise, acceptance of cohabitation, unwed motherhood, and nontraditional forms of marriage is edging up: 66 percent of the Americans polled were OK with sex between an unmarried man and woman, and a solid majority (58 percent) considered unmarried motherhood to be “morally acceptable” (possibly as the alternative to abortion, which only 42 percent approve).

Social reformers going back to the 19th century would say this is all to the good because sex is biology, not morality. If people would only let go of their inhibitions, they, and society as a whole, would be much healthier. Perhaps that made more sense in the 1800s than now. People have been letting go of their inhibitions for the last 50 years with no noticeable improvement in personal health, and the surge in illegitimacy and internet porn doesn’t speak well for society either.

In one sense the critics are right: The Bible is “obsessed with sex”—rife with examples and consequences in the Old Testament and called out explicitly in the New. When Jesus or the apostles mention works of the flesh, sexual matters always account for at least two or three items on the list (see Matthew 15:19; Galatians 5:19; 1 Peter 4:3). Paul explains why: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Most of us have heard this all our lives, and supposedly teach it to our children. So why do 62 percent of unmarried Christians between the ages of 18 to 59 indicate they have or would have sex outside of marriage? This according to a poll by ChristianMingle.com, but other surveys of Christian young people indicate a similar rise in moral acceptability—only a few percentage points below the population as a whole.

Obvious reasons for the slide include peer behavior and popular entertainment, which make the previously unacceptable seem normal. And if it’s normal, why fight it, especially if marriage is not on the horizon? But the deeper problem is that the ancient heresy of Gnosticism has infected our culture’s view of spirituality. Gnosticism separates spirit from body, with predictable consequences: One becomes either an ascetic or a hedonist. A sound and biblical “theology of the body” tells us neither way is godly. God is invested in human flesh—He personally shaped it, breathed life into it, took it on Himself, glorified it through the resurrection, and infused the bodies of His people with His own Spirit. We are participants in the divine nature, physical heirs of a future physical glory. “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”

Well, do we?

In the world’s economy, sex is its own reward. The church sometimes takes its cue from the world, speaking of sex as a blissful prize for those who wait until marriage. Until then, it’s a pitfall that can be avoided with some forethought and proof texts. Neither or both of these propositions may be true, depending on the tangle of unpredictable circumstances lying in wait for each individual Christian. But the premise is false. In God’s economy, nothing is its own reward. He Himself is the reward of a life turned over to Him, body and soul.

Email jcheaney@wng.org

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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