Purity: it’s not what you think | Preaching to the choir

Purity is not what most purity advocates think it is.

But, before we get to that, it’s time we admitted that there is a lot of immodest behavior going on among those advocating modesty and decorum. For women claiming “freedom from boastfulness” and “behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency”, there is way too much “Look at me! I am so modest! And I’m hottest!”

 

That brings us to immodesty under the guise of “purity”. A young woman who describes herself as a “preacher of purity” wants the entire world to know the results of her premarital gynecological exam, or at least the condition of the part of her sexual anatomy she wants to boast about.

This isn’t my first post about “purity culture” (see The problem with “purity culture” is not purity and “Purity Culture” doesn’t really understand purity) and I don’t want to belabor my previous points. However, there is one thing I would like to urge everyone, especially “preachers of purity”:

Stop using “purity” as a euphemism for “virginity” or “intact hymen”. STOP. The words do not mean the same thing.

To be graphic, I once met a girl who was safeguarding the intact state of her hymen but bragged to me that she had lost count of how many boys and men she had given blow jobs. She could have given her father a “certificate of virginity” on her wedding day, but there was more than one young men at her wedding who — from personal experience with her — would have snickered at the very idea that the “Blow Job Queen” ever possessed even a hint of purity.

Why am I so opposed to equating virginity with purity? It’s not just because I grew up in the era of “technical virgins” who did “everything but”. It’s not because, as some legalists might accuse, I “hate purity”. In fact, it’s because I value purity so much that I don’t want to denigrate it, reduce it to something that it isn’t, or render it meaningless.

Face it: there is no physical marker of purity. 

I might as well confess up front: I believe in original sin. To me, this means that we live in a fallen world and have a bent towards selfishness and sin. While most girl babies are born with hymens and all babies are born in a state of innocence, I do not believe we are born possessing “purity”, and that we lose this the instant — to put it bluntly — a penis breaks our hymen.

The sad truth is that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. And the avid sex-obsessed reader of steamy romance novels cannot claim “purity” and moral superiority because of her virginity any more than person who indulges in masturbation, porn, or plain old lust — even if these people have not as much as held hands with a member of the opposite sex, they have still sinned sexually.  After all, Jesus spoke against sins of the heart, and warned against being whitewashed sepluchres, all clean on the outside but filled with sin and death. Purity is a state of the mind, heart and soul far more than it is a state of the body.

And it’s not just about sex either, as we learn in ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:9-11‬:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Ever been greedy? Ever reviled — criticized in an abusive or angrily insulting manner — anyone? All of the boasting in the world over your intact hymen will not help you inherit the kingdom of God.

But here’s the good news:

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

That is the gospel. It’s about Jesus far, far more than it is about us.

Contrast this with a post from the enthusiastic but sadly misguided young bride:

“Still enjoying my amazing honeymoon, but just saw this! Only the beginning! Thanks for all your support on social media over the last couple of days! We will continue to push & celebrate our decision. Thank you for helping us push a positive message! If one person has made a decision to wait until marriage or decide to stop & wait we have done our job! Let’s make Jesus famous! -Mrs. B #meetthebowmans#purity #livingmybestdays”

We don’t “make Jesus famous” by boasting about our intact hymens: “See? See?! I’ve got proof from a doctor!! Look at me! Look at me!!” We make Jesus famous by talking about what He has done, not by bragging about which particular sex acts we avoided before marriage. We make Jesus famous by not hogging the limelight. We make Jesus famous by pointing to Him instead of ourselves. We make Jesus famous by telling the truth about purity: it’s all because of Him, not us.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians‬ ‭6:14‬)

He also wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:2-5‬)

None of us are pure. We all need washing. Some might have the sort of obvious sins and stains that make us look dirty on the outside. The road to true purity — being washed clean by Jesus and, increasingly, sanctified and set apart for Him — is, paradoxically, often far easier for us “blatant sinners” than for those with hidden or socially acceptable sins and stains. Far too many of the outwardly “good” might give lip service to God’s sustaining grace (“Let’s make Jesus famous by talking about how pure I have kept myself!”) but pride, judgmentalism, and self-sufficiency often blind them to the seriousness of their unholy and lost condition. Their faith rests too easily in themselves.

Thank God that His grace is sufficient for every sin and that His mercy extends even to those who do not fully comprehend how desperately they need Him. May their eyes be opened so that they will stop boasting in their flesh…whether they are boasting about their good deeds, the sins they didn’t commit, their circumcision, or their intact hymens. May even the most prideful and arrogant of boastful brides repent of her sin and learn to put her faith in God, and Him alone.

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For a follow-up post, read here.

When non-Christians are far more concerned about sin than we are

There is definitely something wrong.

A Christian pastor admits to an adulterous affair, files for divorce, is stripped of his ordination credentials, and should be undergoing church discipline — but, hey, no problem! — another church hires him almost immediately as their director of ministry development.

A Christian celebrity’s past comes back to haunt him when the fact that he molested five children is revealed publicly — but, hey, no problem! — it was just a youthful indiscretion; he repented; and it was really no big deal. Then the same celebrity’s involvement with the Ashley Madison adultery website is exposed, along with several instances of adultery — but, hey, no problem! — we all sin and, besides, sexual perverts can “let Christ turn your ‘deepest, darkest sins’ into something beautiful”.

A serial pedophile serves 20 months out of a life sentence, is almost immediately upon his release re-arrested for voyeurism — but, hey, no problem! — his church leaders set him up on a date with a naive (or disturbed) young woman and their pastor performs the wedding ceremony, knowing full well that the serial pedophile intends to have children. (Now that this is in the news again because the court has information that “shows [Sitler] has had contact with his child that resulted in actual sexual stimulation“, one would think the pastor would be repenting in sackcloth and ashes over his advocacy and support for a serial child molester…but, no.)

What are we assume from all this? That Christians think adultery and pedophilia are not big deals? That we don’t care about marriage vows and innocent children?  That we are in cahoots with predators? That we are idiots, easily duped by predators, but too prideful to admit it? That we are worse than hypocrites?

This is, unfortunately, not a new problem for the church. Paul had to address it in 1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans…” Just like us, some of the early Christians were behaving in ways even worse than the surrounding unbelievers, and engaging in sexual acts considered unacceptable by their society’s standards…yet the church was not doing anything about it.

Sexual immorality is not just like every other sin: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) It definitely shouldn’t be happening within the church: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Ephesians 5:3)

Those of us who have spent any time reading our Bibles know this. We know it full well. Even those who have never opened a Bible recognize that the three examples I gave at the beginning of this blog are seriously wrong. But if we believe the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, the very essence of the gospel, we of all people should recognize the hideous seriousness of sin. Sin is deadly. Rather than minimizing serious sins and trying to pretend that God views serial child molesting the same that He views swiping a half-used cheap ballpoint pen from work, we need to take sin as seriously as God does.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Most of the time, we get this exactly backwards. If Ed Iversen, a church elder, had taken the above passage seriously, he would not have been inviting Steven Sitler over for dinner, and he certainly wouldn’t have done so in order to introduce him to a young woman.

Yes, we shouldn’t write the sinners in our midst off completely and irrevocably. There is what we call “church discipline” and — following evidence of genuine repentance — a process of restoration and reconciliation. But this does not mean hiring adulterous pastors immediately after their affairs, covering up child molestation, making excuses for gross immorality, writing supportive letters on behalf of perverts, or acting as matchmakers for serial pedophiles. God can and does transform lives. But we must stop being naive suckers, and we must cease from being so out of touch with reality that we are easily conned into enabling — even encouraging — predators to continue in their pattern of destruction and abuse. Men like Douglas Wilson (a pastor with no training in treating sex offenders) are incorrigibly arrogant and foolish if they insist that, over the course of “about half a dozen” sessions, they can determine if a serial predator “has been completely honest“. It is bad enough for an ill-equipped pastor to be duped because his poor judgment and over-inflated sense of importance allowed him to get in over his head; it is far worse for him to refuse to acknowledge the devastation caused by his pride and ignorance. At the very least, such a pastor should admit to his error, and apologize for it, rather than attempting to defend himself.

As someone who is admittedly prone to wander, I have my share of “deepest, darkest sins”. I believe in a God of redemption and reconciliation — in fact, I am staking my life and all of eternity on that belief. However, God does not turn our “deepest, darkest sins” into “something beautiful”. He takes sins away. The beautiful thing He does with sin is to remove it as far from us as the east is from the west. There is no silver lining to sin, and no bright side. There is nothing to redeem. What He redeems is us — our lives after our sins have been repented of and forgiven.

Getting rid of the consequences of sin is not as easy a process as getting rid of the guilt of sin. God forgives, but He doesn’t necessarily undo the damage our sins cause, to others and to ourselves. The process of sanctification is what brings healing and wholeness to us, as we leave our patterns of sin behind, and as we overcome the attitudes and thought patterns that led to those sins. It’s an ongoing process.

I’d be a naive idiot if I assumed that, since God forgave my sins of x,y,z that these will never pose a temptation to me again, or that I am instantly “cured” of whatever it was that caused those sins to be a problem for me in the first place. No matter how far some of those sins might fade into my distant past, wisdom would dictate that I should never let down my guard. Trusting God is an entirely different matter than trusting myself not to fail in the very areas that I have failed in the past.

Freedom from certain sins might necessitate curtailing freedom in certain areas. A repentant embezzler would never want to place himself in the position of being church treasurer and bookkeeper, nor would he want to place anyone in the awkward and uncomfortable position of having to supervise him. One would think that a repentant pedophile would be even more circumspect and willing to restrict himself. After all, we are talking about innocent human lives that are at stake. If he is not yet that repentant — or if he is still too arrogant and selfish for his or anyone’s good — one would hope that the leaders of his church would have the wisdom, Biblical understanding, compassion, humility, grace, and plain old common sense to set him straight.

If we don’t clean our own house, eventually someone else will be forced to do so. We need to start with ourselves, and we need to start taking God…and sin…seriously. May we learn to hate what God hates, and love what and whom He loves, and may we become more like His Son, instead of less.

We are all a bunch of hypocrites

OK, maybe not all of us, but far too many of us. The internet is full of our hypocrisy.

We preach conservative family values and wave our brand of Christianity like a triumphant banner guaranteeing success — and, when caught actively pursuing adulterous affairs and paying for sex, we cry that we are poor, helpless addicts in need of rehab.

We amass a following and enjoy our status as theologians — and, when our names are found listed on a website of those seeking adulterous affairs, we cry that we are lonely widowers, overcome with curiousity, and that we stopped short of physically fulfilling our lusts.

We preach grace and, when forced to admit our adulterous affairs, blame our wives for being unfaithful first, and thus forcing us to find solace in the arms of other women.

But it’s not a new thing, this hypocrisy. It’s ongoing.

We preach against homosexuality while frequenting homosexual prostitutes.

We proclaim the importance of the family while tearing ours apart.

And it’s not just the celebrity Christians who are hypocrites.

We criticize those discovered committing the very sins we engage in, because we are arrogant enough to assume we are too clever to be exposed.

We denounce feminists as home-wreckers, elevate the domestic arts, teach the necessity of a servant heart and meek spirit for women, exhort wives to submit to their husbands in even the most difficult situations — and then we leave our husbands to run off with other men who promise us a different lifestyle.

We decry the church leaders who rent porn movies in their hotel rooms at Christian conferences. But we justify doing the same at our secular conferences: after all, we were curious…we were lonely…we were sexually unfulfilled…we had good reason to be angry at our spouses…and besides, at least we weren’t being “poor testimonies” by being openly Christian.

We encourage and live the ultimate in conservative, wholesome lifestyles, criticizing those with “lesser standards”, only to engage in secret flirtations that we justify as “harmless friendships” — and then pretend surprise at finding ourselves in the midst of sordid affairs.

We preach repentance but excuse, justify, and minimize our sins. We didn’t actually do x, y, z…we stopped short…what that other person did was far worse…we couldn’t help it…we can explain…we were hurting at the time…we were lonely…our spouses were making us suffer…we were addicted…there were extenuating circumstances…it sounds worse than it really was…don’t judge…what about you?…let the one who is without sin cast the first stone…stop making such a big deal of this…get over it already!

We preach morality — and practice immorality.

We preach truth — and practice lies and deception.

We preach love — and practice hate.

We preach the gospel — and trample it under foot.

Yes, not all of us. Not all Christians. I know, I know. Not every one of us hides secret sin, and not every one of us is a hypocrite and a phony. But far too many of us are. We have only ourselves to blame that our reputation, as followers of Jesus, has become synonymous with full of hypocrites rather than full of love.

That’s why many of us have felt forced to have discussions of late, trying to figure out how to respond to, how to process, this latest round of public exposures and scandals. There are those who choose to minimize these egregious sins, excuse them — or blame them on extenuating circumstances, faulty theology, poor upbringings, human frailty, and wives who aren’t sexy or eager enough. Others propose all sorts of remedies against sin. On one extreme are those who seem to want to toss up their hands and give up — admit we are all vile sinners, pretend no sin is worse than another, talk about grace, and hope for the best in the end. On the other extreme are those who demand more rules and safeguards, higher standards, and an all-out, never ceasing, full scale war against any and all sin.

Then there is me…author of a blog titled “Prone to wander”…former prodigal daughter dragged/carried back home by a loving Father…what about me?

In one of those recent discussions, I wrote this:

I have tried the legalistic approach, erecting rules and structures designed to keep me from what I determined were the most egregious sins. That reduced me to battling against sin with my own strength and wisdom — or attempting to apply what I thought was wisdom from others.

I have tried the “we are all vile sinners so let us thank God for His grace” approach.

The end result? I am not strong enough or wise enough or good enough for either approach.

These days my heart’s cry is that I might know Jesus, truly KNOW Him, both through the pages of Scripture and through time spent in His Presence, and that I might be transformed through His indwelling presence…that I might become holy as He is holy. I desperately need and desire that intimacy and unity with Him, because He is both my greatest reward and my only true hope. 

If we love Him, we will obey His commandments. We will find His yoke easy and His burden light. My biggest prayer is that I might love Him more, not just to keep me from sin, but because He is worthy of a far greater love than that which flies from my puny, selfish, stingy little heart.

[In my opinion], we cannot spend time — prayerful, reflective time in which we ask the Holy Spirit for illumination — in the epistles and come away with an attitude of “we all sin so adultery and murder is no big deal”.

But I think it is important that, in our personal lives, we spend far more time focused on pursuing Christ than on fighting sin. Silly example: I could spend all day battling fiercely against any temptation to adultery or murder, and find myself feeling quite victorious at day’s end. But I would be no closer to my Savior and no more like Him. 

I begin to hate sin when I ask Him to turn me into the sort of person who hates what He hates and loves what He loves.

There is so little of Jesus in all too much of what I read these days about how we should respond to sin.

It’s not just religious talk: Jesus really is my greatest reward and my only true hope. The sad truth of my nature and character is something I blurted out to my parents during one of my wandering prodigal phases, “I am not cut out for Christianity!” (My father tried to tell me that was the very point: none of us are. But I found that hard to believe coming from him, the man whose life makes me almost believe in the doctrine of sinless perfection.)

Ah, so your Christianity is just a crutch?

Yes..and no. Honestly, Christianity has not served me well as a crutch — because my problem is much deeper and more serious than a lame or gimpy leg. I need a Savior, a Healer, a Rescuer, a Friend. In short, I need Jesus.

He doesn’t beat me up when He shows me the enormity and ugliness of my sins in comparison to His goodness. He doesn’t condemn me when He reminds me what those hideous sins of mine cost Him. But being forced to face my sins without excuse— even the little, seemingly inconsequential ones — does break my heart…and that’s a good thing. On its own, my heart has a tendency to grow callous, hard, and unloving. It is His love for me, His friendship with me, that brings me to life.

So the answer to this whole mess of hypocritical Christians behaving abysmally? It’s more Jesus.  He offers the only lasting cure for those of us with a bent towards hypocrisy, or whatever other sins happen to be the ones that plague and entice us.

More of Him, less of me.

That may sound like a pious platitude, but I mean it profoundly, in a way that is both desperate and practical. Finally, after all these years, I am getting to know Him in a deeper and more real sense than ever before, and my entire life is being turned upside down. His love is changing me, at the very core of my being, more than I ever thought possible. I’m still not cut out for Christianity. But, with His help, I hope to follow Jesus anywhere He takes me. After all, why wouldn’t I want to follow the One who lavishes and inundates me with a greater love than I ever thought possible, the One who died to win my heart?

I should not read Christian blogs about marriage

Note to my children: this blog post is about sex which, obviously, I know nothing about. After all, parents don’t do such things, and you were all conceived through the sharing of toothbrushes, which is gross enough to think about. So you can stop reading now.

Note to everyone else: that was a joke.

And now back to my actual post…

I should not read Christian blogs about marriage.

Especially the Protestant ones about sex.

At least not many of the ones that I unfortunately seem to keep encountering — specifically the ones telling me over and over again that I’m all wrong and need to change. My personality is wrong. My thoughts are wrong. My feelings are wrong. My desires are wrong. And I am sinning. Big time. Merely by being me.

Supposedly, if my husband says otherwise, he’s just being nice. Or cowardly. Or he’s lying. Because what he really wants is for me to be his porn star. That’s what all men want, but are too afraid to admit it to their sinfully inhibited wives, who have all sorts of wrong, immature, selfish hang-ups. If he doesn’t want me to be his porn star (perhaps possible if he has spent all his life locked in a room with no access to the outside world and thus has no idea what a porn star is) he does want me to be his fantasy lover. He wants me to blow his mind regularly. So the Christian sex blogs claim.

It’s all about the performance.

If I don’t enjoy sex on those terms, supposedly there is something wrong with me. And I’m in sin. Because God commands us to enjoy sex frequently, and He commands wives to be naked and unashamed, and He commands us to be sexually adventurous, and He commands us to do with wild abandon whatever it is that the blog author manages to conjure up out of Song of Solomon. Despite the sex bloggers’ enthusiasm for finding sex tips in that book of the Bible, I don’t recall it having anything to do with pretending you’re an actress engaging in humiliating and degrading — even violent — sex acts outside of the context of marriage with an actor in a movie that strangers on the internet watch while masturbating…but maybe I didn’t read it carefully enough the last time. Oh, and the “command” to be “naked and unashamed”? I guess I missed the part where God told Eve she was wrong to be ashamed and she didn’t need to wear clothes around Adam. (I don’t remember God saying, “I’m only making you this garment of animal skins for you to wear in the future, when there are other human beings around besides Adam. Because, since you are supposed to be naked and unashamed around him, you won’t be needing clothes for quite some time!”)

If a Christian woman says she wants her husband to act like a romantically suave and debonair movie star, completely out of character with his true nature and personality, people jump all over her for reading too many romance novels, tell her to repent and grow up, insist she adapt herself to her husband’s “love language”, and rebuke her for not appreciating and accepting her husband for who he is. As well they should. After all, if that sort of husband was so important to her, she should have held out for him, and not married the man she did.

And then the same people tell her to act like a prostituted woman providing masturbatory fodder in front of a camera, thus encouraging her husband to treat her in a way devoid of love, affection and respect — because actresses in porn receive nothing of the sort — all so that she can become his fantasy lover and blow his mind in bed. Now. Or she is sinning.

No matter what life is like outside the bedroom, what sort of personality the wife has, what ailments she might suffer from, what sexual trauma may lurk in her past, the worst thing she can possibly do to her husband and to her marriage is to be herself in the bedroom — unless, by nature, she doesn’t have a shy bone in her body, is incapable of embarrassment or humiliation, possesses no sense of boundaries or human dignity, has no desires of her own, needs neither love nor relationship, enjoys being the target of selfishness and disrespect, can put on a show of boundless enthusiasm and exuberance, is brimming with confidence, thinks she is hot and sexy, and is capable of acting like a born performer who loves to show off her body. If she’s not all that, she needs to repent. Now. Even if she is, that’s not enough, because she needs to be constantly eager for sex, skilled at every technique her husband desires, and creative in bed. (No, not procreative! Those little sex-conceived pests tempt us to lose our focus on sex, to use tiredness as an excuse for not being eager sex-performers, and to think our bodies may not be quite as sexy hot as they used to be — and that might interfere with our husband’s enjoyment of sex. Plus, we might worry about silly, inconsequential things like what the children are supposed to do while we keep having all this constant, mind-blowing, uninhibited sex. Because marriage is apparently mostly about sex, which is why I used the word so many times in this parenthetical remark.)

And somehow she is supposed to become this porn star almost immediately upon marriage, abruptly transforming herself from completely inexperienced and innocent young virgin to expertly skilled sex performer. If she is on the other end of the age spectrum, the sex bloggers have even less patience with her and less sympathy — if that is even possible — for the realities of her life.

Oh, the blogs may talk about intimacy (usually as a codeword for sex) and they may give lip service to things like communication and making love, but what they emphasize is that sex is about pleasure. In fact, it’s really all about orgasms, lots and lots of orgasms. As Christian wives, we should be giving and having them regularly, with great frequency and variety — because God invented sex.

He also invented fruit, but no one seems to be urging us to behave unrealistically while eating it. No one is telling us it is our duty to become exuberantly wild about plums, insisting that there is a special and uninhibited grape-eating demeanor that we need to adopt, preaching that we need to gorge ourselves on apples fixed 100 different ways whether we like them or not, or trying to make us feel guilty for not being over-the-top enthusiastic about our husbands’ fruit preferences.

OK, I might be exaggerating, but only a bit. And not every Christian sex blog places such demands on wives, but far too many do — and I’ve read enough to make me want to scream:

Inhibited women of the world, unite!!
(Quietly, in the privacy of your own homes. Don’t worry, no one is watching.)

I’m so sick of this bashing of shy, inhibited women, and this ridiculous notion that we need a personality transplant during sex. In fact, I’m weary of introvert-bashing and shy-bashing in general, but that’s a bigger rant.

Plus, I’m tired of the ridiculous advice uninhibited women give us to help us overcome our “hang-ups”, which usually boils down to attempting to have sex in the most anxiety-producing, nerve-wracking, and embarrassing way possible for people with inhibitions. If you feel self-conscious about your body, the sex bloggers insist that you should allow your husband to undress you with all the lights on, so that he cannot help but scrutinize your every flaw up close. Supposedly that will make you less inhibited! (It might very well make some trauma victims dissociate, but the sex bloggers have very little patience with us. We need to get therapy and get over ourselves ASAP. So do shy women. I don’t know what wives are supposed to do if their husbands would rather not have to confront the sight of their wives’ very un-porn-star-like, scarred and aging bodies up close under bright lights.)

The real problem goes much deeper and can’t be solved by certain wives getting personality transplants while shedding their inhibitions and senses of identity. It can’t be solved by certain husbands repenting of their longing for sexual experiences with the fantasy sex partners they wish their wives were, and instead learning to desire making love to their real-life wives. The problem goes even deeper than the shocking fact that most men — even in the church — get their sex education from porn, training themselves to desire, find erotic, and derive sexual pleasure from the filmed prostitution, abuse, and humiliation of women. The problem is much more serious than disappointment, unrealistic expectations, or even sinful desires.

The problem is that our theology of marriage and sex is extremely lacking, and falls so very, very short. You can’t baptize our porn-ified culture’s view of sex by slapping a “for married people only” sign on it and preaching sermons. Thinking you’ve gone the extra mile by carelessly throwing a few Bible verses around only makes things worse, not better.

No doubt at least a few readers will assume I’m some tight-lipped prude who is anti-pleasure. Whether I am or not is hardly the point, and such an assumption would only underscore what is really at issue: our view of sex is way too small. This amazing thing God designed is a grand mystery and, like all of His creation, it has His fingerprints all over it. Sin may dim our eyes to its beauty; it may even make sex appear so tawdry and ugly that we are incapable of seeing any evidence of God’s handiwork. But I believe there are profound truths in God’s plan, and I believe that there is no other act besides sex that has the potential to connect a married couple in such a deeply intimate way — physically, mentally, and spiritually. (I also believe the opposite is true: there is no other act besides sex that has the potential to divide and harm the marriage relationship in as deeply a wounding, destructive way.) The Biblical euphemism for making love — describing a husband as “knowing” his wife — is only rich with meaning when we discover that sex itself can be indescribably rich with meaning.

Sex is not a performance. It is about far more than pleasure. It is about intimacy, unity and life….and even more. It is a profound, beautiful mystery. Or at least it should be. And the true intimacy and oneness of sex is only possible if we cease to play a role, cease to put on a performance — and cease to demand that our spouses do so. Until we are willing to be our authentic selves with all the vulnerability and humanity that entails — and until we learn to fully love and fully embrace our spouse’s very real and authentic selves — we are incapable of true intimacy and unity. That is because true intimacy requires giving up our unrealistic expectations and fantasies. It requires creating a safe place, a haven, in which we and our spouses can receive encouragement to become more of who we truly are — not less — a safe place in which there is never a need to take on a role or to perform.

Within such a magnificent view of sex, there is no room for pretending to be a porn star, because that would only degrade sex and miss the point entirely. But there is room — there is in fact a grand and welcome invitation — for ordinary, shy, even supposedly inhibited, people like me.  What should be more important to those who claim to be Christians is that there is plenty of room for Jesus…and for holiness.

Holiness? Coming into agreement with God’s standards for purity? Yes, I know. Holiness and sex don’t seem to go together much these days, do they? (Holiness and porn certainly don’t, and never will.) But if we are uncomfortable with the idea of linking holiness and sex, it is probably because our ideas of both are terribly, terribly flawed.

And, in that case, we probably shouldn’t be writing supposedly Christian marriage blogs. At the very least, we should stop trying to baptize porn culture, stop trying to pretend that is what sex is supposed to be about, and stop trying to claim our misguided ideas are Christian.


Updated to add:

Whether you are are a man or a women, before defending or justifying your use of porn (as in, “It was only a few times”, “I didn’t watch any of the bad stuff”, “It was harmless”, “I think it helped my marriage”, “The stuff I watched was really loving and respectful to women”, “Don’t be such a prude”, “You Christians all hate sex”, or whatever) read this report from a researcher who is not a Christian.

Preaching to the choir: lovers of self

But wait — that’s a good thing, right? We’re supposed to love ourselves so that we can love others, right?

That doesn’t seem to be what the Bible says, at least not in the passage I read this morning.

I’ll be honest: I don’t think God intends for us to hate ourselves or to think we belong on the rubbish heap of life as rejects, devoid of anything worthwhile, and unfit for human company. After all, that would be an affront to Him as Creator. I’ll also be honest enough to admit that I have been guilty of saying, in essence, that God made some sort of horrible mistake when He formed me in my mother’s womb, because I was convinced that I was obviously and terribly flawed. God, in His mercy, has exposed that as a lie, and has brought me much healing.

We are image-bearers of God, whether we believe in Him or not. Some of us allow Him to shine through us better than others. But we all have value. We just need to remember that He has far, far more value. He is God, and we are not.

Over the years, I have tried to improve my self-esteem and self-image, but all the self-help books and inspirational talks in the world didn’t fix the gaping wound inside me. It was a deeper realization — a revelation — of the love of God, as my Creator and my Father, that brought the healing I so desperately needed. I am learning to stop using my own measuring stick to evaluate myself, or the measuring sticks of others, and instead to find my meaning and self-worth in my relationship with God.

At the same time, I keep praying desperately that God would keep me from self-love. Love is meant to be other-focused, to be giving and sacrificial, not self-focused. I know this flies in the face of what our culture teaches us, and even in the face of what I have believed in the past. Self-love all too easily becomes narcissism, which is already far too rampant in our society. The Bible acknowledges that we love ourselves and urges us to love our neighbor in the same way — even when I was in the depth of self-loathing, I still managed to put myself first, look out for myself, do things out of selfish motives, and give with strings attached. While I don’t want to believe in lies about how God made me, I also don’t want to think of myself more highly than I should. I want to esteem others more than I do myself. But, most of all, I want to love God far, far more than I do.

A passage of Scripture from 2 Timothy has been on my mind lately. It’s one I cringe at reading. I fight the urge to point fingers at other people. Although I want these words to penetrate my heart, I have to admit that I struggle and resist. I want God to show me where I have fallen short, where I have failed Him. The truth is not pretty.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. [2 Timothy 3:1-5]

The entire list seems to flow from “lovers of self”. We do these things, think these things, and are these things because we love ourselves far more than we should. Some of these things, in our culture, are things we no longer bat an eye at because they have become so mainstream. Who doesn’t love money? Isn’t a certain amount of pride a good thing? It isn’t arrogance if it’s true! It’s not really abuse if she was asking for it! Oh, come on, all kids disobey their parents — we need to worry about the ones that are too obedient! Why should I be grateful for something when I deserve better? Holy — that’s such an old-fashioned word and so stifling and legalistic! I could go on and on.

But let’s point the finger back at me. Let me read off this list, in my quiet prayer time, and ask God to show me if any of these apply to me. Let me ask with an open mind and heart, willing to listen even if the answers pain me.

I want to be a lover of God. I want to love Him more than I do myself, more than I love money, more than I love pleasure. I don’t want faux godliness, the kind that denies its power. I want the real deal. I want to be part of the Kingdom of God, not someone those of the Kingdom would do well to avoid. I can’t do this on my own strength.

We live in difficult times. May God have mercy.