In my recent co-authored book, The Day I Met Jesus, I retell the story of the woman caught in adultery. At the end of her story, after all the folks who understood their sin slipped away, she is left alone with the Only One who could and should condemn her. Jesus, the Perfect One, tells her He does not condemn her. He knew that soon He would die on a cross for her sins, and that His work would be completed. That pivot in time, the cross, allows Jesus to say this to you, to me.
But we forget His final words. “Go and sin no more.” In other words, no more sexual sin. His transformative, outrageous grace must now inspire her choices and behavior from this time forward.
Recently, we were walking through 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 in our life group, which has some pretty pointed words about sexual sin. We camped in verses 3-8:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
The Greek for “sexual immorality” is not adultery. It’s sex outside of marriage. You might find the word familiar: porneias. It’s where the word pornography comes from, and it’s also rendered fornication in the English translations. To be blunt, this means God’s command is that we keep sex within the confines of marriage. Premarital sex, postmarital sex (after death or divorce) are prohibited.
One person described what it was like to be in a singles ministry where many folks (typically post-divorce) felt hooking up was fine. In fact, they thought he was strange for wanting to get married. Others piped in, nodding, that they had heard of this kind of laissez-faire behavior when it comes to extramarital sex. Some believe sex is fine as long as there is commitment involved. And others didn’t seem to care whether there was commitment or not. Casual sex was both welcomed and permissible.
This person grew frustrated because shouldn’t the church be a place where we encourage each other to be sexually whole? It certainly should not be a place where you’re propositioned.
I’ve been grieved ever since.
Scripture is clear for the person who follows Jesus, whether you like it or not, that His will is for us to live holy, pure, dedicated lives. If we are shamelessly pursuing sexual sin, then dismissing it as nothing at all, we have disregarded the outrageous grace Jesus gave the adulterous woman. We’ve only heard the “neither do I condemn you,” and plugged our ears to Jesus’ very clear words of sinning no more.
Paul is also very clear. Here’s a sampling:
“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT).
“Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT).
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3 NIV).
Not even a hint. And as Jesus said, looking lustfully on someone is also sin. We must flee that as well. Not toy with it. Not entertain it. Not think it over. Not flirt with it. But flee.
I run the risk of being seen as a prude by writing this post, but I wholeheartedly believe the hook-up culture is not for people who say they follow Jesus. We cannot expect God to casually overlook our sin in this area (or any other area where we may actively practice sin: greed, gossip, sowing discord). By justifying our behavior, or pointing only to culture and saying, “Well, everyone else is doing it,” we call the cross ridiculous. We shun the Holy Spirit’s ability and availability to help us stand up against temptation. We trample on the beautiful grace Christ has won for us. And we prove that our true allegiance is to ourselves, our desires, and not to Christ and His kingdom.
Bonhoeffer calls this kind of “grace” Cheap Grace, when we pick and choose what we want to obey or what we want to disregard, forsaking confession and repentance for whatever makes us feel good.
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We have been paid for by the costly blood of Jesus Christ. He offers a gift to us, the same gift He beautifully demonstrated to the woman caught in adultery: forgiveness of sin and sanctification (working out that forgiveness by walking closely with Jesus). When we hook up and falsely believe Jesus is casually okay with it, to put it bluntly, we are not following the real Jesus.
And beyond all that, if we dabble in sin (or dive headlong into it), we are no longer living in anticipation of the kingdom of God. We are too preoccupied with our own comfort and justification to have Spirit-initiated energy to be about the kingdom’s business.
No wonder Satan has a heyday with sexual sin. It separates us from God and takes our eyes off this hurting world. Our eyes (and lusts) connect with what we want right now, despising patience and self-control (helpful fruits of the Spirit).
If the greatest commandments are to love God and love others, sexual sin undercuts both. (And how, exactly, is it loving another person to cause them to sin sexually? How is it kind to strip sexual intimacy of the marital commitment God designed it for?)
I am grieved for the church. My heart hurts. Not because I’m sitting here, seemingly in judgment, but because it appears that few truly, truly take the path of Jesus seriously. We are called to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Christ–even as we approach sexuality. But we’ve settled for a sanitized Christianity, a palatable one, where, outside the confines of marriage, we do whatever we want in bed with whomever and whenever, then ask God to stamp it with His approval.
That’s not grace, friends. It’s license.
Instead, Christians are to be set apart from this world’s way of doing things. We must be alien, different, peculiar. But we’ve become so much like our world and its system that it’s difficult to tell the difference between a Christ lover and a self-lover. We hook up. They hook up, the only difference being we are “forgiven.”