Godly Living in a Sexually Immoral Culture
by John Freeman
The call came into my office several months ago. A woman requested to be taken off our mailing list. I assured her that we would comply with her request. I asked the reason she did not want to receive our newsletter any longer. “If homosexuality really is a gift from God,” she replied, “then your ministry is doing great damage to people.”
Although her answer didn’t shock me — people in evangelical circles are increasingly being enticed by the same deceptions — her response, considering her background and her church, did. She shared that she had been a Christian for more than twenty years and involved in the women’s ministry in her church. I was also aware of the fact that she belonged to a church, long steeped in a Reformed theological tradition, which had a strong pulpit ministry (and still does) firmly grounded in God’s Word, viewing the Bible as the authoritative, inspired Word of God.
It was obvious that she had become persuaded that homosexuality was biblically permissible. How have these and other damaging views about sexual sin infiltrated the church? A detailed answer to that question could alone be the subject of an entire book. Simply put, it’s because “other voices” now, consistently as never before, compete for our ears, claiming authority equal to or even surpassing that of the Scriptures. More devastating is the fact that many in our churches are listening to those voices.
Some of these voices call for the ordination of homosexuals to the Gospel ministry. In some denominations, we are seeing this pursued with little or no consequence, if not whole-hearted celebration. In some instances, church discipline is threatened and imposed, not for those advocating sexual immorality, but for those who would contend against non-biblical theology and behaviors. I also think of those churches in the Netherlands that once preached Reformed theology. Today it is illegal to speak of homosexuality in a demeaning way there, and many once thriving churches now stand as museums and thrift stores.
How do we account for our own moral slide towards these same things? These two factors, the competition for our ears and the fact that we’re actively listening, are causing unparalleled confusion — as well as opening the door for un-addressed sin to flourish in the church. Truth is, this caller had fallen for a new wave of theology. I call it “the theology of Oprah, 20/20, and Prime Time Live.” These pop icons and TV programs are now where many, even those in the church, become informed about a variety of biblical issues, especially sexual ones. Church leadership needs to realize that these views are not as rare as we might like to think. They often just remain unexpressed.
Part of addressing this grand distortion and deception of sex and sexuality begins with realizing that whatever is affecting and impacting the culture is always impacting those who sit on our pews. We live in a culture where sex sells everything — a major ploy to attract consumers. Sexual immorality in all its forms is now paraded as legitimate fare for everyone, thanks in a large degree to the media and entertainment sector. It should not surprise us that incorrect and distorted views about sex and, indeed, sexual immorality itself is common in the church today.
Can it be denied that the church has been and will continue to be seduced into these deceptions? When we combine these facts with the reality that believers can and do struggle with various forms of their fallen sexuality and sinful hearts, a potentially explosive and crippling climate can exist. For instance, pornography usage among believers is, I believe, at epidemic levels in the church. This of course does immense damage to men’s hearts and always impacts, directly and indirectly, all his duties and relationships. In short, pornography and all forms of sexual sin rob men of the godly leadership they are called to provide in the lives of those closest to them; it robs men of confidence in the truths of Scripture and their enthusiasm for things of God; and finally, it undermines the place of God as the supreme being whom they are called to worship and serve — and replaces Him with a more manageable and predictable object of adoration.
We’re speaking about a severe crisis of worship and idolatry. Indeed, does not Romans 1:24 tell us that “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator”? Is this not the natural bent of the fallen heart? Paul speaks of a culture given over to idolatry. Dr. Edward T. Welch, in his book Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, has called such idolatries, at heart, “worship disorders.” This means we are witnessing a massive failure to worship God as creator and are, as a culture and to degrees within the church, pursuing creature worship as a norm. It’s a fact that, increasingly, we live in a “porn is the norm” world.
Paul, again, gives a redemptive mandate to the early church as those now set apart from the idolatrous culture in which they find themselves, saying, “For this is the will of God: your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3–5).
An interesting observation about these and many other passages, especially in the pastoral epistles, is that they are actually there. A good part of these epistles is devoted to dealing with the fact that unbridled lust and accompanying sexual temptations were realities with which even the early church had to deal. They speak to the fact that both the culture and one’s own sinful heart were powerful forces with which the believer had to deal. They are also a testimony that a person could deal honorably with these things as he or she yielded to a higher allegiance than the culture and the fallen heart!
An important role for the church in today’s complicated and confused world is to nurture an atmosphere where people can be real about what’s going on in their hearts, lives, and marriages concerning the lure towards sexual sin. We must help them be honest about those forces competing for their hearts and cheer them on to ruthless honesty about the temptations (and failures) they are facing. The church is the place where we model truth and grace, and it is the place where we help convince and remind one another that the worship of God offers so much more real life than does the attractions of our petty sins and idolatries. The seduction need not continue, if we are aware of the lies our culture is presenting and are willing to work with what we find impacting the lives of our people for the glory of Christ.