Yet is it rather deeply significant that exactly the same problem arose in the 1st century in the midst of strikingly similar conditions to those which prevail today. Listen to this familiar passage from Romans 1, a 1st century description of life in the Roman Empire:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them. (Romans 1:26-32 RSV)
That sounds up-to-date doesn't it? That could have been written in this decade of the 20th century. It is as up-to-date as tomorrow morning's newspaper. In the face of that fact I should like to ask, "Where is all our vaunted progress in twenty centuries?" If this 1st century document can so accurately describe what 20th century life is like, then where is the progress we say we have been making? What becomes of the claim that proper education will cure conditions like this? Why is it that after two thousand years of research, and of growing human knowledge, these conditions are as rampant as they ever were? And not only rampant among the poor and the uneducated, the so called lower classes, but equally rampant among the cultured, the privileged and the highly educated today. With those questions ringing in our ears, let us come to Paul's treatment of this theme in Ephesians 5 -- the problem of sexual morality. I shall read the whole passage that we may compare it with the description I have just read from Romans 1, and see how totally diametric the Christian position is:
But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light [or, rather, "anything that makes visible is light"].
Therefore it is said,
"Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give you light." (Ephesians 5:3-14 RSV)
The apostle is here declaring the absolute incompatibility of sexual looseness with the Christian faith. The two cannot mix. There is no mincing of words in this passage. Here we have the truth as it is in Jesus, i.e., the reality of things as they are. This is an enlargement by the apostle on the teachings of the Lord Jesus himself. Remember that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that adultery and fornication were evil. Even the eye that is attracted or the hand that is involved should be cut off (in a figurative sense), lest it lead us into evil. Even the thought, he says, that leads to these activities, is wrong. Paul is simply enlarging upon this teaching of our Lord. God's intention for man is either marriage, with complete faithfulness to the partner, or total abstinence from sex. The Bible allows no deviation from this. It makes it clear that this is the Christian position: Nothing less; nothing more.
Now here Paul shows why this must be so. This is one of the most helpful passages in all the Bible to enable us to get our bearings amidst the confused and muddled thinking that exists today in this area of sexual morality. Here the apostle gives us five illuminating and consistently logical reasons why sexual looseness is wholly incompatible with a Christian profession. We shall examine them one by one. I shall not try to cover them all in one message, but let us make a beginning. The first of these reasons is given to us in Verse 3.
But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. (Ephesians 5:3 RSV)
Here he is saying that sexual looseness is incompatible with Christianity because it is defiling and debasing of humanity. Look at the terms he uses to define what we have called, in general, sexual looseness: Immorality, that is the most common and widest term in the Bible for any kind of sexual misbehavior. It is the most frequently used term for sex misconduct. Impurity is literally "uncleanness," and refers to anything that is rotten, or filthy, or obscene. "All impurity," he says. The word covetousness we frequently take to refer to greed about money, but here it refers to greed for another's body. Perhaps the better translation would be passion or lust. It is explained in that connection in Verse 5 where he refers to "one who is covetous (that is an idolater)." One who makes an idol of another person's body, that is the idea. All this we shall lump together under the term, "sexual looseness." You will notice that these things are forbidden to be even named among saints. It is not only the acts themselves which are prohibited, but even to talk about them.
All these terms, of course, refer to sex outside of marriage. There is never any prohibition against discussing sex. The Bible never condemns that. It is the distortions of sex that are prohibited. We are told not to talk about or discuss them in general conversation, but we are never told not to mention or discuss sex. The twisted concept of many about Christianity is that it forbids even the discussion of sex, but anyone who has read the Bible knows that it freely and frankly discusses sex. It approaches it in the most open way, and never sanctions Victorian prudishness about it. The Bible reveals the fact that sexual powers are God-given. God likes sex. He engineered it. He designed it. The fact that our sexual drives are among the most powerful in human life is God's idea, not ours. He made us that way, therefore he has a purpose in it. The Bible faces these facts. It never treats sex as deplorable or shameful. Christianity, almost alone among all the great religions of the world, thoroughly approves of the body. It tells us that God once entered into time in a human body, a body complete with sex organs, and it finds no shame or cause for shame in that fact. The Bible makes clear that within marriage sex is beautiful, wholesome, and God-approved.
But the Bible is equally clear in its declaration that sex outside of marriage is debasing and defiling; it is harmful to our basic humanity. God's prohibitions about sex are therefore not designed to keep us from something helpful and good, but to make possible something helpful and good. They are to keep us from that which would prevent us from enjoying the best. Sex outside of marriage is so injurious, in fact, that, as the apostle makes clear here, even passing references to it among Christians can be inflaming and dangerous. The Christian position is exactly what the Apostle Paul says here. There must be a putting aside of even the desire to talk about the sordid, lurid details of these wrong acts.
Now this statement was made in a day when sexual looseness was even more widely tolerated and accepted than it is today. In this very city of Ephesus, to which this letter is addressed, there was a temple to a pagan goddess, the worship of whom was made possible by a multitude of young priests and priestesses who gave their bodies to whoever could pay the price, as an act of worship. The whole city accepted sexual intercourse as an act of worship and regarded it as normal and proper, even religious -- a sign of dedication. That was going on in this city of Ephesus. That is how tolerantly they looked upon these things. Yet to these Christians, living in such surroundings, the apostle addresses this admonition:
Immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. (Ephesians 5:3 RSV)
That charge to Christians must have seemed even more unrealistic and incapable of fulfillment to the pagans of Ephesus than it does to Americans today. But there it is. Well, why is it there? Not because, as we are often told, Christianity is negative and prudish. It is never that. The whole of Scripture is written for the welfare of man. God's whole purpose in telling us the truth is that we might fully enter into life. Jesus, said, "I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly," (John 10:10 KJV). We have already seen that Christianity is not negative about sex.
Well, then, why is this passage here? It is because, as Paul says, the absence of this kind of activity and of this kind of talk among Christians is fitting among saints. The word he chooses is a word that means "becoming," "wholesome," "attractive," "refreshing." Who of us has not had the experience of being exposed, either deliberately or involuntarily, to something filthy, obscene, or improper in sexual matters, and coming from that experience feeling dirty and unclean. What a refreshing thing it has been to come into a company of people who talk about wholesome matters. Their time and talk is filled with that which is wholesome, healthy, and refreshing. Now that is what the apostle means. By implication, of course, to indulge in improper talk is unwholesome, unfitting, uglifying, debasing, defiling.
That is an idea that is being directly challenged in our day. We are being told today that all sex is beautiful and natural, that it is in the same class as any of our bodily desires or urges, and, therefore, we should feel free to satisfy it as openly as we do any other of our bodily needs, without shame or apology. We are subjected to a constant barrage of propaganda which links sex acts with the idea of wholesomeness, naturalness, frankness, youth, and vitality. Therefore, we are told, we can perform a sex act with whomever and whenever we find it mutually agreeable. The only thing wrong with it, we are being told, is if we force it in any way upon someone else. As long as it is mutually agreeable, it is right. This is the propaganda of our day.
Now this idea that sex, all sex, any sex, is natural and beautiful is a lie. It never was true. Like all powerful lies, it derives its strength from being based upon a partial truth. It is true that sex is a natural urge. It is true that sex is related to our physical body like hunger or thirst, or the need to urinate, or to sleep, or any other physical urge. But what is never said is that these other urges also require regulation and control. They are not indulged in at will, any time, any place. We don't eat in any manner that we choose. We don't sit down at the table and begin to grab with our hands and stuff food into our mouths, we learn to eat with a knife and fork that we might not be offensive. We learn to regulate our eating, and control even the way we eat as well as what we eat. We don't sleep whenever we please, even though we may be awfully sleepy. (Some of you may be controlling that instinct right at this very moment!) And even though we see many signs and pickets demanding the right to sexual freedom, we never see people picketing for the right to urinate publicly, or any time they will. We even insist that our puppies and kittens learn to do otherwise.
Therefore, just because sex is like our other natural desires, because it is nothing to be ashamed of, then, like these other natural urges, it requires regulation and restraint. And the intended regulation of sex is marriage! That is all the Bible says. Marriage is the way to regulate sex so that it is right and wholesome and beneficial. Anything else becomes a violation, not only of propriety in Christian society, but of elementary humanity as well. One thing is clearly true: Sex is obviously much more complicated than any other of our natural urges. It requires a partner, which no other urge does. And it is not only a physical union, but a psychological union as well. In fact, and this is what is so often forgotten, it is the psychological union which is the more important of the two.
All you need do to prove that is to sit in a marriage counseling room and listen to the dreary stories, repeated endlessly, of married couples who experience physical union but have never known what it means to enter into psychological union in sex. Their lives are empty and barren as a result. Sex is a complicated process, intended to be a total union of two beings, and only in marriage is such a total union possible. It is not merely a physical union; it is primarily a psychological union. It is the giving of two people to each other totally, body, soul and spirit, with all their possessions, their name, everything they own. Only in marriage is that kind of a union possible. C. S. Lewis says something very helpful along this line:
The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the physical) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.
C. S. Lewis goes on to point out that, today, our sexual instincts are horribly inflamed and distorted, even in the best of people, because of the age in which we live, and the generations of sexual distortion to which we have been exposed. Suppose we treated our other urges as we do the sex urge. Imagine a country, he says, where you could fill a theater by bringing a covered plate onto the stage and slowly lifting the cover to let all see, before the lights suddenly go out, a lamb chop or a bit of bacon. Imagine the whole audience titillated by this sight of a bit of food exposed to them. Would you not think that there was something terribly wrong with their appetite for food, that it had become awfully distorted? There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying food, but there is everything to be ashamed of if food is your main interest in life, and you spend your time looking at food pictures in magazines and smacking your lips and drooling over every page.
The apostle has more to say about this inflaming character of sexual evil in the next verse. But, before we leave the point he makes here, that all sex outside of marriage is debasing and defiling, look at a further argument suggested in this verse: Note that Verse 3 is a continuation of the thought of Verse 2. It begins with a conjunction but, and is really part of the same sentence. His complete thought demands they be read together:
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, (Ephesians 5:2-3a RSV)
That adversative conjunction, but, puts everything in Verse 3 in contrast to Verse 2. What the apostle is saying is that any sexual looseness is a violation of love. You cannot truly love another and practice sex with him or her outside of marriage. It is impossible; they are mutually contradictory.
Now, that directly contravenes one of the major contentions of the New Morality cult of our day. They say that sex relations are justified as long as love is present, that true love makes everything right. This is heard on every side today. But, Paul says, that is impossible. If anyone really loves another, he would never practice sex outside of marriage. To do so would injure the other because sex outside of marriage is incomplete, abortive, unfulfilling, injurious. Therefore, you cannot combine the two. There is no such thing as sexual relations outside of marriage done in love.
Dr. Henry Brandt says, "Becoming involved sexually short-circuits the judgment, and one of the most important decisions of your life -- whom you will marry -- is made under pressure of disappointment, one-sided affection, or over-involvement." Every psychologist, psychiatrist, or marriage counselor has heard endless stories of what has happened when young people, refusing to believe this, think that because the first two or three acts were so wonderful, and felt so great, nothing is happening, nothing is wrong, and they go on to end up in the inevitable sequence of injured feelings, over-involvement, frustration, and, often times, impotence in sexual matters. It is easy for a boy to tell a girl that he loves her. But if that is not accompanied by a desire to do her no harm, and a willingness to exercise self-restraint till the proper conditions are obtained, then he is simply deceiving himself and her. He doesn't love her. He loves himself, and he wants her to satisfy his own desires. That is why sex outside of marriage is, as the apostle makes clear, totally incompatible with Christian love. True love is concerned about another's welfare and desires no harm in any way to the other individual. Therefore, sexual looseness and love are irreconcilable.
Sometimes we hear that it is necessary to experiment with sex before marriage in order to see whether or not marriage will work. This is another common argument of our day. But again this is a lie. It mistakes the physical union of sex as the primary thing in marriage which, as we have already seen, is not the case. Physical union is not the most important thing about marriage by any means. Second, it is impossible to test marriage that way because the essential conditions that make up marriage are not there. Therefore, it is impossible to tell whether or not marriage will work by sexual union before marriage. It doesn't prove anything. It is beside the point. As someone has well pointed out, it is like trying to test a parachute by jumping off a 30-foot building. That simply isn't enough room for the parachute to operate. The only way to test a parachute is to go up and jump out of an airplane. And the only way to test the proper function of sex is to be married. The apostle goes on to point out another reason for the incompatibility of sexual looseness and Christianity.
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4 RSV)
That is, sexual looseness is incompatible with Christian faith because even the talk that leads to sexual looseness is inconsistent and pointless. He says, it is not fitting. In Verse 3 he had said, "These things must not be named among you, as is fitting among saints." Here in Verse 4 he says, "These things are not fitting." But this is a different word than the one in Verse 3. The first word meant something that was a disgrace, a defiling thing, as we have already seen. This word means something that is not consistent, inappropriate, wasteful, pointless. In other words, the apostle is essentially asking the question, What do Christians gain by this kind of an exposure? What can you expect to gain by reading sexy literature or by attending lurid movies or discussing sexual perversions or indulging in dirty stories or double-meaning jokes? What can you get out of that? His answer is, "Nothing. It is pointless, wasted. You learn nothing of value from such kind of talk."
Here again this contradicts one of the common arguments of our day. We are being told that if we don't explore these distortions of sex, if we don't attend sexy movies, if we don't understand what people are doing and why they do it, we cannot properly defend against these. We cannot understand what sex is, and, therefore, we cannot defend against these abuses. We must expose ourselves, we are told. We must learn how the world thinks. We must share its views in some degree, in order to understand, and even to help. But the apostle directly challenges that. He says it is not true. Those things are "not fitting." They are not appropriate. They are pointless. They are a waste of time. You do not learn how to avoid sexual looseness by talking about it, or by joking about it, and laughing about it, and exposing yourself. He says this is a dead end street. It is wasted time and effort. You never learn the true nature of sex by studying its perversions or its distortions. You learn the true nature of sex from the revelation of God. There we see what sex was intended to be. That is where we learn the truth, the truth as it is in Jesus. Someone has well said, "Virtue, even attempted virtue, brings light, but indulgence brings fog." The truth of this is amply manifest by the times in which we live.
When we indulge in this kind of talk or this type of activity, through movies, books, and ribald literature, then the sex drive which is designed to be channeled and kept within bounds, to make us men and women as God intended men and women to be, breaks over its boundaries, overflows its banks, and becomes a flood which inundates the whole landscape, in which we find ourselves wading continuously. Eventually sex loses its attraction and its power to attract.
What do the facts reveal? If the trouble lay in Christian prudishness, if it is true, as we are being told, that the cause of declining morals is that we have hushed up sex and no one has talked about these things, if what was needed was awareness of sexual practices and the knowledge of what was taking place in secret places in our great cities, then God knows that during the last thirty years we have had plenty of exposure. What have the results been? Well, for one, we know no more about sex now than we did thirty years ago. We do not understand true sex any more than we did then. We know no more about true sex after the Kinsey Report was published than we did before. As Paul says, these things have proved to be empty, vain, profitless. Rather than stopping these abuses, they have increased until today our cities are flooded with sexual emphases, and our own area has gained a reputation across the country as one of the centers of sexual perversion.
Here are but two of the five mighty reasons Paul gives why every type of sexual looseness is totally incompatible with Christian faith. He makes the position absolutely clear. There is no doubt left. If we take his words at face value, Christians have no choice in this matter. If any man takes another position than what the Apostle Paul takes, he is thereby declaring that he knows more about life than the apostles of our Lord knew and that Jesus Christ himself knew. The apostle's position is only the enlargement and further explanation of what the Lord himself has said. Anyone who takes a different position is challenging the authority of the Lord Jesus, the One who knew life as no other has ever known it.
Christian people, this is an important subject and we must regard it with all solemnity. We are being engulfed by a tidal wave of sexual propaganda designed to undermine the foundations of morals and Christian faith. Unless Christians are ready to take a stand in obedience to what God has said, there is nothing we can do to stem this tide.
History has shown that wherever the gospel of the grace of God has gone, and men and women have believed this gospel, then, even in the midst of the most depraved sexual practices, islands of purity have been created which have spread and touched whole cities and ultimately transformed the sexual practices of empires. This is where the power of the church lies, in the willingness of its people to obey the word of the living God.
Our Father, we pray that we may heed these important words and take them to heart, not to read them lightly as we have read them in the past, or to go out and forget them and give ourselves to improper practices, improper thoughts, improper reading, and improper viewing. Grant to us Lord that we be free and open and frank in our discussions of sex itself, but teach us Lord to beware these dangerous areas, these areas of defilement, of debasement, of harm. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.
New Morality or Ancient Foolishness? Part 1 JUNE 19, 1966
It is not surprising, therefore, that we face today a crisis in sexual morality, for the world has had such crises in the past, from time to time. Paul's letter to Timothy says there will come recurrent times of stress throughout history. We have had sexual crises from place to place and from time to time in the world history before, but now we are facing one of world-wide extent. There is a great revolt going on everywhere in this matter of sex mores. Long-standing restraints are now being challenged as they never have before. Long-accepted standards of sex conduct are being overthrown.
Now, as always, the New Testament cuts through all the fog and haze and distortion, down to the basic facts. This is what makes the Bible such an exciting, marvelous book. Because it is the truth, and reveals facts as they really are, it helps us to measure and evaluate the trends, the currents, the sweeping movements of our day or any day. Here we have "the truth as it is in Jesus" (Ephesians 4:21) who is the ultimate revelation of truth, things as they really are, the foundational reality of life. In the section we are looking at, the apostle gives us five great reasons why sexual looseness is wholly incompatible with Christian faith. In our last message on this passage, we examined the first two of these reasons, suggested in Verses 3 and 4 of Ephesians 5: We saw that the word he uses to describe the unfittingness of sexual misconduct suggests that all sex outside of marriage, and even all discussion of the lurid, sordid details of it, is debasing and defiling to our essential humanity. It is not that it is merely proscribed by Christian society, it goes deeper than that, it affects our basic humanity. Then, further, it is pointless and profitless. Nothing is learned from it. It does nothing to cure the problem. Despite the Kinsey Report and its attempts to explore the sexual malpractices of the American male and female, and other such quasi-serious studies, and despite the tons of sex literature that have flooded this country for the past thirty years, we know no more about what sex really is, and can do no more about sexual misconduct, that we could before all this began.
In other words, what we have tried to discover by investigating the wrong practices of sex has been pointless, just as the Apostle Paul said it would. It has not achieved anything. The problem instead grows worse. Pornography, and even serious studies of sexual distortions and deviations, are essentially a waste of time, as far as curing the problem is concerned. That is the apostle's claim, and that is what our experience has amply confirmed. That is arresting, isn't it? Men think they can diminish the problem by learned studies, but they do not. Instead we are faced with a continually increasing problem in this direction. Sexual deviations and immorality are spreading rapidly and widely in our country and in other countries of the world, and all our efforts to arrest them seem to be unavailing. Now we come to the last three of Paul's five great statements about the Christian and improper sex: The third of these is given to us in Verse 5:
Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5 RSV)
Notice that he takes up the same three categories he refers to in Verse 3 -- immorality, impurity, and covetousness. As we have seen, covetous here is not greed for money, as it is frequently in the Scriptures, but is "passion, greed for another's body, desire to possess another for exploitative use." Any man, he says, who practices immorality, impurity or body-greed -- and he puts it flatly and bluntly -- has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God! In other words, sexual looseness is incompatible with Christian faith because continuance in it reveals an unregenerate heart. Notice how he reinforces this. "Be sure of this," he says, and he goes on in the next verse, "Do not let anyone deceive you about this." You cannot be a Christian and knowingly, deliberately practice sex outside of marriage, for the one cancels out the other.
Oh, I know a Christian can do these things. God knows, the record is all too clear in this regard. Even in the Scriptures we have the account of David who, after years as a believer, as a man after God's own heart, fell into the sin of adultery and took another man's wife. We have other accounts of it in Scripture, and there are plenty of modern examples. How often the Christian world is startled and shocked by some prominent pastor or Christian leader who succumbs in this area and stumbles and falls into sexual immorality. I know this can happen. But the point the apostle is making is that no professed Christian can do this repeatedly, certainly not defiantly, or shamelessly, and really be a Christian. The true Christian, if he does fall into this kind of folly, will abhor himself and loathe his sin and will repent and turn back and forsake it. The man who defends it, and who justifies and excuses this kind of activity, or even glories in it, as some do as a mark of their personal liberty or freedom is, in the light of this statement of the Apostle Paul's, not a Christian despite all his profession, and he never has been a Christian. Let me read it again.
Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolator) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5 RSV)
That does not mean such cannot come into the kingdom of Christ. There is a passage in Paul's letter to the Corinthians that refers to sexual sins -- homosexuality, and other things that are listed there -- which goes on to say,
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 in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 RSV)
God's grace reaches out to those who are practicing these things, true, but the point the apostle is making here is that no man can profess to be a Christian and continue in these things, for if he does his practice denies his profession.
I know of a man, raised in a Christian family, graduate of an evangelical seminary, whose brother is a fine Bible-teaching pastor, who himself was a professed Christian for many years. Recently he startled his friends by renouncing his faith, abandoning his family, and going off with another woman. He confessed, after the matter had come to full investigation, that he had been sleeping with other women all during the time of his studies in seminary and during the years he was making a Christian profession. That activity proved, in the light of this statement of the apostle, that he never had been a Christian, that he had been deceiving his own heart as well as others. He remains as one example among many today of those pathetic, pitiful slaves of their own passions who have never been delivered from the bondage of Satan by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The point the apostle makes is that a Christian can have nothing to do with sexual immorality or he disproves his claim to be a Christian. There is a fourth reason also, following immediately on this,
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn [or rather, in one word, "discover" or "discern] what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:6-10 RSV)
This argument asserts that all sexual misconduct is incompatible with Christianity because a Christian no longer has any excuse for indulging in it. He is not a child of ignorance anymore; he is not caught up in the web of deceit that is spun widely across our age; he is not self-deceived or brainwashed by the subtle propaganda that is abroad. He knows the truth about sex. That is what becoming a Christian has introduced him to. Therefore it is unthinkable that he should deliberately go back from light into darkness.
Notice again how clearly the apostle draws this picture. If a man or woman is born again by faith in Jesus Christ he has, as the apostle makes clear in this letter, been translated out of the kingdom of darkness, out of the power of Satan, and brought into the kingdom of light, into the power of God. He has been removed from helpless bondage to the deceiving, alluring propaganda of the satanic lie that has kept him helpless, and he has been brought into the power of God. This is the whole Christian gospel. If that has not happened then you have not been born again, for that is what the new birth does. Now, he says, it is unthinkable that a Christian who has been delivered from darkness and brought into light should turn his back on the light and go into the darkness; it is wholly incompatible with Christian profession.
He suggests very plainly here that a Christian knows things that a non-Christian does not know. The Christian in his confrontation with society is always to remember that he knows secrets about human life that those around him who are not Christians do not know. That is why he is expected to act differently, to think differently, and to react differently than they.
Well, what are some of the things in this particular area that the Christian knows or should know? For one, he should know that sexual misconduct will be the subject of subtle and deceitful, but very powerful, propaganda. That is why the apostle warns, "Let no man deceive you with empty words." They will certainly try! We are being assaulted today by a tremendous barrage of propaganda, all subtly designed to make us think that the standards and evaluations of sex that the world in general holds are right, proper, true, helpful, and wholesome. We can hardly realize how powerful this propaganda is. There are whole magazines in our society today openly dedicated to making improper sex look manly and sophisticated:
The Playboy philosophy is the basic outlook of many of our young people today. I do not say this in blame, I am merely stating the fact. They are under the control, in their thinking, their attitudes, and their mentality, of a subtly devious propaganda system that presents improper sex in an attractive and alluring light that makes a powerful appeal to them. One book, among many that might be mentioned, Sex And The Single Girl, assures unmarried girls that they can enjoy sex with a long line of attractive, eligible, handsome males with never a care about losing status or damaging their reputations; nothing evil is going to happen to them. This is the current philosophy about sex that is widespread in our day. It is a reflection of the most ancient lie the world knows, the lie of the tempter in the Garden who said to Adam and Eve, "You shall not die; nothing is going to happen to you. God said you would die if you sinned, but you're not going to die, nothing will happen," (Genesis 3:4). The Christian ought to know that in this area there is going to be loosed against him a specially successful and powerful barrage of propaganda. Therefore, do not let anyone deceive you with empty words.
But the Christian knows something else that the world never cares to remember, which the apostle goes on to state for us. It is particularly sexual wrong which evokes the wrath of God against the society which permits or encourages sexual misconduct. That is why he says, "for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience."
This term, the wrath of God, is greatly misunderstood today. Almost invariably people think of it in terms of lightning bolts from heaven, sudden catastrophes, or a great judgment day that is coming eventually when all these things will be brought to account. Now it is not that there will not be a day of judgment, the Scripture makes that clear, but that is not what is in view here. The apostle Paul declares in his letter to the Romans that the wrath of God is going on right now. In his opening chapter to the Romans he says,
For the wrath of God is now revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18 KJV)
The wrath of God is something happening now. What is it? Well, as the apostle goes on to make clear in that first chapter of Romans, it is simply God saying, "All right, if you want to have it this way, go ahead." It is God giving men up to their own passions, refusing to exercise his gracious restraint of man's evil. In other words, it is the inevitable effect of moral wrong on the individuals who indulge in it, and not only the effect upon them, but upon their children and their children's children. We live as part of a great bundle of life tied up together and what one generation does directly affects the generation that follows, and the one that follows that. To put it as plainly as I think I can put it, the wrath of God is the animalizing of humanity, the brutalizing of our essential manliness or womanliness, and the disorientation of human personality which results.
The manifestations of it are boredom, restlessness, a sense of despair or uselessness, a sense of emptiness within, accompanied by neurotic fears and unexplainable anxieties, sudden urgings to violence or injury to others, among any other things. Man was never intended to know these things; he was never intended to live like this. It was never God's intention that we live out our days in a tempest of anxiety and neurotic reaction. These are a result of God's withdrawing, and restraint, of grace when he gives men up to their passions. In extreme forms it results in a total loss of manliness or womanliness.
As Paul makes clear in Romans 1, in the case of sexual deviants, it results in an exchange of manliness for womanliness, or womanliness for manliness. It is a result of God's giving them up, permitting them to have their way, refusing any longer to restrain the evil of man's heart, in order that man might see for himself the hideous results of human folly.
This too is why society has always sought to regulate sex, and why this present revolt against the restraints of society in this respect is the mark of a sick and dying civilization. We are being told today that sex is something private, that it is a matter which no state or institution has any right to regulate, it is a purely private matter. That again is part of the great satanic lie. God has given society the urge to regulate sex because it is society which suffers when sexual misconduct becomes widespread. Just as society regulates every other phase of its life where its best interests can be threatened, so it is right that it should regulate this. Sex is not a private matter. It never was and it cannot be. No man is an island, living unto himself. It is amazing how liberals love that philosophy when it applies to civil rights, and other things, but absolutely renounce it when it comes to the matter of sexual conduct. They say sexual matters are private and we have only ourselves to regulate. But no man can live unto himself. What each one does affects all, and, furthermore, affects the next generation, and the one after that. Humanity is one unbroken stream of life. What we do, and what we think, in private relationships is not private at all, for our influence and the attitude of our life is constantly rubbing off onto others, touching others. That is why a moral infestation, an infection like this, rapidly spreads throughout the whole fabric of human society. And that is why it is quite right that these things should be regulated, as far as regulation can be obtained, through law and ethical restraints on society.
Now, lest you think this is merely a crabbed, Christian point of view, let me share with you a quotation I ran across in a memorandum issued by the Provost of a nearby university to his students:
The sex act is the most complex and precarious and personal, despite Shaw, of all personal human relationships. Just as it is potentially the most rewarding, it can also be the most damaging. Entered into carelessly or casually it can have devastating effects on individuals involved. This is why all societies have surrounded the sexual relationship with moral codes or taboos of various kinds. These are testimony to the importance of ordering and defining the relationship in such a way as to protect both the individuals and the community of which they are a part. For young unmarried persons to enter into sexual relations not intended to culminate in marriage is, at best, to take chances with their own psychic health. One hears frequently of idealistic young people who begin sexual relationships with solemn promises not to hurt each other, with assurances of mutual respect and, often, affection. But it is very naive indeed to believe that such assurances can be counted on to protect the individuals involved from acute unhappiness. The sexual relationship needs the support, the nourishment, and the stability that marriage provides. What is involved basically in a successful sexual relationship is what is -- or should be -- involved in all human endeavors: a strong sense of decency, a regard for the personal worth and integrity of others, and an understanding of the nature of obligation. You seriously diminish your own humanity when you engage in casual and ill-considered relationships. A man's careless or carefree sexual use of a woman is simply exploitive. Correspondingly, the foolishly promiscuous woman trivializes and degrades her deepest self.
That is but a reflection of the truths and basic realities set forth here by the Apostle Paul. A Christian is to understand these truths. He knows this about sex, that it is a very sensitive, a very important area of human life, drastically affecting our entire society. Also, the Christian knows, or should know, that he cannot identify himself with these false ideas. As the apostle says, "Do not associate with them." Now this does not mean association with people. In his letter to the Corinthians he makes that clear. He says, "I can't tell you to withdraw from contact with the adulterer and immoral person of the world, for that would mean escaping the world, going out of the world," (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). When he says, "do not associate with them," he does not have people in mind, but their practices. Do not become a partaker with them in these things. That is what he is saying.
Well, someone says, "Look, if I don't go along with these practices my friends will think it's strange and I'll lose status with them." Well, which do you prefer? Are you interested, as a Christian, in pleasing deceived, deluded, darkened and foolish people, or pleasing the Lord of light and glory? That is the essential choice the apostle sets before us. "Walk," he says, "discerning what is pleasing to the Lord, for the fruit of light is good and right and true." Don't go back on the light now that you have been called out of darkness. His fifth and last reason why sexual looseness is incompatible with Christian faith is given in Verses 11-14:
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that makes visible is light. Therefore it is said,
"Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give you light." (Ephesians 5:11-14 RSV)
Sexual looseness is incompatible with Christian faith because the Christian is directed to expose the true character of sexual evil. You cannot expose something and indulge in it at the same time. It is utterly inconsistent. The church of Jesus Christ is directed by the Holy Spirit to be a source of correct information on matters of sex. Paul says the church is, "the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Timothy 3:15 KJV). I do not hesitate to say today that it is only the church which can teach the world the true nature of sex. As the apostle makes clear in this letter, even the serious worldling, intent in utter sincerity on trying to alleviate the problems of society, does not see clearly; he is deluded and deceived. Therefore, we cannot accept statements from the world and worldly authorities in these matters without checking them against the truth of Scripture.
But the job of the Christian is to speak up in these areas. Let him challenge these false ideas. He is to tear away the mask from these wrong concepts, and reveal the truth, God's great truth about sex. If we needed any justification at all for a message like this, here it is: The apostle says, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." Bring them to the light, make them visible. It does not mean to denounce them. The world is utterly unimpressed by people who go around denouncing. What the church ought to do is helpfully to show the truth about these things, tear away the lies, reveal the basic facts, and let men see that what God has intended for sex is wholesome, beautiful, wonderful, and only properly protected by the bonds of marriage. Within that area there is no limit to the enjoyment of man in the areas of sex. God has made provision amply for it.
Young people are always looking for a cause to espouse. In common with much of our society, they want to rebel against something. Well, may I suggest something? Rebel against the rebellion! That is exactly what Christians are called to. Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed..." Revolt against the masquerade of truth that is so current today. Tear away the veils from these elusive phantasm that grip men today and make them hope that they will find something beautiful and healthy and wonderful in the exploitation of sex. They will not find it at all. Help them to see that. Tear away these veils.
But wake yourself up first, that is the word here. "Therefore it is said, 'Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead...'" Alert your minds and hearts. Realize that in the Word of God you have the facts as they are, truth as it really is. Christ will give you light. Then tell somebody about it. Blazon it abroad. Talk about sex. Capitalize on the universal interest in this subject today -- it is perfectly proper. Help people to see that this is part of God's great yearning heart of redemptive love which is ever seeking to draw men away from that which destroys and ruins and blasts and creates unhappiness and misery, back into wholeness and fullness and joyfulness and the living of life as God intended man to live. Expose these things. "Anything that makes visible is light." Anything that tears away the false, the masquerade, and exposes the facts, is light. There is nothing wrong with that. Paul calls us therefore to crusade positively against sexual lies and to talk about these things. Notice how he puts it in his letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 2:14 he says,
Do all things without grumbling or complaining, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish ... (Philippians 2:14-15a RSV)
"Oh," you say, "in order to do that we must go into a monastery somewhere or get away in a Christian conference ground, that's the only safe place." No, no, look at it!
...children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, (Philippians 2:15b RSV)
Or as the Amplified Version puts it, "in the midst of a generation of crooks and perverts." What a cause! What a call! What a challenge! Can you not hear the sound of the trumpet in that? I am rapidly moving beyond that period of time known as youth, but I feel in my veins this call to young blood to respond to a cause that demands everything of a man or a woman, a boy or a girl.
New Morality or Ancient Foolishness? Part 2 JULY 17, 1966
Our Father, we thank you for this truth, so factually, so plainly, so bluntly put to us. What a joy it is to realize that every time we come to this Word this is what we experience, the blunt truth, the revelation of things as they are, the facts about life. Help us then to have the grace to believe, because it comes from One who loved us and who gave himself for us, who has withheld nothing from us. May we therefore walk as this verse suggests we walk, shining as lights in a dark place. We thank you for the privilege of it in this, our day or darkness. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Notes by Lambert Dolphin
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