The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:12–14
Despite the shamelessness and promiscuity of our time, purity and faithful love are still possible today. Even if many churches have neglected to proclaim the message that sexual happiness is possible within the commitment of marriage alone, we can still be certain of its truth. There is no question that many people today have a deep longing for purity and faithfulness. But longing is not enough. Only when we are willing to follow and obey the leading of the Holy Spirit, cost what it may, can we experience its great blessings in our daily lives. Do we believe deeply enough in the power of the Spirit? Are we willing to let God transform our hearts so completely that he turns our lives upside down? (Rom. 12:2)
The struggle for purity demands daily resolve.
All of us know temptation, and all of us have given in to temptation. We have all failed at one time or another – in our relationships at work and at home, in our marriages, and in our personal lives. The sooner we face that, the better. Yet we can take comfort, even if we struggle with ups and downs, and even if our moments of victory are followed by moments of doubt. Even Jesus was tempted, and he was tempted in every way we are (Heb. 4:15). With his help we can find the purity that protects us from every temptation. James says, “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation” (James 1:12 NRSV). What matters here is the deepest will of our heart – the will that speaks within us whenever we come before God in prayer.
As we struggle to be faithful, it is of greatest importance that our entire will is decided for purity. A divided heart will never be able to stand (James 1:6–7). But willpower alone cannot bring about single-mindedness. If we work ourselves into an inner frenzy, even if we manage to keep our head above water, we will soon tire out and sink. Only if we surrender to Jesus can the power of his grace fill us and give us new strength and resolve.
In combating the spirit of our age, we must fight not only against the obvious sins of sexual immorality, deceit, murder, and so on, but also against apathy and fear. Hardly anyone will say that he is against faithfulness and love, or opposed to justice and peace, but how many of us are ready to fight for these things in word and in deed? The spirit of our time has dulled us with such a deathly complacency that we are usually content to look the other way. But if we do not speak out against the evil of our time through the actions of our lives, then we are just as guilty as those who sin deliberately. We must all change, and we must start by confronting the indifference in our own lives.
A little over half a century ago, most people recognized extramarital sex, divorce, homosexual activity, and the like as morally wrong. But today these things are regarded as acceptable lifestyle alternatives. Sadly, an increasing number of churches take this stance as well. Now bestiality (sex with animals), polygamy and polyamorous relationships, and sadomasochism are gaining support as means of “sexual expression.” Only a few decades ago, transsexualism – the practice of undergoing a surgical male-to-female or female-to-male sex change – was unheard of. Today this godless practice has become widely accepted in the western world. The enormous cost of these surgeries alone is a crime against humanity when one thinks of the widespread hunger and poverty in the underdeveloped world and even in our own cities.
Frightening as all these trends are, parents should not be afraid to warn their children about the horror of these perversions. For even though Jesus says that all sin can be forgiven, my experience in counseling has shown me that those who engage in such practices can permanently wound their souls.
What must God think of the shamelessness of our time? In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky reminds us that “if God does not exist, everything is permissible.” Are we not now seeing “everything?” When will we stop to consider the horrifying spirit of rebellion behind our sinfulness, and remember God’s warnings about his wrath on sinners in the end time? Let us remember the words of Paul: “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). Let us ask God for the mercy of his judgment before it is too late. Let us ask him to shake our deadened consciences, to cleanse us, and to bring us new life.
We desperately need more people like John the Baptist today. But where are they? Where are the “voices in the wilderness” crying out for repentance, conversion, faith, and a new life? John’s message was simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” He was not afraid to confront anyone, including the leaders of his day. He even confronted King Herod on his adulterous marriage, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matt. 14:3–4). Perhaps most significant, though, he called to account the devout and religious, the “good” people: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:7–8).
In the fight for God’s kingdom, good deeds are not enough.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37). How much truer is this today! So many people long for the freedom of Christ but remain chained to their sins. So few people dare to stick out their necks. The task is great.
Most of us have good intentions; we earnestly desire to do good deeds and to live rightly. But that is not enough. We dare not forget that the battle for God’s kingdom is not just against human nature: we are dealing with something far more powerful, with powers and principalities (Eph. 6:12), and with the destructive, demonic spirit that John calls the “beast from the abyss” (Rev. 11:7).
This beast holds sway over every country and every government, and its mark is to be found everywhere in our day: in the disappearance of lasting friendship and community, in the oppression of the poor, and in the exploitation of women and children. It is to be seen in the wholesale murder of the unborn and the execution of the imprisoned. Most of all, it is to be seen in the lonely desperation of so many millions of people.
We are living in the end time. It is the last hour (1 John 2:18). We must be on the watch continually if we are not to fall under judgment in the last hour of temptation. We need to seek the inner strength and courage to speak up for God and his cause, even if no one seems willing to hear us.
Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins should be a warning and a challenge to all of us. Jesus is not speaking here about the lost world on the one hand and the church on the other: all ten of the women in the story are virgins, and all of them are preparing to meet him. He is challenging the church:
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”
“No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”
But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour (Matt. 25:1–13).
Are we willing to demonstrate that a new way exists?
We cannot merely run from the challenge of sin. Instead, we must live in active protest against everything that opposes God. We must openly fight everything that cheapens or destroys life, everything that leads to separation and division. But we must also recognize that protest alone, which often leads to violence, is not sufficient. To simply renounce the world, reject marriage, or refuse all pleasure would be fruitless.
We must demonstrate that a new way exists and show the world a new reality, the reality of God’s righteousness and holiness, which is opposed to the spirit of this world. We must show with our lives that men and women can live lives of purity, peace, unity, and love wherever they dedicate their energies to working for the common good; and not only by creating spiritual community, but by building up a practical life of sharing. Above all, we must witness to the power of love. Each of us can give our lives to others in the service of love. That is God’s will for humankind (John 13:34–35).
In order to demonstrate God’s will, the church must first take concrete steps toward forming a genuine sexual counter-culture. This demands committed effort. Chastity programs are not enough. Marriages and families will continue to splinter unless the church forms a life together on totally different terms. Christian families, along with their ministers, need to pledge to live their personal and social lives in contrast to the ways of the world. Unless we relate to each other on a different plane from the world’s, we have little to protest or to say. If we are going to be serious about pursuing purity in this world, then we will need to hold each other, as brothers and sisters, accountable. This applies to everyday life: the way we dress and look, what we allow into our homes, how we and our children relate to the opposite sex.
The visible witness of such a community will do far more to convince our society than a million pamphlets on abstinence. Christian ideals can be explained, but moral principles are never enough. Only when the world sees living proof that a Christ-centered sexual life is possible – one where true freedom goes hand in hand with reverence and responsibility – will people welcome such values and norms.
However, wherever God’s will is consistently lived out, it will be misunderstood and seen as provocation (1 Pet. 4:4). Two thousand years have not made our present world any more tolerant of Jesus’ message than the world of his time. Those who are unwilling to accept his way will always be resentful and even vindictive toward those who witness to it, and a clash is inevitable (John 15:18–20). But if we who claim to follow Christ are afraid to live out his commands because we fear persecution, who will do it? And if it is not the task of the church to bring the darkness of the world into the light of Christ, whose is it?
Our hope is in God’s coming kingdom, which is the wedding feast of the Lamb. Let us wait faithfully for that day. Every word we say, everything we do, should be inspired and influenced by our expectation. Every relationship, every marriage, should be a symbol of it. Jesus, the bridegroom, expects a bride prepared and waiting for him. But when he comes, will we be ready? Will we be “a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle”? (Eph. 5:27) Or will we be full of excuses? (Luke 14:15–24)
We must never be afraid of the ridicule and slander our witness will bring on us. What grips us and drives us should be God’s future – the wonderful future of his kingdom – not the present “realities” of human society. It is God who holds the final hour of history in his hands, and each day of our lives should be a preparation for that hour.