Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking…Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Ephesians 5:1–6
Through out Scripture the covenant of God with his people and the unity of Christ with his church is compared to the union of marriage. In our culture, however, marriage – the very thing we should honor and celebrate most as love – has been attacked, dragged into the dirt, and destroyed by the spirits of impurity and irreverence.
For many people today, love is a delusion.
The desecration of love is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. Increasingly, love is understood as nothing more than desire, and the satisfaction of this desire is seen as fulfillment. People talk about sexual liberation but remain trapped in bondage to their sexual desires; they talk about true love but live in self-absorbed estrangement. Our age is a loveless age: relationships and hearts are broken everywhere, millions of human lives are discarded almost before they have begun, thousands of children are abused or abandoned, and fear and mistrust abound even in supposedly healthy marriages. Love has been reduced to sex. Because of this, it is nothing more than a delusion for many – short-lived intimacy followed by gnawing emptiness and anguish.
How can we rediscover the real meaning of love? So many things in the world today take away our belief in lasting and unconditional love. So much of what is called “love” these days really has to do with the excitement and passion of lust. We live in a sex-obsessed, sex-crazed society, and everything reeks of it – advertising, literature, fashion, and entertainment. Marriage has been the first casualty: its significance has become so distorted that its true meaning has been lost.
Of course, no honest person can lay the blame for all of this at the door of the media or of some vague force in society. Certainly, the media has confused thousands of people and left them hardened. And political agendas to redefine marriage altogether, in civil law and even in churches, have deepened this confusion in powerfully destructive ways. But it is we – each one of us – whose souls are burdened by the sin of our own lust, whose marriages have fallen apart, whose children have gone astray. We cannot ignore our own misdeeds; we must take responsibility for our own actions, for every instance where we have accepted the spirit of impurity and let evil into our own hearts. We have mocked and twisted the image of God and separated ourselves from our creator. We must learn to listen again to the deepest cries of our hearts, and repent and turn back to God.
Fifty years have passed since the beginning of the sexual revolution, and its devastating aftermath should be obvious to anyone: widespread promiscuity; teen pregnancy and suicide; tens of millions of abortions; the spread of sexually transmitted diseases; child pornography; the erosion of the family and home life; and generations of fatherless children. “We have sown the wind, and reap the whirlwind” (Hos. 8:7).
Our time grossly overestimates the importance of sex. Whether on bookstands, at supermarket counters, or on the screen, its significance is exaggerated in a thoroughly unhealthy way. Love between man and woman is no longer regarded as sacred or noble; it has become a commodity seen only in an animal sense, as an uncontrollable impulse that must be satisfied.
As a tool of the sexual revolution, modern sex education is largely responsible for all this. Sex education was supposed to bring us freedom, enlightened attitudes, responsibility, and safety. Isn’t it obvious by now that it has been a failure? Haven’t we seen by now that knowledge is no safeguard, and that sex education as taught in most schools has only increased sexual activity?
True education for the sexual life instills reverence.
Most parents have very little, if any, idea of what their children are taught in sex education classes. Sex education has never been a simple presentation of biological facts. In many curricula students are graphically taught (sometimes by way of films) about various sexual practices, including masturbation, and about “safe” sex. In others, sexual perversions are openly and explicitly discussed and presented as normal ways of finding sexual “fulfillment.” In some school districts an appreciation and understanding for bisexual and homosexual lifestyles are encouraged: they are, our children are told, perfectly acceptable alternatives to heterosexual marriage. Some schools even have students pair off to discuss topics such as foreplay and orgasm. Antibiotics and abortion are presented as positive safety nets in case contraception and “safe” sex practices fail. Abstinence, if not entirely ignored, is mentioned only in passing. As William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, writes:
There is a coarseness, a callousness, a cynicism, a banality, and a vulgarity to our time. There are too many signs of a civilization gone rotten. And the worst of it has to do with our children: we live in a culture that at times seems almost dedicated to the corruption of the young, to ensuring the loss of their innocence before their time.1
Sex education is little more than “safe” sex training. Initially, it was instituted as an attempt to bank the fires of teenage sexuality; instead, it has only fanned the flames.2 Most people seem to take it for granted that teenagers will and should express themselves sexually. But again, the result has been millions of abortions, countless unwed mothers on public support, and an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. Clearly, the idea that accurate knowledge fosters responsible behavior is nothing less than a grand myth.
In general, much of what is taught today in the name of sex education is a horror, and as Christians we must protest against it. It is often little more than the formalized training of irreverence, impurity, and rebellion against the plan of God.
True education for the sexual life takes place best between parent and child in an environment of reverence and trust. To educate anyone about sex through anonymous images and impersonal information will only awaken the sexual impulse of a child prematurely and, in his mind, separate sex from love and commitment.
Obviously we should not be afraid to talk freely with our own children about sexual matters, especially as they approach adolescence. Otherwise they will learn about these things first from their peers or the internet, and rarely in a reverent atmosphere. All the same, there is a danger in giving a child too many biological facts about sex. Often, a factual approach to sex robs it of its divine mystery.
To the Christian parent, sex education means guiding the sexual conscience of his or her children to sense their own dignity and the dignity of others. It means helping them to understand that selfish pleasure, whether it “hurts” anybody else or not, is contrary to love (Gal. 5:13). It means teaching them that, separated from God, sexual inter-course or any other sexual activity burdens the conscience and undermines honest relationships. It means opening their eyes to see the deep emptiness that leads people – and could lead them too – into sexual sin.
A child can acquire a healthy attitude to his body and to sex quite naturally, simply by being taught that his body, as the temple of the Spirit, is holy, and that any defilement of it is sin. I will never forget the deep impression it made on me as a young teen when my father took me for a walk and told me about the struggle for a pure life and the importance of keeping myself pure for the woman I might find and marry someday. He said to me, “If you are able to live a pure life now, it will be easier for the rest of your life. But if you give in now to personal impurity, it will become harder and harder to withstand temptation, even once you marry.”
Parents who want to protect their children from impurity should remember that the discipline of work – whether through chores, exercise, or through other activities – is one of the best safeguards. Children who have been taught to stick to a task and see it through will be better equipped to deal with sexual temptations than children who have been pampered and catered to.
Any misuse of sex cuts us off from our true selves and from each other.
Young people underestimate the power of the demonic forces they allow into their lives when they give in to impurity. Take masturbation, for example. As children grow into young men and women, their sexual desire increases, and often their most immediate impulse is to seek sexual gratification through masturbation. Today many parents, educators, and ministers claim that masturbation is healthy and natural; they see it as just another form of stress release. And the sexual fantasy and activity it often leads to, even among children who have barely reached puberty, is considered by some to be normal.
Why are we parents and educators so afraid to speak the truth – to warn our children not only of the dangers of promiscuity but also of masturbation? (Prov. 5:1 ff.) Aren’t both illnesses of the soul? Don’t both desecrate and betray the image of God, and undermine the marriage bond? Masturbation can never bring true satisfaction. It is a solitary act. It is self-stimulation, self-gratification, self-abuse – it closes us within a dream world and separates us from genuine relationships. When it becomes habitual (which it often does), it aggravates isolation and loneliness, and it intensifies feelings of futility and frustration. At its worst, as a breach in the bond of unity and love for which sex is created, it is comparable to adultery. I have counseled many young people who are enslaved by masturbation: they earnestly desire to be freed from their habit, but they fall into it again and again.
A person who struggles with masturbation is often too ashamed to talk about it with anyone. Yet it is important to realize that because shameful acts work in secrecy, their power can only be broken when they are brought to light. Certainly sharing one’s burdens and inner feelings with a mentor or pastor can be painful, but this is the only recourse for anyone who wants to become truly free.
People may struggle with masturbation right to the end of their lives. I have counseled men in their eighties who still have not found freedom from it. The question arises whether there is anything one can do to be rid of this curse. My advice to those enslaved to masturbation is to seek strength through prayer. You will not conquer your addiction by will power alone. Before you go to bed at night, turn your thoughts to God and read something of an inner, spiritual nature. Even then the temptation to masturbate can arise. When that happens, find something to take your mind off it – get out of bed and take a walk, or do some household chore. Often a simple activity provides the best means to overcome these strong temptations.
Frequently enslavement to masturbation is connected to another form of bondage: pornography. Very few people will admit an addiction to pornography, but the fact that it is a billion-dollar industry shows how widespread it is, also among “Christians.”
Many people claim that pornography should not be criminalized because it is “victimless.” Yet anything that encourages impurity, even in the form of solitary sexual arousal, is a crime because it degrades the human body, which was created in God’s image as a temple of the soul (1 Cor. 6:19). The so-called lines typically drawn between pornography, masturbation, one-night stands, and prostitution are actually an illusion. All of them are means used to attain sexual satisfaction without the “burden” of commitment. All reduce the mystery of sex to a technique for satisfying lust. And all of them are shameful – the secrecy of those who indulge in them betrays that fact more clearly than anything else (Rom. 13:12–13).
Prayer and confession can free us from the burden of impurity.
No one can free himself from impurity or any other sin in his own strength. Freedom comes through the attitude of inner poverty, through continually turning to God. The struggle against temptation is in everyone and will always be there, but through prayer and confession, sin can be overcome.
Whenever we let down our guard in the struggle for purity – whenever we allow passion and lust to overcome us – we are in danger of throwing ourselves completely away. Then we will not be able to drive away the evil spirits we have allowed to enter, and the intervention of Christ himself will be needed to bring freedom. Without this, there will be only deepening hopelessness and despair.
In the most extreme instances the desperation brought on by a secret life of impurity ends in suicide. This can only be described as a rebellion against God, a statement that says, “I’m beyond hope – my problems are too big even for God to handle.” Suicide denies that God’s grace is greater than our weakness. If we find ourselves in the abyss of despair, the only answer is to seek God and ask for his compassion and mercy. Even when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, God wants to give us new hope and courage, no matter how deeply we feel we have betrayed him. God is always ready to forgive every sin (1 John 1:9); we only need to be humble enough to ask him. When someone is tempted by thoughts of suicide, the most important thing we can do is to show him love – to remind him that each of us was created by and for God, and that each of us has a purpose to fulfill.
To turn from sin and to realize that we are created for God is always a revelation and a joy. If we faithfully live before God in our lifetime here on earth, we will recognize the magnitude of our wonderful task, the task of receiving his love and sharing it with others. There is no calling more wonderful.
1. The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 10, 1993.
2. Numerous studies, including those conducted by Planned Parenthood, conclude that teens who have been through a typical sex education course have a much higher rate of sexual activity than those who have not. For more information on teenage sexual activity contact: Center for Parent/ Youth Understanding, www.cpyu.org.