October 6, 2008

When Is Sex Sin?
By Pastor George Van Alstine

In our traditional approach (or non-approach) to sex-education, sexual sin is defined by a series of no-nos. They range from big no-nos, like molestation of minors or rape, to little no-nos, like lust or masturbation. Some of these are based on clear Biblical teachings, and others have grown out of generations of human experience. But the problem is that there is no underlying theme that ties them all together. The only basic rule young people are given is “Sex is only for marriage.â€?

I believe that the four principles I’ve been discussing form the framework for a self-consistent Biblical view of sexual morality that can be explained to young people and internalized by them in preparation for the hormone-wars they will have to deal with during adolescence. Let me explain how sexual sin can be identified and confronted by using these principles.

(1)  A person is created  in the Image of God. If a young person truly believes this, he or she cannot enter into “casualâ€? sex or have a series of “one-nighters.â€? Whatever they do to themselves, they are doing to the image of God imprinted in them, and it is always a sin to cheapen or disrespect the image of God.

(2)  A person’s Mind is the primary processor and definer of the way life is lived. Young people should be taught to think for themselves and make good decisions based on this thought. If they allow the more “earthyâ€? part of themselves to eclipse the healthy decisions their mind would make, they are sinning, whether the lower impulse comes from drug abuse, peer pressure or rushing hormones.

(3)  A person’s Body is an essential part of who the person is and the arena in which life is lived. Young people should be taught that God has created them as a miraculous interweaving of body and soul, of the temporary and the eternal. This means that their body is part of who they are. How they treat their body is how they treat their soul. It’s a sin to treat the body like dirt, because it means you see yourself as dirt, and that’s an insult to the Creator.

(4)  A person’s Spirit is the creative and dynamic expression of the person by which life is given its ultimate significance. This is the principle the Bible’s spotlight shines on most brightly. Our human spirits are twisted by our tendency to sin. The gospel message is that God sent Jesus to revive our spirits by implanting God’s Holy Spirit in us, to renew and empower us. Refusing to accept this gift of God’s grace is the ultimate sin, and it makes our lives fertile ground for all sorts of sexual sin. In fact, the Bible seems to be teaching us that unless we open ourselves to God’s Spirit by being born again, we will not have the desire or the power to resist sexual sins relating to the first three principles.

There’s another important aspect of sexual sin we should be aware of. Sexual sin usually involves two persons, so an individual is sinning not only against her or himself, but also against the other person. In all the areas covered by the four principles above, we are hurting another person: marring the Image of God in the person, confusing and overruling his/her Mind, vandalizing her/his Body, which is an integral part of the person, and darkening the Spirit by which the person can experience God’s highest good.

I’m suggesting that sex education should not so much focus on sex, but on who a person is in relation to God and his purpose. Young people need to know the biological facts too, but if they are taught who they are and how God wants to relate to them, they will be given the best possible defense against the devastation sexual sins can bring to a person’s life, faith and relationships.

Someone talked to me about this series of articles and pointed out that I’ve focused on young people emerging through adolescence. What about the tensions adults experience? What about life after a spouse dies? What about infidelity? What about mid-life identity crises? Adults are sexual beings as well, and there is not much done to acknowledge this or to give help to those who are muddling through.

A fascinating subject, but at some point I’ve got to stop writing about sex. Let me just say two things. First, I believe these four principles can be just as helpful in addressing the sexual issues of adults as of adolescents. Second, my office door is always open to anyone who’d like to discuss whatever they’re going through. I’m practically unshockable! And here’s a value of having co-pastors who are female and male—you may be more comfortable going to Pastor Connie. She’s also very open and very resourceful.