I work at a crisis pregnancy center. Quite a few of our clients come from some kind of Christian background. They know that the Bible says premarital sex is wrong but this doesn’t affect their lifestyle choices. This led me to ask, what are we, as the church, doing wrong that God’s children are not following His plan for sex? How can we help our clients break out of this destructive behavior?
Of course the secular world is no help. Sex has taken over our culture. We are bombarded with what is becoming a deeply rooted belief that having sex is a normal part of growing up and the path to personal fulfillment. The message is not “Growing up means getting married, committing your life, your body, the most intimate part of yourself to one person as long as you live,” but “As you get older you are going to have sexual urges – these are to be embraced and acted on with responsibility. It’s a part of finding out who you are.” Sex is no longer linked to our overall humanity. It is just an urge to be satisfied, a path to self-discovery.
And clearly our secular culture has influenced the church. There is a slight difference in sexual behavior between the “highly religious” and the general American population: 80% of the highly religious Christians, Jews and Muslims engage in premarital sex, as compared to 95% of Americans. Nonetheless, 80% is incredibly high.
The evangelical church has responded to this behavior with abstinence programs designed around public pledges (e.g. True Love Waits, the Silver Ring Thing). But it is not working. After a five-year study, Janet Elise Rosenbaum reported that, among sexual purity pledgers, 82% denied pledging five years later. Pledgers had the same rates of premarital sex, STDs, anal and oral sex, number of partners and age of first sexual experience as those who did not pledge but had similar values and belief systems as the pledgers.
So the pledge thing is not working. Something else needs to be done.
After reading Mark Yarhouse’s book Homosexuality and the Christian, I have some ideas. This book focuses on allowing a belief system to govern the sex lives of those with same-sex attraction. What he said resonated with me as I have made decisions about my own heterosexual life as a Christian single woman. So, borrowing from Yarhouse, here is what I propose:
Be aware of the message from the world. Think critically about it. The message from the world is not so much “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” but “whatever is good for you is probably ok as long as you don’t hurt anybody.” Secular culture uses no objective standards to tell us who we are and how our sexuality is supposed to work. This leaves behavioral choices in the hands of fallen and finite individuals. Are you and I really trustworthy guides when enflamed with passion?
The world also tells us sexual fulfillment leads to self-fulfillment. It sees sexual activity as part of our basic identity; through our sexual preferences we will know who we truly are and know the path to self-actualization. The world wraps our identity, significance, and happiness around sexuality rather than God. Basically sex has become a god to worship.
Secondly, know the message from God. The Bible tells us more than “Do not commit adultery,” (Ex 20:14) and “abstain from fornication” (Acts 15:20). We need to know God’s positive vision for sex, plus God’s vision and purpose for life. God did not give us a list of rules to follow, but a story to become a part of, a relationship to enter into, an identity to embrace. The Bible needs to shape our entire physical, emotional, and spiritual existence. Self-fulfillment can only truly be found in the surrender of our lives to Him and His message, including our sex lives. God, not sex, can actually meet the need for identity, security, and the happiness that leads to life, not only now but for eternity. And if we want to call others to a life of obedience, we had better be living this out ourselves.
Finally, position others to encounter God. In the end we all make the decision to live a godly life because we experience His love and know his conviction, not because someone told us to. Mark Yarhouse states:
“In my experience, young adults who have been able to respond positively to the Scriptures and the Christian sexual ethic have felt genuinely convicted by the Holy Spirit. They are convinced that they should say no to what they experience as a natural desire and longing for connection in favor of saying yes to a personally fulfilling life in Christ.”
While we cannot force anyone to say yes to God, we can create environments where they have the opportunity to hear from him. And we help create that environment as we practice the first three suggestions.
Sex has been on the backburner of the church for centuries, hidden under a carpet behind a locked door. Either because we have been ignoring it or silently approving of it, sex has been allowed to run free and become a god. And it is doing exactly what false gods do: ruining lives. I believe we are woefully unprepared to offer people a solid, positive, loving Biblical understanding of sex, identity, and life. We need to make up ground. We need to read books, read blogs, think about it, talk about it, and live it until good, wholly biblical Holy Spirit filled answers can flow from our mouths with ease like living water for those dying of thirst.
 L.B. Finer, “Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1954-2003,” Public Health Report 122(1) (Jan-Feb 2007), 73-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nib.gov/pubmed/17236611 (accessed June 2, 2014), Mike, “4 Cool Statistics About Abstinence in the USA,” WaitingTillMarriage.org, http://waitingtillmarriage.org/4-cool-statistics-about-abstinence-in-the-usa/ (accessed June 2, 2014).
 Janet Elise Rosenbaum, “Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Non-Pledgers,” Pediatrics 123 (2009), 110-120.
 “Understanding Sexual Activity,” Planned Parenthood, http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/sex-101/understanding-sexual-activity-239 (accessed June 2, 2014).
 Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexualtiy and the Christian (Minneapolis; Bethany House, 2010), 12.
 Yarhouse, 127.