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Hey everyone, many of you have asked if I’ve done anything for single adults. I haven’t written anything yet (yet!), but I have done a number of workshops for singles. Below is a link to the audio file.
This workshop was given at my home church, Harvest Bible Chapel, to an audience of around 170 single adults, ranging in age 16-60. The workshop seeks to do three things: 1) to develop a theology of sexuality and marriage, 2) to provide a definitive, biblical answer to the question, “How far is too far?” and 3) to critique contemporary dating relationships in light of the biblical ideal.
To stream the file, just click on it and you’re all set. To download the file, right click and choose “save target/link as.”
No other subject tends to breed legalism more than sexual purity. So often I see people try to achieve sexual purity mainly by avoiding tempting circumstances. Traveling with a companion of the same sex when on business, asking the hotel staff to block the cable to your room, and refusing to go into stores that prominently display inappropriate material are all wise measures. Why place ourselves in the way of temptation?
But if such actions are the only way we are able to avoid sexual impurity, we have not yet embraced all that God offers us. The hope of the gospel is that God will not only forgive us our sins but actually deliver us from them as well. Our goal for our children should be for them to become the kind of people who will choose purity even when presented with the opportunity to sin. But if the only way we train them to avoid sin is by avoiding its opportunity, this goal will never become a reality. As Paul readily acknowledges, abstinence from evil can never secure holiness. Holiness is more than just the absence of evil; it is the presence of a love for God, which comes only by the Spirit.
Like the Old Testament Law, our rules cannot “impart life.” We can develop an extensive list of prohibitions and commands, but in the end, if our children have not grown into the maturity afforded by the Spirit, our rules have availed nothing. Rules for our children are necessary, just as the Law was necessary for the children of God during the Old Testament age. But relying on an external list of rules can be only temporary. Our real goal as parents is to introduce our children to the transforming power of God’s grace. And it is through their deepening union with Christ that this grace becomes a reality in the lives of our children.
We’ve been discussing the use of rules as a means of leading our children into lives of purity. Establishing firm guardrails without falling into legalism can be a tricky thing sometimes. It my previous post I suggested that we pattern our use of rule after God’s use of rules. So continuing from part 1…
You as a parent may have a list of rules you expect your young children to follow: clean your room; take out the trash; gather your laundry; brush your teeth; don’t cross the street alone; save part of your allowance. You may likely include a system of rewards and punishments as they follow (or don’t follow) the rules you have clearly spelled out.
Without carefully explaining these rules and making sure your children followed them, your children would make themselves miserable. They do not have the inward maturity or strength of character to govern themselves. But if your child at the age of twenty-one cannot decide for himself when it is safe to cross the street or needs to be told to brush his teeth, something has gone wrong!
The rules you set are not to be permanently relied upon but rather are meant to lead your children to the place where they no longer need them. Adults do not brush their teeth because they are compelled by an external source but because of their internal desire. The same principle holds true, I believe, for how Christians relate to the Old Testament Law. As New Testament saints, we no longer rely upon an extensive list of do’s and don’ts, telling us how we should behave toward God and each other. We are under the Law of the Spirit.
Jesus, Paul, and James all explicitly affirm the command to love as the sum total of the revealed Law (Luke 10:25–28; Romans 13:9; James 2:8). Because of the Holy Spirit, we do not need an elaborate list of commands to know how love should be carried out. Rather it is much more intuitive, flowing from who God has made us (and is making us) in regeneration and sanctification. It is the foundational aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, the ability that comes to all who are born of God (1 John 3:14; 4:7).
We are fundamentally different people than the Old Testament believers. The lives of New Testament believers should be marked by a higher level of holiness and love than the lives Old Testament believers, for we possess the salvation they could only see from afar (1 Peter 1:10–12), the salvation the Law itself was leading us toward (Romans 3:21).
This is not to say, however, that even we as New Testament saints have entered into the fullness of our inheritance. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is a “deposit,” the firstfruits of the perfection that is to come at the resurrection. Thus we exist in a sort of spiritual dawning. The sun has risen in our lives but has not yet come to its full zenith. In this regard we still need “rules” and “laws” from God, and the New Testament is not devoid of these. But it is clear from even a simple reading of Scripture that God’s call to obedience is much more clearly detailed and formalized under the Old Covenant than the New.
Our final post will pull all of this together regarding sexual purity.
Many in the church today share a common thought that somehow holiness is achieved by avoiding tempting circumstances. Nowhere is this thought seen more readily than in our effort to arrive at sexual purity. Most books and sermons I have read or heard on the subject seem to mistakenly suggest that the secret to sexual purity is to avoid sexual temptation: get rid of the TV; don’t go to the pool; don’t thumb through the Sunday paper.
This concept fosters a rules-centered Christianity whereby the main goal of our faith is to avoid anything that might provoke us toward wickedness. But this is such a shortsighted understanding of biblical righteousness and holiness. Though we should take wise and necessary measures regarding our environment, we must not rely upon such measures as the final solution to sexual purity. If the only way we can arrive at sexual purity is by manipulating our environment, then we have completely missed God’s greatest gift in overcoming sexual temptation: the power of the Holy Spirit. Righteousness is not achieved by avoiding sinful environments but by embracing Christ. It is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that births holiness in our hearts.
So as we contemplate the rules we will set regarding our children’s purity, it is important that we understand their proper place in achieving sexual purity. Holiness, the apostle Paul tells us, comes not through rules, but through the justification of the Spirit.
Justified by the Spirit, Not by Law
The apostle Paul dealt extensively with the subject of legalism and rules in the book of Galatians, and this New Testament book is a treatise on the power Christians now have in Christ. In this letter, particularly chapters 3 and 4, Paul instructs his readers about the nature and purpose of the Old Testament Law. This Law (found in the first five books of the Old Testament) provided the moral and religious foundation upon which Jewish believers based their lives. The Law was extensive, dealing with personal and corporate holiness, governmental structure, and ceremonial cleansing, among other things.
But the coming of Christ changed the way in which the people of God related to the Law. No longer, Paul says, are we “kept in custody under the law” (Galatians 3:23, nasb). As we look at Galatians, we discover that with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the Law’s usefulness in God’s overall plan had come to a end. Understanding how and why this came about is paramount to a life of Spirit-empowered obedience and will give us an important pattern for our own use of rules. To begin to understand the relationship between Law and holiness, we must understand why God gave the Law in the first place. Paul explains the purpose of the Law in 3:19, where he states that it was “added because of transgressions.” In what way did our transgressions necessitate the addition of the Law?
I believe the Law served as a temporary, external hedge that helped to maintain the purity of God’s people until the coming of Christ and the regeneration that followed.1 Paul describes the Law as a baby-sitter or tutor (3:24), whose job was to protect God’s people from the sinful influences of the surrounding nations. In other words, God’s people required the Law because they were spiritually immature and unable to maintain holiness in the face of temptation. The message of the Old Testament Law was not, “Go into the world and convert it” but rather, “Come out from the world and be separate” (and sometimes, in essence, “Go into the world and slay it, lest it corrupt you”). The Law separated Jewish believers from the world, since as yet God had not provided the means by which they could meaningfully interact with it without becoming tainted by its poison. The Law’s very presence indicated that those in need of it were still in infancy, regardless of how perfectly it was kept.
The Galatians, having at one time understood the sufficiency of Christ alone for salvation, were mistakenly relying upon the external influence of the Law to produce an inward experience of holiness. They thought that by avoiding certain actions and embracing various ceremonial practices, they could achieve true righteousness. “Are you so foolish?” Paul asks in Galatians 3:3. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Both they and we often need to be reminded that the way to holiness is not through adhering to a strict legal code that attempts to separate us from evil influences (“Don’t smoke, chew, or go with girls that do!”), but through the new life found in the justification of Christ.
In Galatians Paul teaches us that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit renders the Law unnecessary. With the spiritual rebirth of the New Covenant, we are no longer spiritual children and thus no longer in need of a baby-sitter. In the Old Testament, the people of God were controlled externally by the Law, but now in the New Testament, we are controlled internally by the Spirit. This is the source of true power and the ability to live a godly life. More than rules and laws, your children will need this power if they are to live purely and righteously in this fallen world.
This book originated out of my desire to arrive at a biblical, objective definition of sexual purity—a sexual purity of both body and heart. And though there is much more to purity than how we behave, our behavior is a tangible expression of our inward devotion. And what I’ve found is that many young people today lack clarity about what is appropriate regarding sexual boundaries between “dating” couples. Toward this end, I include in the book a mock (yet I think, realistic) conversation between myself and “Miss Average Student,” a conservative sixteen-year old in the local evangelical youth group.
Gerald: So I hear you have a new boyfriend.
Student: Yeah, Tom and I have been going out now for three weeks.
Gerald: Really? How’s that been going for you?
Student: It’s been going great. We have so much in common. I can already tell that we’re really going to hit it off.
Gerald: Well, I certainly hope so. Do you mind if I ask you something a little personal?
Student: Umm . . . I guess you can.
Gerald: I was just wondering what your physical relationship is like. I mean, does Tom kiss you?
Student: I . . . err . . . I don’t know.
Gerald: You don’t know, or you don’t want to say?
Student: I don’t want to say.
Gerald: Why don’t you want to say? Is there something wrong with kissing?
Student: There’s nothing wrong with kissing. I mean, there could be something wrong with kissing if two people were, like, really kissing. But if you’re just kissing, it’s not that big of a deal.
Gerald: How do you know that really kissing is bad and “just kissing” is fine?
Student: Well, you have to be careful, because if you get carried away, you can start doing things you shouldn’t.
Gerald: But how do you know what kinds of things you shouldn’t do?
Student: (pauses) I guess I’m not totally sure. I mean, I know you shouldn’t have sex . . .
Gerald: Well, I’ll mention some other things, and you tell me if you think they’re okay or not. How about holding hands?
Student: That’s fine.
Gerald: How about a good-night kiss?
Gerald: A prolonged good-night kiss, but not a French kiss.
Student: That’s fine.
Gerald: How about a lot of kissing, say fifteen minutes worth, but still no French kissing?
Student: I guess that’s okay.
Gerald: How about French kissing?
Student: Maybe, but that’s it.
Student: I just wouldn’t feel comfortable doing anything more than that.
Gerald: So do you determine what is right based on what you feel comfortable with?
Student: Well, I guess so. Each person has to pray about it and come to his or her own standard of how far is too far. For myself, I just wouldn’t want to do any more than that.
Gerald: What if you had a friend who felt comfortable with French kissing and caressing. As long as she felt comfortable, would that be okay?
Student: Well, the guy she’s with might not feel comfortable. Maybe that would be too tempting for him and would make him want to do more than he should.
Gerald: What do you mean by “more than he should”? How do we know how far is too far for him?
Student: He needs to know that for himself, I guess.
Gerald: Okay then. Let’s say that both the guy and the girl feel comfortable with heavy French kissing and caressing. Is it okay, since they both feel comfortable with what they’re doing?
Student: (pauses) Well, I don’t think that would be right . . .
Gerald: Neither do I, but how would you convince them that they are doing something inappropriate?
Student: I guess I’m not really sure.
Miss Average Student, despite her sincerity, does not realize that the Bible restricts all sexual activity to the marriage relationship, not just sexual intercourse. If you’re a parent or a pastor, and you couldn’t have done much better, may I recommend a book?
I’ve had a number of thoughtful responses on the Straight Up blog to my posts on sexual purity, a few of which question my interpretation of 1 Timothy 5:2. So I want to touch on this in a bit more detail. Ultimately, I believe my interpretation of this passage is correct, but in the end, my conclusion is not dependent on it. My interpretation of 1 Timothy 5:2 supports my conclusion, rather than serves as the basis for my conclusion. So leaving aside this contested verse, here’s another run at my basic point. See if my logic makes sense…
First, sexual relations are to be reserved for the marriage relationship. Second, there’s more to sexual relations than sexual intercourse. Third, any activity that is sexual in nature should be reserved for the marriage relationship. I think most of us agree up to this point.
But now a question looms… How do we determine if an activity is sexual, or merely physical? Identifying the sexual nature of certain activities is pretty easy. Oral sex, mutual masturbation, fondling, etc., are all clearly sexual activities. But what about kissing?
Logically, the easiest way to determine the sexual nature of an activity is to consider it against the backdrop of the family relationship. If I would refrain from doing a certain activity with a biological relative because it would be sexually inappropriate, then that activity is of a sexual nature and should be reserved for the marriage relationship.
But one reader responded, “With all due respect, in regards to the concept of ‘familial treatment,’ would you suggest I stop holding the hand of my girlfriend, or that I instead become OK with the thought of holding hands with my sister?”
An understandable question, but one that misses the point. The intent of viewing an activity against the backdrop of the biological family is not simply to ask “What activities do I avoid doing with my biological relatives?” but rather “What activities do I avoid doing with my biological relatives because those activities are sexual?” I’ve seen a father hold hands with his young daughter, and an older brother hold hands with his younger sister. This may not be common as we move into the adult world, but there is nothing sexual about holding hands. If holding hands was a sexual activity, we would not permit it between biological relatives at any stage in life. But if we saw a father giving his daughter a prolonged open-mouth kiss, we’d be calling DCFS. And we should. Some activities are physical/affectionate (holding hands, hugging, kissing on the cheek, a quick peck on the lips, etc.), while other activities are sexual and would be deemed completely inappropriate between blood relatives.
So reducing my logic to it’s simplest form, I assert the following…
1. Sexual relations should be reserved for marriage.
2. Sexual relations include more than sexual intercourse.
3. Some forms of kissing (e.g., open mouth, prolonged, French) move beyond affection and are sexual in nature.
thus I conclude,
4. Sexual forms of kissing should be reserved for marriage.
If you disagree with my conclusion (point 4) , I welcome your thoughts on where my logic breaks down in points 1-3.
Of course, it’s hard to make a such counter-culture point in a few short posts. The first chapter of my book lays out a theology of human sexuality, drawing on Christ’s relationship with the Church, which helps to provide a theological backdrop against which to understand this standard of sexual purity. And chapter two provides more extensive argumentation than I’ve provided here. If you’re interested, you can download for free the first first two chapters.
Look forward to hearing your thoughts.
One of the pressing questions facing parents and pastors (particularly youth pastors, college pastors and sinlges pastors) is the age old question of sexual propriety—specifically, “How far is too far?” In other words, what activities are appropriate for an unmarried man and woman to engage in? I’ve become convinced we parents and pastors have been far too vague in the direction we’ve provided in this matter. We tell sixteen-year old boys to refrain from sexual intercourse, but beyond that it’s pretty much “pray about it and set your own sexual boundaries.” Not a good plan. We give our opinions (keep it above the neck), but we don’t have any hard and fast boundaries—no “thus says the Lord.”
As a former youth pastor I had to tackle this topic for my students and came away convinced there were some things that needed to be said on this issue that were not being said. The resulting reflection formed the heart of my book Raising Purity: Helping Parents Understand the Bible’s Perspective on Sex, Dating, and Relationships. A big part of what I was trying to do in the book was to find a biblically based, objective standard of sexual conduct, binding for all unmarried people in all circumstances (a tall order, to be sure!). Below is an excerpt from the book where I tackle this question. I’m interested in your thoughts…
“Nearly all devout Christians who take the Bible seriously will agree that sexual relations should be reserved for marriage. But it is precisely at this point we often fail to think carefully about the full implications of this biblical mandate. Too often we limit our understanding of sexual relations to include only sexual intercourse. But is such a narrow understanding of sexual relations legitimate? One is reminded here of a past president who staunchly asserted, “I did not have sexual relations with that women.” Of course what he really meant was that he did not engage in sexual intercourse. But how many of us (his wife not least) were satisfied with this truncated definition of sexual relations? Clearly sexual relations extend beyond sexual intercourse. Oral sex, fondling, and mutual masturbation, for example, are all sexual activities. Once we embrace the biblical truth that sexual relations must be reserved for marriage, the age old question, “How far is too far?” is easily answered. If an activity is sexual, it is to be abstained from while in the Neighbor Relationship.
But how are we to determine if an activity is sexual? Achieving such clarity is not as difficult as one might think. In 1 Timothy 5:2 Paul clearly details what constitutes sexual activity, tying together the familial treatment of the opposite sex with absolute purity. In this often over-looked and highly relevant verse he writes, “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
Most helpfully, Paul here links together the familial treatment of the opposite sex with sexual purity. In the context of this passage Paul is exhorting Timothy—a young pastor—as to how he should interact with the women of his church (i.e., his neighbors). Paul’s primary concern at this point is Timothy’s sexual conduct, as is seen by his use of the phrase “absolute purity.” Notably, Paul instructs Timothy to interact with the women of his church in a way that parallels his relationship with his biological family. Of course Paul is not asking Timothy to treat the women of his church in every circumstance as though each were his literal mother or sister (think of all the Mother’s Day cards!). Nor is he asking Timothy to think or feel about every woman in exactly the same way. Rather, what Paul has in mind is Timothy’s conduct toward the women in his life. If Timothy is committed to living a life of “absolute purity,” his interaction with the women in his church must be carried out within a familial framework of purity.
This is immeasurably helpful in clearing up nearly all of the confusion surrounding the question, “How far is too far?” We need only examine a specific activity from within the framework of the nuclear family to determine its appropriateness. If a man would not feel comfortable engaging in a particular action with his sister because doing so would seem sexually inappropriate, then that action is clearly of a sexual nature and to be reserved for the Marriage Relationship.
That we often fail to identify certain activities (such as passionate kissing) as sexual is seen in how many Christians frequently use the term “physical relationship” to describe such activities. The use of the term “physical” implicitly suggests the couple’s actions are something other than sexual. But passionate kissing is not merely physical—it is sexual. Unlike a hug or holding hands, passionate kissing is certainly not an activity a brother and sister would engage in. When we understand that “physical” activity is really “sexual” activity, the question “How far is too far?” really becomes, “Which sexual activities can I engage in apart from marriage?” The answer is none of them. Sexual activity is to be reserved for marriage.
Again, simply stated, if an activity is sexual, it is to be reserved for the marriage relationship. How can I know if an activity is sexual? If I wouldn’t do it with a biological relative, then I shouldn’t be doing it with anyone other than my spouse. In sum, the standard of purity for the Neighbor relationship is identical to the standard of purity for the Family Relationship: no sexual activity of any kind is permissible.”
So what do you think? What are the ways you’ve answered this question for yourself and others? In my next post, I’ll discuss a little bit about the first century Greco-Roman context which forms the backdrop of this familial understanding of purity.