This post is part of a series about living as Salt and Light. See other posts in the series by reading How to be a Light in the World.
In Matthew 5:27-32, Jesus gets real about the birds and the bees. He calls us to never commit adultery, lust after others, or get divorced. For many people today, his teachings might seem like a buzz kill (pun intended), but that doesn’t mean his teachings are wrong. The Biblical view on sex is often misunderstood today, and this shouldn’t surprise us because God’s view of sex was often misunderstood in Jesus’ day as well.
Today, I’m going to attempt to clear some things up about sex. Let’s start with the words of Jesus:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart...It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
If you’ve read the rest of Matthew 5, you’re probably noticing a pattern. Jesus identifies the commonly held view, and then redefines how much greater the standards actually are. Not only does this help us understand the heart of the law, but it also reminds us of our need for his grace. This also demonstrates that being a light to the world has always been counter cultural.
The question must be asked, however: how does living a sexually moral life help us to be lights in the world? After all, isn’t sexual activity something done in private? Does it really affect our ability to love others and be salt and light?
The answer, of course, is yes. To explain, we need to gain a better understanding of the Bible’s view on sex.
Is sex good or sinful?
Many people today have this idea that the Bible teaches that sex is a bad thing. There is a lot of history around twisting the Biblical view of sex to make it seem inherently wrong, But notice that Jesus doesn’t say anything against sex or sexual desire. Instead, he just teaches that adultery and lust are wrong.
Some of the misunderstanding has to do with the definition of “lust,” it doesn’t mean you simply find someone attractive. Instead, Jesus uses a word for lust that means idolatry and particularly greed (source – Tim Keller). In other words, you desire someone for selfish reasons – to satisfy yourself regardless of the consequences or effects it would have on others. You’ll sin or do whatever it takes, or at least fantasize about doing whatever it takes, to get what you want. This kind of greed and idolatry can become quite addicting. Pornography is a great example of this, where people essentially worship images, give nothing of themselves, and expect to be satisfied at the expense of others.
The truth is, God is against lust and adultery because it takes a naturally good thing (sex) and twists it into something that causes pain for ourselves and others. The Bible isn’t against people having sex, but it does support having sex inside of the marriage covenant. If you’re skeptical that the Biblical view on sex is positive, try reading Song of Solomon. The entire book is a celebration of sexual intimacy. Here are a few reasons it’s worth celebrating:
Sex is an outward picture of an inward commitment
When you have sex with someone, you give them your entire body. It’s there, every flaw and every unique, special quality. Giving someone your entire body, however, carries a lot less meaning if you you can’t also commit your identity and soul to them as well. Can you actively work to make sex meaningless fun? Of course! But meaningful things are always better than meaningless ones, right?
Sex builds stronger relationships
God created sex to bring two people closer together. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul actually encourages husbands and wives to have sex and not deny each other so they may keep their relationship strong. In marriage, this is a very good thing! Outside of marriage, it may be a bad thing. How many couples do you know that are dating and shouldn’t be? Often times, that sexual connection is the thing holding them together.
Sex is about building stronger families and communities
Here is where living a sexually moral life really affects your ability to be a light to the world. Sex may be a private thing, but it is also central to healthy marriages and having children. Healthy marriages and children raised in a loving home can have a surprisingly positive impact on their neighborhoods.
Lust and adultery, however, tear marriages apart. Broken families can lead to broken communities and presents ongoing challenges for the individuals in the family. Jesus doesn’t command us to not lust, commit adultery, or get divorced because he doesn’t want us to be happy, but rather he gives us those commands to protect us and give us a more joyful life.
Sex is supposed to be about pleasure
God created sex to be enjoyed (again, read Song of Solomon). Feeling good with your spouse is part of what helps make the relationship stronger. Several studies have shown that it is most enjoyable when experienced in a committed, monogamous relationship. A major reason for this is that you can be yourself, you’re no longer auditioning to be someone else’s spouse. You can also five yourself fully to someone without worrying they’ll be gone the next day, week, or month.
Choosing to have sex outside of marriage or commit adultery is far more likely to change sex from being about pleasure to being about pain – not just for others, but also for you. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
It’s important to remember, sex inside of marriage doesn’t automatically mean it will be fantastic. When two sinful people are sharing intimacy, even inside marriage, there is plenty of room to hurt each other or struggle to give yourself away. But marriage creates a safe place to work through those things, and therefore become more tightly knit than ever before.
Sex isn’t actually that private
We can also pretend that sex is a private thing and doesn’t affect the world outside of us, but that’s really not the case. My friend named Randy once said, “we don’t know who shot Kennedy, but we know who he slept with.” The reality is, people talk. Word gets around. Your sexual activity rarely stays a secret forever, and so living a sexually moral life is important aspect of being a light in this world.
Why We All Need the Gospel
I don’t know you or your story, but I’ve seen two common responses to sexual sins amongst christians: One temptation is to feel guilty and inadequate, to believe God can’t use you anymore because you’re dirty. The other way is to convince yourself that there is nothing wrong with sexual sin. Because I know about people’s feelings and the way Christian culture often treats sexual issues, this has been a very difficult post to write. My goal is not to make you feel guilty or push you away from Christ. Both approaches are wrong, and both will lead to pain.
Instead, the purpose here is to remind us all that there is good news. Thanks to the work of Christ on the Cross, there is complete forgiveness and grace for us sinners. As 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Regardless of your history with sex or marriage, God can still use you. There is never a point where you’re too far gone from his grace, we can always repent and put our trust in his work.
If you don’t struggle much with sexual sin, it can also be tempting to think you’re a great person and better than everyone else. The Sermon on the Mount makes the standards clear, however, and says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).” Furthermore, If you read the book of Hosea, you might find that your guiltier of a adultery than you thought. Hosea 1:2 says this, “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”
Yep, that’s right. There is a direct comparison to adultery and worshipping other gods. The Lord desires to have a covenant relationship with His people, where He is the only one we worship. And yet, as humans we often seek to find our satisfaction in other things. We make good things like sex, work, or money an idol, we look to it for our satisfaction. In this way, we’re all guilty of lust and adultery, and therefore, we all need the Gospel.
If you want to be a light in the world, you’re going to have to be different. This isn’t just about your behavior on Sunday mornings, but in every moment of your life, both public and private. This starts with repenting of our sins and believing the Gospel. When we trust in the work of Christ and follow him, he transforms our hearts into beacons of light.
Fortunately, being a light to the world doesn’t also mean we’re supposed to live boring lives and never get to enjoy sex. Quite the opposite – God wants His people to have extremely satisfying sexual lives and relationships, and he knows that things will work best inside a covenant marriage.
Photo by Yann Gueganic