“You do not belong to yourself”
I’m sure the presentations, workshops, and hallway discussions generated at this month’s study conference on human sexuality will be multiplied through many more conversations over the coming months. There are at least two competing realities we need to be aware of as we engage in dialogue around difficult and very personal topics. One is the trajectory of society and the second is the worldview held by those who claim the name of Jesus.
Two key forces have shaped our thinking in Canadian society over the past decades. The first is postmodernism, the ruling mindset of our age. John Stackhouse’s article in the July/August 2013 Faith Today reminds us that “Postmodernism properly taught us to be skeptical about final claims to absolute truth proclaimed by authorities who in fact sought to keep the rest of us under control. But this attitude has been fuzzified into a license to believe whatever you like, without feeling any obligation to conform your views to what is actually the case.”
The second force is the sexualization of North American culture – a result of the 1960s sexual revolution coupled with hyperindividualism. When you fuse this with postmodernism, you find a culture focused on self-gratification through sexual expression, without any thought to consequence.
Our culture is on a quest for liberation from God, says church planter Jon Tyson, resulting in what he calls “self-defining autonomy.” The self becomes god. We’re driven by individual passion, rather than by a shared understanding of character or virtue. Eternity is nothing more than the quality of our current lives.
And so, our pursuit of freedom is endless. Freedom from nature: birth control, abortion, and the morning after pill provide liberty from natural processes. Freedom from authority: we believe no one has the right to tell us what to do with our bodies. Freedom from want: we get whatever we desire to satiate ourselves.
With individual freedom and pleasure as the highest goals, it’s easy to see why anything or anyone who seeks to constrain or inhibit sexual expression is viewed as evil. If sex is the ultimate form of self-gratification, it drives our identity and behaviour. Sex has become an act of (self) worship, rather than a reflection of the One we worship who created sex as an expression of the intimacy we share with him.
So, as Tyson reminds us, the church’s challenge is to cultivate the lordship of Christ among people who have been carefully crafted and conditioned to worship themselves.
Reframing the conversation
It can be discouraging to discuss these issues with fellow Christ followers due to the lack of biblical reflection being done in regard to human sexuality. Often, conversation around this topic is framed with the personal pronoun, “I.” I think. I believe. I, I, I…with little or no regard for biblical thinking. Personal opinion and experience is king. Scripture is simply “another” source of information, rather than the final authority.
Stackhouse reminds us that “Once we give up on serious Bible study and resort instead to ‘the basic thrust’ of the Bible, or ‘the main message of the gospel,’ or some other convenient generalization, we have no place to stand against that tide, and nothing to offer our society that our society is not already saying to itself.”
Framing the conversation around Scripture doesn’t mean we need to feel completely stifled. Jesus’ mission wasn’t focused on what he wanted to stop, but what he wanted to start – he came preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t come so we could have a shared set of rules or behaviours; he came so we could live in the rule and reign of God, placing our identity in him, living filled with the Holy Spirit, and focusing on his mission in the world.
Jesus invited people to lose their lives in order to gain life (Luke 9:24). Paul’s message to the Corinthians echoed Jesus’ words. Paul was teaching sexual wholeness in a sexually confused church. He said, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NLT).
The question at the end of the day isn’t behaviour but ownership. Do we see our lives – our bodies – as ours to do with as we please, or do we acknowledge what Paul said to the Corinthians – that we do not belong to ourselves? Paul’s call is to recognize and live under the lordship of Christ regardless of the topic we’re discussing.