I like preaching about sex and money because I know people are listening. These days, I get the same reaction to both topics: How dare the church tell me what to do?!
As Christ followers, we’re called to live for Christ and to die to self – even with our bodies. This applies not only
to the “spiritual” parts of our lives, but the everyday.
In Article 10 on discipleship, the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith says: We believe that Jesus calls people who have experienced the joy of new birth to follow him as disciples. By calling his followers to take up the cross, Christ invites them to reject the godless values of the world and offer themselves to God in a life of service. The Holy Spirit, who lives in every Christian, empowers believers to overcome the acts and attitudes of the sinful nature. Filled with love and gratitude, disciples delight to obey God.
In the beginning, God created humans as male and female for procreation, teamwork, responsibility and accountability, to experience intimacy with one another by knowing and being known.
“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them” (Genesis 1:27–28a NLT) .
As Adam discovers Eve in Genesis 2:23–25, we see the structure of relationship given in marriage: the two are united in one in intimacy without shame. It paints a picture of joy, acceptance without fear and purpose.
Unfortunately, society and church have struggled to paint a healthy picture of sex, often going to the extremes of regarding it either as a god or just plain gross. Neither is appropriate or biblical. Sex is a gift from God. God did not create man and woman, then – to his surprise – discover they were sexually intimate with each other when he wasn’t looking.
But our struggle is not so much with discerning a biblical view of marriage. Our current issue is defining ourselves by a sexual or gender orientation of our own choosing, rather than crucifying ourselves so that we can discover our identity in Christ.
Cultivating the lordship of Christ
The church’s challenge, says Jon Tyson, pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York, “is to cultivate the lordship of Christ over people who have been carefully crafted and conditioned to worship themselves.” The pervasive cultural view of self and sex has become the lens through which many Christ followers read Scripture and process their sexuality.
Throughout history, followers of Christ have fallen into beliefs and practices their cultures considered acceptable. Under the guise of being Christians, people committed the atrocities of the Crusades, the inquisitions, wars between Protestants and Catholics, the African slave trade and the list goes on.
It’s easy to see these failures in Christians of the past, but it is important to realize that we face temptations ourselves. When we grow up in a culture that tells us to worship ourselves, it is natural to view God as a means to fulfill our desires. We are conditioned to think that God is here to serve us, to fulfill our needs – and if he doesn’t, he is not a loving, caring God.
Identifying our cultural blind spots
By looking at what Paul said to the Corinthians about their cultural blind spot, we can learn how to deal more adequately with our own. In Corinth, people used sex for worship; in our culture, people worship sex.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul challenged the pagan practice of visiting religious prostitutes, which some in the church, like society around them, were convinced was beneficial to their spiritual life.
In our society, we’re convinced sex is good for everyone and everything. It is used to sell every product under the sun. We cannot imagine celibacy or abstinence as lifestyle option. Cohabitation before marriage is the norm, even though divorce rates do not support the “test drive” hypothesis. Increasingly, we even believe any intimate relationship must become sexual.
So Paul’s words are as relevant for today as for the Corinthian church. “You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’ – but not everything is good for you. And even though ‘I am allowed to do anything,’ I must not become a slave to anything. You say, ‘Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.’… But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:12–13 NLT).
Paul was responding to the Corinthian version of “if it feels good, do it.” Though Christ followers celebrate our freedom in Christ, it is inappropriate to use our freedom to justify whatever we want to participate in. Paul was reminding the Corinthians that they cannot let themselves become a slave to anything. If we can’t say “no” to something, we are not actually free.
Sexual appetites are good and wholesome in the context of marriage, but the Corinthians become slaves to their desires. They lose perspective and give themselves to sexual immorality. Their sexual desires master them.
Furthermore, the Corinthians use the slogan about the stomach to mean that sexual pleasure is meant to be enjoyed just as food is meant to be eaten. Using this line of reasoning, they defend sexual immorality: God created people as sexual creatures; therefore, sex is good. There is a measure of truth here. The enjoyment of sexuality is as natural as eating, but this truth does not legitimize every form of sexual pleasure.
Our bodies for God
Paul reminds the Corinthians that our bodies were made for God and God cares what we do with our bodies. God is the ultimate authority, the master over all nature, and his Word must regulate how humans live. We are not the centre of our universe, God is. We live our lives in submission to him, not merely in a behavioural agreement for the purpose of receiving a cosmic blessing.
Christ followers are so intimately joined to Christ on every level of our being that even our physical bodies are united to him. “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ?…. The person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:15–17).
The Corinthians dismissed the importance of sexual immorality on the basis that the body was disposable (6:13). Paul argued that our bodies are valuable because they are already part of Christ. Their significance is not just eternal, but immediate and temporal.
In fact, because, as Jesus followers, our bodies are joined to Christ, we involve Christ himself in our relationships. This is why our sexual behaviour has such importance. “No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 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 6:18–20 NLT).
The Holy Spirit takes up residence in believers, making our bodies a holy place for the dwelling of God’s special presence. When a Christ follower engages in sexual immorality, that immorality runs contrary to the new nature and new identity of the body.
Purchase of redemption
Paul also reminded the Corinthians that they did not have rights to their own bodies. They were not free to use their bodies any way they wished. He insisted that Christ bought them at a price – his own blood. Christ bought us, body and soul, through the price of his own death. Because we belong to him, we do not have the right to rebel against him by using our bodies in ways the Lord has prohibited.
Further, because this purchase results in redemption and salvation, it ought to inspire grateful obedience, not rebellion. In this reminder, Paul chastised the Corinthians and pleaded with them to obey Christ eagerly and thankfully.
Rather than merely resist sin, we must see ourselves as living stones being built into a temple indwelt by the Spirit of God. We were purchased by Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Because Christ died for us, we respond to him with obedience. We search for ways to bring glory to God by using our bodies in the ways that God has set out, and by refraining from using our bodies in ways God has prohibited.
A high calling
You have your issues and I have mine, says Wesley Hill, a professor at Trinity School for Ministry, and all of these issues need to be submitted to Christ. Hill has been attracted to men as far back as he can remember. For him, the question is not How do I fulfill my sexual desires? but How do align myself with Christ and his purposes?
As brothers and sisters together – regardless of sexual orientation – we all must find our identity in Christ and submit our sexuality to the cross.
Let’s put aside the “I was born this way” argument in determining ethics. To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus – not our past, our biology or our desires – is our Lord. Biology is not destiny; we can all choose how we live. Not every desire I have should be indulged, whether I was born with it or not.
We can only call ourselves and those around us to a biblical sexuality if we are willing to be a biblical community. If we are calling people to celibacy, we need to be family for each other: single, married, divorced, widowed, same-sex attracted, transgender.
There is no “us” and “them.” There is only “us.” We all need the healing of an authentic community to live as Jesus calls us to live.
We cannot be a biblically oriented people without biblical community. Jesus says that those who do the will of the Father are his family. Pray, repent, confess, forgive, renew.
—Willy Reimer is executive director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. This article is adapted from a sermon he preached at Bakerview MB Church, Abbotsford, B.C., in January 2016.
How does focusing on what it means to follow Jesus – rather than on what is natural – change our conversations about sinful behaviour?
What is the difference between agreement and acceptance and how can that guide us to love hurting people without abdicating our belief in a higher calling?
Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
Same-Sex Marriage: A “Third Way” Approach, The Meeting House, by Bruxy Cavey (http://bit.ly/1Umm8gH)
Many MB churches have been examining God’s design for human sexuality from their pulpits. Go to mennonitebrethren.ca for a podcast containing sermons on sexuality from our churches across Canada.