What Are the Essentials of the Christian Faith?

Sep 12, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Almost every Christian makes some distinction between essentials of the faith and non-essentials. The distinction itself is fairly uncontroversial. But what exactly are the essentials? That’s a bit tougher.

There are a number of ways to answer that question. We could look at church history and what God’s people have always believed. We could look at the ancient creeds and confessions of the church. We could look at the biggest themes of Scripture (e.g., covenant, love, glory, atonement) and the most important passages (e.g., Genesis 1, Exodus 20, Matthew 5-7, John 3, Romans 8). I want to take a little different route and consider what are the behaviors and beliefs without which Scripture say we are not saved. These are not requirement we must meet in order to save ourselves and earn God’s favor. Rather these are the essential beliefs and behaviors that will be manifest in the true Christian.

I don’t pretend that this is anywhere close to a comprehensive list from the Bible. But a list like this may be helpful in guarding against false teaching and examining our own lives.

Ten Essential Christian Behaviors

1. We repent and turn from our sins (Matt. 5:29-30; 11:20-24; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Heb. 10:26-27).

2. We forgive others (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:33-35).

3. We are undivided in our devotion to God and to Jesus Christ (Matt. 6:24; 10:38-39; 19:16-30; John 12:24-26).

4.    We publicly acknowledge Jesus before others (Matt. 10:32-33; 21:33-44; 22:1-14; 26:24; John 5:23)

5.    We obey God’s commands and do not make a practice of sinning (John 14:15; 1 John 3:9-10; 1 John 5:2).

6.    We live a life that is fruitful and not fleshly (Matt. 12:33-37; 21:43; 24:36-51; 25:1-46; Gal. 5:18-24; 6:5; Heb 13:4; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

7.    We are humble and broken-hearted for our sin (Matt. 5:3; 18:3-4; 1 John 1:8-10).

8.    We love God and love others (Matt. 22:34-40; John 11:35; 15:12; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; 1 John 3:14-15).

9.    We must persevere in the faith (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:29-31; 12:12-17; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 1 Tim. 5:11-12).

10.    We help our natural family and church family when there are physical needs (1 Tim. 5:8; 6:18-19; 1 John 3:17).

Ten Essential Christian Beliefs

1.    We must be born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:5).

2.    Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 3:18, 36; 6:35, 40, 47, 53-58; 8:19, 24; 11:25-26; 12:48; 14:6; 15:23; 20:30-31; Gal. 3:7-9).

3.    The benefits of the gospel come by faith, not by works of the law (Acts 15:8-11; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:16, 21; 3:10-12, 22).

4.    Salvation comes from Jesus Christ, our faithful high priest, the radiance of God’s glory and our brother in the flesh (Col. 1:15-23; Heb. 2:4).

5.    God exists and rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6, 16).

6.    We are saved by Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 1:18).

7.    The good news of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and he appeared to many witnesses (1 Cor. 15:1-11).

8.    Jesus Christ was bodily resurrected and our bodies will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

9.    Jesus was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16; 1:3, 18-20; 6:3-4, 20-21).

10.    God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8-14).

You could multiply lists like this tenfold. The point is not to be exhaustive, but to show by way of example just how many things the Bible considers to be essential and how precious these truths should be to the Christian. There are a number of behaviors in Scripture which serve to prove or disprove our Christian commitment. Likewise, there are a number of beliefs in Scripture without which we cannot be saved and which must be true if salvation is even possible. We would do well to study these beliefs and behaviors, embrace them, and promote and protect them with our fullest zeal and efforts.

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Is God Too Good for Your Tastes?

Sep 11, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

“Let’s get down to the real issue here,” the landowner says.  “At the heart of the matter, this isn’t about a denarius or your hard labor under the sun. It’s about your heart.  You are upset because I am generous.”

That’s the gist of what the master of the house says to the laborers in the vineyard. The men were upset because the last workers received the same as the first. The men who came early in morning did not appreciate God’s extraordinary grace to the men who came at the end of the day.  “Is your eye evil because I am good?” That’s the convicting question the master posed to his men.

It’s a convicting question for all of us.

Are you the type of person who marvels at God’s generosity or gets jealous over it? Are you prone to unhappiness when you see the undeserved happiness of others? Do you begrudge God’s kindness if giving to others the blessing of children, of marriage, of beauty, of wealth, of opportunities?

Obviously we have to steward those things well. We must not be haughty about our blessings or presume that we will receive all the earthly good we want just by virtue of belonging to our heavenly Father. But even with those important caveats, certainly we can affirm that it is the Spirit’s fruit in our lives when we rejoice over the Lord’s kindness to others.

We love it when God is generous with us. And it bothers us when he seems to be more generous with others. You know how you make a kid very happy? Give him a toy. You know how to make him very unhappy? Give his sister two toys. We all like grace, but we want it to be “fair” grace. We want “grace” apportioned as we see fit. We want “mercy” to be given to those who deserve it most—people like us, naturally. But if grace has to measure up or fulfill some calculation it’s not really grace, is it? Do you really want God to be in the fairness business with you? Isn’t it better to accept that everything you have is by grace and all they have is by grace as well?

Our Good Master passes out the denarius as he sees fit, because it’s his denarius. None of us would get a denarius if God didn’t go out into the streets, hire us, promise us his goodness, and then deliver on his word. So let him hire more workers and pay them whatever he wants. A mark of a mature Christianity is that we root for each other. Let God be God and let him be good—on his own terms.  He’s been good to you; let him be good to others, as good as he wants to be.

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A Word for Us All

Sep 10, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

What does Jesus want to say to the church in the West? To the church in North America? To the church in the South, or in New England, or in the Midwest? What does Jesus want to say to your church?

That all depends: what is your church like? Where are you strong? Where are you weak? We live in a big country with hundreds of thousands of churches. If you think the issue out there is too much law, you’d be right. If you think the issue is cheap grace, you’d be right about that too. Jesus wouldn’t say just one thing to the church in this country–let alone in the West or in the world–because the church in this country is diffuse and diverse.

If Jesus had seven different letters for the churches in Asia Minor, I imagine he’d have more than one thing to say to the churches in North America.

Ephesus was your listless, loveless church. They were orthodox, moral, and hard working.  But they weren’t concerned about the lost and may not have been too concerned about each other. They were doctrinally sound, naval-gazers. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Love.”

Smyrna was your persecuted, 10-40 window church. They were afflicted, slandered, and impoverished. But they were spiritually rich. They were vibrant, but fearful. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Be faithful.”

Pergamum was your ungrounded, youth-infused church. They were faithful, passionate witnesses. But they had compromised with the world and accommodated to their sexually immoral and idolatrous culture. They were missional, but misguided. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Discern.”

Thyatira was your warm-hearted, liberal church. They were strong in compassion, service, and perseverance. But they undervalued doctrinal fidelity and moral purity. They were loving, but over-tolerant. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Think.”

Sardis was your flashy and successful, but ultimately shallow megachurch. They were like your big Bible-belt churches chocked full with nominal Christians. They had a great reputation. But in reality, they were spiritually dead. They were the church of the white-washed tombs. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Wake up.”

Philadelphia was your small, storefront, urban church. They felt weak and unimpressive. But they had kept the word of God and not denied his name. They were a struggling, strong church.  To them and to us, Jesus says, “Press on.”

Laodicea was your ritzy, influential church out in the leafy part of town. They thought they had it all together. But they were as spiritually poor as they were materially rich. The church was filled with affluence and apathy. To them and to us, Jesus says, “Be earnest.”

We all tend to see certain errors more clearly than others. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we see our own dangers most clearly and don’t presume that every church has the same problems. We must pay attention to the whole counsel of God. We need to study all of it and preach from all of it, not just the stuff that hits our sweet spot. God has a word for all of us—if we are willing to look hard enough and willing to listen.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 09, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Three of the best lines from one of my favorite movies. In the first scene, they are discussing what they will do with their share of the money.

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Book Briefs

Sep 06, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

The Book Briefs will likely be less frequent and less full for some time to come. My PhD program officially starts this month (and so do my tuition payments). So for the foreseeable future I need to limit my extracurricular reading almost exclusively to books and articles that will find their way into my dissertation. I told myself this is the last week to finish some books I’ve been meaning get through; after this a number of great books will have to sit on the sidelines.

Thankfully, the four books below–all published this year–are quite good. Presuming you are not in a doctoral program, you would do well to pick up any or all of them.

Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay? (The Good Book Company, 2013). I can’t figure out why we haven’t had a book like this before, but it’s just what we need. Allberry, a pastor in the UK who himself struggles with same-sex attraction, has written the perfect book to hand to skeptics and wobbly believers. The tone is irenic, the content firm, and the length manageable (less than 100 pages). Allberry covers the necessary texts and answers–in an intelligent, yet brief and winsome way–the most common questions and objections. I will be recommending this book often in the years ahead.

K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Crossway, 2013). Oliphint, an apologetics professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has written an excellent book which passes down (and translates) Van Tilian presuppositionalism for a new generation. The argumentation is dense at times, but that is owing to the subject matter not to Oliphint’s clarity or lucidity. As much as possible, Oliphint steers clear of professional jargon and academic rabbit trails.

Without a doubt, the book’s strength is the careful attention Oliphint pays to the text of Scripture. This is an exegetical work, not abstract philosophizing. In particular, I found the discussion on Acts 17 illuminating. Covenatal Apologetics makes a valuable contribution to ongoing epistemological discussions and makes a practical contribution to the day in and day out defense of the faith. I hope Oliphint’s new terminology sticks and many will slowly digest this important work.

Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War (De Capo Press, 2013). In this fascinating book, Thomas Fleming, a well respect historian and author of more than fifty books, argues that the Civil War was fought because  of “a disease in the public mind” (a phrase used by President James Buchanan in 1859). The “disease” refers broadly to the tendency toward extremism and implacable winner-take-all attitudes on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. In particular, Fleming locates the “disease” in the North in abolitionism and, in the South, in the fear of slave insurrections. It might be going too far to say Fleming sympathizes with the South, but it would be accurate to say he criticizes Northern radicals for lacking any understanding or empathy for the fears that were fomenting in the South. Fleming presents slavery in all its deplorable harshness, but he also takes to task men like William Lloyd Garrison and John Quincy Adams for needlessly insulting the South and refusing to entertain compromise solutions to the brewing conflict. By contrast, Fleming sees in Lincoln that political savvy, charitable opponent of slavery the country needed–but, alas, it got him too late and his life was cut short before he might have been able to oversee a more profitable peace.

Books on the Civial War and slavery provoke strong feelings, so not everyone will be convinced with Fleming’s thesis (I wasn’t in every respect). But  he writes well and tells the tragic story of slavery in America with a strong voice and knack for connecting the dots across the decades.

Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford University Press, 2013). This is one of the finest examples I’ve come across of first class scholarship which also serves the church. Calvin scholars, Reformation scholars, and social historians will not be able to ignore Manetsch’s excellent contribution to the field. At the same time, I can’t imagine pastors not being edified as they read about the Venerable Company’s hard work, pastoral faithfulness, endurance, and normal human failings. The sections on pastoral calling, church discipline, and preaching were especially good. The book has a clear structure and a useful summary chapter. On top of all this, Manetsch is a skillful writer and, by all accounts, a wonderful teacher and Christian. Pastors should get this book.

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Cross Conference Trailer

Sep 05, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

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Reading Charles Hodge in Context

Sep 05, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

In many circles, Charles Hodge is most famous for this infamous statement:

The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science. It is his store-house of facts; and his method of ascertaining what the Bible teaches, is the same as that which the natural philosopher adopts to ascertain what nature teaches. (Systematic Theology 1:10)

Sounds pretty bad, right? Or at least, it can be made to sound pretty bad: Charles Hodge the naive, cold-hearted rationalist who approached his Bible as if he were on a treasure hunt for wooden and timeless principles. For liberals and post-evangelicals–not to mention past-evangelicals who get up in the morning looking for someone from Old Princeton to kick–this statement from Hodge epitomizes everything that’s wrong with conservative inerrantists. These descendants from Hodge, it is said, treat the Bible like an owner’s manual dropped out of the sky, like a dead insect to be examined, like a staid collection of lifeless propositions.

But what did Hodge actually say? Or mean to say given the context?

The quotation above comes from the first chapter of Hodge’s Systematic Theology. Like dozens of Reformed systematicians before him–including Francis Turretin, whose Institutes of Elenctic Theology was used at Princeton before being replaced by Hodge’s Theology–Hodge began his work with a Prolegomena examining the nature and method of theology. Right or wrong, there is nothing particularly novel about Hodge’s general approach.

What sounds jarring to our 21st century ears is Hodge’s emphasis on theology as science. If I were writing a systematic theology, would I introduce “science” as my all-encompassing metaphor? Probably not. But in a hundred years will Christian theologians compare their theological approach to drama or dance or jazz or mystery? Doubtful. Will people look back at our day and wonder if our fascination with entertainment and stories  overly influenced our theological method? They may. And they may be right, just like we are right to wonder if Hodge went too far to emphasize theology as science.

But in both cases–looking back at Hodge now, and someone looking back at our day a century from now–the important thing is to look beyond the analogies themselves to understand what the theologians were trying to communicate. There is a sense in which “theology as drama” is a helpful reminder that God has a story to tell and we are a part of it, that the Bible presents to us a glorious story of redemption and restoration, and that at the center of this story is the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Approaching theological reflection as a drama has its merits. But so does approaching theology as a science. The Bible is a big book and different analogies capture different aspects of the truth.

For Hodge, theology was like a science because in theological reflection the Christian must arrange the facts of Scripture in their proper order and relation (19). Theology is “something more than a mere knowledge of facts” (1). Hodge never thought of systematic theology as the recitation of barren propositions. But he likened theology to science because he believed the work of the systematician was to show how all the parts of the Bible relate to each other with logical consistory and harmony.

Any Christian who affirms the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture–and consequently, the Bible’s overall unity–should find no quarrel with Hodge’s aims. His great concern was that we see the Bible not as isolated points and unrelated facts, but in all its “unending harmony and grandeur” (3). Hodge defends his method by arguing that the human mind cannot avoid systematizing truth and God desires that we do so (3-4). In rejecting the “speculative method” of deists and transcendentalists, and the “mystical method” of enthusiasts and liberals, Hodge champions the “inductive method” whereby we observe the text and arrange the truths that we observe into a coherent whole

Of Head and Heart

Does Hodge rely too much on the trustworthiness of our mental faculties? At times, perhaps, but he is certainly not afraid of experiential knowledge. He speaks of believers having “an unction from the Holy one” to believe the truth and of “an inward teaching” that “produces a conviction which no sophistries can obscure, and no arguments can shake” (15). Hodge did not want experiential knowledge to ever trump that which is objectively revealed in Scripture, but given the right caveats and put in the right place he could affirm that “the inward teaching of the Spirit is allowed its proper place in determining our theology” (16). This hardly sounds like the Hodge his caricaturists would like him to be. In fact, the Hodge who argued that “the true method of theology” is “inductive, which assumes that the Bible contains all the facts or truths” of theology (17), also argued that the “facts of religious experience,” when authenticated by Scripture, should be “allowed to interpret the doctrinal statements of the Word of God” (16).

“Science” was Hodge’s way of affirming Scripture’s unity, consistency, and harmony. The inductive approach had nothing to do with suspicion of experience or a preference for theology by Excel spreadsheet. If anything, Hodge’s method reflects his concern that “it is no uncommon thing to find men having two theologies–one of the intellect, and another of the heart” (16). Hodge knew that some men have better theology in their hearts than in their heads and that good theology in the head should make it into the heart. That anyone would find the orderly systematization of biblical revelation a lifeless or dull ordeal would be surprising to Hodge.

The Bible, for Hodge, was not a periodic table of religious elements to be analyzed and quantified. It was a precious deposit of truth which would shine even brighter when arrayed in all its God-given splendor. The Bible is indeed a store-house of facts—soul-thrilling, experiential, coherent, gospel-laden, Christ-exalting facts. What could be more important than to arrange those facts so we can see how they all relate to each other? You may call that drama. Hodge called it science. Sounds pretty good to me.

All of which is to say, those who make Hodge sound the worst are typically those who have read him least.

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Sexuality in the New Testament World

Sep 04, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

When I attended Hope College (1995-99), one of our textbooks was A Guide to the New Testament World by Albert A. Bell, Jr. It was published in 1994 by Herald Press.  Dr. Bell teaches at Hope College (affiliated with the mainline Reformed Church in America). The book primarily uses the NRSV, and the foreword is by the esteemed Bruce Metzger (who calls the book “a veritable marvel of craftmanship”). In other words, this book is not the product of an amateur historian and does not come from an excessively conservative wing of the church.

Which is what makes Bell’s description of sexuality in the New Testament world all the more striking. I pulled the book down from the shelf last week to get some background information for my sermon on Acts 15. While flipping through the book I stumbled upon this sub-section called “Sexual Deviance” in the chapter on “Greco-Roman Morality and Personal Relations.”

In modern discussions of moral standards, a popular argument is that, when it comes to sex, nothing is “abnormal” or “deviant.” Whatever consenting adults wish to do with or to one another is acceptable. Such an attitude is certainly not biblical. The OT sets out specific rules, governing even some of the more exotic varieties of sexual behavior (as in Lev. 20:10-16; Deut. 22:5), and Jesus raised the standards even higher when he said that whoever thinks of doing such things is as guilty as if having done them (Matt. 5:27-28).

Lacking this religious base for moral decisions, the Romans could justify virtually anything they wanted to do, for the novelty of it if for no other reason. On the basis of what we’ve seen thus far of their behavior, Paul’s description of Roman morals doesn’t seem too far off the mark:

Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. . . . They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Rom. 1:26-31)

The “unnatural” relations which Paul denounces were obviously homosexual, a form of personal interaction with which the church historically has never been comfortable. The Greeks had exalted male homosexuality as the most meaningful form of personal relationship because women were too uneducated to form an intellectual bond with a man. On the other hand, some women, left to themselves at home and denied any active participation in Greek society, resorted to lesbianism as an outlet for their emotions. The writings of the poetess Sappho (ca. 600 B.C.), praising the beauty of the female students in her school, became popular among some groups of women.

By the time the Romans began imitating Greek culture in the second century B.C., homosexuality had been an accepted part of Hellenic life for centuries. The elite brigade of the Spartan army was the “Lovers,” men who were required to join in pairs on the theory that no man would turn in battle and disgrace himself in front of his lover. Thebes had a similar corps. The Athenian tyrants Hipparchus had been murdered by two men with whom he was involved in a romantic triangle. His murderers became national heroes. Sophocles, Socrates, and other leading intellectuals of Greece had male lovers even when they were quite elderly.

The Romans began to engage in homosexuality as something of a fad, but they were never as comfortable with the practice as the Greeks were. Even though it remained slightly scandalous behavior, it was widely, if less openly, practiced among both sexes by the Romans. Juvenal’s bitter second satire is devoted entirely to a denunciation of male homosexuals. Martial and other sources make it clear that women also took lovers from their own gender.

Imperial leadership was sometimes an incentive to homosexual behavior. Nero engaged in numerous liaisons with persons of both genders. The emperor Hadrian, though married, preferred the company of his male love Antinous, whose untimely death he commemorated in a poem. Those who sought to advance their own careers by flattering the emperor were more likely to adapt their moral to his.

It is clear for the artwork in Pompeii and from literary references that the Romans regularly engaged in sexual activities generally considered immoral in our day. Writers like Petronius and Martial are quite explicit in describing the sexual proclivities of their times, and we cannot entirely dismiss their accounts as mere literary conventions. Sexual aggression plays a large part in Roman humor. What is lacking is a sense of shame. These are merely diversions for a jaded and amoral society, one which differed fundamentally from ours in its attitude toward sexuality.

This is the society to which the early church had to proclaim the teachings of Jesus. How strange his words must have sounded: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). Paul’s description of the “degrading passions” and “every kind of wickedness” among the Romans hits right at the mark once we see from their own records what they were like in this era. (242-44)

Besides being an important historical summary, these paragraphs demonstrate how much the culture has changed in 20 years. The ancient world’s attitude toward sexuality is looking more and more familiar. What seems strange now is that anyone would dare to retell this history and draw these conclusions.

[Note: For ease of reading, I left out Bell's footnotes. Besides the parenthetical citations, he references 15 other works. They can be found on pages 244 and 245 in the book.]

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Is Some Sexual Activity Wrong?

Sep 03, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Surely every Christian must acknowledge that the answer to the title of this post is “Yes, some sexual activity is wrong.” Every vice list in the New Testament includes “sexual immorality” or “impurity,” usually at the head of the list (see Mark 7:21-22; Rom. 1:24-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col.3:5-9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:8). We can point out that God cares about other sins too or argue that Christians today make too much of sexual immorality, but no one can reasonably argue that the New Testament is indifferent toward sexual sin. Clearly, the Bible understands that certain sexual behaviors and lusts are illicit and that these behaviors and lusts can have no place in the life of a Christian.

Having established that point—one that should not be controversial if we are willing to take the New Testament on its own terms—the question then becomes, “What constitutes sexual immorality?” There is no honest way we can make the God of the Bible into the “God-of-anything-goes” when it comes to sex. As Christians, we must acknowledge that the Lord detests some sexual activity? And if “detest” sounds too strong to you, use “disapprove.” It will work just as well for this thought experiment.

So what kind of stuff should go in this category of “sexual immorality”? Without turning to any particular verses or doing any of the appropriate word studies, just think about the question logically for a moment. Virtually everyone agrees that some sexual behavior is wrong. Even the non-Christian, even the atheist, even the world’s worst/best libertine will tell you some sexual behavior is out of bounds.

Rape is wrong. No sane person would say otherwise. And why is rape wrong? Presumably, because one person is forcing another person to do what he or she doesn’t want to do. So, mutual consent is necessary for sex to be okay.

But is that all? What if a married man has sex with another man’s wife and both of them enjoy it and choose to keep having sex together? You have mutual consent. And yet, judging from the drama of reality TV and gossip headlines and the disgust over political scandals, most of us do not think adultery is okay. Sex can be wrong even when it pleases both parties and is freely chosen by everyone involved. Why? Because—I gather—we should not break our promises. Sexual activity is inappropriate if it means we hurt someone else by going against our word. Infidelity in any romantic relationship is wrong if monogamy was promised (like when married) or even implied (like when dating).

Are you keeping track? So far, we need mutual consent and faithfulness to our word for sex to be appropriate.

But what about sex with minors? Again, almost everyone is disgusted by adults having sexual encounters with children. Why? No promises are necessarily being broken. The perpetrators might even argue that there was some twisted form of mutual consent. And yet, we recognize the behavior is heinous because it takes advantage of children who are not in a position to defend themselves, assert their own opinions, or even discern all that is going on. Sex requires a certain maturity, the ability to understand our own bodies, and why and when and where we would allow others to be with us in an intimate way. This is, by the same reasoning, why most people consider it wrong for a man to have sex with a woman after she has been drinking too much. She’s not in a state to discern her situation or fully comprehend the consequences of what she is too ready to allow.

How about another scenario: Is it okay to have sex without telling someone you have a sexually transmitted disease? I imagine most people would conclude that such behavior is morally suspect. Why? Because one person’s pursuit of sexual gratification puts another person’s health at risk. It’s selfish and deceptive to engage in sexual activity which, unknown to the other party, adversely affects their well being.

And what about exaggerated sexuality at the Video Music Awards? Why was that so repugnant to so many people? Because people thought the performer was a different person? Because she has fans that want her to be sweet and innocent? Because some sexual behavior is distasteful and we’d rather not see it? It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

As you can see, sex is not the free for all people too easily make it out to be. Granted, I haven’t proven anything about sex before marriage, or sex with multiple partners, or sex with persons of the same gender, let alone anything about the definition of marriage. The purpose of this little thought experiment is more modest. I simply want to demonstrate that acceptable sex must involve more than self-expression or self-gratification. Even in our sex-crazed world almost all of us agree that sexual activity—if it is to be morally appropriate—must meet certain conditions.

  • There must be mutual consent.
  • We must not harm the well-being of others.
  • We must not violate the principle of monogamy when it is promised or expected.
  • Those engaged with us in a sexual encounter must possess a certain degree of discernment and self-awareness.
  • Public standards of decency must not be transgressed.

Negatively, we can conclude that sex is not necessarily appropriate just because:

  • It pleases us.
  • It pleases everyone involved.
  • It takes place between consenting adults.
  • It is important to us.
  • It is the embodiment of someone “coming of age.”

Sexual activity cannot run wherever it pleases. Our sexual desires have no right to satiated without limit. As we have seen, our sexual appetite and our sexual fulfillment are less important than protecting the weak, keeping our word, and loving our neighbor. The first step in having a rational, thoughtful conversation about the rightness and wrongness of certain kinds of sexual behavior is to recognize that virtually everyone believes there are rights and wrongs when it comes to sex.

We all believe in sexual immorality. The question is: what kind of stuff should go in that category? And on such a matter—so crucial for the health of our society, the stability of our families, and the safety of our souls—we would do well to examine all the resources at our disposal: the light of nature, common sense observations, and the witness of the Holy Spirit in the Word.

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 02, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Funny. And educational too.

And about that last line concerning the Chicago River, remember it’s a joke.

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