A friend of mine once confessed she had a verse in the Bible she would gladly remove if given the choice. Which verse this happened to be was less interesting to me than the notion itself.
If we had the opportunity, would we happily remove any parts of the Bible?
This conversation came to mind recently when I heard someone say that while they obey what the Bible said about sexual ethics, they certainly don’t like it. And this wasn’t a fledgling believer but an established leader. It raises the question: Do we have to like the things God says in the Bible? Is it enough to just grit our teeth and obey, even when we’re really not happy with what we’re obeying?
While discipleship obviously requires obedience, it also behooves us to understand what we’re obeying and why we’re obeying it.
Understanding God’s Rationale
I recently visited a friend whose daughter was fully embracing all the behavioral traits of being a 2-year-old. She’s lovely, really, but occasionally I call her Kim Il-Hannah. At a recent meal she made it clear she wouldn’t be eating the spaghetti made for her, despite just the previous week declaring it to be her absolute favorite.
Effective immediately: I will not be required to eat spaghetti, or indeed any type of foodstuff that I deem to be displeasing in some way. Previous expressions of preference may be subject to revision without notice, even during the course of a mealtime, and you are requested and required to comply with all ongoing directives.
I may have paraphrased a little, but you get the gist.
Trouble is, it can be easy to think of God as being a bit like that toddler. His commands can seem rather arbitrary, as though things are permitted or prohibited randomly. It’s important with any command, then, to look at why it’s been given. With any prohibition we must ask what good thing is being protected by it—what positive stands behind the negative.
With any prohibition we must ask what good thing is being protected by it—what positive stands behind the negative. . . . God’s Word doesn’t so much show us a theology of sexuality or sexual ethics as it does a theology of marriage.
When it comes to God’s sexual ethic, there’s a clear rationale for what’s commanded. His Word doesn’t so much show us a theology of sexuality or sexual ethics as it does a theology of marriage. Human marriage, we see repeatedly, is to point us to the ultimate marriage between Jesus and his bride, the church. It’s a signpost to the big thing God is doing in the universe—drawing together a people to belong to his Son. That vision explains the contours and boundaries we see in Scripture’s teaching about marriage. Once we unpack it we see why God insists that sex is for marriage (since only in a covenantal relationship with him do we have the ability to be vulnerable and intimate); that marriage is between one man and one woman (since God brings together two unlike yet complementary beings in a union); and why Christians are to marry only those in the faith (since our union with Christ means we cannot painlessly unite with someone who doesn’t also belong to him).
In the light of the meaning of marriage, these strictures make sense. We can see why God says what he does. God hasn’t randomly announced he doesn’t like spaghetti.
Understanding God’s Goodness
That background might help us understand God’s commands, but do we still have to like them?
Consider these words of Jesus:
Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:9–10)
At first glance it might seem Jesus is saying obedience is what makes him love us. Not at all. Obeying his commands is not how we earn his love but how we remain in his love. He gives his love to us freely and lavishly through his death and resurrection. And once we receive that love, we must not rush off and leave it. We’re to stay put and remain in it. To bask in it. And obedience is key. As we obey what he has commanded we have ongoing exposure to his love for us. Every single thing our King calls us to do expresses his goodness and care. King David could therefore say, “The commands of the LORD are radiant” (Ps. 19:8). His commands are radiant because he is radiant.
As we obey what he has commanded we have ongoing exposure to his love for us. Every single thing Jesus calls us to do expresses his goodness and care.
This awareness isn’t always immediate. Having to say no to some deep emotional and sexual desires felt like a huge cost early in my Christian life. I imagined museums one day being built to commemorate the sacrifice I was making. But I’ve come to realize that what feels like a cost is really a gain. What we lose is what was only going to hinder us in our walk with God.
The call to sexual purity is a radiant command. There’s far more satisfaction on offer through obedience than disobedience. The command, unwelcome and frustrating at first, has become a blessing. It’s not always easy. But it’s radiant.
As we walk with the Lord we see more and more the goodness of his ways. Should we like what he commands? Maybe not at first. Maybe some commands will always be a particular struggle. But to resent his law, or to want to change it, is to say that we know better than God. To follow, even initially through gritted teeth, declares that we’re trusting God knows more than we do.
But rather than thinking we’ll obey it when we like it, we should instead resolve to obey it so that we like it.
- Why God’s Sexual Ethic Is Good for the World (Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Jackie Hill Perry)