STUDY FIVE: SEXUAL ISSUES IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016
Obviously the level of sexual morality and sexual purity demanded by the Bible is far removed from contemporary standards. The erosion of values which we saw in the sanctity of life issues is paralleled by a similar, and possibly even deeper, erosion of values in sexual matters. What was practically unheard of and unacceptable 65 years ago is now common knowledge and accepted as normal. The ‘sexual revolution’ has brought a sexual freedom in which almost anything is acceptable.
For example, in the 1950s:
De facto relationships were rare: they are now commonplace
Divorce was rare: it is now common place
Pre-marital sex was frowned upon: it is now expected and accepted as the norm.
Pregnancy outside of marriage was shameful: it is now accepted, even sought
Homosexuality was only known because it was mentioned in the Bible: it is now common
Movies portrayed sex by suggestion or implication: now sex is explicitly portrayed
Promiscuity was having sexual relationships with more than one person, outside of marriage: it is now understood as having sexual relationships with more than one person in the same day. [See Sproul Lifeviews p136]
The parallel deterioration of values and standards in both sanctity of life and sexual issues is an expression of a totally new mindset that overtook the western world during the 20th century. They are not isolated or unexplainable phenomena. They are the logical and inevitable expressions of the rejection of the biblical worldview and its replacement with a humanistic, relativistic, hedonistic, materialistic worldview.
A. THE WORLDVIEW BEHIND THE LOSS OF SEXUAL MORALITY
A.1 The biblical worldview
Briefly, the biblical worldview understands  that God is there – as the Creator of all that exists;  that this God is a personal God who has spoken, revealing himself and his commands and ensuring their recording as written revelation;  that all mankind is accountable to this God, answerable to this God. There is, of course, much more to the biblical worldview, including the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God, but these three summary points are the foundations of the biblical worldview.
The biblical worldview thus thinks in terms of absolutes: that there is one God who alone is God; that he has defined once and for all what is right and what is not right – for all people, in all places, at all times. The personal accountability of every human being is implied in these absolutes.
A.2 The contemporary worldview
The contemporary worldview is not a reduction or alteration of the biblical worldview. It is a completely different worldview, coming from a totally different starting point and expressing totally different perceptions. The table below briefly identifies some concurrent aspects of this world view and its perceptions about moral values.
Practical Atheism: Although many people still claim to ‘believe in God’ and would not class themselves as atheists, their lives are lived as if there is no God to whom they are accountable and who sets the rules.
Naturalism/materialism (atheism): There is a denial of the supernatural. The concept of verbal revelation by which God speaks to man, and by which the Word of God is recorded in written form, is denied. The Bible is considered just another human book of a religious nature. This impacts the perception of the biblical commands: they are no longer seen as divine commands, but just the human standards that evolved as human culture evolved and which have now been supplanted by a further evolution of human values. No accountability to any god.
Relativism: Denies all absolutes. There is no such thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that are the same for everyone, everywhere, at every time. Every value judgment is relative to the culture, person, place and time at and in which an action is performed. What is right for me today might be wrong for you today or wrong for me tomorrow. Even the concept that there are such things as ‘right’, ‘wrong’ and ‘sin’ is rapidly disappearing.
Hedonism: The pursuit of personal pleasure. If something makes me feel good it is right for me. Under this mindset, combined with relativism, ‘good’ can be ‘wrong’ and ‘evil’ can be ‘right’, depending on what gives me a pleasurable or exciting feeling. Thus ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and any distinctions between them are rendered meaningless.
Secular Humanism: Denies the existence of God, life after death, heaven, hell, eternal judgment. Man is the centre and the measure of all things. Effectively removes God and his commands. Hence: no moral absolutes: no ‘right’ and no ‘wrong’ that are pre-set and unchanging. Man sets his own standards as applicable to his culture and situation.
With this replacement of the biblical or theistic worldview with a totally secular or non-theistic/anti-theistic worldview there is an increasing alteration of first what is accepted as ‘normal’ in society and then what is deemed ‘legal’ by acts of parliament or decisions of judges. The former is the precursor of the latter. Hence we are seeing the legalization of the ‘norm’.
None of this is really surprising; it only appears so because the ‘West’ had for a few centuries been under the refining influence of the biblical worldview. Now that this veneer, and it was only ever a superficial veneer, has been ripped away we can see in stark reality what man is really like beyond Genesis 3 – a truth that has always been contained in the biblical worldview had we only realized and accepted it.
Sadly, Christians are consciously or subtly being impacted by the secular worldview, or have brought the secular worldview with them into the church. The community around us out of which we have been redeemed, the media [at which we will look in a later module], and our own sinful hearts entice us to embrace eroded perceptions of biblical authority and to accept ever diminishing standards, finding and making excuses for our refusal to obey God’s commands.
B. ISSUES OF SEXUAL MORALITY CHALLENGING CHRISTIANS TODAY
B.1 Personal thoughts, words and attitudes
In this section we look at sexual issues related to our personal thoughts, words and attitudes. God knows, even if we don’t, that what we think and what we feel, impacts others and our relationships with them.
God commands inner purity of heart and mind. God commands speech free from sexual filth. God commands pure attitudes towards others.
Study these verses. What thoughts, feelings, words and attitudes do they prohibit? How do they conflict with contemporary standards?
Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; James 1:21
Job 31:1; Matthew 5:28; Colossians 3:5; 1Thessalonians 4:4; 1Peter 4:3; 2Peter 2:18
Exodus 20:17; Job 31:9-12; Proverbs 6 and 7
We learn here that it is not just certain overt sexual actions that God forbids, but the wrong understanding of, and attitude to, ourselves and other humans in the very core of our being. Here we are again faced with the uniqueness of the human being, and we observe that the same erosion of the sanctity of human life that has led to the acceptance of the destruction of human life by abortion and euthanasia has generated acceptance of the demeaning of human life in and by lustful and impure thoughts and feelings about and towards others, obscene speech, and the exploitation of the human body in advertising, in a way that erodes and degrades the humanity of both the model and the viewer.
Let us remember that ‘sanctity’ means ‘holiness’: this human being about whom I am tempted to have lustful or impure thoughts or whom I degrade with obscene speech belongs to God by virtue of creation, has the high calling of imaging God by virtue of creation, and, if a Christian believer, is the possession of the holy God, redeemed at great price.
B.1.1 Impact of these choices on others and on God
In addition to these commands forbidding lust, impurity in heart and mind, and obscenity of speech, the Word of God forbids the Christian to do anything that is going to cause another human being, and especially another believer, to sin. Just as Cain’s ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ did not hold water with God, so also in our choices in dress, in body language, and other areas involving or suggesting sexual matters, we are responsible for the impact what we do has on our ‘brother’ – that is, on other people that God has made to be his image bearers. Here we are faced with a few straight questions:
Does the way I dress cause another human being to disobey God’s prohibition of lust, impure thoughts, etc?
Does the way I sit or walk or stand cause another human being to disobey God’s prohibitions of lust, impurity, etc?
Does the way I dress or walk provoke someone sexually with the flow-on result that yet another person is sexually assaulted or raped?
Does the way I dress or walk inhibit the spiritual growth of a fellow believer because it stirs up sexual sins that he/she has struggled with or is currently struggling with?
Is my speech causing offence or grief to others because of its coarseness and obscenity? Is it putting impure concepts into the minds of my fellow believers who are trying to obey God’s commands to think only of things that are pure and wholesome?
What are the implications of these passages for your personal dress code, body language, speech and other choices in sexual matters?
Not only do our personal sexual choices in thought, word and attitude impact our fellow human beings, they also either honour or dishonour the God who made us. They either reflect and display his glory, or they detract from his glory. Thus the Bible commands:
‘Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God’ [1Corinthians 10:31]
‘Honour God with your body’ [1Corinthians 6:20b]
‘Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ [Matthew 5:16]
B.2 Contemporary sexual freedom
Contemporary society accepts as normal a wide range of sexual activities that are prohibited by biblical commands. So pervasive and commonplace are these activities that not to engage in them is to be considered weird. The Christian teenager who maintains biblical sexual standards will often be the only virgin in his/her high school class. The pressure to conform to the norm is immense. Sexual temptations are commonly the most difficult to resist. Unlike other pressures they run in tandem with healthy physical feelings and constantly hijack or attempt to hijack those feelings and steer them into forbidden thoughts, feelings and actions.
What kinds of pressure are put on Christians by the following aspects of contemporary society?
The normality of young teenagers being sexually active
The low virginity rate among teenagers
The expectation that consenting adults will engage in pre-marital sex
Deliberate use of sexual relationships as a means of getting pregnant without marriage.
‘Trial’ marriages, and marriage contracts anticipating divorce
Normality of de facto relationships
Commonness of unfaithfulness in marriage
Discuss or comment on the possible contribution the following have made in facilitating the sexual revolution
Availability of ‘the pill’
Promotion of the use of condoms to ensure ‘safe sex’ to avoid AIDS
Media portrayal of adultery, sexual immorality, etc as the norm
Payment of ‘supporting parent benefit’ to single mums
B.2.1 Personal action plan
It is foolish to think that each issue can be thought through and decided when it arises. In the fight against sexual sins the way of wisdom is to be prepared for the attack before it starts. Here are some suggestions for preparing and equipping oneself:
 Know the scriptures. Part of the armour described in Ephesians 6 for protection against deceptive manipulation and attack by Satan is ‘the belt of truth’. This is not referring to our telling the truth as opposed to telling lies, but is referring to God’s truth. It is this that protects us against Satan’s suggestions. In addition, the scripture is also listed as the only weapon: ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ Just as Jesus Christ quoted the Bible to rebuff Satan’s temptations [Matthew 4 and Luke 4] so should we. But to quote or refer to the word of God in times of sexual temptation we need to first know the word of God.
It is our responsibility to study the Bible and to know what it commands on sexual issues so that when we are confronted with a choice we will have no doubts about what the Bible commands and how we must therefore choose.
 Be convinced of and committed to the authority of the scriptures. This goes hand in hand with the above. Jesus was convinced that the Old Testament writings were the authoritative word of God, and that they were to be obeyed. He fully accepted them as directions for his life and was totally committed to obeying them in every aspect of his life. With this conviction and this commitment the right decisions are already set, the right choices already defined. We do not have to decide what is right and what is wrong for us: God has already told us. Christ delighted to do God’s will and came to earth specifically to do God’s will [Hebrews 10:5-9].
Belief in the ‘authority of the scriptures’ is not a theological concept, which we affirm with our lips, but is unrelated to our lives. Rather it is of extreme relevance to our lives at every point of temptation or pressure. Thus the scripture portrays the believing person as one who, like Christ, delights in, is committed to obey, and bases his/her life upon, the word of God [Psalm 1:1-3; 40:8; 119:9-16 – read the whole Psalm if you have time].
 Be committed to pleasing God. Contemporary culture has much to say to us about our ‘rights’ or the ‘rights’ of other people, or even of animals. We are encouraged to strive for our personal rights [this is the argument that liberalized abortion in the USA] and to uphold the rights of others etc. A great number of the erosions of morality are argued and defended from this perspective of ‘rights’. In all of this, God’s ‘rights’ and human responsibility towards God are overlooked, because the contemporary focus on personal ‘rights’ arises from the secular worldview, in which ‘God’ plays no significant part. But, both from the perspective of our creation in the image of God and from the perspective of the example of Christ, who put aside his ‘rights’ [Philippians 2], the biblical worldview does not encourage us to strive to uphold and secure our ‘rights’. In fact, it does the opposite. It instructs us to seek God’s glory above all else, and to consider our neighbour’s well-being as more important than our own [Philippians 2:3].
Christians are people who, in their act of repentance, have turned back to God and away from the godless mentality of the world. They are people who have acknowledged by their repentance and faith that God is indeed God, and as God has the right to rule their lives as their Lord. By committing and submitting themselves to Jesus Christ as God they have entrusted themselves both to his word of promise and to his word of command. Obedience to the biblical commands and the biblical moral principles is just as much part of this repentance and faith as trust in the biblical promises.
 Be concerned for the spiritual well-being of others: Our personal choices impact others for good or for bad. They either help people in their spiritual growth or they hinder the spiritual growth of others. The directions Paul gives concerning our speech in Ephesians 4:29-31 can also apply to our actions – that what we do, how we live, should build others up, rather than pull them down. [See B.1.1 above]
 Mutually encourage one another to obey God’ commands and uphold God’s standards. This mutual encouragement is commanded by the scriptures [Colossians 3:16; 1Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24,25.]
C. THE CHRISTIAN IN THE POST-CHRISTIAN WORLD
In our life in the post-Christian world it is not enough to quote Bible verses about sex and sin off-pat. Bible verses communicate little to our unbelieving, secular society. What is needed is for Christians to live out our lives in a way that is consistent with our biblical worldview, and to demonstrate that biblical worldview in its totality as a cohesive and rational whole. If we believe that God is there, that he has spoken, and that he is for us, then the only lifestyle consistent with that worldview is that of obedience. If we who believe in God, disobey his commands, we are by that disobedience telling the world that our faith or our God and his commands are either fake or irrelevant.