I’ve been sharing excerpts from my sermon for high school students about sex, some of which was influenced by a sermon from Tim Keller. Using 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 as my text, I’ve written about the two cultural myths about sex: 1) I can do whatever I want with my body; and 2) Sex is just an appetite. This post will lay out the biblical message that counters the second myth.

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Sex is not just an appetite. That is such a low, degrading view of sex. Look at this passage again. Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”

Don’t get caught up by the word prostitute. In those days you were either married or you were a prostitute. Christianity was the first social movement, religion, or institution to ever say, “It’s okay to be single.”

But Paul is quoting the book of Genesis here, and he’s saying whenever you have sex with someone, you become one flesh with them. Well, what does that mean? Perhaps you’ve heard of the phrase “the beast with two backs”? Well, that’s not what it means. The word “flesh” can mean a couple of different things, and in this instance what it means is “embodied personhood”. It means “full humanity expressed in your body”.

Sex is not about becoming one body with your sexual partner, it’s about giving your full humanity to another. Sex is the donation of your full humanity to another. This is the biblical message that counters the cultural myth “sex is just an appetite.”

God designed sex to be the consummation of a host of commitments that you make to your spouse. It’s the last commitment, the one in which you physically live and embody all of those commitments—the social, the legal, the relational, the responsibility, the mental, the spiritual, and the emotional.

There is no such thing as casual sex. There is no such thing as sex with no strings. That’s the fantasy of a screenwriter. Sex without those commitments is dehumanizing. Casual sex makes you less human; it turns you into an object of another person’s lust. It is not embodied humanity, it is embodied pornography. It is false.

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from my sermon about sex that I’ll be preaching to high school students. Using 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 as my text, I wrote that the first cultural myth about sex is: I can do whatever I want with my body. Now let’s look at the second myth.

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The first myth about sex is: I can do whatever I want with my body. The second myth is in verse 13. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”

Now this one’s a little more complicated, so I’ll try not to get caught up in the details. Again, you’ve got the quotes, and this saying isn’t really about food. No, this myth says Sex is just an appetite. It’s just like hunger. When you get hungry, you eat food. Sex is the same way. When you get horny, you have sex. Simple as that.

The lie that our culture is telling you is this: You cannot be fulfilled in life without sex. A life without sex is like a life without food; you will waste away and die in about 6 weeks. You are a freak if you are a virgin.

This is probably a good time to tell you that God made sex. He designed it. God designed sex to be between a man and a woman who have committed themselves to each other socially, legally, relationally, responsibly, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Sex is the physical union that ties all of those commitments together. That’s why sex is sometimes called consummation, because the physical is the last of the commitments to be made, and it ties them all together.

So you are not a freak if you are a virgin. You’re smart, and you’re doing things in order. You’re not going to make the physical commitment before you’ve made the social, the legal, the relational, the responsibility, the spiritual, the mental, or the emotional one.

Earlier this week our student ministry director, Runnin’ Adam Walters, (I just made up that nickname, by the way) asked if I would be interested in talking to the high school students about sex on Sunday night. For those of you in ministry, you understand that talking to high school students about sex is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing you’ll be asked to do. It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about keeping their attention. It’s difficult because 1) their culture is always talking about sex; 2) they’re always talking about sex; 3) they’re always thinking about sex; 4) they’re having sex (sorry parents); 5) they’re horribly insecure about sex; and 6) almost nothing they hear about sex is true. So, naturally, I agreed. At the very least I’ll get a few blog posts out of it.

My text is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, which reads quite nicely in the updated NIV. By the way, did you know that the NIV has been updated? True story.

Anyway, I’ll skip the introduction of my sermon and all my ridiculous jokes, and post the bit about the first cultural myth about sex.

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Our culture tells a lot of myths about sex, and we find two of them in this passage in 1 Corinthians. The first myth is right at the top, in verse 12. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Do you see how “I have the right to do anything” is in quotes? That means that this was a common expression among the people that Paul was writing this letter to. It was part of their theology. He’s quoting them. “I have the right to do anything.” In other words, “I can do whatever I want with my body.” It’s my body, who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do with it. This is the first myth about sex: I can do whatever I want with my body.

It’s funny, because if you think about, when it comes to sex, we humans haven’t really changed much in the past 2,000 years. We’re still saying the same thing the ancient Corinthians were saying about sex. “I have the right to do anything. I can do whatever I want with my body.”

Let’s think about this for a second. Can you really do whatever you want with your body? I’d like to be able to fly. Can you fly? No? Me neither. So I can’t do whatever I want with my body.

But, you might say, we’re talking about sexually. Oh, okay. So you can have sex with whoever you want? Oh, only if they’re willing. Otherwise it’s a horrible crime, right? And there are other things you can’t do that we won’t even mention, but needless to say, you can’t do whatever you want with your body. You don’t have the right to do anything. There are limitations.

Paul’s response to this quote is interesting. He basically says, “Oh really? Well let’s assume for a moment that you’re right. You can do whatever you want with your body, but not everything is good for you. Not everything is beneficial to you. Not everything moves you forward as a person. You may think you want that, but then after you do it, you will immediately regret that decision.”

He goes on to say, “I will not be mastered by anything.” This means that the more you do whatever you want with your body, the more you will be unable to stop doing it. The more you have sex with whomever and however and whenever and wherever you want, the more you become a slave to sex. Your sexual desires will rule over you, and even when you want to do something else you won’t be able to.

This will be the last post of my journey through Dick Staub’s book, The Culturally Savvy Christian. This book has been very formative for me (we even got a kind comment from the author on one of the posts!), and I hope that you go out and buy yourself a copy of it–or you can join our life group and go through it with us for free, because one couple generously offered to buy everyone a copy! The last two posts have been about God’s deep and transforming presence, and this one is about God’s loving presence.

I’ve blogged and preached extensively (for me, anyway) about agape love–a love that lays down its life. This is God’s kind of love, and by this love we are transformed. We cannot be made like Christ simply by accumulating knowledge and experience; we become like Christ because we experience the depth of God’s transforming love in our souls. “Soul wellness is ours only when the indwelling God, whose love is eternally available and utterly reliable, sustains us.” (121)

“Only those who experience God’s loving presence in the deepest places of their soul can be a loving presence in the souls of others. When touched by God, our deepest wounds can become our deepest well of compassion for the sorrows of others.” (124) If we allow him, God can transform our pain and weakness into sources of compassion, empathy, and wisdom for our brothers and sisters. It is not a question of can God, but will you let God. His presence is liquid, seeking its own level in the deepest, darkest caverns of our hearts where the ground is both parched and fallow from the lack of water and light. His presence brings refreshment, healing, and eventually a harvest to the deep wounds of our souls. In this way we are transformed, not in manners of behavior, but in modes of being. “Our transformation is the result of God’s presence in our life, and the evidence of God’s presence is our embodiment of God’s love.” (125)

If you want to transform the culture, you yourself must be transformed by the rich, loving presence of God. “Today’s Christians are often a mirror image of popular culture, wanting to transform the world without being transformed, wanting to prove Christianity intellectually without displaying the love that is the proof we are Jesus’ disciples. The only way to enrich our culture is to be enriched personally, which comes when we experience God deeply and then embody God’s loving presence. …The culturally savvy Christian’s goal is to embody God’s loving, transforming presence in the world.” (125)

I don’t know about you, but I want to be that kind of Christian. I’ve only got one shot at this, and the greatest terror that haunts me is to think that I might go to my grave having lived a mediocre life characterized by the capitulation to popular culture rather than the embodiment of God’s agape presence, by the stale shallowness of mindless distraction rather than the healing, soul-level transformation that comes from experiencing God deeply. True transformation–not just behavior modification–begins by experiencing God in the deep recesses of your inner being, and slowly but steadily grows upward and outward. The same is true, I suppose, of popular culture.

Yesterday, while blogging through Dick Staub’s book The Culturally Savvy Christian, I wrote about the deep presence of God, and how we will only become deeply well when we experience the depth of God’s presence. Many of us seek to transform our culture, but we ourselves have not been transformed by God. In the next chapter of his book, Staub writes powerfully about the transforming presence of God.

Staub talks about his own journey with God, beginning, as many of us do, at a place of youthful zeal to transform the world. However, he eventually realized, “God wasn’t interested in transforming me so that I could transform the world; God wanted to transform me so that I could become fully human.” (92-3) The goal of transformation is to become fully human—that is, to be restored to the creature that God originally intended us to be, before we chose to rebel against him and exchanged our full humanity for a false divinity. The only one of us who has been fully human since Eden is, of course, Jesus.

“God’s transforming presence will change us, not so we can transform the world, but so we can experience God’s presence more deeply and be restored to God’s image more completely.” (93) The first thing that was ever true of you is that you were created in God’s image. Your being created in the image of God predates, and runs deeper, than your sin. This is why God is committed to your restoration, not your destruction. He wants to make you again what he made you before; and we know what that looks like because he sent his son into the world to show us not simply himself, but also ourselves. “Jesus did not come to make us better; he came to make us new.” (94)

“God’s original purpose is not our salvation or the evangelization of others; it is that we glorify God by reflecting God’s image through expression of the spiritual, intelligent, creative, moral, and relational capacities uniquely imprinted on humans.” (95) You are an image bearer of the one true God. Broken? Yes. Cracked? Yes. Beyond repair? No. God’s will for your life is not simply that you tell others about Jesus. (Though that is a part of it.) God’s will for your life is that you become fully human, that is, that you fully reflect his image in you by expressing those qualities that are unique to God’s image bearers: spirituality, intelligence, creativity, morality, relationship, and art. That we can sing and dance and pray to God and understand his ways and choose to lay down our lives for one another is truly remarkable! This is the image of God in you. These are the things that will become more evident in you as you are transformed by God’s deep presence.

Using Romans 12:1-3 as his guide, Staub lays out a process for the transformation to full humanity in three steps:

  1. “Restore God to the central place in your life by presenting your body as a living sacrifice.” (96)
  • “It is impossible to nurture God’s presence or to experience a personal transformation to our full humanity without acknowledging God’s centrality in each moment of each hour of each day.” (97)
  • “Stop conforming to the world.” (97)
    • “Our minds have been squeezed into the mold of the thought patterns, beliefs, values, and behaviors of our fallen culture. …As we resist conformity, we will become highly sensitized to culture, recognizing the superficial, mindless diversions and seeing through the shallowness of celebrity.” (99)
  • “Renew your mind.” (100)
    • “Most of us cannot recognize the contrast between the ideas and values that dominate our culture and those consistent with our faith, because our primary education has been in the ideas and values of our age and we remain illiterate about Jesus’ expectations for our life. …All the excitement about new paradigms, enthusiasm for relevance, and the sincere desire to transform church and culture will amount to nothing unless they are accompanied by the deep faith that produces transformed people.” (101-2)

    Transformation is not about minding your manners or managing your sin or keeping all the mandates. God’s deep, loving presence transforms us into the image of Jesus, the one who was fully human, who perfectly reflected the image of his father.

    In order to transform church and culture, you must be (and be being) transformed in God’s presence. He is with you every moment, and in every moment you can offer your body to him as a sacrifice that remains alive; in this way you will become fully alive! The world has a pattern, a mold, that it has squeezed you into. Break free from that mold by living in the presence of God, talking with him, hearing from him, obeying him. And, lastly, your mind must become new again. You must learn to discern the truth, because this culture is full of appealing and delicious lies.