“This is a hard saying…who can listen to it?”

On Wednesday evening, March 16, my wife and I once again had the privilege of standing up in front of a group of adults to affirm the biblical truth that sex outside of traditional marriage – regardless of context, extenuating circumstances, societal norms, financial constraints, or what-have-you – is clearly sinful (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and very obviously contrary to God’s good plan for our lives (Mark 10:1-12). Please keep in mind that we were defending this countercultural (though thoroughly biblical) truth to a roomful of people who were all coming out of broken marriages…not “an easy sell” by any stretch of the imagination, but especially difficult to affirm in this setting. My heart ached for the pain, confusion and feelings of “aloneness” that I could so very clearly see in the eyes of many.

Yes, I swim in the same “enlightened” 21st-century societal waters as everyone else. No, I am not blind to the enormous amount of pressure that our culture brings to bear on each and every individual to “Get on with your life,” “Go for it,” or “Sow your wild oats.” (Can’t find any Scripture to back up these three all-too-common sentiments? Huh! Weird…) Yes, I do understand what it is like to have a heart that aches for love and companionship, especially in the aftermath of a marital catastrophe, and I also can closely identify with the desire to seek a return to “perceived normalcy” by beginning a new relationship once the divorce has been finalized; no one likes living under the “Gosh, I wonder what’s wrong with him?” stigma (real or imagined). I have dwelled in that desert. I know all too well what the road markers along the way look like.

Having sinned so greatly and so often in my early adult life, who am I, then, to tell anyone what they should or should not do with their sexuality, especially now that I have found a safe harbor within my own second marriage? The answer, of course, is that absent the Word of God as revealed in the Bible, I have absolutely nothing of value to say to anyone. Except, perhaps, to offer up my own testimony that a life lived contrary to God’s commands will inevitably and ultimately lead to destruction of one kind or another.

In my opening sentence, you might have read the word “privilege” and thought that I was being somewhat sarcastic, and I suppose that I was being a bit tongue in cheek. Trust me, it really is tough to talk openly about a biblical approach to sexuality in a society that is literally choking itself to death with pornography and all other manner of ungodly sexual expression. “Awkward” doesn’t even begin to describe the experience! But the deeper truth is that it really is a privilege to be entrusted to faithfully share God’s Word with others, even though the going may get rough from time to time. Christ will call me blessed for seeking to impart His Truth to others, regardless of their response (Matthew 25:21). In this life, though, the cry of my heart is that at least a few will be given “ears to hear” and respond in faith, right here and now…before they “wake up” to find themselves in an abortion clinic, or on the wrong end of a positive STD test…or worse.

I came to faith in July of 1997, but I have to be honest and say that I have stumbled and fallen many, many times since then. (Sometimes spectacularly so.) But, by God’s grace, I have been sober since that time and entirely faithful within the context of my second marriage. Still, every now and then I happen to encounter a particularly hard teaching of Jesus and have to check my own “natural man” tendency to turn and walk in the opposite direction. While I know it’s insane (and eternal death) to cut and run from Christ, the temptation still rears its head. In those moments, exactly when I am tempted within my own spirit to reject what God’s Word says about how I should be living my life, I tend to run to John 6:66-69:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

As with all good biblical analysis, it really helps to take the time to read all of John 6 to get some sense of context. In this incident, faithfully given to us by the Apostle, Jesus has just instructed the many people who were following Him that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they could have no part with Him.

Okay, so this really is “a hard teaching,” difficult to comprehend, at least at face value. But rather than asking Jesus to clarify what He was trying to say, many just grumbled among themselves and decided on that day, in that precise moment, to turn away from following Him. This in spite of the fact that He had just, the previous day, miraculously provided bread and fish to “about five thousand in number” (John 6:9-10). Many Bible scholars affirm the idea that “about five thousand” probably meant “about five thousand men;” counting women and children present at this particular miracle, a conservative estimate might be that Jesus actually fed up to 20,000 people using five barley loaves and two fish. And many of these no doubt saw (or at least heard about) Him walking on water in the interim (John 6:16-21). “But let’s forget about all that now…here He is now, telling us we have to feed on His flesh and drink His blood!”

Are any of us really all that different today? My vote is cast solidly on “No, not in the slightest.”

We all love Jesus whenever He’s handing out free bread. And we all seem to like it well enough whenever Jesus points out the sinful behaviors in others…especially if those other people are a perennial thorn in our own side! Yes, there really is nothing quite like Scripture for bringing the sins and shortcomings of others into clear focus. But, of course, it’s much harder to love Jesus whenever He challenges our understanding on issues such as sexuality, sobriety, service, giving, faithfulness, fidelity and worship.

“Do I really need to give 10% back to God…and is that supposed to be gross, or net?” “How can God insist that I be chaste while I am waiting for marriage…why does it matter?” “I wasn’t gossiping…I was just sharing a prayer request.” “You wouldn’t say that if you knew my husband!” When attempting to lovingly share biblical truth, we hear others (perhaps even ourselves!) make absurd statements like this all the time. Our human nature is such that we are forever looking for the loophole that applies to us and (typically) only to us. God’s Truth is great for controlling the stupidity of other people, but we tend to break ranks and run as hard and fast as we can whenever the gaze of Jesus falls squarely on whatever we happen to be doing in the dark.

This week, if you suspect that you might be living comfortably with any form of sinful behavior, behavior that you know runs contrary to God’s commands as revealed within the pages of the Bible, just spend a few minutes completing the sentence below. And I mean, literally, sit down with a pen and piece of paper and write this out. Then, if you want to be completely honest with yourself – and still claim Jesus Christ as your Savior – find at least three verses (in context) to help support what you have written. So the “homework” might look something like this:

“God’s revealed will does not apply to me in this particular situation because ____________________.”

  • Citation 1: ________________

  • Citation 2: ________________

  • Citation 3: ________________

In suggesting this, I am not being ironic in the least. Running through this exercise on more than one occasion has helped me to arrive at a point where I can at least acknowledge that my behavior is not defensible from a faithful Christian worldview. This exercise forces me to re-ask the questions: “Who else will you go to? Who else has the words of eternal life that your soul really needs to hear?”

And for whatever this is worth, Peter’s confession in John 6:68 has saved me from my own stupidity more than once. It has served as a strong shield for me in those moments when I am tempted to disregard the will of God. I don’t always like what Jesus says to me, either, but just like Peter, I have to stop for a moment and consider: “I know full well Who I am tempted to run from…but who, in Heaven’s name, am I running to?”

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