In anticipation of the birth of my first son (no news yet!), I’m not preaching this Sunday, which has freed up my time to catch up on some reading and other things that have been gathering in my in-box. Funny how God will often line things up where seemingly every conversation, every circumstance, every page read, every sermon listened to will bring you to one common theme for a particular day, or in this case, an entire week.
It all started when I sat down Monday to listen to the audio from this year’s Desiring God conference on Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. The first session was an introduction and explanation of the theme of the conference by John Piper. Perhaps the best way to explain my admiration for John was given by CJ Mahaney, the leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries and another conference speaker, who in reference to John said simply – “you leave us with God.” Piper’s focus was on the question of why God created sex. His two-fold answer came as a sweet and sobering reminder: God created sex to help us know God better, and conversely, knowing God guards and guides our sexuality. Here’s the line that has been in my head for two straight days: those who abuse God’s gift of sexuality (and any other gift for that matter) simply don’t know God as they ought, if they know him at all. Simply put, the reality of sin in our life reveals that we don’t know God as well as we might think.
The Bible is very clear: knowing God is more necessary for living than air if you have an eternal perspective on what life is really about. And while we tend to think of knowledge in an intellectual, mental, cognitive sense, the Bible expands our definition of what true knowledge is. That’s helpful because there are plenty of men and women who are extremely intelligent and think often about God. And yet we hear story after story of sinful tragedy in both isolated and epidemic examples. So how can we rightly affirm the statement that the sins of pastors, theologians, teachers, and other “intelligent” Christians are the result of a lack of knowledge?
Remember that the Bible often refers to sexual intimacy as “knowing” another person (Gen 4:1; 19:5,8; I Samuel 1:19; I Kings 1:4; Matthew 1:25; et al). In other instances, to know someone refers to a close, personal relationship. And in some instances, knowledge does refer to cognitive information. In contemporary terms, we often talk about the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge, which might be a bit more helpful to explain the concept, but really misses something very crucial about the depth of the relationship between God and those he loves.
As Piper reminded me, the all-encompassing nature of sexual activity is a mere shadow and symbol of the all-encompassing depths of our relationship with God. This does not provide some kind of perverted view that intimates a sexual relationship between God and his people. What it does remind us, however, is that as unbelievably phenomenal as sex truly is, it is merely a picture of something far more phenomenal (NOTE: Whenever I’m speaking to groups of non-married men and women on dating and sex, I usually remind them that sex is merely a shadow and symbol of the substance found in the depths of an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You are far better off in an intimate relationship with God having never experienced the pleasures of sex, then vice versa.).
This impacted me in three particular ways this week in my reading. Yesterday morning during my daily time reading the Bible, I came across these words in Ephesians 5:3: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you…” Now I’ve read those verses umpteen times before, and have heard other people apply this verse to mean that good Christians shouldn’t talk about such things. That’s pretty tough in the sex-saturated world we live in, but I actually think the challenge goes much deeper. Not only should we not talk about such things, they must become as foreign and unknown to us as the name of a complete stranger. Such things must not be part of our lives, because what “is proper among saints” is a life that cannot engage in such godless endeavors.
This morning, I was reading in Philippians 3 and came across another familiar passage in v 8: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” How many times have you and I read that verse and thought of ‘knowing’ as an academic exercise? And while this verse is not referring to a non-thinking ecstatic experience, it’s also a powerful reminder that our thinking about God must serve as a river, not a reservoir. Thinking about God properly must lead to the worship of God. And because of the surpassing value of Christ – who provides more pleasure and satisfaction than anything and everything else in the world - you and I can lay aside the good and bad things the world offers us. That’s a stunning and humbling indictment for you and me as we live lives that push Jesus to the sidelines because other pleasures take precedence. Our jobs (or the money we get from jobs we don’t enjoy), our families, our hobbies, our sleep, our exercise, our toys, our video games, our friends, our sports – any number of other competing pleasures beckon for our time and attention. What has slipped into first place in your life as your greatest joy, pleasure, and passion? As the apostle Paul reminds us here in Philippians 3, nothing in this universe can provide the pleasure and satisfaction found in the intimate relationship with God we were created for and redeemed by Christ to have.
I want to say the same thing to you that I said to myself as I was thinking and praying this morning: there are no depths to describe the foolishness you and I exhibit with our small-minded, short-sighted excuses in choosing other things beside God. In choosing God, we’re not talking in some isolated way that thinks only of Bible study and church services and small groups (as important and indispensable as those are!), but in such a way that we orient our life around those things which most cause us to enjoy God, and thereby bring him glory. And when we move away from a desire to enjoy and honor God in our work, our play, and yes, our sexuality, then what we find is not the treasure chest of freedom, but the impoverished canyon of slavery.
But what if I’m honest with myself and find that I find greater pleasure and satisfaction in my garden, my children, my home, my job, my church activities, my hidden sins, even sex with my husband or wife then I find in God? I know I’m wrong and I want to change, but I feel absolutely powerless. If you feel the same weakness and inability to change your heart that I do, then join me in being stunned by the power of the promise of God in Hosea 2:
The Old Testament book of Hosea is a messed-up story. God commands the prophet Hosea to marry a whore named Gomer (wonder what it was like for him to bring her home for Thanksgiving!). They get married, he loves her, they have kids, and she cheats on him…eventually leaves him. When Hosea finds her, she has become the property of another man and he has to buy back his cheating wife who’s left him for someone else. Sound like a relationship you know of? Imagine an episode of the Jerry Springer show on husbands who buy back cheating wives. The first two guests are Hosea and Gomer. The second guest is quite a surprise – God playing the role of the husband and you as his unfaithful wife with a proclivity for adultery. Your story is pretty straightforward – “I simply can’t keep from running off and jumping into bed with any number of lovers.”
What does God plan to do? Here’s what he says in Hosea 2:14-20:
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me 'My Husband,' and no longer will you call me 'My Baal.' For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.“
For those of us who have forgotten that sex and everything else in life was created by God to reveal the depths of his goodness and the pleasure and satisfaction found in him; to those who have wandered away from the path God has created for your sexuality and everything else in life; to those who feel powerless to change your heart and mourn over the fact that you are prone to wander and to leave the God you love so deeply but betray so quickly, may God break your heart and bind it to him with this simple message – “I won’t quit. I won’t give up. I will do whatever it takes to do for you what you can’t do for yourself. I’ll make you love me.”