Several times in this blog I’ve addressed the difficulties of raising distinctively-Christian kids in a post-Christian culture, or, using a shorthand term (to the biblically literate) “raising Daniels and Esthers in a digital Babylon.” There is simply no area more challenging, nothing with the potential to be both winsome and repulsive to the larger culture, than the traditional, scriptural position on human sexuality and human meaning. As Russell Moore has said, “Christianity in its historic, apostolic form is increasingly seen as socially awkward at best, as subversive at worst. This is especially true when it comes to what, at the moment, is perhaps the most offensive aspect of such Christianity: our sexual ethic.”
The Christian sexual ethic to which God has called us is so radically different, so distinct from the individualized, cheapened, hypersexualized culture in which we find ourselves living that we cannot just assume that our kids in Christian homes will get it, or even that our churches, schools, or homes will teach it to them. Even among Christians, God’s Word has taken a low posture in our lives. In a recent State of Theology survey performed by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research, only 52 percent of self-identified evangelicals who attend church 1 to 2 times per month strongly agree that sex outside of traditional marriage is sin. Even among believers, the concept of human chastity, of sex being something preserved and ordained within the context of marriage between a man and woman, does not have the covenantal force as described in Scripture. Instead, it is treated as a quaint, somewhat outdated custom, or, at best, a suggested practice.
I’m not one who believes that a Christian sexual ethic should be mandated or enforced on Gentiles. God’s prescriptions are for God’s people, and reasoned, loving, persuasion toward the gospel is the best posture towards our non-believing friends. But, neither can a Christian sexual ethic, a biblical stance on human sexuality, be merely a suggested practice among Christians- it is commanded by God for our thriving. It is also given for us to live as a testimony to the righteousness of the gospel and to the redeemed image-bearers we are in Christ. It is, itself, one of those “signposts of righteousness” that we as Christians are called to plant in this foreign soil, and for us to live otherwise does violence to the gospel and offends the Cross.
That being said, the climate on human sexuality is amazingly confusing for our kids, even those who profess Christ. For instance, for 2,000 years in the Christian church, and thousands of years of Hebraic tradition, sexual practice was never tied to our identity, to who we are as humans or image bearers of God, redeemed in Christ. It was always defined as something we do, as activity. It never defined us. See Romans 1. Conversely, our gender, whether we were born male or female, has for that same time been thought to be a part of God’s image borne in us. We manifest masculine or feminine characteristics, and glorify and image God in doing so. In that sense, it has been considered a part of our identity.
In our distorted, broken, modern culture, we have normalized and are normalizing the “flipping” of those ideals, the exact opposite of what Scripture teaches. Now, our identity is rooted in our sexual practice- whether I am gay, or bisexual, or straight, is a part of my identity-it has become who I am, clothed with as much natural and legal protection as race and natural origin. There’s no stopping, no point in self-control, because it’s who I am, the expression of self.
Similarly, gender, what was a part of who we were, our identity, is now no longer. Instead, it is fluid, like an activity, something I can decide or choose for myself, even going back and forth. These are amazingly confusing juxtapositions of something fundamental to who we are and how we live as followers of Christ.
We cannot expect our kids to just get this, to just somehow intuitively understand it on their own. It’s incumbent upon us as parents, not only to have the old “here’s where you came from” talk with them, but to continually reinforce God’s ideal for human sexuality. First, it requires that we spend time in God’s Word to actually understand it ourselves (hint: if you found yourself in the 52 percent in the survey above, you’re on the right track). Second, we have to meditate upon and practice a Christian sexual ethic in our own lives, and teach it to our kids with our words, as well. We have to be clear that God is clear on this. We have to break down the places for them where our culture has broken down, and continually reinforce what is good and holy and noble and pure, because we know they’re getting the opposite all the time.
This is not mutually-exclusive with being loving and engaging; Christ was full of grace and truth, and so should we be. But, we should never confuse grace with passivity to unrighteousness, or to a lack of personal holiness. The gift of grace actually compels me to both righteousness and holiness, and to holding those I love and who profess the name of Christ to the same. I’m supposed to judge them, in the sense of discerning when they’ve done wrong and gently and lovingly calling their attention to it. They’re supposed to do that for me, too. That’s called accountability, and it’s an ancient Christian doctrine, still living and active today. Moderns call not judging in this sense “tolerance,” but, in truth, it carries another title: “cowardice.”
We have to get this right, for ourselves and our kids, because it is one of the major distinctions that will separate believers and Gentiles in a post-Christian world, leading perhaps to some degree of criticism and mild persecution, but more likely to dialogue and an opportunity to be a prophetic witness for the gospel. It is also a mechanism by which God will bring about emotional and spiritual health in our children and in us, as we live the way God created us to live.