• Sex, Love, and the Law

    March 1, 2012

    I once was skeptical of people who talked too much about the love of God. Love this, love that. As a friend of mine says, it all sounded a bit too “hippie-liberal.” Where in such talk was the judgment and justice of God? Where was his wrath? His anger for sin? These are certainly aspects of God’s character, too. One can hardly believe the Bible and not acknowledge this. But one can just as hardly read the Bible for very long without seeing how often love comes up. Jesus talks about it:

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

    Paul talks about it:

    “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).


    “… Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

    And, of course, John:

    “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

    God is not merely loving. He is love itself. He is so utterly defined by love that it is fair and accurate to simply say he is love. Then, in the absence of any written Law—for again, we have been freed from the Old Testament’s demands in the Mosaic Law (Galatians 5:1)—love is the goal, since that is God’s nature, and sin would be anything that violates or opposes that nature.

    I assume that would go for sexual sin as well. When I worked in college ministry, I’d get questions sometimes from students that went something like this: “How far can we go? At what point are we sinning? Can I touch her breasts but not her – well, you know?” Such questions are missing the point because they seek a law (perhaps the Law?), but the only law is love because “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). “God is love,” so what is the most loving thing I can do in any situation, sexually or otherwise? That is the only question that matters because “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

    I have a friend who decided to have sex before marriage. He and his fiancé talked about this and decided it was best. They talked with their spiritual mentor, and he agreed. You see, my friend is primarily attracted to men but had decided to marry a woman. He was completely upfront about this with his then-girlfriend (and eventually fiancé and wife). While primarily attracted to men, he was attracted to his girlfriend and wanted to marry her, for good reasons, I think, which I won’t get into here. But could he have sex with her? More the point, could he have sex with her and it be truly her he was making love to, not the images of men he had stored up in his mind over the years? If he couldn’t, and they didn’t discover that until after they’d said “I do,” she might be in for a long and sexually unfulfilling life with plenty of bitter self-examination: “Am I not desirable? Maybe if I were just a little prettier? What is wrong with me?” And on and on. Rather than potentially put his eventual wife through that, my friend decided it was best for them to have sex before marriage. She agreed, and that was that.

    Did my friend violate some rule about sex before marriage? Maybe, but he did the most loving thing he knew to do, and so I have to think he fulfilled the intent of the Law, if not the letter—NOT because he had to (it can’t be said enough: we are free from the Law in Christ), but because God is love, and “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12).

    My friend’s story stands in contrast to the man who simply wants sex without a commitment, who pressures a woman to go all the way when she really doesn’t want to and isn’t ready to. I suspect that man doesn’t really love a woman. He loves sex. Certainly he loves himself, but he is oceans away from both Jesus and Paul. “Love is not self-seeking … it always protects” (1 Cor. 13). The man who will not wait for no other reason than he doesn’t want to, sins, I think, even in the absence of any Law, for he is violating the nature of God, which is self-sacrificing love.

    Sexual sin is the same as any sin in that it is and seeks the opposite of love. It is self-seeking rather than self-sacrificing.

    Yes, this approach leaves us open to self-deception. We may tragically distort what love is. We may convince ourselves something we want is okay to have right this second because we really, really want it, even though it’s not best for us or for someone else who will be affected by our getting what we want. But grace is always open to abuse, intentional or otherwise. When there is no law, when we are free to figure things out with the help of the Spirit, there always exists the possibility we’ll get it wrong. But seriously, read the Old Testament. Even with an extremely thorough, detailed Law, people got it wrong all the time, so it isn’t clear that a set of rules makes life any easier.

    What, then, is sexual sin? I would think it is any sexual behavior that seeks only its own good at the expense of what is best for another. Sexual sin is selfish rather than loving. Sex with children will always be sinful because it manipulates the emotions and uses the bodies of vulnerable people for one’s own selfish lust.  Adultery will always be sinful because it is taking sexually what is not yours to take, doing great harm to relationships.

    But homosexuality? If two people love each other and sacrificially choose to serve each other for life, for better or worse, in sickness and in health—how does this violate the nature of God which is love? This, the context of the passages that mention homosexuality in the New Testament, and an understanding of first century pagan sexual practices (which often involved prostitution and sex with minors), is why I suspect Paul is condemning some abusive or exploitive nature of homosexuality in his culture, and not mutually loving and respectful gay relationships in ours. If sexual sin—if sin, in general—is anything selfish and unloving, then it seems to me that it’s simply not honest to make blanket condemnations of homosexuality when nothing about gay sex is inherently unloving.

    Posted in: The Gay Posts

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