Promising Sex

A member and friend of the church I pastor– Hope Pres– recently emailed me this question: “What is your take on answering someone (a believer) that pre-marital sex is not specifically prohibited in scripture and therefore is permissible if two people are in love?”

Being someone not known for brevity (I have what Ulysses Everett McGill calls “the gift of gab”), I began thinking and writing. Below is my first shot at answering her question…

I would want to know what they mean by “not specifically prohibited in scripture…” Do they mean that nowhere in the Bible do you see the actual words “premarital sex is prohibited”? Do they mean that Scripture is silent regarding the specific words or idea of “pre-marital sex is permissible if the people are in love…”? I ask that because many people view the Bible as this rules manual and thus strip away context as they go in to look for “proof” which gives them warrant to do what they like. For example, there’s nothing in the Bible regarding timeouts for kids, or math, or toilet paper… however, the Bible does gives us an interpretation of the world or of God’s holy, compassionate, and just character which creates the context by which these good things find purpose and meaning within a Christian framework, even though there are no explicit words “permitting” or “not permitting” their existence. There are commands to raise our kids in the faith and to disciplines, and there are principles that show examples for how these commands are “fleshed” out. The same is true for mathematics as well as toilet paper— bodily care, prevention of disease, and care for the creation are all themes within the Scriptures, most significantly in Leviticus as the Lord constitutes a people who are different from the pagan nations who denied the goodness of human physicality and the “earthyness” of creation in favor of degrading the value of humans and the world as things to be worshiped.

So. How does this person view Scripture? And, do they see their incorrect view and use of it?

Second, they need to doubt their instinctual desires. One of the reasons why they, and others like them, are so insistent upon this view is because it just “feels right” for them. Yet, this perspective disregards the fact that every human capacity is touched/marred/vandalized by sin. Every capacity. This includes our view of money, our views on sex, and our understanding of our very own understanding…

…our own hearts are deceived.

And, so we should, in some degree, be suspicious of our feelings because our initial reactions are so often the product of our distorted views. Read the Proverbs– “All the ways of a man are pure in her own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit… the purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man (person) of understanding will draw it out… every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart…” If this friend is a Christian they automatically ought to be wary of unreflective reactivity to their initial desires, and seek counsel from more mature Christians who can point them to the Scriptures as our only rule for faith and life. The Scriptures are our authority, not our feelings and desires.

Third, they’re just wrong regarding the Bible’s perspective on premarital sex. The pagan nations were the ones who had no notion of marriage. It is only in the Judeo-Christian tradition where a single man and a woman are joined together in a spiritual/emotional/physical union by God himself, called a “covenant”. It is our tradition that affirms the goodness of the created order, and thus the goodness of God’s intent with marriage, a covenantal pattern which points to God’s own fidelity toward his people. Thus, the view of this friend is not Christian at all, it’s actually very pagan. When God inspired the writing of the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the OT), the people were used to the very sort of perspective on sex as your friend, and many in our culture today hold— this was the Egyptian way of life. This is why there are so many specifics regarding sexuality in the book of Leviticus. It isn’t that God didn’t want his people to have any fun. Instead, he is showing them a way of life that is holy— it demonstrates his own character— and thus, is utterly different from that of the pagan nations. This is why Genesis is so subversive— Adam and Eve are joined together as one flesh. And, before this happens, God fully forms them as complete beings— they don’t find their sense of fulfillment/purpose/identity in the other— there is no co-dependent relationship between Adam and Eve because they were already whole people. After this, God joins them together in a covenantal relationship: committed, faithful, public, before God and others. And, always in the covenantal pattern in the OT, as well as in the New, there is a public profession/display/symbol. This public covenanting is the very pattern that circumcision, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper follow. This is the very pattern that Christian marriage today takes. You don’t need all the bells and whistles of a $30k wedding. But, you do need a wedding, a public display of vows to one another and to God, and this needs to be sanctioned by God’s own authority through the church and under his authority delegated to the state. This is called “marriage.”

So, every conception of sexuality in the Bible flows from this initial precedent of covenantal marriage we see between Adam and Eve. Marriage is assumed. It’s a given. This is why one of the most potent images of God’s faithfulness and intention toward the church is that of “bride.” Jesus gives his life for his bride, to wash her and purify her for her beautification and his glory (Eph 5), at the entry of the life of the world to come, the church is as a bride prepared for her bridegroom (Rev 21-22), believers dine with King Jesus at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Rev 19). Marriage is the pinnacle metaphor for God’s commitment of steadfast love and faithfulness toward his people. And, adultery is a prime metaphor for his people’s lack of faithful commitment toward him (see Hosea).

When we see examples of people engaging in sex outside of marriage in Scripture, it’s not because the Bible is permitting anything else, but because the Bible is honest about human sin. People don’t follow God’s expectations, even his own people don’t adhere to the ethics he commands for his people. So, these aren’t examples of how we should live, but examples of human brokenness and rebellion that are all redeemed by Christ, and which God’s people are called to turn away from.

This is why, throughout the Bible we see words and phrases like “adultery,” and “sexual immorality.” These words are referring to sexual intimacy (this would include intercourse as well as other non-intercourse related acts) outside of marriage. “Adultery” doesn’t just mean cheating on your current spouse, but giving yourself sexually to a person who is not your spouse, and thus breaking the vows of covenantal commitment sealed by your sexuality for the person you will one day be joined to.

We view things so “presently”, while we should be viewing things with a more wholistic temporal view.

This is why, when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he made plans to “divorce her quietly.” Wait. But, they weren’t married yet. Exactly. They were engaged to be married, and because Joseph thought that Mary had had sex with some other man (thus, her pregnancy), this was viewed by Joseph, and God’s Law, as infidelity, adultery. But, because the pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit and not from a man, Mary remained faithful to her purity before God for the sake of her future covenant marriage. So, when Joseph joined himself to her in marriage, he was doing an incredibly brave and humble (even humiliating) thing. Everyone else in their community saw Mary as “sexually immoral” even though she wasn’t. The act of premarital sex is adultery. This is why it is so essential in pre-marital counseling for a couple to confess prior sexual relationships— so the other person knows of this infidelity, they can work through it, seek and give forgiveness, and rely on God’s grace for healing.

The power of sexuality is something that God has designed as a very good thing for a married man and woman to enjoy, to seal their covenantal commitment, and to treasure as their own private delight, pointing them even to the commitment God has made with his people. Sex is not an allegory for the church’s relationship with Christ, but it is a sign or symbol of it. Which is why Paul makes use of it as such in Eph 5– “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church…” The power of sexual intimacy is also something to be guarded and held off until marriage because once it’s unleashed in a person’s life, it is so powerful that it can scew our view of self, others, and even of God and his Word. This is why Paul sees distorted sexuality as the pinnacle of human rebellion to God’s Law in Romans 1, and this is why the writer of the Song of Solomon warns on several occasions: “do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” This entire book is about sexual intimacy between a bride and her husband, it is potent and powerful, and one of the main themes is to treasure our sexuality as a gift for our spouse alone because our sexuality is indeed a treasure that is meant for only one other.

At the same time, I would also be considerate of a few other things:

  1. Sexual fulfillment is not a requirement for a person or a relationship to be “legit” “complete” “actualized.” This is a myth that our culture pushes again and again. Yet, there are many people who live full and complete lives in loving relationships with others without having this dynamic fulfilled. Look at Jesus himself. Or, Paul.
  2. If one is giving themselves sexually to another, or has in the past, the temptation will always be toward self-justification. This is the case with every sin, not just sexual sin. We look for, reason toward, and appeal to cultural ideas in order to justify our behavior and desires. Doing this is a natural part of being “in the flesh,” however this does not mean it is good. Being a Christian means that we see sin as sin, we are broken over our sin, we confess our sin, and we look to God’s grace alone for forgiveness and renewal. And, we do this not only with the particular sins that we commit, but the way our entire dispositions are directed against God in autonomy, rebellion, and resistance to his Word. So, we confess and turn away from all the ways we try and justify ourselves by being really really good, as well as the ways we reject God and try to justify our lives to ourselves and others by self-indulgent and irreligious lifestyles.
  3. If there is a Christian man and woman who are in love, and they desire to express this sexually, they should be married! Of course, this will take a bit of a process, but it ought to so that the people can more fully understand what God’s purposes with marriage are, so they can explore their own and one another’s hearts, including shining the light of the gospel on past sin, and so they can come under Christ’s authority which he has delegated to the church, and to the church alone. Ultimately, it is not the state who marries Christians, but it is God who unites people in marriage, the state merely recognizes what God has done through the ministry of the church. This “waiting” part is another essential theme of the Christian life, and requires one to rely more fully on the Holy Spirit for self-control, patience, and growth in wisdom in the process.

So. Sex. Clear cut, and complex. This is yet another example of how Christian ethics must be approached with a desire to submit to God’s Word as well as a willingness for deep reflection and application of the gospel to the very deepest places of our hearts.

Healing Through the Valley

About a week and a half ago I was invited to a dinner to speak to a group of about 300 or so other pastors and leaders from the Presbyterian Church in America while we gathered for our General Assembly. The theme of the evening was “A Healing Denomination.” And, I was asked to share about the journey Erica and I have been on these past 2 years. I was nervous– this was a room full of other preachers and leaders (people I admired and am seeking to emulate in my own ministry calling). Who was I to share to a group of people like this? Yet, I also had confidence that God wanted to bring glory to himself through our story, and that he would use it in the lives of these colleagues, mentors, and heroes.

I share the transcript of this talk with you all knowing that there are many others out there who need a gospel-oriented vision to make sense of the affliction in life, and in order to experience real hope that is ours by faith in Christ, even in the midst of our times of darkness in the valley of the shadow of death.

 

Healing Through the Valley. Dan & Erica Herron, 2014

Thank you for inviting Erica and I to share tonight. She obviously isn’t with me, otherwise I’d look a lot better—due to some recent health issues with 2 of our kids, we had to cancel her trip—which is a real bummer, she’s really the one y’all really need to meet and hear from.

Now, I don’t have any life lessons for you, nothing that refined or sterile. But, I do offer you some glimpses into the story of healing Jesus is bringing about in our life.

We’re driven and ambitious. Two of our hobbies as a young married couple were triathlon training and home renovation.

We’re finding that as our shepherd, God confronts our driveness, gives us glimpses of our weakness, restores our souls by the rest that comes through receiving and depending on Jesus’ presence.

We moved to Bloomington, Indiana 2 years ago to till the ground for a new church and an RUF at Indiana University. We had a core group of 9 people—me and Erica, RUF campus minister Brad Tubbesing and his wife Caroline, and our combined 5 kids, all under 6. We’re like The Goonies of church planting. We prayed, made friends, shared the gospel, strategized, and saw a little community begin in our dining room.

Then— the shadow of death.

On February 8th, 2013 my beautiful, young wife, and wonderful mother to our 3 children was diagnosed with breast cancer. Erica is a doctoral-program-conquering, marathon-running, child raising, strong church planting partner wife. How could this, this word, “Cancer,” apply to her?

Many of you might really want to know, “How did you handle this?”

Many days, early on especially, it felt like we were in the dark, like we were groping for stability, like we were in a labyrinth of a valley. I had to explain to my children that their mommy was sick; in kid-language we had to prepare them for her surgery, for chemo and the loss of her long curly hair, for radiation and the tiredness and soreness that would come. To help our kids, Erica and one of my boys created and illustrated superheroes named “Chemo” and “Radiator,” and at each treatment she wrote a new chapter in an adventure story where these guys rid the world of Dr. Smalls and his evil minions.

Erica wrote of her experience of this shadow: “Right now I’m at a loss for words. I’m being confronted by so many idols and fears. Yet, at the same time I have some peace in knowing that I can trust my heavenly Father and know that regardless, He can be glorified. How do I enjoy God and glorify Him forever while having cancer? Do I really have cancer? Is this really me? Father, I pray that this terrible time would be used in amazing ways. I pray that you would be glorified. I pray that you would deepen my knowledge and understanding of you. I pray that you would expand my heart. I pray, though it somehow feels wrong to ask, but I pray that you would spare my life. Let me be cured and able to see who you grow my children into and how you use my husband. Use this in my life to use me also, but please let me live.

In pouring out his healing, God leads us into the shadow.

So, how did we handle this? How did we continue the work of a parachute plant—how did we survive as a family?

Jesus asserted himself as our refuge. We were so shell-shocked that we didn’t have the capacity to reach out. We could only receive.

That day that we heard the news, Erica and I were at a meeting for the Central Indiana Presbytery. After receiving the call, all the elders and their wives gathered around us, laying hands upon us, kneeling at our feet, anointing our heads with oil, as she and I wept, hands woven together.

They prayed Psalm 23. In surrounding us with his body, Jesus made his presence known, his rod and his staff they comforted us. And, our little sprout of a church, our Presbytery, and this church were Jesus to us, and walked with us into the Valley.

And, all we could do was receive. There was no ambition, there was no drive, there was no “handling it.” There was only frailty and weakness and need.

In leading us into the shadow, God forms us into receivers of his healing.

And, this is where we encountered rest through dependency on Jesus’ Spirit. John Owen wrote of this, “Affliction is part of the provision God hath made in his house for his children… for in our afflictions we find our need of the consolation of the Holy Ghost.”

Receiving this healing consolation of the Holy Spirit it deepened our repentance and faith. We discovered our drive to enmesh our identities in cancer—I felt an impulse to assert my new status as “wonderful supportive cancer husband” as my claim to righteousness and glory. And, Erica, she felt the pull of others’ expectations, and a compulsion to see even cancer as that thing that grounded her identity.

Being receivers of God’s healing exposes us.

Erica wrote about this too. In November, after her treatments were complete, she reflected through the lens of Psalm 62, writing: “God alone as our refuge applies to everything that comes in life—church planting, Dr. of Physical Therapy, raising children. I do not get to claim a self-righteousness from these things. I also don’t get to claim a glory for how I made it through cancer, how I’ve done chemo and lost my hair…that I endured 7 weeks of radiation… that I worked the whole time… that cancer is now a part of my story. I do not get my righteousness from being a cancer survivor. I want to claim this, but this is not my glory to claim. On God alone rests my salvation and my glory. It is my story, not someone else’s…It shapes who I am but it does not make me better or worse. God alone is my mighty rock, my refuge. In him is my identity.”

Erica was really the one who named our church—Hope. While we were driving to a chemo treatment. She saw this as what our city needed because it’s what she needed, what I needed—Hope. Hope of rest for our souls in Jesus.

God’s healing comes only through the Valley of the shadow of death. It’s in the shadow where the presence of Jesus is most intimately known, where our idols were confronted, where all of our supportive scaffolding of ambition was stripped away, where Erica and I were formed into a receiving and depending people who really know the salvation and glory of God. It’s our faith-clinging to this living hope where we are becoming receivers and ultimately mediators of this healing to our place.

We’re still ambitious. Erica just finished training for a half-marathon, HopePres began weekly services at the end of March. But, this ambition has less and less of a grip on our identity as we find rest in being receivers, and members in a community of need like this one, like this one, is called to be.

Weary of Life’s Demands

Hey friends,

I’ve been feeling weary lately, and I know that some of you are as well. If you’re not feeling this right now, it will be coming at some point in this life. I’ve attached a couple of articles for you all to peruse, that could be helpful for any of you wrestling with this very thing right now. And, perhaps my thoughts below may be of some guidance and encouragement as well.

Life is hard. We face opposition in everything we do— from work, to parenting, to friendship, to dating, to exercise, on and on. I write, “opposition” rather than “challenge” because challenge in itself can be a very good thing, something that moves us to press forward, that can motivate us to godly productivity, being what God created us to be— His image bearers as we create and tend to stuff.

Yet, opposition is entirely different. Opposition is feeling the weight of every aspect of life crushing down on you, sometimes all at the same time. Opposition is facing grueling difficulty, both external and within our own hearts, as we deal with the mundane as well as the exceptional experiences of every day life. We can face opposition as we seek to accomplish great things, as we seek to simply manage everyday things, or as we wrestle uncomfortably with boredom.

Opposition, and the negative emotions we experience as a result, come as a consequence of humanity’s fall into sin (cf. Gen 3)— because of sin, all spheres of creation have become alienated from God and alienated from one another, all things are in opposition, all things are at enmity.

Emotions are an important component of our humanity, were created good by the Lord, yet they can become so strong, so dominant, that they can become the primary lens with which we view the things of our lives, and we can begin to lose track of what is true. What we feel as a result of the opposition we face, resulting from our spiritual alienation, can become for us the reality within which we live.

At the same time, these same emotions can be a thermometer for us, they can indicate for us what our hearts are really longing for, if we learn to listen to them, work our way through the various complex layers of emotions, ask questions of our hearts such as: “what am I feeling?” “why am I feeling this?” “is the cause of this feeling true?” “what is true— about this immediate situation, about this person in front of me, about myself?”

We see the Psalmist doing this as he speaks to his own heart, which is in the throes of despair, longing, and loneliness in Psalm 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (asking the questions, naming the emotional experience dominating him) “Hope thou in God! For I shall again praise Him my savior and my God,” (speaking the truth of God’s reality to his own heart).

Understanding our own hearts, naming our emotional experience which can become a life-lens, having discernment on the circumstances impacting us through particular forms of opposition, learning to speak God’s truth to our own hearts— the only source of lasting hope and comfort— these are disciplines of the maturing Christian life. Something that requires time, silence, pushing away of distractions (such as more work, more entertainment, more striving).

This is the very thing Jesus spoke to Martha about in Luke 10:38-42, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” In her anxieties— her emotional lens— she distracted herself with spiritual work, making Jesus comfortable; yet failed to realize that what she needed and what Jesus desires to provide, is rest. In this instance, rest looked like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. In other instances, enjoying rest through Jesus’ grace looks like Elijah being served bread and told to sleep by the Angel of the Lord.

In both instances, the Lord seeks to care for the heart, mind, emotions, and body of His people. Yet, for this to happen, God’s people must detach themselves from the apparent immediacy of all of those impending areas where we feel that continual opposition, and step into a place of silence, where God can remove the scaffolding which we surround our lives with, and bring real rest, His rest, gospel rest for our souls, which begins and ends in our personal encounter with Christ.

TV does not bring rest. More work does not bring rest. More organizing, or pinning more stuff to our Pintrest board does not bring this deep rest that we all need. More likes on our Facebook post does not bring rest. These things can be fun. They can spur on our creativity. They can help connect us with others. But, they cannot bring the rest that Martha longed for, that Elijah needed, that the Psalmist cried out for, “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee…”

Draw near to Jesus this week. Find a way to draw near to the Lord for an extended period this month. All of us are busy, but none of us feel the necessity for busyness as much as Jesus must have felt, who withdrew regularly to quiet places to pray.

If he was tempted in every way as we are, yet is without sin, do we not think that he felt all that we feel and more? Even our temptation toward acedia (which is what these attached articles are about).

Draw near to the One who has attained rest on your behalf. Let’s pray that the opposition and the accompanying emotions we experience, become opportunities for the Lord to show His grace to us in new ways.

In the love of our Lord,

Dan

articles:

“resistance to the demands of love”

“staying put to get somewhere”