Sermon: Sex and the Christian Marriage
Scripture: Matthew 5:27-30
In this week’s lessons, we learn how contemporary culture approaches sex, and see how Christians are to think and act differently, as Jesus taught.
Theme: The “New Morality”
If sex itself were the cause of the problem, then Hugh Hefner’s multi-million dollar empire could be judged as a prime factor in the moral decline of our time and judged accordingly. As it is, the playboy world has merely capitalized on a pleasure-first philosophy rampant in our time and has contributed (albeit greatly) to a weakening of the status of married love and the marriage relationship.
The third major source of the present-day threat to marriage and to the accompanying Christian moral virtues is the so-called “New Morality,” popularized by such well-known churchmen as Bishop Robinson of England, Joseph Fletcher, Harvey Cox, the late James Pike, and others. This approach to morality is based for the most part on two fundamental convictions: first, that the proper action in any given set of circumstances is determined by the situation itself and not by any pre-determined norm of ethics, even biblical. And second, that the only absolute demand in the Christian scheme of things is love. Anything is right that does not hurt the other person. And whether it hurts him or her is a conclusion to be reached in the context of the situation. Hence, it is not necessarily wrong to commit adultery, according to these spokesmen, as long as the person committing it has the best interests of all of the involved parties at heart. It is the same with stealing, lying, lawlessness, dishonesty, and other things formerly thought to be vices.
One thing must be said for the new morality: It is opposed to legalism, and this is biblical. One whole book of the Bible is written to combat legalism, the book of Galatians. But this does not mean that anything goes in Christianity. And it does not mean, for the sake of that reason alone, that the new morality is right. The Christian is called to freedom by Christ, but it is a freedom to follow Christ. We are to be like Him as Christians, and it is He who taught not only that adultery is wrong, but even that the impure thoughts that precede it are wrong. In the same way, we are called to love. But the love to which we are called is Christ’s love, a love linked to knowledge, discipline, discernment, and discrimination.
There are several reasons why the new morality is inadequate even apart from Christ’s teachings. For one thing, it is impossible to define a situation, limited as we are by time and partial knowledge. A couple in the backseat of a car may decide that intercourse outside of marriage will not hurt them and that no one else need know. But they cannot be sure that it will not hurt them, and they cannot foresee the consequences. Many such persons are thereafter haunted by guilt, and thousands of children are without families today simply because some couple could not foresee the total situation as they gave vent to their feelings. Moreover, the new morality presupposes an ability to make a proper decision that sinful men simply do not have. Who is to determine whether adultery or sex before marriage can be beneficial to the parties concerned, or free of consequences? Certainly not the couple! They are the last ones capable of making the decision. And, of course, the full truth is that no one is capable of such decisions, for the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?
In spite of these criticisms, however, the new morality contributes to the ethical climate of our day and to a far larger degree reflects it. The cry, “If it feels good, do it,” has almost become the watchword of our age. Is this standard right? Is it time for such “freedom”? As Christians, we must say “No.” But at the same time we must acknowledge honestly, as C. S. Lewis has said, that the Christian standard “is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts” that obviously something is wrong both with us personally and with our society. In other words, we must acknowledge that we are all sinners, even after conversion, and we are not automatically free from, victorious over, or even innocent of the world’s perversion of sex because of it.1
Give examples that show our culture’s obsession with personal pleasure and personal fulfillment.
Define the “New Morality.” Why do you think churchmen supported it? What does their support indicate about their view of Scripture, their doctrine of creation and man, and their doctrine of God?
Reflection: Describe how the Church counters the world’s thinking on sexual matters. What does the Church promote, and what does it condemn? What programs or organizations does it support in both money and volunteer efforts? How does it mark itself out as a “city on a hill” in the realm of sexual ethics?
1C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 75.