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Sexuality, Desire & Cheap Fidelity

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Not too long ago, I made a comment on Facebook that sparked an interesting exchange.  I said:

“It seems naive to be continually baffled by the sexual activity of young, unmarried Christians when we live in a time when fidelity to Christ is little more than an encouraged ideal among other competing (and church-validated) commitments.”

Pastoring a church that is predominately made up of 20-something singles, the questions and challenges of sexuality are ever present.  While we are thankfully past (for the most part) the repressive sexual ethic of yesteryear, we are now faced with being in a culture where sex saturates everything.  Sex sells, after all.

I grew up in a Christian culture where maintaining ones virginity was the pinnacle of Christian virtue.  However, it seemed to be built more on a fear of the sin of premarital sex than on protecting the blessing of a union of two persons before God & community.  Yet for all the passion, conviction and (sometimes) fear tactics used in the church, the results have been less than encouraging.  Many unmarried Christians, including teens (and some pre-teens) are sexually active nonetheless.  And frankly, I don’t think we should be all that surprised.

Over the last few years of writing my book, I spent a lot of time in Bonhoeffer’s powerful book “Discipleship”.  One of the most well known parts of the book is his explanation of “cheap grace”:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

He contrasts it with “costly grace”:

“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “

In the same way as our are prone to cheapen grace, I cannot help but think we do the same thing with faithfulness.  Faithfulness has nuanced meaning.  To be faithful to God means, through devotion and affection, putting God and His ways first and foremost in our lives.  In another way, fidelity denotes the loyalty one has for a monarch or lord (known as fealty).  Or even further, it has come to be known as a commitment to sexual monogamy.

Jesus said that we can have only one Master- citing Mammon (or the love of money) as a prominent alternative.  God won’t share our faithfulness.  Sure, we accept this intellectually, but as we look at the church in the West (and in much of the world) it is hard to see that single-minded fidelity to Christ.  Jesus is forced to share us with careers, money, stuff, entertainment, even ministry.  Christendom has produced a people of God who willingly worship Him, but do very little to actually follow Him.  We are not faithful- not by the standards Jesus has set for us, at least.

Everything in our culture tells us to fulfill our desires.  Christians, at least, recognize that some desires are bad and should be resisted.  However, I wonder if we do not take it far enough.  Do we resist desires only when pursuing them results in negative outcomes?  Perhaps there is something to be gained, at times, to resist desire that may very well be good and right, but in the sacrifice we discover the better or the best.

We have become a people of cheap fidelity.  Cheap fidelity is taking the name of Christ as our identity without requiring the renunciation of self and selfish ends.  It is seeking full intimacy with minimal commitment.  Cheap fidelity is about negotiating terms with Jesus, as though we have anything at all to bring to the table.  It is an abuse of grace no better than seeking intimacy from a prostitute.  How can we expect people to treat sexuality with respect and reverence when so much else remains untouched by the cross of Christ?

That very cross calls us to costly fidelity.  Costly fidelity is a call to grace, to an undeserved relationship of complete intimacy with the truest of Lovers.  It is costly because that Lover asked for every part of our lives- mind, will and emotions, body and soul.  It is a grace because it is the only way- again, the undeserved means- of finding fullness of life.

I truly believe that, as we begin to understand the fundamental faithfulness that Christ calls us to- and that it is not primarily one of intellectual assent to a set of beliefs (as important as that is), but instead a shared life of reconciled relationship with God and others and Creation- we cannot expect to see any real degree of faithfulness in areas such as sexuality.

What does it mean to you to be faithful to God?  What does it mean to you to be faithful in your sexuality, whether you are single or married or otherwise?

10 Comments

  1. I was part of that thread and I was glad to see this in my reader. I am not sure that I have a comment yet but I am interested in being a part of this conversation with you… as well as in my own heart. I would also love to bring this up in community. Thank you for speaking about this.

  2. It is indeed an important topic. I brought it up in another Facebook group and within an hour or so, we have over 60 comments. Long overdue, I think. Thanks!

  3. As a member of the 20-something generation you speak of, I resonate deeply with this post. The more I pursue the call of Christ on my life, the more I realize the cost of that call. I am grateful that you brought the conversation deeper than simply “sex-before-marriage,” because our unfaithfulness reflects a more fundamental fear of the cross. I am finding that I can only choose to die to myself fully as I choose also to long for, and believe in, resurrection. I wonder what my generation would look like if we pursued the kind of costly fidelity that killed Jesus, but also raised him from the dead. I wonder how that would affect our sexuality (or our career choices, our marriage vows, our morality … the list goes on).

  4. Thanks Kristen. Your sentence, “I wonder what my generation would look like if we pursued the kind of costly fidelity that killed Jesus, but also raised him from the dead” nails it!

  5. I am 54 – so very much out of the age group. However, I did come of age with some major influences – true sexual dysfunction and abuse in my own home when I was a kid and the sexual revolution in the world around me.

    As a minister of the church today I have a hard time articulating what I believe now – not that I don’t believe it;I lack the language. One issue for me is that when I bring things like this up, it tends to fall flat into some linear conversation about how old fashioned the church and “what is the big deal?” (If there is one sentence used and used again by an abuser, it would be “what is the big deal?)

    However, your point refocuses the conversation where it needs to be refocused, in and through Christ. I have a lot more pondering on this and I am grateful for the prompts from the Spirit through you to consider all of this and a safe place in which to discuss it.

  6. I realize that in all my pondering, I have not really answered the question… still looking for the words for that too.

    Thank you Kristen for your perspective.

  7. Fran Rossi, I think the “What’s the big deal?” question is central. We need to give people a vision of a life with Christ, something that will draw them into that kingdom life with a willingness to sacrifice desire for the greater good.

  8. Adrianna Wright

    You can please write your next book on this topic, okay? :)

  9. Adrianna, you have a gift for knowing what works, so maybe!

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