In a nutshell, what went from fuzzy black and white to vivid HD was simply this: Sex has always been the cultural “hotbed” issue, and it is in relation to that singular issue that we are most distinguished — marked out — in our culture as followers of Jesus. Truly, the core, cultural issue that most definitively draws a line in the sand and shows how God’s people are different than the pagans of the culture is sex.
Notice I said “cultural” issue. I use that specific word because sexual purity isn’t the sole distinguishing mark of believers. Doctrinally, the core distinguishing mark is what we believe about Jesus, namely, his deity. His full God-ness is non-negotiable and must be embraced if one is to follow as a Christian. But what we believe and how we behave in regards to sex is the distinguishing difference most obvious to the culture in which we live and with whom we interact. Consequently, sexual purity stands out as the paramount cultural issue which, when we think and act biblically, blatantly paints us with the colors of the cross.
Furthermore, I maintain this has historically been the case with God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, God called Israel to a different lifestyle than the pagan nations, especially sexually. He consistently called them to physical and spiritual purity, a trait distinctly different than their neighboring nations.
In the New Testament, this theme continued. As God saved Jews and Gentiles alike, the resultant expectation was simple: Don’t act like the pagans around you. And in the large percentage of passages where this call is trumpeted, sexual conduct is one of the main ways listed.
In fact, in digging deeper about this, I discovered that, with the exception of four letters (1 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude), sexual purity is addressed in every single book of the New Testament after Acts. That’s 18 out of the final 22 books in the New Testament. And every post-Acts author but one! What does that mean? That as the apostles began to teach the early church, whose beginning is described in Acts and whose founder is discussed in the Gospels, they knew the importance of sexual purity! I am convinced they knew it would be the primary cultural distinguishing mark for those God was calling out of the pagan culture into the family of Christ.
Yes, cultures like the one in Rome. Or Antioch. And Ephesus. For sure Corinth. All these were idolatrous and immoral societies in which God mercifully and sovereignly saved people, people he expected, after being regenerated, to be in that very culture while not being of it. And this difference was no doubt spotlighted most intensely when the subject pertained to sexual matters. See? We’re not the first with the expectation of distinctiveness in the arena of sex.
This is comforting. Stabilizing. Reassuring. Why? It’s simple — those before us have left us good footprints! Century after century, from when God began calling out a people to himself, these followers have stood against the drowning flood of a relativistic culture or the deafening voice of a society that screamed for no absolutes, especially in regards to sexuality. In each time God sustained his people to be excatly what he called them to be — a peculiar people. Set apart. Different. No doubt they were. No doubt we are. And will continue to be. Yes, even when it comes to sex.
You see, sometimes we mistakenly (albeit probably subconsciously) think we’re the first dealing with so many sexual issues in our culture; that we’re the first to wrestle with purity in an age of decadence; that no one before us has grappled with calling people to God’s standards amidst other false voices, especially when those competing voices hijack certain biblical texts or engage in literary malpractice to affirm same-sex and not-the-same sex depravity. If we’re not careful, our vision can get blurry, our knees weak, and perspective skewed; we falsely think we’re the first rowers having to navigate the ship in these troubled waters.
But we’re not. Frankly, we’re in a long line of many who have maintained their Christian and cultural distinctiveness as a Jesus-follower/God-obeyer precisely because of their willingness to be different in the area where it is highly visible — sexual purity! It is this steadfastness to Christ’s call, not the culture’s cravings, that actually marks us out. Anything less would blend too easily. Too deathly. For surely, when the church isn’t willing to be distinguished from the culture, it will inevitably be extinguished by the culture.
So before you “cave” on your sexual stances because of pressure … before you adjust your views on marriage out of “tolerance” … before you acquiesce out of the fear of being marginalized, think twice. Even three times. Then pray. Smile. Pray more. And stand boldly and politely. Don’t hide or run from what may very well be the clearest distinguishing mark you wear in the culture. For camouflaging your sexual beliefs and behavior so you seem to “fit” culturally may actually reveal you don’t fit spiritually, a condition the fate of which is far worse than anything a society may do to you (Matthew 10:28).
Next up? 4 ways to live out this most distinguishing mark.