3 Common Flaws in Christian Sex Education (and how PLUM is different)

3 Common Flaws of Christian Sex-Ed

When I identified the four purposes of sex in the Bible, I did not set out to use it for ministry purposes. My discovery of PLUM came about my own desire to resolve marital issues that my wife and I were having in our first year of marriage. We were quickly discontented with the advice we were reading from many Christian authors on the topics of sex and marriage, because we felt like their advices were really just self-help methods disguised with a bunch of Bible verses taken out of context. After taking the time to really organize PLUM into writing and going into a deeper study of all of it while I was in seminary finishing my Masters in Divinity, it occurred to me that it seemed like an effective way to teach on the topic of sex in the youth ministry.

I have been involved in serving in youth ministry since I was 18 years old (I am 37 now), and I have experimented with using a lot of different Christian sex-ed curriculums. What I came to find was that they were all very similar to the sex and marriage books that my wife had issues with during our first year of marriage. What’s more, is that they all seemed to have the same general message and material but heavily relied upon a catchy title or eye-catching graphic designs to sell the message.

Here are the 3 most common flaws that I have seen and still see in much of the Christian sex-education material available to youth ministries and married couples.

1. They neglect laying the foundation of the Gospel

The pursuit of sexual purity means absolutely nothing to God if a person is not first saved by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Why? Because if a person is still dead in their sins then nothing they do can possibly please God (John 15:5). That person will simply be trying to offer God a spiritual offering with sin-stained hands as their life is still being lived in rebellion towards God.

Much of the Christian sex-ed and Christian purity speakers focus so much on what it means to be “sexually pure” that many times they assume the audience has an understanding of the Gospel message. The Gospel says, “no one is pure, therefore, only Christ can make us pure”. The reason this is so significant to remember is because many sexual purity messages will essentially say “you can be sexually pure if you do the right things and stay away from the bad things”. THIS IS FALSE! There is no one who is sexually pure on their wedding night because Jesus’ definition of adultery puts it pretty plainly that that if a person looks at another lustfully, they have already committed adultery with them in their heart.

An understanding of the Gospel and salvation is also necessary when people sin, not if they sin sexually, but when. Think about it this way, when purity talks put a huge emphasis on the importance of abstaining from sex until marriage and goes through all the statistics of what happens to those who make certain decisions sexually (premarital sex, teen pregnancy, teen dating, cohabitation, pornography etc), it inevitably puts a heavy burden on those who will struggle with those issues.

Imagine a young girl who hears of all the horrors and potential consequences she would face if she were to become pregnant. She manages to do really well at abstaining from sex and pursuing healthy relationships. Until one day, she meets a guy that she ends up having sex with and unexpectedly becomes pregnant. This girl will likely be so demoralized because she had done such a good job of being “sexually pure” and now she feels as if her future is doomed because of this pregnancy.

If this girl does not understand the Gospel, then she won’t understand how God’s grace is able to redeem sinners and conform them to the image of His Son. People who fall into sin and temptation need to know the hope that is through faith in Christ alone. No one can be pure by their own grit and determination, but only by the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ can they be made pure from their sinful state.

The vast majority of purity talks and Christian sex-education teach a very dangerous message about sexual purity when they do not build upon the foundation of the Gospel. Not only does it teach a message of condemnation for those who cannot live up to the moral standard, but it also encourages boasting for those who manage to do the good works that these teachings tell them to do. Without the foundation of the Gospel, a person cannot know the redemptive work that God does in every person that believes in Jesus Christ, and that no one is beyond hope of experience the full joy of being a child of God. God is faithful to complete the work He began in every one of his children.

2. Teaching moralism, not the Gospel

Without the foundation of the Gospel, there is another major issue: without the foundation of the Gospel, people tend to choose to do the “right” thing so that God will reward them for their goodness. For example, two young people might make a commitment to remain virgins until marriage because they heard that it will result in a greater satisfaction in their sexual relationship all because they chose to wait. It is often compared to analogies that have to do with the general principle that the greatest gifts are most enjoyed when waited upon. Although this could very well be true, their own sexual satisfaction should not be the primary reason they choose to wait until marriage to have sex. The primary reason for abstaining from sex until marriage is because the sexual relationship between a man and woman is to represent the relationship between Christ and the Church. If two people have sex without already having made the commitment of being married, then they are making a mockery of the relationship by misrepresenting the eternal union between Christ and the Church.

Christians should make their decisions based upon God’s holiness, not their own happiness. So many times Christians tend to make decisions based on what will make them happier. Their logic will tell them that whatever makes them happier must be from God, therefore, it is better to do what makes them happier. However, God calls us to a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a child of God. We are to love what He loves and hate what He hates. God disciplines us in His love by convicting us of our sin, and guides us into righteousness.

For Christian sex-education, it is very easy to fall into the trap using a lot of very convincing statistics and personal testimonies to try to convince people as to why they should choose to live according to God’s Word. However, if people make decisions based upon scare tactics and incentives, they will not understand what it means to be obedient to the God who loves them for the sole reason that they love Him in return. When people make decisions based on statistics, testimonies, and incentives; they will also be able to justify why they choose to make other decisions when it is convenient for them. For example, when parents talk to their teenager about the importance of abstaining from sex until marriage, it is a common story for the teenager to reply, “But you two had sex before you got married and you turned out just fine!”

Do you see what happens when we do not base our decisions upon God’s holiness? It is easy for anyone to justify why their situation is different than what the statistics might say, or what other people have experienced, or why the incentives do not necessarily go away just because they make a different decision.

When Christian marriage books tell husbands, “Do for your wives, and you will likely get in return”, it is another form of trying to get husbands to do the right thing for the sole purpose that they will get something in return that will make them happy. God’s love for us is in such a way that we do not get rewarded with eternal life because we do the right things. God’s incentive for the Israelites to remain obedient to Him was that they would get kicked out of the land and be punished. By God’s grace, He brought them out of Egypt and freed them of slavery. He fulfilled His promise of bringing them to the land flowing with milk and honey. God wants His people to understand that all our loving deeds towards Him are merely a response to His love that was first shown to us. We are not to act in obedience to God so that we might receive more from Him, but we are to act in obedience to God because we deserve much less, that is eternal punishment for our sins.

Displays of love in a marriage is to be with the same heart as our display of love towards God. Spouses are not to act lovingly toward their spouse so that they might receive more, but they are to act lovingly towards their spouse because they love God, and they understand what great love they have already received from Him.

Mere moralism often leads to the justification of sin and an attitude of self-righteousness. If the Gospel is not taught, then people will have no understanding what it means to be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, not of works so that no one can boast.

3. Advice that is not consistent with Scripture and only applies to a particular cultural context

One of the most common questions dealt with in regards to Christian dating is, “How far is too far?” Christians genuinely want to know what kind of displays of affection are not crossing the boundary of what qualifies as sexual sin in God’s eyes. Many will say things like, “this is the wrong question to ask, the better question is ‘what can I do to help someone else to be faithful?’” This question has all kinds of answers that are not biblical, such as:

“God wants to protect you from painful experiences”

“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your grandma”

“Don’t kiss on the lips (but cheeks are okay?)”

“No touching areas that are normally covered by clothes”

“Don’t do anything that would prevent you from shaking your boyfriend/girlfriend’s future spouse with honor”

Although these pieces of advice are said with good intentions. None of them are based on Scripture! Jesus answered very clearly the question “how far is too far?” when He said that just looking at a person lustfully is committing adultery in the heart. In other words, just looking lustfully is going too far!

This reality should help us realize just how often we all fall short of the glory of God. Even though it is important to have healthy boundaries in dating that help us pursue sexual purity. We must not let those self-imposed boundaries deceive us into believing those boundaries are keeping us sexually pure. Every person will have committed adultery in their heart by the time they get married, and that fact should remind us what it means to be completely reliant upon Christ for eternal life and making us pure before God.

Other words of advice that are given that are not consistent with Scripture are things like:

“Don’t get married until you are financially stable”

“Don’t have kids until you and your spouse have travelled or have fully enjoyed sex before the ‘kids stage’”

These are other pieces of advice that are not based upon the Word of God and His purposes for sex, but are based upon conventional wisdom.

One of the beautiful things about God’s purposes for sex, is that they guide Christians towards sexual purity regardless of what the cultural context is. Regardless of the culture, the four purposes of sex do not change, and the aspects of God’s holiness in which they reflect do not change. No matter the culture, the pleasure in sex is to reflect the mutual pleasure that God has with His people. The love in sex is to reflect the love of God. The unity in sex is to reflect the eternal-unbreakable bond between God and His people (Christ and the Church). The multiplying purpose of sex is to reflect God’s desire to grow His kingdom. How Christians are to enjoy the sexual relationship between husband and wife should look the same, theologically, all around the world.

This is why advice like, “don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your grandma” is dangerous. Because it is assuming a person’s moral standard in relation to what is permissible in front of their grandma, and not based upon God’s holy standard of living.

These 3 common flaws in Christian sex education can be easily remedied when we simply look at God’s four purposes for sex and what they are to represent. Understanding sex in this way points us back to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, and just as God gave us the Law so that we would become aware of our sinfulness, it is very similar in how the four purposes of sex reveal to us just how easy it is to misuse such a precious creation and gift from God in a way that does not properly reflect His holy image. Thankfully, through faith in Christ, all the ways we fall short of God’s glory are forgiven because we are utterly dependent upon the righteousness of Christ to be imputed upon our unrighteous selves so that when we appear before God’s judgment throne, He will see us as justified in His sight because of the blood of Christ that atoned for our sins.

No one is sexually pure, no not one, but God is rich in mercy and makes us pure through Christ!

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