To live a Christian life today, we need to have a deep understanding of the dynamics that underlie both the Bible, and contemporary Western society. We need to be simultaneously deeply “theological” and “sociological”. Only then will we truly understand how, and why, the Christian way of life is truly good, yet is seen as evil – as “heretical” — in this world. And only then will we truly be motivated to live the Christian way, not out of fear, or guilt, or pride, but out of love, confidence, and joy – a love for God and neighbour; a confidence that the Godly way of life is good and healthy; and a joy which flows from that confidence.
One key issue is the assumptions that underlie self-definition. By this, I mean not just the question ‘who am I?’, but rather the question that precedes that question – the meta-question of ‘how do I know who I am? Who, or what, defines me? Where do I look for this self-definition?‘ Answers to this meta-question will heavily influence, if not determine, the answer to the actual question ‘who am I?‘.
The Bible makes the amazing claim that we actually do not have the right to do what we please with our bodies. Instead God, in Christ, and by his Spirit, claims the right to tell us what to do with our bodies. And he claims that this external, divine, definition is both good and healthy (Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 6:19-20). Jesus is the ultimate example of this external self-definition. His food was to obey his Father (John 4:34). He did not come to do his own will but the will of the Father ( John 6:38). The Father prepared Jesus’ body to do his (the Father’s) will – (Hebrews 10:5-7, cf. Isaiah 53:10). The Bible assumes that heteronomy – other-law – is good. It assumes that it is effectively good and healthy for a human being to obey someone else – namely God.
Yet the notion of ourselves being defined by another is an “evil” “heresy” today. Contemporary Western culture “sanctifies” autonomy – self-law. We worship our self; we treat our self – self-assertion, self-direction, self-satisfaction – as “holy”. Therefore, we must be permitted to do whatever we want, especially with our bodies – and super especially with sexual self-satisfaction. Anyone who tries to assert their will over my body and my sexual preferences is an evil bigot, and must be punished. So if God claims to tell me what to do with my sexual body, he is an evil bigot, and must be punished. If Jesus allowed his God to define him, then Jesus is pathetic, a self-hater – he should be mocked and pitied, not worshipped. And if Christians claim to speak for this God, they are evil bigots, and must be punished. Contemporary Western society does not even want to recognise that heteronomy exists – each time I type the word, I get that red squiggly line that indicates a misspelling, and Google dictionary wants to change heteronomy to chronometer…
Only when we recognise this deep conflict in presuppositions concerning the nature of reality will we understand why people “blank out” as we try to explain the gospel to them. What do you mean that Jesus died as a sacrifice for my sin? What right does God have to be angry at my sin? What right has God to tell me what to do? If God exists, its their (whether it’s a he, her or, it) job is to affirm my preferences. Any “god” which states to contrary can go to hell.McCrindle Research and Karl Faase call this sort of thing belief blockers. Tim Keller calls them defeater beliefs.
Yet, this is the only way we will sufficiently equip people – especially, but not uniquely, young people – to withstand the effects of socialisation which subtly undermine Biblical, Christian beliefs. No-one wants to be “shamed” as either a bigot or a something-phobe. In fact, it truly is ungodly to be motivated by fear. Christians should be motivated by love, not fear (1 John 4:18).
Well then, I have heard argued, “real” Christians should affirm people’s sexual inclinations, because that’s “true love”. Isn’t it?
To which I respond that it’s only “loving” if we think it is “good” to ignore God’s directions for healthy life – his “law”, the nomos of heteronomy – and affirm our every internal desireOn which, see Romans 1:24; 6:12; 8:5; 13:14; Gal 5:16-17; 1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:11-12; James 1:13-15..
Contemporary Western society says “if it feels good, do it“. Our desires are “holy”. The Bible does not say “if it feels good, always avoid it“. It does say “just because it feels good, doesn’t always make it right“. We need to stop and think: is this actually good for me, according to what the Bible says about healthy life as someone who belongs to Christ by the Holy Spirit?
Finally, only if we go deep into this – into both contemporary assumptions concerning “self” and “identity”, and into the Biblical picture of Jesus in his obedience as well as his sacrifice for our sins – will we sufficiently give people confidence that God’s way of living sexually is not just right but good, not just “holy” but joyful. We must not be satisfied with a superficial, moralistic, response like “good Christians don’t have sex until they’re married to someone of the opposite sex“. That’s true – but not sufficient. We must give them a deep, full, picture of Jesus – the single, virgin, saviour, whom we worship as God incarnate – in his confident, joyful, obedience to God. Otherwise, they’ll wind up being depressed, because they’re “missing out” on all the “fun”, or self-righteous because they’re the “good little Christians”, not like those “sinners” out there. (Hm, now who does that remind us of? (Hint: Luke 18:11)))
To live a Christian life today, we must have a deep understanding of the dynamics that underlie both the Bible, and contemporary Western society. We need to understand that the “good life” according to the Bible is exactly the opposite – “heretical” even – to what contemporary Western society presumes the “good life” to be. Only with this deep understanding will we be able to not only stand by the truth, but to do so in love. We yearn for everyone to enjoy the “good life” in Christ – both now, and for eternity – because we are confident that the Biblical, Christian way of life is, contrary to contemporary prejudices, actually good and healthy for everyone.
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