Guest blog: How far is too far?
“How far is too far?” I’ve been asked this question by college students more times than I can remember. “We know that premarital sex is wrong…but how do we know where to draw the line?”
Theology helps us answer questions that the Bible may not directly address in twenty-first century terms. It also helps us to put contemporary questions into a biblical framework so that we may live more faithfully in the present. One example is in the area of our sexuality. While the Scripture certainly presents us with “do’s” and “don’ts” on this subject, it seems we often start with the wrong questions. We pose the question only in terms of a moral code (or, even more reductionistically, simply in terms of the consequences) without addressing the deeper theology that underlies such practice. We address the “What should I do/not do?” instead of the “Why should I do/ not do it?”
Young people in the church know the answer to the first question: “Don’t have sex before marriage.” They may even be able to cite chapter-verse on the subject. Yet they rarely view their sexuality through God’s eyes. They have a deficient theology of their bodies that disconnects the physical from the spiritual, which makes them easy prey for worldly messages like “it’s just sex.” They often have a deficient theology of marriage. And they aren’t exactly sure what they should be pursuing in place of this unrestrained freedom of physical expression that the world tells them is their “right.” In the moment of temptation, prohibitions only go so far (think Eve!).
Students are initially frustrated when I don’t offer a definitive answer to their question. They want me to just tell them where the ‘line’ is. Why? So they can come as close as possible to it without crossing over into “sin.” It’s not that there aren’t lines, of course, but the avoidance of sin and the pursuit of holiness go far deeper than such ‘lines.’ I want them to build a theology from Scripture to answer these practical questions—a theology that forms them and cultivates an internal obedience rooted in loyal love for God and sacrificial love for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Helping them answer the question “Why is this such a big deal to God?” tends to resolve many of their secondary questions. Here are some starting points:
- What does God have to say about my body? Does my body matter to God? How do my physical choices impact my spiritual relationship with God, and what does it mean that I am “united with Christ”?
- How does my identity in Christ supersede my sexual identity? (See Christopher Yuan’s book Out of a Far Country)
- What does God have to say about my “rights”? What about my “rights” in relationship to others? Am I “defrauding” (1 Thess. 4:6) a brother or sister in Christ by selfishly taking something that does not yet belong to me?
- What does it mean to be “holy” in my sexuality—that is, set apart from sin and the world and set apart to the Lord as his very own possession, as the spotless bride of Christ?
- What is a biblical theology of marriage? What is the purpose of sex as it relates to marriage? Here’s a clue: It’s not ultimately about us…it’s about God.
- How are my physical practices forming me to think about the nature of sex and the purpose of marriage? And how are they forming me/us as a future husband or wife? (see Lauren Winner’s book Real Sex)
Laurie Norris presently serves as Special Instructor of Pastoral Studies at Moody Bible Institute. She earned her ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary in New Testament and Systematic Theology, and her PhD in Biblical Theology-New Testament from Wheaton College. Laurie grew up in the beautiful Northwest and currently resides with her husband in the suburbs of Chicago. In her spare time she enjoys nature, long walks, coffee shops, and rich conversation. She is passionate about ministry to college students through teaching, mentoring, and spiritual formation, as well as intersecting biblical-theological studies with the life and mission of the church.