Does our faith determine our sexual behavior, or does our sexual behavior determine our faith? In his book, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus conveys his concern that what ruined Solomon later in his life—sexual relationships with idolatrous, foreign women—is now observed in the church. Faith is eroded as one engages in sexual behaviors that God reveals as hurtful and sinful. Regnerus makes the claim that atheistic science is not killing the faith in young people, but sex outside marriage is. It deadens the religious impulse.1
Though young people are looking for companionship and love, when sex comes before marriage, it can adversely affect one's desire to follow Christ. John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris, in an article in Breakpoint, comment on Regnerus's insights: "Of Americans who regularly attend religious services, 23 percent say they're unsure whether living together outside of marriage is immoral; 21 percent say they don't know what they think of no-strings attached sex. One in four aren't willing to condemn pornography."2 In fact, that last trend is especially severe.
According to Yale sociologist Justin Farrell, "evangelicals under thirty are consistently more permissive of pornography than their parents were." Regnerus found that 90 percent of American young people are engaged in sex. How many of them who claim to follow Christ is unknown, but church attendance is dropping off because there is a correlation between sex and faith.
When a person commits adultery, the unfaithful partner says during the affair, "I no longer believe in God." This is a standard line I hear repeatedly. When believers engage in sexual sin, they stop believing (so they say).
How would you answer this question? Is it the lack of faith that causes sex outside of marriage, or sex outside of marriage that causes the lack of faith? Most believers know what the Bible teaches on sex and when their behavior doesn't align with the teaching, they stop going to church. They do not move toward the Light. More than we have probably considered, sex leads to a loss of faith.
But what about those who attend church and seek counsel on determining God's will for their life, all the while being sexually active outside of the bonds of marriage?
Because I was a pastor in a college town, many dating couples would come in for counseling. They were trying to decide whether or not God was leading them to marry. "Pastor, we really want to know if this relationship is God's will for us. We are really praying about this and want your counsel." I asked, "Do you really want to know God's will for your relationship?" "Yes, of course, that's why we're here."
As I listened to them tell their story, in the course of the conversation it surfaced that they were living together and sexually active. I then said: "Let me see if I have this straight. You are here today because you want to know God's will for your relationship. Is that right?" "Yes," they agree. I continue, "Yet, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, 'For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.' You are not married yet you are having sex. Did you know that God has already revealed His will to you for your relationship, but you are disobeying this will?"
At this point, the couple usually looks at each other, wide-eyed and a little sheepish. I'd continue, "Do you realize that God is not going to reveal His unique will to you on marriage until you obey His universal will on abstaining from sexual immorality? Why? Because if you are disobeying this clear command, guess what? You won't obey if God tells you to end the relationship contrary to your wishes. You are demonstrating that you have no intention to follow God's will when that will counter your desires. Does this question sound too harsh? Please see me as your older brother who cares about you."
Now you can hear a pin drop in the room. "I wonder," I would add in a respectful tone, "if you really do want God's will for your relationship since He has already told you His will, and you have chosen something else? It appears that you are interested in what you want, not what God wants. You are reversing the prayer of Jesus: 'Not Your will be done, but our will be done.' Am I wrong?"
Anyone who has been in love can sympathize with this couple. So why would God ask us to do something that is so hard and feels so unnatural? If God "knows our frame" and understands what we are made of, why would He call us to do something that competes against all the desires He has given us? Have you ever heard a parent say, "Because I said so"? I suppose we could begin and end this chapter the way some parents answer similar "why questions" their kids ask. We could simply say, "God says so, so obey." When parents say this, they often hope to protect their kids from ideas they could not possibly understand. Perhaps our heavenly Father is doing the same for us.
Paul uses the word mystery when referring to the union of a man and a woman and Christ and the church. And, he reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV), that there are many things we now see as "only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." Perhaps the integral role of our spirituality and sexuality is one of them. We live in a culture currently experimenting with and expecting sex outside of marriage, and the fallout is becoming clearer over time.
Excerpted with permission from The 4 Wills of God by Emerson Eggerichs. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.
1. Mark Regnerus, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 187
2. John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris, "Only in the Lord: Dating Unbelievers Deadens Faith," Breakpoint (9/13/17)
Dr. James Dobson interviews Emerson Eggerichs on the daily broadcast.
On Day 1 of the two-part broadcast, Dr. Eggerichs discusses his book and ministry, Love and Respect, and analyzes how couples can grow their relationship through these traits.
Then on Day 2, Dr. Eggerichs explains how believing in God, giving thanks, and fleeing sexual sin, allows us to understand God’s plans for our lives.