Survey Says or God Says?

September 21, 2017

A recent survey involving 2000 respondents in the U.S. and Europe studied their experiences and feelings about the number of sexual partners. A part of me hates polls. Their validity depends a great deal on getting the proper sample and not having people refuse to take the poll. Further, I’m concerned that polls are used to shape opinion as much as discover it. But with those caveats in mind, what did the researchers find.

  • At what number of sexual partners do you think a person becomes too promiscuous? Females: 15.2, Males: 14
  • What do you think is the ideal number of sexual partners for a person to have in their lifetime? Females 7.5, Males 7.6
  • At what number of sexual partners do you think a person is too sexually conservative? Females 1.9, Males 2.3
  • With how many partners have you engaged in sexual intercourse over your lifetime? Females: 7, Males 6.4

Of course, you may be wondering whether respondents are telling the truth. That question was also a part of the poll. Males said they had not lied about the number of partners 58.6% of the time, and females 67.4%. If we assume that the respondents are reasonably telling the truth, we see that people are basically saying their own behavior is close to ideal.

G.K. Beale makes a great observation about our society, “Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange.”* The above survey is telling us that it is normal to have multiple sexual partners and strange to limit sex to the marriage relationship between one man and one woman. But for the Christian it should never be about what the world views as normal but what God views as moral.

Paul wrote to a basically Gentile audience in 1 Thessalonians. These new Christians came out of a culture not unlike our own. What does Paul tell them?

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV

God defines what is sexual immorality. He defines it in scripture as sex outside the marriage relationship of one man and one woman. Paul encourages them to abstain from the world’s passions and live lives of holiness. He warns them that God is an avenger against immoral behavior. He reminds them that to ignore this teaching is not to ignore human teachers but God himself. So, what will it be: survey says or God says?

*G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship, p. 300.

The Personal Answer

May 26, 2010

Have you ever been with a friend just talking? Maybe it is conversation over a cup of coffee. You discuss all the world’s problems. You and your friend exchange theories. It is lively and entertaining conversation, and in the end you part ways, and maybe one of you says, “We’ve solved all the world’s problems.” Such conversations are long on talk and short on deeds.

Jesus had set his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Luke clearly lets us know the journey is “for him to be taken up.” Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are ahead even if the disciples failed to grasp it. Jesus predicts, but they dimly understand.

In the midst of this journey, someone says to Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few” (Luke 13:23)? I can imagine in a tedious, walking journey that conversation on an interesting topic would be welcome. Who better to engage in conversation or teaching than Jesus? And it is such a wonderful theoretical question. It could have led to lively conversation. It could have been bandied about, and in the end, someone could say, “We’ve solved all the world’s problems.”

Jesus’ answer is direct: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24, ESV). Jesus immediately brings the question down to the level of personal responsibility and not just abstract speculation.

Jesus uses an uncomfortable word – strive. The word means to do something with great intensity and effort. It was a word used of athletic contests as well as fights with weapons. Someone might ask, “If I can’t merit salvation, what’s all this talk about ‘striving’?”  We must strive to understand the message. We must strive to discern truth from error in a world with multiple messages. We must strive to respond to the message. “Striving” in this sense is certainly necessary, but it is not meritorious. It is the response to what God has given and done for us.

Jesus gives us another uncomfortable truth. We must seek a narrow door. Our culture wants many paths all leading to a good place. All spiritual truths are to be regarded as equally valid. Jesus will have none of this. There is an absolute truth, and a necessary way.

Jesus also lets us know that the clock is ticking: “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from’” (Luke 13:25, ESV). There is a deadline. The deadline means our opportunity to enter is limited.

I enjoy theoretical conversations. They don’t make much in the way of demands. Jesus reminds us that some issues cannot remain theoretical. We must give a personal answer.

The Burden and the Blessing

February 17, 2009

Blaming others for our own sins goes back to the very first sin. Adam blamed his wife (and possibly God for giving her to him), and Eve blamed the serpent (Genesis 3:12-13). By the way, their excuses didn’t work on God, which may be cautionary to us as well. Both were responsible for their own sins.

Sophisticated blaming today may include pop psychology: if I have unconscious motives for my behavior, I must not be responsible for it. (Of course, we will take the credit for praiseworthy behavior, even if it does have unconscious motives.) Theodore Dalrymple, a British prison doctor and psychiatrist, provides an insightful dialogue.

Another burglar demanded to know from me why he repeatedly broke into houses and stole VCRs. He asked the question aggressively, as if “the system” had so far let him down in not supplying him with the answer; as if it were my duty as a doctor to provide him with the buried psychological secret that, once revealed, would in and of itself lead him unfailingly on the path of virtue. Until then he would continue to break into houses and steal VCRs (when at liberty to do so), and the blame would be mine.

When I refused to examine his past, he exclaimed, “But something must make me do it!”

“How about greed, laziness, and a thirst for excitement?” I suggested. “What about my childhood?” he asked.

“Nothing to do with it,” I replied firmly.

He looked at me as if I had assaulted him. Actually, I thought the matter more complex than I was admitting, but I did not want him to misunderstand my main message: that he was the author of his own deeds.*

Accepting moral responsibility is a burden. We easily shy away from it. It’s difficult to say, “I have sinned. I am guilty. I am responsible.” We seem to have an almost infinite capacity of finding excuses for ourselves. Yet excuses only lock us into our patterns of destructive behavior and the painful consequences that attend them. Will Dalrymple’s prisoner make progress if he continues to view his behavior as governed by unknown motives beyond his control? Or, could change occur once responsibility is acknowledged? If he once acknowledges the bad choices, can he begin to see the good choices that need to be made?

I am grateful for God’s forgiveness and the Holy Spirit’s sanctification. I can’t transform my life without His help. But no progress is made until I accept moral responsibility. Confession and repentance liberate us from patterns of bad behavior. Accepting moral responsibility is a burden, but it also a blessing. It leads to change.

*Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom, pp. 7-8