Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
After a term-long focus on how to follow Jesus in our hyper-sexualised age, it seemed right to dive into what Scripture says about what it means to be sexual beings. So we’ve asked Dr Andrew Goddard – an assistant minister, ethics lecturer, researcher, and consultant for the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project – to help us do just that. Over these four weeks, he reflects on the living Word and what it looks like to live it out on our frontlines.
The church has often got things wrong when it comes to questions of sex and marriage. Too often it has tied these aspects of our humanity too closely to sin and the Fall rather than seeing them among God’s good gifts in creation.
But today, in learning from these mistakes, we risk over-reacting and falling into an opposite error. We increasingly believe that what we describe as our ‘sexuality’ is a core part of our personal identity, our essential human nature. Any questioning of it, any attempt to restrict its expression more narrowly than the boundary of mutual consent, is therefore often seen as a denial of our human dignity.
This approach in part responds to Christian failures, past and present, especially in our treatment of sexual minorities. One way we do this is to read Romans 1 primarily in terms of ‘homosexuality’. Paul’s argument is much more radical and extensive!
Paul here is not simply giving an account of some people’s personal biographies as they move from idolatry to sexual immorality. His concern is, as Richard Hays puts it in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, not so much a ‘denunciation of selected vices’ but ‘a diagnosis of the human condition’.
Paul is retelling the story of humanity in Genesis 1–3 and echoes many of the words found there. Although he later relates this to patterns of same-sex sexual desire and behaviour, in verse 24 the problem is much wider. The sexual impurity and degrading of our bodies to which God ‘gives us over’ is much more often ‘straight’ than ‘gay’ in human experience.
And the problem is also deeper. As Jesus also pointed out in his warning in the Sermon on the Mount – the root lies in our heart and its sinful desires. This is true of all of us – sin impacts every area of our lives (as the long list in Romans 1:29–31 shows), and every person’s sexuality is disordered.
Every Christian therefore has to learn the discipline of self-control in relation to our bodies and our sexual desires if we are to be sanctified. And we need to recognise that all of us fall short. The good news for us and for the world is that, like King David, whenever we do fail, we can ask God to ‘create in me a pure heart’ and know his forgiveness and a fresh start.
Dr Andrew Goddard
Andrew is Assistant Minister at St James the Less, Pimlico and teaches Christian ethics at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and Westminster Theological Centre.
What patterns of desire, good and bad, do you see expressed and encouraged in our culture and on your frontline? How would God have you respond? Join the conversation in the comments below.