Marinate Blog Summer Study: Week 4

(Note:  If you are viewing this as an email, you need to click on the title above to view the video from the website.)

This is officially my favorite one. Romans 6 . . . oh how wonderful!

Does any particular truth stand out to you as you watch and “marinate”? I sure would love to hear about it!

Why are so many Christian women reading THAT book?

A week or so ago, I had never heard of the book Fifty Shades of Grey. (No, I don’t live under a rock.)  Then, this article by Dana Gresh showed up in my newsfeed. A few days later, this article by Mary Kassian popped up. Now, I see the book everywhere. In fact, my husband and I just went on a little trip to Boston and on the plane ride there and back, I was seated next to women devouring the thing.

It doesn’t surprise me that women in general love the series. For decades women have been devouring steamy romance novels that have little true literary value, but serve to stimulate erotic fantasies and provide a certain amount of sexual pleasure. Wrap all that pleasure in a dramatic, intriguing “love” story, and what’s not to like? Why would a person without the Spirit of God care to avoid such an easy, sexually stimulating, and entertaining means of escaping her reality once in a while?

It also doesn’t surprise me that Christian women are tempted to dive into the books. I have not and will not read a single word of them, but I have to admit, the blog posts I read a week or so ago sparked my curiosity. The books sound really interesting. And I’m willing to be honest and say that there’s a little part of me that finds sexually questionable material appealing. It’s the same part of me that gets hooked on the trashy TV show from time to time, has me reaching for the copy of Cosmo at the hair salon, and pushes the “select” button for an On Demand movie that I well know a passionate follower of Jesus shouldn’t watch. I know for a fact I am just as capable of getting sucked into the Fifty Shades of Grey hype as any other girl. The temptation to dabble in such blatantly sin-exalting media is real. By God’s grace, I choose to flee (1 Cor. 6:18) and to pursue a “not even a hint” kind of life (Eph. 5:3). But only by His grace.  It would grieve my heart for anyone to think I’m pointing fingers here. I’m instructing, I’m admonishing, I’m warning – but there’s not an ounce of self-righteous criticism in these words. I’ve messed up way too much to serve up any of that.

The most eye-opening things about Gresh and Kassian’s articles are the comment feeds. There you will find no shortage of professing Christians passionately defending the series, praising it as a redemptive love story, and excusing the explicit sex scenes as a very “small” part of the books that in no way affect the overall moral value. Say what?! Like I said, I understand the temptation. What I have a much harder time understanding is the near militant defense of what is so obviously inconsistent with a biblical world view.

The question I’ve been pondering is why? Why would a blood-bought child of God choose to promote or even read a book that contains several explicit descriptions of a woman being subjected to a very perverted sexual relationship by a seriously messed up man? (Perhaps you bought the book without knowing this. Now you do.) To put it much more generally (and make it applicable to all of us whether we’re familiar with the Fifty Shades series or not), why does sexually explicit media appeal to women who claim to love and follow Jesus?

The surface reasons are obvious – the entertainment value, the desire to recharge a boring sex life, the desire to know what all the buzz is about, etc. But here at Marinate Blog we’re all about getting to the heart of the matter, identifying the root of why we do what we do, and plunging well below to surface by seeking to see our lives from God’s perspective.

With that said, here’s a biblical answer. It’s certainly not exhaustive (a single blog post never is), but I’ve sought to present a few of the most fundamental reasons why we willingly choose to feast on the world’s sex-charged trash.

  • The presence of sin is indulged, not denied.

Through His death on the cross, Christ dealt with both the penalty and the dominating power sin, but its presence within these bodies of ours is still hanging around. To put it another way, sin no longer reigns, but it still remains. The Bible refers to this remaining sin as the “flesh” or the “sinful nature.” Paul describes it in Galatians 5:17, 19:

For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please . . . Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. (emphasis added)

One thing Scripture makes clear about our flesh is that it has a strong sexual appetite that, when indulged instead of denied, can lead us into all types of sexual compromise. Not only can it lead us there, but it can keep us there – bound, addicted, and enslaved to our own selfish cravings. That’s why it’s so dangerous to “dabble.” It doesn’t take much to become a flesh-controlled believer.

The question we face every day is this: Are we going to walk according to our own selfish whims and desires, or are we going to walk according to the leadership and direction of God’s Spirit? Professing believers who indulge in sexual explicit media have chosen the first option.

What we all need to understand is that as long as the presence of sin remains, the sexual muck and mire of this world will have a certain appeal. Until Jesus calls us home, these hearts of ours are capable falling in love with things that God hates. The solution is pretty straight forward: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Empowered by God’s Spirit, we must choose to fight the flesh, not feed it.

  • God’s Word is neglected.

Every year I get my husband a new pack of white t-shirts for Christmas. I can’t say it’s a much anticipated tradition, but it’s a tradition. Every year when I fold the new t-shirts and put them into his drawer I am struck by how much whiter they are than the old ones. The old ones look pretty good all by themselves, but pretty dingy when compared to the bright white of the new ones.

The same is true of our lives. Left to ourselves, we get spiritually dingy. Over time, we blur the line between what’s holy and what isn’t. We become more accepting of what God has condemned. We spend more time trying to figure out how far is too far and less time wholeheartedly living for the glory of God. We get morally lazy. We let down our guard. We tune our ears to the world’s wisdom and fix our eyes on its charms. Our hearts follow close behind . . .

Romans 12:2 commands us not to let the world squeeze us into its mold. Then, it tells us how we accomplish this radical nonconformity – by the renewing of our minds. Though it’s not specifically stated in the passage, it’s obvious that the way we renew our minds is by “marinating” in the truth of God’s Word. The Bible is like the brand new white t-shirt. It is only by intentionally positioning our lives against its standard that we are able to see our own dinginess and respond with the repentance and surrender required to live a God-glorifying life. How do I know it’s wrong to even dabble in an erotic novel or any other sexually explicit media? Because the Bible makes it really, really clear:

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” Eph. 5:3-4

“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amount to idolatry.” Col. 3:5

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality . . . that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor . . . For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” 1 Thess. 4:3-4, 7

“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” Eph. 5:11-12

“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 2 Tim. 2:22

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”  Titus 2:11-12

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1:14-16

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” Phil. 4:8

And that’s just a small sampling!

There is absolutely no way a woman can fill her mind with these truths and justify the willful consumption of any book, TV show, movie, magazine article, etc. that demeans, distorts, and/or perverts God’s design for sex. Such “smut” simply can’t make itself at home in a mind that has been wallpapered with God’s truth concerning sex, purity, holiness, and worship. One would have to do an enormous amount of hermeneutical gymnastics and full-out re-invent the very nature of God to argue that there is no harm, no sin, and no problem with erotica as long as it’s in print form, has a charming plot line, and enhances one’s sexual relationship with her husband.

Here’s the thing: The less we expose ourselves the “plumbline” of God’s Word, the more willing we will be to expose ourselves to the perversions of this world. Christian women are devouring THAT book because they aren’t devouring THIS book (you can’t see me, but I’m pointing to my Bible.) If we want to live separated lives in relation to the world, we must live saturated lives in relation to God’s Word.

  • The sinfulness of sin is ignored.

These words written by J.C. Ryle in the late 19th century are as relevant as ever:

It has long been my sorrowful conviction that the standard of daily life among professing Christians in this country has been gradually falling. I am afraid that Christ-like charity, kindness, good-temper, unselfishness, meekness, gentleness, good-nature, self-denial, zeal to do good, and separation from the world are far less appreciated than they ought to be, than they used to be in the days of our fathers.

The cure for evangelical churchmen, I am convinced, is to be found in a clearer apprehension of the nature and sinfulness of sin . . . We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord calls “doing His will.” We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easy-going, half-worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once let us see that sin is far viler, and far nearer to us, and sticks more closely to us that we supposed, and we shall be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ.

 We must begin low if we would build high. I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin. (emphasis added)

Christian women are reading, justifying, and even praising Fifty Shades of Grey – and a whole lot of other sexually charged media just like it – because they’ve either lost sight of the seriousness of sin, or never had it in the first place. If they would, as Ryle suggests, “sit down humbly in the presence of God” and seriously examine what God calls sin and what God calls obedience; if they would “realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin” and what it cost their Savior, I believe the glorified “mommy porn” would be much harder to read. For one who truly grasps the sinfulness of sin, such things are downright repulsive. I will be the first to admit that I’m not always as repulsed as I ought to be.

I hope you realize by now that this really isn’t a post about Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a post about our appetites. Specifically, it’s about our appetites for that which stimulates our flesh and may entertain our minds, but defiles our spirits. The truth is, when I am walking in the Spirit, routinely “marinating” in God’s Word, and staying mindful the sinfulness of sin, the sinful cravings of my heart are displaced by the  single craving to honor, glorify, and commune with my Savior – a Savior who more-than-satisfies. Sexually questionable media just doesn’t have the same appeal. When I’m not doing these things, well, that’s when I start justifying stuff that I know isn’t “true, noble, right, pure . . .”

Bottom line: When you’ve feasted at the five-star, world famous steakhouse, the fast-food dollar menu just doesn’t look all that good anymore. But if you’re starving, you’ll eat anything. Why are Christian women lining up to read Fifty Shades of Grey?  While several factors certainly influence the decision, I’m sad to say that spiritual malnutrition lies at the heart of them all.

“God remains gloriously all-satisfying. The human heart remains a ceaseless factory of desires. Sin remains powerfully and suicidally appealing. The battle remains: where will we drink? Where will we feast? . . . Feast on God.” John Piper, Desiring God

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