Free Sex

Posted on April 23rd, by Doug Ponder in Culture, Family, Gospel, Life. No Comments

The ‘Free Sex’ That Costs You Dearly

In the 1960s it wasn’t polite to talk about sex, so people talked about “love.” People especially talked about “free love,” which again, really meant “free sex.” Spurred on by the development of “the pill” and the growing disdain for the hollow moralism of the 1950s, the 60s free love movement was part of a broader sexual revolution that sought to free sex from the “burden” of children, from the “constraints” of marriage, and from the stigmas associated with promiscuity. In other words, people thought sex should be free from consequences, free from commitments, and free from the criticism of anyone. It seems we hoped that being free to enjoy sex on our terms, we would finally make ourselves be happy and whole.

The free love movement was a big dream, and it never made good on its promise. Divorce rates have continued to increase since then, as have rates of sexually transmitted diseases. On top of this, cases of guilt and shame stemming from sexual experiences continue to flood counselor’s offices. Even now we are just discovering the seriously crippling effects of pornography—which purports to be the “freest” sex of all. Worst of all, a movement promising “free” love has actually cost millions of people their lives: babies sacrificed on the altar of sexual freedom.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be. By God’s design, sex is free.

Sex That’s Free From Guilt

The gospel of Jesus is the life-changing good news that you are forgiven, fully and freely, by his death in your place. “Every sin on him was laid,” the prophet Isaiah reminds us (Isa. 53:6)—and that includes sexual sin.

I like to tell the couples that I meet with for premarital counseling that no one enters the marriage the bed personally innocent, not even virgins. There is none of us who can say that we haven’t looked on another with lust (Matt. 5:28). After all, lust has been around long before pornography; it was lust that gave birth to pornography (not the other way around). This means that virgins and “veterans” are equally in need of forgiveness for sexual sin.

And yet—here’s the good news again—virgins and “veterans” are also equally forgiven in Christ. The church, who is the bride of Christ, will wear white on her wedding day. Not because of her personal innocence or faithfulness, but because of the forgiving power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When Christians understand this glorious truth, and really believe it, they are set free from the lingering feelings of guilt. Though they were guilty, they are not reckoned as guilty any longer. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). That is the good news that sets spouses free from feeling like they “owe” something to their spouse or to God for whatever sexual sins they may have committed in the past. “Jesus paid it all” means that every debt has been removed.

Sex That’s Free from Shame

Sin brings shame, and sexual sin brings a special kind of shame. In fact, we feel shame even when sexual sins were committed against us. In the case of rape or sexual abuse victims often express feeling “dirty” or “worthless,” words that are the vocabulary of shame.

Shame attaches itself like a leach to good things in creation, sucking all the joy and pleasure from God’s design until only disgust or despair or depression is leftover. In other words, sex itself isn’t wrong, but shame causes spouses to think of sex as “dirty” or “wrong” because it was experienced at the wrong time (before marriage) or in the wrong way (abuse of some kind).

The power of shame is long-lasting. The couples I counsel can usually wrap their minds around the fact that they are forgiven. Almost invariably, however, they struggle to realize that they are also free from shame. There is no reason to feel “bad” or “gross” or “dirty” about sex in marriage. After all, sex is God’s idea of a good time.

Even more than that, the deepest reason we don’t have to feel shame is that the same sacrifice that forgives us our sins also makes us clean. Jesus has not only forgiven us, he has “washed us” completely (Eph. 5:26-27). Christ has purified the Christian marriage bed. There’s no cause for shame!

Sex That’s Free from Fear

Sex outside of marriage is fraught with fear. What will they think of me? Was I good enough? Am I big enough? Am I skinny enough? Am I sexy enough? How do I compare with their previous partners? What if they only want me for sex? Will I catch some kind of disease? If I get pregnant/get her pregnant, who will raise the children?

The list goes on. Sex and fear are so closely related that most people who engage in sex apart from marriage do so under the heavy influence of alcohol or other drugs. These things help keep the fear at bay, but they never remove fear completely (and they can’t even touch our guilt or shame).

Jesus, on the other hand, completely removes our fears regarding sex. Indeed, God’s design for sex is by nature a fear-reducing enterprise. He calls spouses to refrain from sex until after they have already promised to love one another and stay with one another forever—“for better or for worse.”

The marital promise removes the fear-inducing elements of sex and replaces them with unbridled joy. Christian couples are free to laugh together when things don’t go as planned. They are free to talk about their needs without feeling guilty or shameful. And they are free to experience sex without the fear of rejection, since they are giving their body to someone who has already promised to give them their entire life!

Enjoying Free Sex

There are only two ways to enjoy sex as God intended. First, we must remember that Jesus, not sex, is God’s greatest gift to us. Everything God makes is good and is intended for our good. But, as one pastor has said, “If you take a good thing and make it a ‘God’ thing, that’s a bad thing.” He meant that the fundamental sin of humanity is something called idolatry, which means looking to something in creation to bring us the kind of joy and fulfillment and satisfaction that only God can bring. The gift is never greater than the Giver.

Second, enjoying truly free sex therefore requires that both spouses believe the gospel and apply it in their lives. When feelings of guilt creep back into your mind, you must remind yourself that you and your spouse are equally forgiven by Christ. You owe nothing to each other, except love (Rom. 13:8). You don’t have to “atone” for former sexual sins. Jesus has paid it all! Similarly, there is no need to feel dirty about sex anymore. Sex itself was never wrong, and you have been fully cleansed by whatever sexual sins you have committed. This means you are free to talk with your spouse about your needs and your preferences. Finally, there is no room for fear in your marriage bed. The gospel drives it out with the promise that God is at work in you to help you and your spouse keep the promises you made to never leave or forsake one another.

When we receive all this with the arms of faith, the result is always freedom: we are free from our slavery to guilt and shame and fear, and we are free to enjoy the goodness of God’s design.

Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.

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