One decision determines the fate of the American people every four years: Who will be our next president? This man or woman will almost certainly drive our 320-million-person passenger van through economic upheaval, volatile international affairs, violent terrorist threats, and any number of sensitive social issues.
The candidates are pouring in, and the race is heating up. So who’s the favorite?
Specifically, sexual autonomy or freedom. The single most powerful, most driving, most appealing person, idea, or reality in American society is sex — the intense and intimate attractions and sensations felt between people. I define it broadly, because Satan’s grassroots campaign has planted sex’s posters and pinups in all kinds of places today, not just the marriage bed. We wish we could define it more narrowly, as God intended when he created sex, but it’s crawled into too many corners and won too many worshipers.
Sex — sexual ecstasy, autonomy, and freedom — is the trump card in American entertainment, politics, and marketing. And as Randy Newman writes in his book Questioning Evangelism, “As long as we uphold our sexual autonomy as the highest value in our lives, we separate ourselves from God’s majestic and redemptive reign” (157). A nation — or a person — governed by sex, and not God, has rejected God. Sex has won far too many elections, but it cannot satisfy like God, nor will it be able to stand against him in the end.
Why has sex so captivated American society?
You might say that God is gloriously to blame here. What God has created with sex is unlike any experience or mystery in this life. Newman writes, “Sex uniquely engages all of our being — physical, psychological, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual. It is unparalleled as both pleasurable and profound” (158).
Those who love and follow Jesus enjoy some of the deepest, most intense pleasure in bed with their spouse. And those who refuse or mock Jesus still find some of the same gratification. For some perfectly calculated and good reason, God has allowed men and women to access some of the pleasure of sex in unnatural ways: lust, adultery, premarital sex, pornography, homosexuality. They’re consuming, but not in a way that can truly (genuinely or fully) satisfy, fulfill, or last. They sip and sip, but never quench their thirst.
And captivated by sex, dismissing its Author, the world structures its life, in public and especially in private, to preserve and cultivate their sipping. They passionately, even violently, squeeze and squeeze that little drop of ecstasy, not realizing there’s a freshwater ocean of everlasting pleasure at their disposal.
Sex sells and reigns because God has given it an unusual, mysterious pleasure. It can’t be replicated or replaced by education or vocation or sports or hobbies. On this planet, sex has a kind of monopoly on bodily pleasure for people of every nation, culture, and social status. It’s perhaps the world’s most universal hope for happiness apart from Jesus.
Sin’s Campaign Manager
Now, sex cannot run for president, because sex isn’t a person. The face behind sex’s unrivaled rule in America is Satan. With centuries of experience and supporters everywhere in the world, he deftly leads a massive coordinated effort to enlist generation after generation. He’s the corrupt campaign manager, hidden in the shadows, wielding sex for an agenda. Newman describes his tactics,
God’s enemy (and ours) wants to distort [sex]. His goals are to make it a mere physical act, with no profundity; a painful act, reminiscent of abuse; a comical act, reducing it to crude joking; or an enslaving act, transforming people into addicts or idolaters. (158)
Satan molests the goodness of sex. He has nothing original to wield against us, so he lies in secret, presenting sex as simple and ordinary, or humorous, or powerful. Sex becomes just another toy, or an entertaining and provocative punch line, or the alluring, controlling master of our desires — the president of our hearts — not the pure, spiritual, mysterious union it was designed and given to be.
And now, in a fascinating and shocking political turn, a new pillar of Satan’s platform emerges. He and his followers have worked relentlessly over the years to undermine and sabotage marriage — a sacred (“religious”), exclusive (“enslaving”), lifelong (“boring”) union. Now, they’d like to have marriage, too, but are promoting a new, more dangerous distortion: so-called same-sex marriage. A longstanding, evil, and spiritual platform once utterly opposed to all that marriage stood for has staged a new assault on pleasure by legalizing and solemnizing homosexual unions.
Unseating Sex with Grace
The gospel unseats sex (and every other influential, powerful, and seductive idol) with the grace of God — the pinnacle of his glory, and the controlling theme of our redeemed and repurposed lives. As unlikely as it seems today, there is a force more compelling and more satisfying than sexual temptation and freedom — a marketing campaign that promises and delivers more (Psalm 16:11). But we must submit our souls to a new president.
Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12–14)
Sex is not the enemy for Christians. It is God’s good gift, created for those who believe (1 Timothy 4:3), and designed to be experienced in marriage as an act of knowing and enjoying more of God as the Creator and Giver. Illicit, superficial sex exists where true worship doesn’t, but worship is not the holy rival to sex. Sex, like the rest of life on earth, is meant to be worship (Romans 12:1). Sinful distortion and manipulation of sex, though, makes for a deceitful and miserable lord.
True joy and pleasure for us and for our world, then, rests in unseating sex by God’s grace from God’s place, and reseating it in its good and rightful place under God, the one true Treasure and Lord of our lives.