Sex and the Supremacy of Christ
Desiring God 2004 National Conference | Minneapolis
On Friday night, I waved a banner over this conference with two convictions written on it:
The first was that sexuality is designed by God as a way to know Christ more fully. And the second conviction from Friday night was that knowing Christ — the supremacy of Christ — more fully is designed by God as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality. And when I speak of knowing Christ, I mean it in the fullest biblical sense of grasping great truth about Christ, and growing in fellowship with Christ, and being satisfied with the supremacy of Christ.
What I would like to do this morning, by God’s grace, is to help you experience that second conviction. I would like to help you know the supremacy of Christ more fully and show you a couple ways this will affect your sexuality.
My conviction is that the better you know the supremacy of Christ the more sacred and satisfying and Christ-exalting your sexuality will be. I have a picture in my mind of the majesty of Christ like the sun at the center of the solar system of your life. The massive sun, 333,000 times the mass of the earth, holds all the planets in orbit, even little Pluto, 3.6 billion miles away.
The Center of Your Life
So it is with the supremacy of Christ in your life. All the planets of your life — your sexuality and desires, your commitments and beliefs, your aspirations and dreams, your attitudes and convictions, your habits and disciplines, your solitude and relationships, your labor and leisure, your thinking and feeling — all the planets of your life are held in orbit by the greatness and gravity and blazing brightness of the supremacy of Jesus Christ at the center of your life. And if he ceases to be the bright, blazing, satisfying beauty at the center of your life, the planets will fly into confusion, and a hundred things will be out of control, and sooner or later they will crash into destruction.
“If Jesus ceases to be the center of your life, all will crash into destruction.”
We were made to know Christ as he really is. (Which is why biblical doctrine is so important.) We were created to comprehend — as much as a creature can — the supremacy of Christ. And the knowing we were made to experience is not the knowing of disinterested awareness — like knowing that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or ancient Gaul was divided into three parts — but the knowing of admiration and wonder and awe and intimacy and ecstasy and embrace. Not the knowing of Hurricane Jeanne by watching TV but by flying in the eye of the storm — sometimes even hang-gliding!
We were made to see and savor with everlasting satisfaction the supremacy of Christ. Our sexuality points to this and our sexuality is purified by this. We are sexual beings that we may know something more of the supremacy of Christ. And we must know the supremacy of Christ — we must know him in his supremacy — in order to experience our sexuality as sacred and sweet and Christ-exalting — and secondary, quietly, powerfully secondary.
My prayer for this conference, and for all of you one by one, is that you will see and savor the supremacy of Christ — married or single, male or female, old or young, devastated by disordered desires or walking in a measure of holiness — that all of you will behold and embrace the supremacy of Christ as the blazing sun at the center of your life, and that the planet of your sexuality, with all its little moons of pleasure, will orbit in its proper place.
Jesus Reigns Supreme over All
There are many practical strategies for being sexually pure in mind and body. I don’t demean them. I use them! But with all my heart I know, and with the authority of Scripture I know that the tiny space ships of our moral strategies will be useless in nudging the planet of sexuality into orbit, unless the sun of our solar system is the supremacy of Christ.
Oh, that the risen, living Christ, therefore, would come to us (even now) by his Spirit and through his word and reveal to us
the supremacy of his deity, equal with God the Father in all his attributes — the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his nature, infinite, boundless in all his excellencies
the supremacy of his eternality that makes the mind of man explode with the unsearchable thought that Christ never had a beginning, but simply always was; sheer, absolute reality while all the universe is fragile, contingent, like a shadow by comparison to his all-defining, ever-existing substance
the supremacy of his never-changing constancy in all his virtues and all his character and all his commitments — the same yesterday, today, and forever
the supremacy of his knowledge that makes the Library of Congress look like a matchbox, and all the information on the Internet look like a little 1940s farmers’s almanac, and quantum physics — and everything Stephen Hawking ever dreamed — seem like a first-grade reader
the supremacy of his wisdom that has never been perplexed by any complication and can never be counseled the wisest of men
the supremacy of his authority over heaven and earth and hell, without whose permission no man and no demon can move one inch, who changes times and seasons, removes kings and sets up kings; does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; so none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
the supremacy of his providence without which not a single bird falls to the ground in the furthest reaches of the Amazon forest, or a single hair of any head turns black or white
the supremacy of his word that moment by moment upholds the universe and holds in being all the molecules and atoms and subatomic world we have never yet dreamed of
the supremacy of his power to walk on water, cleanse lepers and heal the lame, open the eyes of the blind, cause the deaf to hear and storms to cease and the dead to rise, with a single word, or even a thought
the supremacy of his purity never to sin, or to have one millisecond of a bad attitude or an evil, lustful thought
the supremacy of his trustworthiness never to break his word or let one promise fall to the ground
the supremacy of his justice to render in due time all moral accounts in the universe settled either on the cross or in hell
the supremacy of his patience to endure our dullness for decade after decade; and to hold back his final judgment on this land and on the world, that many might repent
the supremacy of his sovereign, servant obedience to keep his Father’s commandments perfectly and then embrace the excruciating pain of the cross willingly
the supremacy of his meekness and lowliness and tenderness that will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick
the supremacy of his wrath that will one day explode against this world with such fierceness that people will call out for the rocks and the mountains to crush them rather than face the wrath of the Lamb
the supremacy of his grace that gives life to spiritually dead rebels and wakens faith in hell-bound haters of God, and justifies the ungodly with his own righteousness
the supremacy of his love that willingly dies for us even while we were sinners and frees us for the ever-increasing joy in making much of him forever
the supremacy of his own inexhaustible gladness in the fellowship of the Trinity, the infinite power and energy that gave rise to all the universe and will one day be the inheritance of every struggling saint.
And if he would grant us to know him like this, it would be but the outskirts of his supremacy. Time would fail to speak of the supremacy of his severity, and invincibility, and dignity, and simplicity, and complexity, and resoluteness, and calmness, and depth, and courage. If there is anything admirable, if there is anything worthy of praise anywhere in the universe, it is summed up supremely in Jesus Christ.
“If there is anything admirable, if there is anything worthy of praise anywhere in the universe, it is summed up supremely in Jesus Christ.”
He is supreme in every admirable way over everything:
over galaxies and endless reaches of space
over the earth from the top of Mount Everest 29,000 feet up, to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean 36,000 feet down into the Mariana Trench
He is supreme over all plants and animals, from the peaceful Blue whale to the microscopic killer viruses
over all weather and movements of the earth: hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, earthquakes, avalanches, floods, snow, rain, sleet
over all chemical processes that heal and destroy: cancer, AIDS, malaria, flu, and all the workings of antibiotics and a thousand healing medicines.
He is supreme over all countries and all governments and all armies
over Al Qaeda and all terrorists and kidnappings and suicide bombings and beheadings
over bin Ladin and al-Zarqawi
over all nuclear threats from Iran or Russia or North Korea
He is supreme over all politics and elections
over all media and news and entertainment and sports and leisure
and over all education and universities and scholarship and science and research
and over all business and finance and industry and manufacturing and transportation
and over all the internet and information systems.
Every Square Inch
As Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” And rule with absolute supremacy. And though it may not seem so now, it is only a matter of time until he is revealed from heaven in flaming fire to give relief to those who trust him and righteous vengeance on those who don’t.
Oh that the almighty God would help us see and savor the supremacy of his Son. Give yourself to this. Study this. Cultivate this passion. Eat and drink and sleep this quest to know the supremacy of Christ. Pray for God to show you these things in his word. Swim in the Bible every day. Use the means of grace. Like God-centered, Christ-exalting books. Don’t go home without books to help you in this. Get John Owen on The Glory of Christ and The Mortification of Sin. Get Mahaney on the Cross and the glory of God in marriage. Get works by Powlison and Patterson and Edwards. And with all you’re getting — whatever it takes — get the all-satisfying supremacy of Christ at the center of your life.
This is the blazing sun at the center of your solar system, holding the planet of sexuality in sacred orbit. This is the ballast at the bottom of your little boat keeping it from being capsized by the waves of sexual temptation. This is the foundation that holds up the building of your life so that you can build with strategies of sexual purity. Without this — without knowing and embracing the supremacy of Christ in all things — the planets fly apart, the waves overwhelm, and the building will one day fall.
The Main Obstacle to Knowing the Supremacy of Christ
So here we are as sinners — all of us, none is righteous, no, not one. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We don’t know him, we don’t trust him and treasure him the way he deserves. So what stands in the way? What is our main obstacle to knowing the supremacy of Christ, with a deeply satisfying and sexuality-transforming knowledge?
The biblical answer to that question is: the absolutely just and holy wrath of God. We cannot know God in our sin because the wrath of God rests on us in our sin. What we deserve in our sin is not the knowledge of God, but the judgment of God. And since we are cut off from the knowledge of God by the wrath of God, we are cut off from sexual purity and holiness. God doesn’t owe us purity, he owes us punishment. Therefore, we are hopelessly depraved and hopelessly condemned.
Except for one thing: the good news that Christ has become for us the curse to bear God’s wrath and the righteousness to meet God’s demand. This is the heart of the gospel. And without it, there is no hope to escape God’s wrath, no hope to know Christ’s supremacy, and there is no hope for sexual purity. But here it is for everyone who believes. Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”
We were under the curse of God’s wrath. But Christ became a curse for us. Philippians 3:9, Paul’s testimony that he is “found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” God’s demand was that we be perfect. We cannot, in our sin, fulfill this demand. But Christ has. And by faith in him, that perfect righteousness is imputed to us.
“The greatest reward of the cross is knowing the supremacy Christ.”
Therefore, since it is true that Christ has absorbed all the wrath of God that was aimed at me, and since it is true that Christ has performed the perfect righteousness that God demands of me, there is now for me no condemnation. Instead, every thought of God and every act of God toward me in Christ Jesus is mercy. The way is open to know him and all the beautiful supremacy of his Son. The cross of Christ has made the supremacy of Christ knowable.
The best gift of the gospel is not the forgiveness of sins. The best gift of the gospel is not the imputed righteousness of Christ. The best gift of the gospel is not eternal life. The best gift of the gospel is seeing and savoring the supremacy of Christ himself. The greatest reward of the cross is knowing the supremacy Christ.
The Supremacy of Christ Guides and Guards
How then does the knowledge of the supremacy of Christ (opened to us by the gospel) guide and guard and govern our sexual lives? How does it make our sexuality sacred, satisfying, and Christ-exalting? Of all the ways this works, I will only mention two.
Knowing the supremacy of Christ enlarges the soul so that sex and its little thrills become as small as they really are.
Little souls make little lusts have great power. The soul, as it were, expands to encompass the magnitude of its treasure. The human soul was made to see and savor the supremacy of Christ. Nothing else is big enough to enlarge the soul as God intended and make little lusts lose their power.
Vast starry skies seen from a mountain in Utah, and four layers of moving clouds on a seemingly endless plain in Montana, and standing on the edge of a mile-deep drop in the Grand Canyon can all have a wonderfully supplementary role in enlarging the soul with beauty, but nothing can take the place of the supremacy of Christ. As Jonathan Edwards said, if you embrace all creation with goodwill, but not Christ, you are infinitely parochial. Our hearts were made to be enlarged by Christ, and all creation cannot replace his supremacy.
My conviction is that one of the main reasons the world and the church are awash in lust and pornography (by men and women — thirty percent of internet pornography is now viewed by women) is that our lives are intellectually and emotionally disconnected from infinite, soul-staggering grandeur for which we were made. Inside and outside the church western culture is drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness. Television is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are trivial. Worship styles are trivial. It is inevitable that the human heart, which was made to be staggered with the supremacy of Christ, but instead is drowning in a sea of banal entertainment, will reach for the best natural buzz that life can give: sex.
Therefore, the deepest cure to our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies — and I believe in them and have my own (see ANTHEM in Pierced by the Word). The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging supremacy of Christ in all things. This is what it means to know him. Christ has purchased this gift for us at the cost of his life. Therefore, I say again with Hosea, let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
Knowing Christ empowers us to suffer.
Knowing all that God promises to be for us in Christ both now and for endless ages to come with ever-increasing joy, frees us from the compulsion that we must avoid pain and maximize comfort in this world. We need not, and we dare not. Christ died to make our everlasting future bright with the supremacy of his own glory. And the effect he means for it to have now is: glad-hearted suffering in the path of love.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:11–12)
Yes, namely, seeing and savoring the supremacy of Christ himself. That’s the reward, and that’s the power to suffer.
When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13–14)
Yes, namely, seeing and savoring the supremacy of Christ himself. That will be your repayment, and that is the power to do the hard thing and serve the poor.
You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)
Yes, namely, seeing and savoring the supremacy of Christ himself. That is the better and abiding possession, and the power to be plundered with joy in the path of love.
Therefore, let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:13–14)
Yes, the city where “glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23), and we will live in the light of his supremacy forever. That is the better city, and that is the power to go outside the camp and bear reproach.
Therefore, knowing all that God promises to be for us in Christ is the power to suffer with joy. And here’s the link. We must suffer in order to be sexually pure.
“Suffer whatever you must in order to win the war with lust.”
When Jesus says in Matthew 5:28–29, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” — when Jesus says this, he means suffer whatever you must in order to win the war with lust. Knowing the supremacy of Christ, being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus, gives us the power to suffer for the sake of loving people and being pure.
Therefore, in conclusion, I say again with Hosea: Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. It will not be easy. It may cost you your life. But if you keep the supremacy of Christ before your eyes as an infinite prize, you will find the strength to suffer and press on to love and purity, with joy.