Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
-Colossians 3:1-6 (NIV)
So maybe you’ve heard something about a little movie that’s coming out this weekend.
The film is based on a book that was a “modest” hit a couple of years ago; a book that nobody read, to the tune of over 100 million copies sold. The book and film are called Fifty Shades of Grey, and they tell the classic all-American love story of boy meets girl — with a liberal and explicit dose of bondage thrown in for good measure.
Now, ordinarily I would sort of take an “ignore-it-and-wait-for-it-to-go-away” kind of attitude to this thing. But — 100 million copies sold. Somebody was reading this book. And lots more will likely go see the movie. And, judging by the Facebook posts I saw from people who were reading the book, a good number of those readers and viewers have been and will be Christians; believers who apparently don’t think it’s harmful or a compromise of their witness to the gospel of Jesus to read a book or see a movie that tells the story of a woman who endures violence and objectification at the hands of someone who supposedly loves her.
Believers who apparently don’t consider that too many women already live with that reality, and don’t consider it a fantasy at all.
I get that, through the centuries, the church has at times been a little on the prudish side regarding sex. I think sex should be affirmed as a good thing, and God given the credit for it. It’s important that married couples enjoy that part of their relationship, and it’s too bad that sometimes the church has been guilty of making believers ashamed of it. It’s too bad that at times we’ve decided that morality demands that we pretend that no one in the church is having sex, that all the church’s babies are virginal conceptions and that none of us understand any of the jokes on TV. It’s too bad that our kids grow up seeing clearly the disconnect between the relative straightforwardness with which sex is treated everywhere else and the way it’s ignored completely at church.
I get all that, I do. But, pay attention now — the way to fix that isn’t with a rebound reaction to the other extreme, where we embrace wholeheartedly the validity of almost every perversion of sexuality as a lifestyle choice and subject of fantasy. We can affirm the goodness and even holiness of sex without extending that affirmation to every distortion of sex that human beings create.
And, make no mistake, the Fifty Shades phenomenon and its like is a distortion. The problem is not that Christians are repressed, or that the human body is dirty, or even that, ahem, creative sex is inherently sinful. The problem lies in twisting something that God intended for intimacy, joy, and pleasure into just another tool with which human beings can control, manipulate, and use each other for our own pleasure. And then packaging that distorted, twisted thing as fantasy for the masses, who imagine that it just might make their lives as exciting and satisfying as they think their lives should be.
It isn’t harmless; when distortions of God’s intent for human sexuality become mainstream and accepted even by believers, it has emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical consequences.
Note that sex itself doesn’t make the list of “what belongs to the earthly nature” that Paul says has to go. Sex doesn't belong on that list, because sex as God intended it is an affirmation of the goodness of humanity. But sexual immorality and impurity have to go. So do lust and evil desires and the greed for more and different that so often in our world has twisted sex into an unrecognizable caricature of itself. When sex becomes more about what we can get than what we can give, when we become preoccupied with more and different, when it creates pain and damage instead of joy and intimacy, when our sexual lives are mediated through the fantasies of others, then it’s been co-opted by our earthly natures and creates a distortion that has no place in lives raised with Christ or hearts set on things above.
People who know the Lord should know better. We should. We shouldn’t see the world exactly like our non-Christian friends, and we shouldn’t see human sexuality like our non-Christian friends. In Jesus, we’ve been raised from death to life, and we’ve been raised to a new mindset. Our lives are taken up with Jesus and his promises, our thoughts and aspirations elevated.
What that means, sometimes, is that desires and passions have to be denied — “put to death,” in Paul’s colorful language. Folks in his day had their own versions of 50 Shades, and they needed to know, as we do, that those were distortions of what God had created. And they needed to know, as we do, that the Christian response to such distortions is to say no to the parts of ourselves that might be drawn to such things, and to instead set our hearts on what we’ve been given in Jesus.
I can confidently guarantee that seeing Fifty Shades, or reading the book, won’t do anything positive for you, or your marriage, or your walk with the Lord, or your witness to the gospel. If you can’t imagine the Lord sitting beside you while you read or watch, then find something else to read or watch. If that’s not enough, ask yourself if you would want your daughter in an abusive, manipulative relationship, or if you’d want your son to treat a woman that way. Abuse and violence against women shouldn’t be set dressing for Hollywood-friendly porn, and believers should stand against that by their disengagement.
I’m reminded of Proverbs 5:18-19: “may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. / A loving doe, a graceful deer /may her breasts satisfy you always, / may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” Despite the gender-specific language, that text reminds believers, men and women alike, to rejoice in what God has given us. No other person, and certainly not another person’s fantasies, will ever satisfy us. What will is choosing to thank God for our spouses and take joy in one another, and in our lives together. And, finally, to know that our highest joy — joy immeasurable in its scope and variety — is to be found in Christ alone.
Much more than fifty shades.