Sexual Sin Myths

Coming into adulthood in evangelical culture one of the constant messages was that sexual sin was different and more important than other sin.  Now of course the official line was that all sin was “equally” bad.  This is sort of true and sort of not true and therefore super confusing.

Let’s clear up a couple of things about sin to sort of set the table for this topic.

First, and this is the best way I can think to describe it, there is a difference between Sin as a core issue and sins that we commit.  Sin as a core issue is really about idolatry.  In other words the first sin for all of us is not being God focused.  We choose to be God of our own life, write our own story, run our own lives.  We worship other things, principally ourselves, instead of God.

It is out of this condition that we commit other sins.  Both what we do wrong, and what we don’t do right.  In a sense, these are the symptoms of the bigger issue.

The cost of this condition is death.  Regardless of the consequences of a particular sin.  We can’t fix it because it’s a heart problem not an action problem.  This is why Jesus came and went to the cross.  Amen.

However, our sins (the symptoms part) have different consequences.  This is just the truth. So sexual sin has different consequences.

But this is where we need to get a hold of some important facts and to debunk some myths.

Myth 1 – Sexual Desire Itself Is Bad.

First, sexual desire is not a bad thing.  It is part of God’s creation.  It’s pre-fall.  This is important.  We are sexual beings.  God made it powerful because it is to be used to bond two people together inside the context of marriage. There are even chemical reactions to it in the body.  It bonds us physically, emotionally and spiritually.  This is why separating sex and marriage (or even orgasm from sex) is not good.

Sin, in many respects, is really the manipulation of what God has created as good into something that is not.  Sexual sin is no different.

But desire is not a bad thing in and of itself.  If it’s seen as a bad thing then we end up trying to kill the desire.  This is the “eastern” religion answer: Don’t desire anything.  We need to submit the desire to God, but we don’t need to kill it.  We should flee sexual immorality, but we don’t need to kill sexual desire.

This is also important because if we say that sexual desire is bad we end up doing theological gymnastics when it comes to marriage.  For example I’ve heard people say that marriage redeems sexual desire.  That gets confusing real fast.  Sex is for marriage, as stated above, but that sex doesn’t need redeeming.  That’s just one example.

Myth Two – All Sexual Sexual Sin Is The Same

I’ve discussed this before, but looking at a woman lustfully does not have the same consequences as sleeping with the same woman.  It comes from the same place, but it doesn’t have the same consequences.  We need to quit teaching people, by accident or on purpose, that it’s all the same.

Now we shouldn’t use this fact as an excuse to sin less boldly so to speak.  I’ve spoken before about what I call lazy sexual immorality.  There are still costs involved.  It’s still wrong.  But its important to realize that the resulting problems are different.

Myth Three – Sexual Desire Always Leads To Sexual Temptation Always Leads To Sexual Sin 

This is the idea that sexual desire is so strong that I can’t possibly have victory over sexual sin . . . at least not outside of marriage.  Again, I need to submit the desire, along with all other desires, to the Lord.  But the thing is, I can actually do that.  We don’t have to fail.

It also creates a situation where we end up saying that celibacy for the Kingdom is not a viable vocation or calling.  This is part of the reason that in evangelical culture we have no room for those called to celibacy.  Frankly most protestant leaders don’t really think this is even possible.  We don’t have any sort of plan for it.  As I’ve written many places here, with no theology of, or plan for, celibacy, we set up everyone to fail, even married people.  The reason they don’t think it’s possible is that they don’t think that anyone can avoid sexual sin.

We are not just animals with no moral agency.  We can, with the Lord, avoid moral failure.

Myth Four – Men Are Responsible For All Sexual Sin

This is worthy of at least a post itself.  But let me see if I can briefly go at this.  We have to quit talking about the issue in this way.  The idea is that men want sex all the time.  If a man and woman have sex outside of marriage it is the man’s fault.  He is the sinner – she is the victim.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this example from Matt Schmucker on Boundless:

We do not want a brother standing at the altar on his wedding day looking at his beautiful bride only to imagine behind her the boys and men who took advantage of her and robbed her of the trust and confidence that she now needs for her husband. We do not want a sister standing at the altar on her wedding day looking at her handsome groom only to imagine behind him a string of relationships with girls and women he failed to honor, and knowing that images in his head from pornography use and past flings may stick with him for a long time.

Do you see it.  Evil boys and men have victimized the woman.  But the man has failed morally. This is just one example.  I could link hundreds.

There are so many factors in this.  But what I can tell you is that this teaching is not helping.  I do believe that the man should lead, even in a non marriage relationship.  But telling men that they are basically animals forcing women to have sex is not productive and frankly it’s not true. Really it’s a shot at both gender’s moral agency.  It also sets up married sex in the wrong way*, but that is for another day.

The Bible clearly calls us to flee sexual immorality.  It’s important, not just in terms of our personal purity and becoming married, but also because of our witness.  However the right view of it is part of the key to doing just that.  Taking short cuts and getting it wrong, just leads us back to the same cycles we are in.


*Examples of this include but are not limited to: teachings that husbands have to earn sex from their wives, that men cheat and women don’t, that men evolutionally (married or not) are always looking for the next person and women are not.

8 thoughts on “Sexual Sin Myths

  1. Thanks Justin. I’m still processing this and may come back and comment later, but I want to point out as I have in the past that it is men (and some women too) publicly (in the pulpit or elsewhere) accusing single men of victimizing single women whereas single women are accused privately and indirectly of seducing or trying to seduce married men. I also think that many of the men accusing single men of being wolves are thinking about their daughters in these moments – not that this is a good excuse – I’ve just noticed that some married men suddenly start caring about the well-being of single women when their daughters come of age.

    I have talked to married/divorced women who are convinced that ALL single women are after married men and don’t care about wrecking a marriage because we’re so desperate to have a man, we don’t care who we hurt. I have to be very careful to acknowledge a wife if I’m having a conversation with her husband and even then, the wives sometimes very obviously don’t want their husbands even standing next to me. It’s also evident to me that women are more afraid of the conventionally good looking women because some of these difficult married women can be friends with single women who are noticeably less attractive or heavier than they are but want nothing to do with women who are considered even average (don’t hire a good looking nanny, etc).

  2. Another false teaching is that people with the gift of celibacy have a “low sex drive.” That just feeds into the belief that sex is dirty and shouldn’t be discussed. If we believe that Jesus was fully human and tempted like all men are, that means he also had a sexual desire. But he had the self control to resist it, just like eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven do today. So if we believe they are just people with low sex drives, we are putting them in a class higher than Christ himself. Like you said, God made sexual desire and it is a very good thing within the boundaries of marriage. But the force of that desire for sex in marriage has to be balanced with an equal force for God in celibacy. At the moment, we have a society that has that equation out of balance, leaning heavily towards marriage and family, and out of control.

  3. Regarding lust, I’ve been taught that lust is not about sexual attraction as much as it is about coveting someone. That lust is choosing to dwell on this person almost to the point of obsession (ie, I *have* to have that man) and results in basically objectifying that person.

  4. “Myth Two – All Sexual Sexual Sin Is The Same

    I’ve discussed this before, but looking at a woman lustfully does not have the same consequences as sleeping with the same woman.”

    I’m pretty sure you don’t mean that the way I think you do. Since from what I’ve seen Justin, you have a great understanding of the Bible and the things of God. But I feel like somebody could see that myth and think you are contradicting Matthew 5:28 where Jesus says “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    I assume what you mean is not that the two actions are different in terms of sin, since Jesus says they actually are the same and you even say that they “come from the same place”. But rather that the outward consequences are different. Lusting after a person won’t necessarily get you in legal trouble or make somebody pregnant, for example.

    Am I reading things correctly? If not, feel free to let me know.

    • I think you are mostly getting what I’m saying. We are probably 90% on the same page.

      They are both sin. They both have to do with adultery. But they are not the same sin. Jesus doesn’t say they are exactly the same. He’s calling them to a higher standard. It’s more nuanced within the context of both the times and the Sermon on the Mount.

      As T mentions above – the wording there is more about coveting someone else’s wife.

      There are for sure different consequences. Whether there are different depths of sin, that is debatable depending on theology. I would argue yes. But with a major clarification in that it doesn’t matter much because it all comes out of our idolatry (Sin capital S) and that is our real problem anyway. I don’t think we want to tell people that any sin is ok. I also don’t think we should tell people that all sin has the same consequences.

      I get that I’m being sort of unclear – but this subject is of course way bigger than one post or response.

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