“What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom is no one’s concern but their own.” This is the dominant thought of Western society. Yet even for those who hold this position, they might draw some exceptions. Perhaps they would have a problem with incestuous relationships. That certainly is the case with the law in most states across the United States. Why draw the line at incest, though? In Russia, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Luxembourg, and Belgium, incest between two consenting adults is, at the least, not illegal. Similarly, while incestuous marriages are not recognized in Rhode Island and New Jersey, there is no criminal penalty imposed.
From a legal perspective, your sexuality is private unless there is a compelling state interest in how you are engaging in it. The definition of what a compelling state interest is has and continues to morph over time as the values of a society shift. It is society’s value system, then, that determines the level of involvement that they have in individuals’ sexual lives.
Take ancient Israel, for instance. Capital punishment was prescribed for those caught in adultery (Deut. 22:13–29). There was an assumption of consent between the erring parties (compare vv. 23, 24 and v. 25–27), and the purpose of the punishment was to “put away the evil from among you/Israel” (Deut. 22:21, 22, 24). Three purposes for the punishment present themselves. The communal and public nature of the punishment was a denouncement of the sin so as not to be complicit in the evil. It also served as a means of ensuring that the sin would not influence behavior. And finally, the denouncement was a powerful social deterrent.
Ancient Israel was a theocracy, so there was a strong overlap between the moral standards and the civil code, with God as arbiter of both. Not everyone today looks to God to define their morality, but whatever moral values are espoused by our legislators are reflected in our civil code. As laws relating to sexuality become increasingly lax, a temptation for the Christian is to strive for more morally conservative legislation by lobbying lawmakers and seeking other political means. Jesus did not call us to political activism. He has called us to co-labor with Him in the work of heart transformation. A Christian response to the decline of morality in society is not activism but evangelism.
Another challenge that presents itself in light of the fact that we do not live under a theocracy: How do we denounce sexual immorality in no uncertain terms so as to avoid its pernicious influence, while at the same time being winsome Christians? The words of Christ are instructive here: “ ‘And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye?’ ” (Matt. 7:3, 4).
“But,” you may say, “I’m not promiscuous like that person who is sleeping around as if they have no sense of self-worth.” Or you may say, “I don’t identify as LGBTQ+ so at least I’m heterosexual.” How about, “I’m always respectful of the other person’s wishes and make sure they have a good time. It’s not like I’m selfish.” In our own estimation, there is always a worse sinner than us.
If, however, we stopped measuring ourselves by the low standard of human frailty and saw ourselves in the light of the flawless life of Jesus Christ, how exceedingly sinful we would appear in our own sight. How close are we, in our sexual lives, to the purity of the standard God has for us? Guaranteed, we are all missing the mark. By just how much is determined by looking at Jesus. And when we look at Jesus, we will find that we have a great big plank in our eye that obstructs our view and our ability to see clearly the lives of others.
Perspective is the key to interacting with others in the appropriate manner. We must see ourselves for who we really are—sinful, broken, erring, weak beings. Then we must see others for who they really are—God’s creation that He is working tirelessly to win back to Himself.