Idol Factory: Sex

Sex isn’t that big of a deal in our culture. Or rather, it’s a huge deal in our culture and because the demand for sex is so high the value of sex has dropped dramatically. People will have sex whenever, wherever, and with whomever. Sex is a primary cultural idol. People will pay for it, sacrifice for it, lie for it, pray for it, and even take it by force if they must. But it has no lasting value for so many anymore. The worship of sex has not only exposed idolatry in the hearts of men, but it has also exposed the devaluing of intimacy in the bedroom.

How can sex be an idol? That is a fair question. Tim Keller defines it this way:

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to Give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. (xviii)

When I applied to the area of sex we can see how easily this has become an idol for our culture. As a culture, Americans spend more money annually on sex than on professional football, basketball, and baseball combined. Sex drives people to do unbelievable, dangerous, and down right stupid things. Sex is god in many people’s lives.

Our culture is compelled to find sex any way it can. Think for example the way in which pornography controls a man. Michael Leahy wrote about how it seized him with such force that he isolated himself from his family, diffused any affection he had for his wife, and ultimately drew him into abandoning them. Men and women are so enslaved by a desire for sex that they must have it at the drop of a hat, and so the porn industry grows and expands ever-increasingly. Or think about our “hook-up” culture. Recent data suggests that 72% of college students have had at least one casual sexual relationship in college. Or consider the fact that there are 40 million prostitutes around the world. 1 in 10 men have had sex with a prostitute, and some do so more than 4 times in a single month. In America alone, 80,000 individuals are arrested every year for soliciting for sex. Or consider that sex trafficking is a $58 billion a year industry! Sex is a god!

The Bible speaks directly to this reality too. Paul writing to the church in Rome says that they have exchanged the worship of God for the worship of living creatures, and that particularly this idolatry manifests itself in sexual sin. So he writes:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.  24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:21-27)

Men have made sex a god, or rather they have made their own pleasure and desire a god and as a result have pursued sexual delight at all cost.

The battle against this idol must begin with a recognition that sex can become an idol, and follow with an intense evaluation of our own hearts to see if we have made sex the most important thing in our world. But more than just recognition we need to get to the heart of our idolatry. Why are we pursuing sex? What is it that we think it will give us, what is it that we want from sex?

Some people use sex to manufacture an emotional connection. Some young women who have experienced rejection will be willing to have sex just so they can be accepted, they can feel a connection that they desire. Mark Driscoll tells a story of one young women he met who was fired from her job for having an orgy in the supply closet. Why would a person do this? One possible reason is the desire for human contact, even if it is only temporary and only manufactured sex provides that connection.

Others use sex to cope with pain. Sex is a way to forget what they feel, forget what happened to them, to feel happy even for only a moment. Michael Leahy talks about how pornography did that for him early on in his life. Sex makes us forget for a bit all the bad stuff and sucks us into this world of euphoria that, despite not lasting, is at least there for a moment.

The truth is people use sex for a myriad of reasons: power, pleasure, self-worth, etc. The List could go on endlessly. Ultimately it is all rooted in a self-worship, but the manifestation of sex is not irrelevant or unimportant. As we expose what is going on in our hearts we must turn to the only true answer to that hole, that need, that desire: Jesus.

Sex exists to point us to the love that God has for his bride, the church. The intimacy that sex is designed to generate is a picture of the deep, abiding, exclusive, and profound love that God has for his people. It’s a love that drove Jesus to give his very life to rescue them. Sex that is about nothing more than our pleasure, our self-worth, our power misses the beauty of what sex really is. Sex is about relationship, about intimacy, about love. But porn, prostitution, and hook-up culture don’t facilitate this. That’s why a person is never satisfied after their sexual idolatry has run its course. In fact the common feelings of shame, self-loathing, and depression follow on the heels of sexual sin because sex can’t fulfill what it was never designed to do. But Jesus can fulfill many of those longings we have.

When we use sex to compensate for a desire it can’t fulfill we make sex less valuable, and we set ourselves up for disappointment. Jesus, however, doesn’t disappoint us in this way. Jesus can fulfill our deepest longings. He loves us in a way that the idol of sex will NEVER love us. The soloution, though not an easy one, is simple: turn away from sex to Jesus.

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