As a child of the 80’s I grew up without a personal computer in my home or a cell phone in my pocket. I want you to picture with me a scene from the 80’s where a dad goes into his son’s room and spreads pornographic magazines around the room. When his son asks him, “Dad, what are those?” The father responds, “I don’t want to talk about it. I just want you remember two things: “Don’t ever look at these magazines! Don’t ever do what’s in those magazines! Because if you do, you might mess up your life and not get to go to college. That would be tragic because you are bright and have a successful future.”
That would be the worst parental approach in every aspect for teaching a child about sexuality. First, it would create access to pornography and a corrupt vision of sexuality. Second, it would not provide a positive framework to understand sexuality. And finally, it would appeal to self-interest as the motivation for right sexual behavior. But is that not largely the approach of a majority of parents in our churches today? Except today’s approach is far worse. Parents do not provide pornographic magazines, but many do provide a 24-hour-a-day virtual sex show that kids can carry in their pocket. To state it bluntly, parents who provide their children unmonitored access to the Internet are guilty of parental negligence.
Teaching Children a Cruciform Sexuality
Taking every thought captive to obey Jesus (2 Cor. 10:5) includes sexual thoughts. The sexual liberationists abstract sex from God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sex, for them, is about personal self-expression and self-fulfillment. Consequently, their pursuit of sexual satisfaction is a never-ending treadmill of vain experimentation. Within this impoverished worldview, pornography makes perfect sense. The Christian father who refuses to teach his children a biblical view of sex joins the sexual liberationists in abstracting sex from God, albeit from the opposite direction.
The approach of many Christian parents in teaching their children about sexuality is often a combination of a Pharisaical and Sadducian theology and worldview. The Pharisees viewed the Scriptures as a collection of abstract moral laws, and they largely defined spirituality by what a person does or does not do. Thus, a Pharisee would tell his or her child regarding sexuality, “Just say no!” The Sadducees were aristocratic defenders of the status quo and what they perceived as the good life. So a Sadducee would teach his or her child to understand sexuality in terms of living out his or her cultural hopes and dreams for a successful life. The problem with both of these approaches is worldliness.
Worldliness is not a word that Christians use much anymore. There is a sense in which avoiding the word is beneficial because of how many Christians have defined worldliness in a way that is at odds with the biblical testimony. We often think of worldliness only in terms of moral behavior. People with the right behavior are the good guys and inherently morally superior. People with the wrong behavior are the bad guys and inherently morally inferior. But in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the term in a completely different way. According to Paul, there are those who live based on word of the cross, which is the wisdom of God, and there is also those who trust the wisdom of the world, which is a life focusing on personal strength, gifts, and abilities. Those who are determined to view the world through the lens of Christ crucified have their identity in Christ and his kingdom. Those who live based on the wisdom of the world focus on self-interest and self-satisfaction and find their identity in personal achievement.
The dividing line between the Christian and the world is not found in moral superiority, but a crucified Messiah. We are all guilty sinners in need of a Savior. Consequently, we cannot discuss sexuality on the world’s terms and simply attempt to tack Christian morality on at the end of the discussion. The Christian parent’s goal is not good kids—It is gospel kids. According to Paul, worldliness comes packaged in both conservative and liberal morality. Worldliness is defining the world outside the lens of the gospel. The gospel is to redefine every category in our lives including our thoughts about sexuality (2 Cor 10:5).
A legalistic or self-interested approach to cultivating sexual purity in your children does not work because moralism and legalism both feed the flesh (Paul’s point in 1 Cor 6). You cannot feed the flesh and domesticate it at the same time. “Just say no, and be a good kid,” is not a Christian approach to sexuality. We do not want our children simply to have a correct view about when to say “no,” but a comprehensively Christ-centered view of sexuality. A Christian approach is not built on repression but on delight and the beauty and mystery of the gospel. Below I outline some trajectories for parents and pastors for teaching children a gospel-centered view of sexuality.