You can read Part One here.
8 Trajectories for Teaching Your Children Gospel-Centered Sexuality
1. Understand sex education as a vital component of a gospel education
In God’s creative act humanity is given a profound distinction as God’s image bearers. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). As male and female, humans are distinctly gendered image bearers who are commanded to procreate, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28).
The Scripture describes the uniting of a man and a woman in a complimentary one-flesh marriage relationship in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Thus, marriage and the marital act of sexual intercourse are a part of God’s natural created order, but their purpose points beyond the natural order to the comic mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church. The apostle Paul explains the Gospel purpose of marriage and sexual intercourse when he asserts, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:31-32).
Marriage and the marital act cannot be separated from the mystery of the gospel. The gospel is the reason they exist. Biblical clarity about marriage and sexual intercourse help create an environment where the gospel becomes more intelligible.
2. Teach your children “sex” is what you are not what you have
Consider Anthony Esolen’s explanation of the meaning of the word sex and its relationship to marriage and sexual intercourse:
“The wedding is a symbol of the union of differences: the generations, certainly, and separate families, but most strikingly, man and woman. The very word sex derives from Latin sexus, denoting that which separates; it is cognate with a whole host of words for severance, such as (in English) schism, scissors, sect, shed. It is a mark of our degeneracy that the ugly term “having sex” has come to mean the marital act, with the once delicate term “making love” similarly denoted. What man and woman do in the marriage bed is not “have” sex; the sex, that is the separation, they are provided with already. What they do is to unite, across the separation. And unless man and woman unite—and, given their differences, it always amazes me that they can—the culture cannot survive” (“Sanity & Matrimony: Ten Arguments in Defense of Marriage,” Touchstone, July/August 2010).
As divinely designed gendered image bearers, we must celebrate our gender identity to faithfully image God in the world. God makes clear in his word that our gender distinctiveness shows us something important about his nature. Thus, teaching your children a biblically healthy sexuality begins at the very beginning with teaching them to celebrate and embrace God’s design and distinctive gender roles. A parent’s example is the child’s most important teacher in understanding Christian manhood and womanhood. Also, teaching them to embrace their masculinity or femininity and praying for them in terms of their gendered identity is important and formative.
An example would be, “God, thank You that You made Luke a boy; help him to live for You and surrender every ounce of his masculinity to You for Your glory and the spread of the Gospel” or “God, thank You for making Lydia Grace a girl, You have blessed me by putting her femininity in my life. Help her to delight in growing into womanhood and to serve You as she learns what it means to be a woman who honors God.”
3. Unapologetically champion marriage and children
I’ve often wondered why contemporary evangelicals are so reluctant to talk to our children about sex. I think a major reason is that we don’t really know what to say because our primary goals for our children are often rooted in self-oriented educational goals, affluence, and culturally defined vocational success and respectability. In other words, I fear many evangelical Christian parents would rather their children be affluent with a college degree, than married and less affluent without a college degree. The problem with the approach of self-oriented prolonged singleness is that, while singleness provides a strategic opportunity for single-minded devotion and service to God, most people have divinely given sexual longings that are to be fulfilled in marriage. On the whole, we were made for marriage (Gen 1-2). As the apostle Paul contends, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. . . For it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor 7:2,9).
Christian parents who fail to communicate the meaning and Gospel significance of marriage are hastening the cultural confusion and decline of the sacred institution and are training their children to place themselves in the path of sexual temptation. We act befuddled that a generation we have taught to put themselves first does not understand the importance of faithful self-sacrificial relationships beginning with marriage and family. If we feed our children the junk food of narcissistic self-esteem along with a side of the American dream, then we should not wonder why they do not have a healthy Christian worldview and embrace sinful self-oriented sexual fulfillment. If we are unwilling to tell our children that their sexual longings ought to be directed toward marriage, then we have little left to say.
Could it be that the evangelical sexual abstinence movement has fallen short because it has simply focused on saying “No” to promiscuity without a reciprocal “Yes” in championing Christian marriage? Could it be that evangelical impotence in dealing with the pornography crisis in our churches is partly because we have allowed marriage and sex to be defined in terms of self-fulfillment rather the Gospel-centric, self-sacrificial commitment? Teaching our children a healthy Christian sexuality will begin with evangelicals who stop saying, “it is good that man should be alone until his 30s after he has a good education, career and individual achievements.” And with evangelicals who stop saying don’t be fruitful and multiply too much; after all, you will not to be able to afford a nice home in a good neighborhood. We must tell our children the good news that Christian marriage and the glorious Gospel it represents liberates them from the ball and chain of trying to live the American dream.
4. Unhesitatingly answer questions when asked
Do not ever act intimidated when your children ask you questions about sexuality. The world has plenty of answers and is unashamed to share them at every opportunity. We must not communicate to our children in a way that suggests the Bible does not have adequate answers to questions of sexuality. When parents are asked the question about sexuality by our children we should communicate a sense of delight that they are coming to us for an answer to important questions. Don’t you want them turning to you for answers and not their friends at school are in the neighborhood?
Here are some suggestions on how the deal with sexual questions:
Clarify the question.
You do not want to answer a question they are not asking so a simple statement to make sure you know what they are asking is often helpful.
Satisfy the question with biblical truth.
You simply want to answer the question with truth. That does not mean that you must say everything you know related to the question, but what you say must be true.
Do not over-answer the question.
Your child does not need and does not want a precise medical explanation to their question, but they do want their curiosity satisfied.
Clarify that you have answered their question.
This is as simple as saying something like, “Is that helpful?” or “Is that what you wanted to know?”
5. Commit to read the Bible together as a family
If you read the Bible together as a family, encourage your children to ask questions; the topic of sex will be unavoidable. At the church I pastor we have promoted a read the Bible together plan for the year. There are many reasons we chose to do this, but one of the reasons is that it forces parents to answer questions they might otherwise avoid. I told one of our staff members that when we began the readings people with children will start asking, “What should we do when we get to the sections of Scripture that talk about sex? Do we skip them?” It happened just like I thought it would, which provided us an opportunity to say, “You should provide age appropriate answers to their questions. Isn’t it great that they are asking you these questions? It provides you a wonderful opportunity to give them a biblical framework for understanding questions related to sexuality.”
6. Be the first person to teach your child about sexual intercourse
While this is not always possible because of the way events unfold it should be a parent’s goal to be the first person to teach his or her children about sexual intercourse. Every parent should take his or her son or daughter on a manhood or womanhood retreat around the time a child goes through puberty. The retreat marks the child’s passage into adulthood. I have taken my children away to do something really fun and enjoyable to them and had very direct conversations with them about sexual intercourse. A wonderfully helpful tool is Passport 2 Purity, a resource offered by Dennis Rainey and Family Life Today (http://www.familylife.com/passport2purity#.U1k3pS-pp3I). The CD’s are well produced and provide clear, but not crude, explanations of sexual intercourse and serve as a wonderful springboard to important conversations parents need to have with adolescent children.
The manhood or womanhood retreat is the beginning of direct discussion about sexual intercourse and the struggle for sexual purity and not the end, but the retreat should open the door for those vital future conversations. It will also provide many fun moments and produce stories that you’ll remember for a lifetime. I played the Passport to Purity CD with one of my sons, and when Dennis Rainey began explaining sexual intercourse, my son yelled out, “Dad are you listening to this guy? He is sick!” I told him, “You are about to have your world rocked this weekend, son!”
7. Use direct language but avoid being crude or medical
The Song of Solomon provides a helpful model for parents. Is the Song of Solomon a book about the relationship between Christ and the church or the marriage relationship between a man and a woman? The answer is yes. Since marriage exists to picture the relationship between Christ and the church, all discussion of marriage is inextricably linked to Christ and the church. In the Song, Solomon uses the intimacy of human love to describe the greatness of the kingdom as displayed and the love between the Messianic King and his subjects. The imagery of the Song of Solomon is unmistakable, but neither crude nor medicinal. It uses direct language but retains the mystery of the gospel. I encourage parents who are teaching their children about sexual intercourse to briefly explain the medical terminology and the terms used on the street (slang), and then explain the terms you prefer to use.
8. React to sexual sin with the gospel and not like a Pharisee or a Sadducee
A parent committed to raising up a next generation Pharisee will respond to a child’s sexual sin by asserting, “I cannot believe you would do that!” No matter the sin, the Pharisee needs to clarify that we are not the kind of people who do things like that. A Sadducian parent, well acquainted with the good life and committed to maintaining the status quo for a new generation of Sadducees, will respond to a child’s sexual sin by showing how it may damage his or her cultural standing and opportunities. He or she might say something like, “You don’t want to ruin your prospects for the future. You have so much going for you and so many opportunities ahead.”
A distinctively Christian approach to sexual sin would center on the gospel. The parent might say, “I am not surprised at all that you have sinned in this way. It should remind you that you do not simply sin, but you are a sinner. The problem with the way you have sinned is that it is an offense against God and his gospel.” The child must know that you are praying that God will use the uncovering of this sexual sin to teach him or her that he or she needs forgiveness for sins. Gospel-centered Christian parenting is not marked by self-pity when a child’s sin is uncovered and exposed because of the unique gospel opportunity it provides. Giving consequences for sin and pointing children to the gospel is a primary way Christian parents embrace their God-given responsibility as stewards of the gospel in their children’s lives.
Your children will learn about sex and being taught how to respond to sexual urges. The question remains who will teach them and will they be taught about sex and sexual longings in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ or abstracted from the Gospel. Satan would love for your children to be sexually and morally pure as long as it is abstracted from the Gospel. Any path of self-righteousness and self-exaltation is a good one to the evil one. Christian parents must remember that Satan doesn’t hate morality; he hates the cross of Jesus Christ.