Continued from Purity, Not Just for the Unmarried
Sometimes, people get their ideas about marriage from watching films and watching movies. That’s a really dangerous thing to do because of the films they choose. They want to watch The Notebook. If you want to see a realistic movie portrayal of what it means to—Ephesians 5—“Fight for your wife and your marriage” —don’t watch some promiscuous idolater, and don’t watch some sappy romance—watch an old werewolf movie. What happens in the werewolf movies? The guy knows that he has been bitten by a werewolf, and he knows that the moon is going to be full. He’s watching the shadows go back and back, from the moon. He says to his friends: “I want you to chain me in the basement as long as the moon is full. I don’t care how I beg you. I don’t care how I plead with you. I don’t care what I promise you. Don’t let me out of the basement, as long as the moon is full.”
That is exactly what it means to crucify yourself, sexually, when it comes to temptation. You must know yourself enough to know, “Where are those soft points of vulnerability that the satanic powers are going to be able to tap at, and to check, and to move towards?” because you can be certain that these invisible beings are watching what turns your head. They are watching what gets your attention. They are seeing the desires of your heart. As long as those desires of your heart are not conformed into the image of Christ, they will see to it that you will get what you want. A faithful husband and a faithful wife are Christians, who are struggling, and fighting, and crucifying the flesh—not only as individuals—but as a couple.
In premarital counseling—with every couple that I marry—one of the exercises that I have them do is to write an essay that they will read to the other one: “If I were to have an affair, here is how I would do it.” You can lie in that. You don’t know everything about yourself in that; but sitting there and saying: “What is the kind of situation—where would I be vulnerable to adultery—and what kinds of things ought you to ask about if you start to see those things showing up in my life? What is the way that I typically cover over sin? What is the way that I typically justify sin to myself?”
As a couple, you are not, as Paul says, ignorant of Satan’s designs. You know what the satanic powers do to human beings, generally; and then, you know what the satanic powers do, specifically with you. The other member of that couple is able to be watching and praying with you—as seeing where all of those internal and external threats are starting to come in.
Early on, in ministry—serving a church—we had a young woman, who would come up after every sermon. She would say, “Ah, Brother Moore—that was just amazing! I’ve got some questions to ask you, from Habakkuk.” Then, she would stand and ask questions. Maria said to me, in the car, on the way home, “She’s after you!” I said, “You’re crazy! You are crazy! I look like a cricket. She’s not after me. Secondly, she’s just this godly, truth-seeking woman. She’s just intensely passionate about Habakkuk.” Maria said: “Well, I don’t know about all that, but I know women. I know how women act, and she is after you.” She was not threatened by that. She didn’t nag or berate me about that. She just made sure that, every time that woman approached, she was right there with me.
That woman came and sat down one time—next to me, on the pew, before service started—to ask me a Habakkuk question. Next thing I know, here comes Maria. She just squeezes herself right down between us, reaches up and kisses me on the cheek, and just starts rubbing my back, while I explain the eschatology of Habakkuk. What that is—is a warrior princess for Christ—in her marriage.
If you wives are going to work, with your husbands, toward godliness, you cannot be threatened by the idea that your husband is going to feel some attraction for some other woman. If your husband tells you that he has never had any attraction to anybody else but you, he is a liar! Don’t be threatened, wives, when your husband sits down and says to you: “I believe that I may be vulnerable. I find myself noticing So-and-so when she walks in the room,” or, “I find myself just spiritually dry, and joyless, and bored right now. I’m afraid that’s an inroad to Satan. Help me to crucify the flesh.” That’s a blessing from God!
Secondly, there’s the issue of fornication. One of my missions in life—one of them is to get rid of those little, plastic, Chiclets—Lord’s Supper communion tablets—that we have been giving out for years and years. But the other is to eradicate, from the Christian grammar, the words, “premarital sex.” There is no such thing as premarital sex! The Scripture uses a specific word for this immorality. That word is a word that sounds so antiquated and church lady-ish that we feel awkward even using it—fornication and fornicator—but when you use the language of premarital sex, you’re not just updating your vocabulary—you are changing the notion of something that, in and of itself, is intrinsically evil—to something that is simply a matter of timing. That is not what the Scripture is talking about when it talks about the sin of fornication.
There are some ways in which fornication mimics the conjugal union of sex; but when you have two, who are joining themselves together, outside of that lifelong covenant, you are picturing something other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The fornication is not simply something that is timed badly. The fornication is a spiritual act that is joining you and attaching you, in some mystical way, to another person, in a way that communicates a Christ who is not faithful to His bride. That is not just immoral. That is blasphemy!
The fornication is not simply something that is timed badly. The fornication is a spiritual act that is joining you and attaching you, in some mystical way, to another person, in a way that communicates a Christ who is not faithful to His bride. That is not just immoral. That is blasphemy!
One of the significant issues that we face in our churches is that we have an entire generation of young people who are able to cover over and to callous their consciences by being technical virgins—by justifying, to themselves, acts of rebellion against God as somehow being acceptable and somehow being justifiable in a way that, not only stores up sin, but also devastates the functioning Christian conscience. Often, even those teenagers and young single adults in our churches, who are remaining faithful in sexual purity, are doing so more out of risk-avoidance than out of a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul says, “If you cannot handle yourself and keep yourself under control, marry. It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Why is that the case? It is not simply because fornication will do bad things to you later on—although, it will. It is because God has revealed, “Fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
Now, one of the problems that we have in our church, and possibly even in your marriage, is that we do not really believe that. We do not really see the spiritual war that is going on, at this point, because we assume: “It’s premarital sex. So, once the marriage takes place, the issue is now resolved.” “Do you not know,” First Corinthians says, “that fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Such were some of you; but you were washed.” You were justified. You were sanctified (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Why is that the case? It is not simply because fornication will do bad things to you later on—although, it will. It is because God has revealed, “Fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
Some of you—in your marriages, right now—are experiencing deadness, and mistrust, and conflict because you, husbands, led that woman into fornication. You have never gotten to the point of repentance before God for evil. Every act of hiddenness that you took to manage your own image and to cover over your sin, you will be able to do, just as easily, again, with some other woman. “She’s the love of my life!” You’ll feel that way about somebody else, one day. “We were just so carried away!” You’ll be carried away again, one day.
Until you get to the point—specifically, men—where you, as a former fornicator, get on your knees with your wife and say: “I am guilty of not protecting you, of not exercising godly headship over you, of not loving you as Christ loved the Church. I repent before God, and I repent to you,” you will never understand what the Scripture is talking about when it says: “You were washed. You were freed.” The problem is—we assume that, because the issue is in the past, that the issue is over; but as Alice von Hildebrand put it so poignantly one time, “Nothing drives two people further apart than sinning together.”
Your wife, men, may not trust you right now because she knows her parents couldn’t trust you then. Until that is dealt with—with the kind of heart that cries out, “Lord, have mercy, and free me, and wash me,” you will never find the kind of spiritual power and freedom in your marriage that you so desperately need.
About Dr. Russell Moore
Russell D. Moore is the dean of the School of Theology and senior vice-president for academic administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The grandson of a Mississippi Baptist preacher, Dr. Moore also serves as a preaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church, where he ministers weekly at the congregation’s Fegenbush location.
Dr. Moore writes and speaks frequently on topics ranging from the kingdom of God to the mission of adoption to a theology of country music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and also blogs regularly at Moore to the Point (www.russellmoore.com). He is the author of several books, including The Kingdom of Christ, Adopted for Life, and most recently of Tempted and Tried. Dr. Moore and his wife, Maria, have five sons.
Russell Moore, “Purifying the Marriage Bed,” Moral Purity in Marriage, audio broadcast, 12 February 2013.