There is an epidemic in the church today. It’s rampant in not only the church-proper, but also para-ministries and various evangelical organizations. It is the epidemic of “selling Jesus.” We, as a church, have become borderline obsessed with how we market the message, so much so that some are even overlooking the Messenger. We get caught up in gimmicks, selling points, and marketing strategies. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the tools of the modern church. Everything from True Love Waits to the modern, hipster “God is cool, just look at how cool our church is” mentality – the mindset of selling Jesus like a used car is rampant among Christians today.
I believe whole-heartedly that the intent behind these objectives is pure – to reach the world for the sake of the cross. But I don’t believe the methods are necessarily as effective as some might assume. Yes, we should utilize modern tools to exemplify the relevancy of scriptures, but it should never be at the expense of the true heart of the message. And this epidemic is not restricted to any one denomination or church size. It happens in the tiny church and the mega-churches. It happens in Baptist churches and non-demominational churches. When the heart of scriptures is compromised for the sake of appealing to the masses, Jesus is cheapened to a used car salesman promising you the “best deal.”
Jesus is not the best deal, He’s the only deal. He’s not a good idea, He’s the idea-originator. He’s not just a good way, He’s THE way.
For the sake of this blog, I will use True Love Waits as the guinea pig. I read a blog tonight by a girl who decided to take off her True Love Waits ring, not because she wanted to start having pre-marital sex, but because she realized she was buying into the promises of the “deal” and not falling in love with the deal-maker. Let me be more specific. She put on the True Love Waits ring because she was promised that if she followed through with the simple steps of the TLW program, she would see the results she wanted. And to a young girl, that translates to something like this: “I want a knight in shining armor. Okay, I really want a knight in shining armor and I want to meet him by the time I’m 21. And I want to marry him at 23. And we will start our family at 25. And we will be done bearing our three perfect children by the time we’re in our mid-thirties. And we’ll retire young. And we’ll live happily ever after. Because God said so. All I have to do is put on this True Love Waits ring and refrain from doing ‘the deed’ until we’re married. All this just for waiting? Done.”
Nowhere in that dream-perfect scenario is the why. Why wait? What’s the point?
Oh sure, you’ll probably be taught that waiting will prevent unwanted pregnancies. Nothing guarantees not getting pregnant better than not having sex, after all. And sure, you won’t get any STDs if you don’t have premarital sex. And girls, you need to understand that boys want to have sex for physical reasons, but girls want to have sex for emotional reasons. When you have sex before marriage, you give away a piece of your heart to a boy who never cared about having it in the first place. All he wanted was that moment in the back seat of the car with you. And when he’s done with that, he’ll be done with you.
That’s the message I heard over and over again. Every church I was a part of, from high school to college. That’s the message I heard from my mother, too. And granted, those are all legitimate reasons to abstain. But it must be pointed out that from the ages of 16-25, all young people are convinced that they are invincible. All young people have the “that will never happen to me” mentality. If you are older than 25 reading this, you know it’s true. If you’re younger than 25 reading this, you think it’s true for everyone else except you. And that’s precisely why it’s true for you, too. It’s just a fact of life.
But honestly, that message didn’t resonate with me very well. Even as a goody-goody girl, the only thing that really scared me out of having premarital sex at that age was the idea of what my mother would think. And for most young people, they’re not really that scared of their mothers. And for most people, fear is not a good or healthy motivator.
So what, then? How do we teach our young people to wait? What’s the purpose? The world would tell us that there’s really no good answer to that question, so we might as well leave it up to them, tell them we won’t judge them, and hope for the best. The church would tell us that True Love Waits (or the equivalent thereof) is the best way to teach them. But the statistics would beg to differ. I think the problem with a program like True Love Waits is not the intention, but the method. When we try to motivate teenagers (or anyone, really) out of fear, most will not respond. Some will, of course. And we herald them around as the beacons of light, the pillars of chastity. And maybe they are. But waiting to have sex until you are married should be for one reason and one reason alone – because God teaches us that we should.
So the question is WHY does He teach us to wait? I’ve only heard it explained ONCE by one person – my pastor, Robert Morris (a veritable heavyweight when it comes to Biblical knowledge, theological foundation, and Spirit-filled wisdom. Yes, I think this highly of him.) My pastor taught (in his series “Dream to Destiny” which is completely awesome, by the way) that God teaches us to wait for sex until marriage because sex in any other context other than monogamous, heterosexual marriage teaches us to lie. It teaches us to hide – from our parents, from our friends, from ourselves. And when we learn to lie to others and even to ourselves, we learn to lie to God. And then we start thinking that we can hide things – you know, from the omniscient, omni-present One. Premarital sex leads to deception, pride, and destruction. Bottom line.
Whoa, that’s some heavy stuff right there. And while unwanted pregnancy would be really difficult, especially when you’re 16, Mtv has glamorized it enough that it doesn’t seem all “that bad.” (After all, you might just be on TV for it.) And while STDs would be a big inconvenience, not all of them are life-threatening. And they probably wouldn’t happen to me anyway, right? Only gross people who sleep around too much get those, right? And yeah, it would be a drag to give my heart away to a boy who just wanted my body, but I would get over it. And they always say “that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” So wouldn’t having premarital sex just make me a stronger person?
We can justify ourselves into believing anything we want to. But the real test comes when we realize we’ve become good at deception. Does the idea of hiding from our parents bother us? Does the idea of hiding from our friends? Does the idea of hiding from God bother us? Maybe it doesn’t. But maybe it should.
The point, after all, is not that programs like True Love Waits don’t have the right intentions. They do. And God bless them for it. The point is that they don’t often teach the right motives. And this happens all-too-often in the church today. And it, in turn, ends up leaving people feeling like they’ve been “sold” on a concept of the “perfect life” with these “easy steps.” Let me be the first to say, there is nothing easy about following Christ. It requires sacrifice on a daily basis. For some of us, on an hourly basis. For some like me, sacrifice comes by the minute. We die to ourselves to gain what Christ has to offer. It’s a victorious life, but it is not a life without a little effort on our parts. Salvation is free, absolutely. But the abundant life? Well that takes a little work. And when the church stops trying to sell the abundant life like an infomercial (“three easy payments of $19.95”) we’ll be well on our way to rearing up the next generation in Spirit and in Truth, not in gimmicks and in tactics.
I’m going to stop trying to sell the benefits of Jesus and start living out the benefits of following Him. Want to join me?