13 Oct 2022
Over the years, I’ve talked with children who said they had the “sex talk.” Some have spoken of it as like a pep talk while others have told me what they think with a distasteful tone of disapproval. They say, “I know I should be more careful. But everyone in my school is doing it. So what?” “Why make it a big deal if you can always use protection?” “What’s wrong with me loving someone deeply enough to have sex?”
Though we might struggle to admit it, such forward-moving questions are loaded with power. The child’s inner confidence echoes a bravado that claims a greater knowledge than the wisdom that you—parent, teacher, or leader—yearn to provide.
In a world of TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, our voices are dim. The destabilizing winds of our culture push and pull us and our children; we feel overwhelmed, without much to hold on to. Tired of arguments and restless with debates, we sigh—we love our children and care for their future that seems, at times, so uncertain. To a degree, we’ve all been defiant to our parents, teachers, and leaders. I remember standing as such a son to my parents when I would sarcastically tell them to “go to sleep” or “talk to the walls.” I believed they had nothing to offer my selfish self.
Furthermore, our society continues to march toward an increasingly relativistic moral structure, in which making absolute judgments on topics like sex is off-limits. We live in a world that’s more affirming than discerning, defiant instead of obedient, and hungry for self-praise rather than ready for self-sacrifice.
Nevertheless, as believers, we’re called to proclaim the gospel, fighting boldly against Christ-opposing lies. For Christ Jesus is the source of all truth. In him, we can live in this world without fear and model a Christ-centered life before our children.
Just as raising a child requires continuous engagement in their lives, how we talk to them does, too. Rather than a one-and-done sex talk (which often has peculiar and questionable timing), we need an ongoing dialogue with our children that stems from our humble allegiance to our Father in heaven whereby we decrease, and he increases (John 3:30). A Christ-increasing relationship has his love as the core, giving meaning and direction to how we nurture our children. By God’s grace, may they realize—even by the tone of our voice—the importance of listening to us as they see Jesus through our lives.
Yes, a Christ-increasing life is vital. We don’t emphasize this enough! We become preoccupied with the means to an end and forget to acknowledge what truly matters in the care of our children: Jesus Christ. We should consider our relationship with Jesus and pay close attention to how we live as believers before considering how to engage in ongoing sex talks with our children. Are we wholly dependent on the gospel for such talks? Our children will be the first to see the work of the cross manifest in our lives—or not. Whether as parents, teachers, or leaders responsible for them, our life is an inevitable witness. Our time will pass away, but their memories of us and, most importantly, our standing before the Lord, will remain. Just as we were once the ones looking up to the adults in our lives, so will they do the same.
Therefore, how can those of us entrusted with their care prepare for ongoing sex talks in the context of a continuous relationship that fosters life in Christ? We must decrease, and decrease, and decrease—and Christ must increase, and increase, and increase evermore in our lives (John 3:30).
Some of us grew up in a home where the topic of sex was not common. Whether considered “taboo” or ignored altogether, sex was not discussed or brought into the light. Some of us hoped this uncharted territory would be addressed by our educational system, counseling sessions, and youth pastors. But the hesitation driving a parent, leader, or teacher to avoid an awkward conversation with their child comes from uncertainty. They acknowledge the subject’s importance but resist the impending discomfort of discord or friction.
Nevertheless, beloved brothers and sisters, we must stand as those who rely on the Spirit of God. We need to come to our children from the context of serving the Lord with all humility, tears, and trials (Acts 20:19a). As those shaped by that reality, we testify about Christ and thus speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15a). Although sex talks won’t always be pleasant or timely, the goal is to point to Christ at each turn our children make in life.
Hear Paul D. Tripp on speaking the truth in love:
“Effective biblical confrontation often begins before we speak. How we live with one another from day to day sets the stage for the way our words will be received. There is no separation between our daily lives and God’s redemptive work. We don’t advance our own wills in ‘normal’ situations and self-consciously serve the Lord in ‘ministry.’ This divided world is a fabrication of the Enemy. ¹
This foundation of speaking the truth in love is about how we live beholding God’s redemptive work in our lives. That should be the driving narrative of the sex talks themselves (which often seem confrontational to the one who listens), helping us engage our children without fear.
Yes, if we are to faithfully prepare our children to talk with and hopefully listen to us, Christ’s redeeming work must shine in our lives. Take the initiative to speak lovingly about Christ’s redeeming work and how he ordained the world to be.
Remember, this is good news for us, sinners! What better picture of life in Christ is there than parents walking in daily repentance and faith? If you feel defeated sexually, burdened by guilt, and hypocritical—if you think this conversation cannot even begin because you feel unworthy, dear brother and dear sister, you are not alone. Know that the realization of that is a gift of God’s Spirit, making your sin visible like scarlet. And know that the power of God to forgive promises your sins are made white as snow through the perfect, redeeming work of Jesus Christ (Isa. 1:18). Your faith in his promises and walking in his light will guide you, even through your broken words, as you speak with your children about the forgiveness you have sought and received.
The problem is when there’s a discrepancy between our confessional and functional theology—what we say and what we do. We cannot expect children to listen or join a faith-driven, spiritual conversation when we don’t live as those who are redeemed. We must face the call to “only let [our] manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27) and strive to accomplish such a call as believers who daily behold and rest in the redeeming hope of the gospel: Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23a).
Therefore, beloved brothers and sisters, we are to be imitators of God, walking in love just as Christ loved and gave himself up for us (Eph. 5:1). As we look to Jesus, we are to consistently commend him, so our dialogue displays the gospel and speaks the truth in love. If we’re going to have sex talks with our children in a Christ-increasing, Christ-redeeming, Christ-honoring way, we need to be like Christ. We need to stand as those who bear the cross and love their own to the very end, just as Jesus did (John 13:1). Without such a foundation, there can be no Christ-like relationship with our children.
Praise God, this rests not in our own strength, maturity, or ability. Jesus is the one who lived and loved perfectly, always centered on and obedient to the Father—and his perfection covers us. As you talk about sex within the context of a Christ-centered relationship, rest in Christ’s perfection. Jesus says, “you therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and just as “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (James 2:23), believe in Jesus! He is the One who is for you and with you, especially as you speak to your child.
The hope is that our children will perceive these sex talks not as a “one-and-done,” circumstantial matter, but as gospel truths spoken in a love organically connected and matured as we, by the Spirit of God, live as those who adore Jesus Christ.
¹Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 2002), 221.
18 Aug 2022
One of the sentences I often hear at Harvest USA is, “I’m really messed up—am I truly saved?” It usually accompanies a cry of despair amid the destructive and painful reality of sexual sins. Life’s meaning and purpose turn to ashes as many heartbreaking and grievous situations unfold, damaging lives, families, and bodies. The throat feels dry even as you drink water. Food is distasteful, and your anger and pride take control of your spirit as you feel alone, uncared for, hopeless, and destitute, repeatedly pondering, “Am I really saved?”
The anguish this question expresses is familiar to many when life-dominating sexual sins take hold. The sorrowful assumption that there is no way out—and therefore no salvation—when entangled with sexual sins is understandable, because our human hearts are not inclined to see the light. I remember when my darkness was so engulfing that the mere thought of drawing near to God for forgiveness hindered my assurance of salvation. I simply reasoned that my sins were greater than God’s forgiveness.
Beloved, I want you to know that I grieve with you over your sins and suffering and hear your heart; your burdens have not been light. I wish to speak with you as a broken brother who has been given the comfort of Christ—as a prodigal son whose stubbornness learned forgiveness by crawling back to the foot of the cross. Yes, dear brother and sister, there is hope and peace in Jesus despite our constant wrestling with sexual sin. For “by a single offering he [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). Such work of Christ is undoubtedly the magisterial foundation of the assurance of our salvation.
Jesus Is the Way
Let’s look first at 1 John 5:18: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
Who is protecting believers from evil? This verse points us to Jesus: “he who was born of God.” After all, Jesus is referred to in John’s Gospel as the only begotten Son born of God (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18). If we are to form a strong foundation in thinking about our assurance, we must start with Jesus.
We can’t find assurance in our vain attempts to achieve perfection as Christians. Rather, assurance is the byproduct of faith that relies on the insurmountable grace of Christ’s work, which alone protects us from evil. It’s difficult to comprehend God’s infinite grace while limited by our finiteness. But throughout his letter, John wants to keep our gaze in the right place. He reminds us of the future glory that awaits believers, and that Christ keeps us safe from beginning to end in life. John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Remarkably, God’s Word teaches that Christ has worked salvation with eternal consequences even now; our identity as believers rests, affirmed in him, at this moment. And when Christ returns, we will be like him in holiness and sin shall be no more. We can expect complete freedom from our human depravity at the precise moment of his return. Oh, how joyful this message is to those who believe! It is in fact this joyful confidence and expectation that motivates our efforts to obey, as John adds, “everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
If you’re wondering where your confidence or help comes from, remember that your “help comes from the Lord” (Ps. 121). That’s why we must begin with Christ. God loved you so profoundly that he gave his one and only Son, whose propitiatory¹ death (1 John 2:2; 4:10; Rom. 3:25) has ignited your fellowship with him. This sacrifice brings about our union with Christ, whereby our identity as children of God is never forsaken, never lost. He is the one keeping us from evil until that very day.
Do you believe this, dear brothers and sisters? Such is the fountain of living water we drink from, through faith, that the work of Christ rules over life-dominating sexual brokenness.
Jesus Is the Truth
Make no mistake, the war we fight against the flesh highlights the reality that sin remains present. That’s why John reminds us of the ever-constant presence of sin and our ever-constant need for forgiveness as we wrestle to believe in the work of Christ (1 John 1:6; 2:4, 6, 9; 1 Cor. 15:3–4).
Certainly, we want to be free from our sexual brokenness even when we know this shall persist until Christ returns. Yet, know that such yearning for freedom is precisely where we can boldly proclaim our hatred for sin as those born of God. As we long for newness of life in Christ, we grow in holiness because of our union with him whose work on the cross grants us the assurance that, despite our torn apart, messed up, wretched life, we are saved (Rom. 7:24–25). This does not mean “go on sinning and doubting God because all is guaranteed.” It means that true fellowship with Jesus leads to greater holiness as you abide in him.
Your love for Jesus should command your hatred for sin. The message of the cross may sound like folly to the world, but it is, nevertheless, the message of salvation and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18–31; Rom. 1:16). We can’t reason through this but only seek to be “blessed [as] those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29b). That is the essence of faith as you are convicted of things not seen (Heb. 11:1) and hear the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17b).
Jesus Is the Life
The foundation of the assurance of our salvation is the work of Christ. Without God’s initiative to first love us, we cannot have faith in Jesus. But since “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19), we can have confidence in Jesus.
In this, we are not alone. The Helper, the Holy Spirit sent by the Father to teach us all things and bring to remembrance all Christ said, is with us (John 14:15–31). Through him we “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13b), obey God’s commandments, and are enabled to proclaim the gospel. Through him we trust in the promises of God, walk in the light as he is in the light (1 John 1:7a), and confess our sins (1 John 1:9a). Through him we take hold of the eternal life at hand as we believe in Jesus (1 John 2:25, 5:13); and believe our protection is certain as Christ is the one keeping us from all evil (1 John 5:18).
Beloved, if these truths are in your heart and you believe that Jesus Christ works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28), then your assurance stands with a sound foundation and, therefore, direction.² You’re headed to glory. And as you move toward this narrow gate (Matt. 7:14), you are to be sanctified in truth as you are sent into the world just like Christ (John 17:17–19).
This doesn’t mean you’ll no longer struggle with sexual sin but that, until Christ returns, the joy set before you will be more and more found in him rather than in your flesh. Jesus suffered in agony to the point of shedding blood, asking the Father to remove this cup from him (Luke 22:42–44). And yet he died on the cross, having that as a joy set before him (Heb. 12:2). Wouldn’t this be enough reason for you to confront your sexual sins and rehearse your assurance in Christ?
If your sins imprison you in such a way that you cannot possibly imagine or live as one who abides in Christ, then may I exhort you to genuinely reconsider the cost God paid to forgive you? May I challenge you to leave your standards behind, ALL OF THEM, and wholly trust in the words of Christ? Remember his promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Beloved, do not be dismayed. It is never too late to start from the beginning and gaze long and hard at the cross of Christ. May your assurance of salvation be clearer and clearer as you realize, each day, that such assurance is being realized by the glorious work of Christ in your life.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:14–17)
¹See Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 183.
²See David Powlison, How Does Sanctification Work? (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois, 2017).