In a revealing interview with Playboy magazine, actress Scarlett Johnansson made the stunning declaration that people are not monogamous by nature, and the less stunning admission that marriage is a difficult promise to keep. According to Christian doctrine, she is correct. But that doesn’t make sex outside of marriage morally acceptable.
“I think the idea of marriage is very romantic; it’s a beautiful idea, and the practice of it can be a very beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person,” Johansson, who recently split with her second husband, told Playboy. “It’s something I have a lot of respect for and have participated in, but I think it definitely goes against some instinct to look beyond.”
Johansson just unwittingly expressed the problem of human sinful sexual desire in Christianity. Jesus clearly taught that sex is to be reserved for the covenant of marriage, and that all sexual activity outside that is sinful. Indeed, he even declared that “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” and he encouraged his disciples to pluck out their eye if it causes them to sin (Matthew 5:27-30).
It is reasonable to believe that Jesus was engaging in hyperbole when he mentioned plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand that causes sin, but his point still stands — human nature is bent toward sin and away from the morally correct lifestyle God intended for humanity.
Saint Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and in sin, humans experienced the corrupting of their nature. This becomes exceedingly clear in Romans 1, where Paul explained how all humans, Jew and gentile, rejected God to worship idols, and “therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Romans 1:24-25).
Next, Paul argued that homosexual passions (of women for women and men for men) were “contrary to nature” and were God’s punishment for human wickedness (Romans 1:26-27). It is not unreasonable, however, to extend the meaning of Romans 1:24-25 to all humans, homosexual and heterosexual.
In Romans 7, Paul explained that despite the desire to do good inspired by his conscience, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” He added, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
Christians have a complex view of human nature. God created humans male and female in the image of God, and declared them “very good” (Genesis 1-2). But Adam and Eve sinned, and that condemned all people to a sinful nature which bent their sexual desire out of shape.
According to Christianity, sexuality is rightly reserved for lifelong monogamous heterosexual relationships, and conscience tells us that this institution of marriage is the morally correct choice. That’s why Johansson calls it “beautiful” and “romantic.”
But it is also hard — not just to find a compatible person of the opposite sex, but to channel all sexual desire to that relationship. Human sexuality keeps urging each sinful person to violate marriage, either by having sex beforehand or by having sex with those who are not their spouse.
When Christians tell homosexuals that they should restrain their desires, this is not a unique calling. God calls Christians to reserve sex for marriage, and scripture makes it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. But gay or straight, the unmarried are called to abstinence, and this is painful.
Human sexuality can easily become an idol. Even those who are married are called to place their relationship with God and the good of their spouse ahead of their sexual desires. American culture tends to emphasize the good of sex, but in a way that overshadows other important values. Sex is good, but it is not the highest good, and like food and other things, it should be used responsibly.
Celebrities like Johansson — and millions of Americans who do not live by Christian morality on sexuality — still have a high view of marriage, even though they often see it as an unattainable romantic ideal. It is not the job of Christians to judge and condemn them for living in sin, but to set an example of that ideal, to make it clear that, through the grace of God, it is possible to overcome sinful nature.
As Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Christians should be clear about where the Bible stands on these issues, and humbly repent of our sins before God, that He might make us witnesses to His glory.
Jesus promises that those who trust in Him will not be put to shame. In a culture which emphasizes sex and stigmatizes virgins, this is a key promise for Christians to keep in mind.
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