**This was originally an article I wrote for the members of Ephesus Church when I was preaching through 1 Corinthians 7.
“Daddy, what is fornication?”
Oh no! What do I say? Are they old enough? How do I explain it in a way they’ll understand? Do I really want them thinking about these things? Do I want them to understand it at all?
One of the most difficult things parents talk to their kids about is sex and sexuality. But it doesn’t have to be. It is, to be sure, one of the most important things we will discuss with our kids. We don’t want to mess it up. We don’t want to rush into it, but we don’t want to wait too long. What is a parent to do? Here are a few suggestions:
Nothing is too difficult for God. What He intends to do, he accomplishes (Genesis 18:14). His word is never void of power (Isaiah 55:11). His prophecies always come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Everything that happens in the world comes from Him. He is the one who sends the thunder and lightning (Psalm 65:9-11; 135:6-7; 147:15-18). The smallest details of nature are under his control: the falling of a sparrow, the hairs on your head (Matthew 6:26-30; 10:29-30).
So, breathe. The questions from your children aren’t just by chance. God is in them. And you can’t avoid their inevitability. Proverbs 16:33 tells us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” God is in control, not us. And with the strength and wisdom he supplies, these conversations can be filled with joy and delight in a good and gracious God.
2. Don’t Make Taboo What God Has Not
Sex is good – God made it that way. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28); “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). God’s command was essentially, “Have sex and make babies” and when Adam and Eve saw each other naked, they were not ashamed – it was good that they were naked together. Trevin Wax writes, “Throughout church history, some Christians have downplayed the sacredness of sexuality. Informed and influenced by an unhealthy Greek asceticism, some early church fathers believed that all (or most) sexual activity was inherently sinful. By the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had decided that there were 183 holy days in a year in which sexual activity was forbidden! The Reformers began to reclaim the goodness of sexuality by celebrating it within the covenant of marriage” (Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals 103-4).
Song of Solomon paints a beautiful picture of the goodness of sexuality within the bounds of the marriage covenant:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant… Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil… How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue… A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed… My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies (Song 1:2-3; 4:1, 10-12; 6:2).
One’s imagination need not go far to get a good idea of what these two young lovers are describing, and the Bible celebrates it! Sex indeed is a good gift from God, within the proper restraints. Unfortunately, in an attempt to keep young people from engaging in sexual activity prior to marriage, many evangelicals have made sex taboo and describe it as something that seems only marginally better than climbing into a sewer. There is no question about our need to speak frankly and frequently with children about the perversion of God’s gift of sex in fornication, pornography, media, etc. But we must be wise as to not make sex the enemy. God gave it as a gift, and within its proper confines, it must be celebrated as such.
3. Err on Early
The vast majority of children now see their first pornographic image before the age of 8. Often, we want to look at our children at this stage of life with innocence and possibility. However, our children are vulnerable, and the perversion of sex is everywhere. At early ages of life, most children are not intentionally searching for sexually explicit media, but the reality in 21st century America is that it’s everywhere. Television, movies, newspapers, magazines, billboards, catalogs – you name it, there’s a good chance sex is involved. So, while our tendency is to want to wait as long as possible before we have any discussions with our children about sex and sexuality, there’s a very real possibility that they will see inappropriate images and have questions about sexuality before we have the “talk”. The average preschooler watches twenty-eight hours of television during any given week, and the average teenager, twenty-one. Do you think it’s possible for a preschooler to watch 112 hours of television in a month and not be exposed to sexual images and innuendos? Additionally, wise as it is, even if one is vigorously screening television content, one will still do battle against the culture as one’s children hear about sex in conversations with friends, quotations in books, and in their own minds as they develop into young men and women.
And don’t assume your child is not susceptible and that their sinful flesh will not fuel a desire to dig a little deeper. You may have “good” kids with “good” intentions to do the right thing, but the advertising slogan that “sex sells” is unfortunately true. The Apostle Paul reminds us that sexual sin attaches itself to us in a way that other sins do not (1 Corinthians 6:18). It’s sneaky, appealing, seductive, and alluring. When navigating a world of sexual temptation, one misstep can lead headlong into the abyss of perversion. The sooner you are able to address it, the better – if we’re going to err, it’s best to err on early. Don’t allow time for their understanding of sex to be formed by the deception of Satan in the false view of the world.
4. Don’t Limit Yourself to One Conversation
Talk about sex needs to be an ongoing conversation, not a onetime “birds and the bees” powwow (and besides, what do birds and bees have to do with all of this anyway? What a strange mixing of species!). But take heart, our talks about sex do not need to conform to the world’s version of graphic content and biological illustrations, especially with younger children. Keep it simple and conceptual:
“Sex is something special that God created for married people. It is a way for moms and dads to be close and special with one another. Sex is a blessing because it is designed to help husbands and wives know each other and bring joy to each other. Sex is also how God makes babies grow inside of mommies. But, sometimes people who aren’t married want to be close like that, and that’s not God’s design. What does it mean when we do something that God has not designed to be done that way?”
Lead them to talk about sin when we move away from God’s intentions and designs. Initially, this is probably going to be enough for most children. Additionally, a look at Proverbs 7 will be a helpful tool to help children understand God’s perspective. But teaching your children that fornication and sexual perversion are wrong isn’t enough. It’s also important to teach them how to guard against temptations that are sure to assault them.
As children progress in age, the more frequent and frank these conversations need to be. Issues like prostitution, homosexuality, sodomy, bestiality, and others will enter the discussion. These are all topics that God addresses in the Scriptures as perversions of His good gift. Who do you want explaining these issues to your children? You have daily opportunities to talk about sex, just like the wise father Solomon in Proverbs 7. Indeed, it is your duty as a parent (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4).
5. Remind Them That it Doesn’t Seem Wrong Until it’s Too Late
One quick glance from atop the roof was enough for King David to walk straight into a string of sin (2 Samuel 11). Surely, David had convinced himself that the alluring beauty of a naked Bathsheba was his for the taking. A look turned into an inquiry. An inquiry turned into sex. Sex turned into a pregnancy. A pregnancy turned into deception. Deception turned into murder. And it all, in the end, “displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27). Are we or our children any more godly than David, the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)? Like it or not, lust and sensuality are part of our everyday lives. Sex, by the world’s standards, feels natural and pleasurable in the moment. However, when the sexual experience is over, the conscience screams, “Guilty!” Our children need to visualize the scene of Proverbs 7 long before temptation presents itself so they can recognize the deceptive trap when they see it. Proverbs, a book designed for the instruction of the young in the ways of God, graphically describes the power of sexual allurement and sin. Do you dare give your children any less warning than what God provides?
6. Teach Chastity, Not Abstinence
While a noble effort, the goal of most abstinence training seems to be to discourage young people from having premarital sex. Through various means such as pictures, descriptions of various sexually transmitted diseases, or stories of how difficult it is to raise a child – especially as an unwed teenager – Abstinence training is about behavior rather than the heart. As Trevin Wax points out, “Telling our young people that they should not have sex because of all the bad things that could happen to them actually perpetuates a self-centered view of sexuality. The teenagers who engage in sexual activity are having sex in order to please themselves. The teenagers who do not engage in sexual activity are not having sex in order to protect themselves. But the common root in both of these mind-sets is self-centeredness” (Ibid., 109). A result of this type of teaching, with no help from our culture, has been the complete redefinition of sex. This can be heard in questions like, “How far is too far? Where’s the line? What can I do with my boyfriend/girlfriend before it’s considered sin?” All of these questions stem from two major problems: a wrong view of the gospel and a distorted view of the purpose of sexual intercourse.
The religion of moralism teaches that one must be good and do good in order to please God. Thus, God is waiting for us to do wrong so he can either punish us, or take note of our bad deeds to put in a scale at the end of our life to see if the good outweighs the bad. Certainly, most churched people would verbally deny this teaching and mindset, but the reality of the questions we ask and the things we do determine whether or not we understand what the gospel actually teaches. Asking “How far is too far?” is a question that is based on an assumption that God is pleased with certain behaviors, and dislikes others, but the reality is that God is only honored in behaviors that are aimed at glorifying Him. When the motive is to find the line, the line has already been crossed because one’s foundation is wrong. Instead of asking, “Is it lawful?”, one must first ask, “Is it profitable, and am I enslaved to it?” Outside of marriage, sexual intercourse is not lawful. Perhaps what should be more compelling is that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is not profitable. Simply, the “I have to do it” attitude is one of our culture’s means of bondage.
The gospel, on the other hand, sets us free to walk in the newness of life that transforms the way we look at all things, including sex. As God sanctifies us, our focus turns from “What can I get out of this?” to “How can I best satisfy and serve my spouse (which, in turn, is honoring God)?” So, the gospel response is, “How, in this relationship, can I best honor the person to whom I am not yet married?” Answer: remember one’s future spouse is first one’s brother/sister in Christ, and he or she doesn’t belong to you yet. Until then, hands (and lips) off.
The goal is not to get to the wedding vows as a virgin – what a low standard! The goal is to get to the wedding vows completely pure and undefiled by sexual sin because the foundational, motivating question all along was, “How can I glorify God the most?” Don’t defile the gift of sex with such self-preserving motives – honor and promote sex as a gift from God to be cherished within marriage, and speak of the sweet gift it is to give oneself to their spouse without the blemish of sexual sin.
7. Christianity Is For Those Who Have Blown It
I recall listening to John Piper preach about George Verwer, the head of a missions organization called Operation Mobilization, who once stated in a missions conference that he saw a tragic number of young people who were once willing to lay their lives down, sacrificing themselves to advance the gospel to the nations, only to eventually fade away into the normalcy of modern American life. Why? Because of the deep sense of guilt and unworthiness felt as the result of sexual failure. George Verwer thought it tragic that so many found themselves worthless because they were never taught how to deal with the guilt associated with sexual failure.
The Bible is filled with examples of sexual sin. When Christians fail to maintain purity in sexuality, we need look no further than Scriptures to remind us that we’re not alone. While we need not expect sexual sin to happen in the lives of our children, we most certainly must submit to the fact that it might. And if it does, it is crucial that we point to the cross and the atoning work of Jesus Christ on behalf of His people. As devastating as it is for an individual and their future relationships, and for parents who have children who fall into sexual immorality, the greatest tragedy is not the act itself. Often, the sinner does not appropriately deal with the guilt that accompanies this particular sin, and then he or she tragically believes he or she is unfit for much meaningful, gospel-advancing, fruitful service. Sexual immorality is sin, and sin in the life of a true believer will cause sorrow and shame, thus driving us to hate our sin and eventually turn from it (Psalm 38:18; Ezekiel 43:10; Ezra 9:6). Therefore, the solution to the problem of guilt is that the sin is turned from, it is repented of, and a dependence upon Christ’s reconciliatory work on the cross is restored. “Blushing is the colour of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the face red with blushing…repentance causes a holy bashfulness” (Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, 39). The fight against sexual sin is won in the work of repentance because Christ has borne the wrath of the Father, on behalf of the Christian, and we are free to plead his blood as our payment.
At times, the temptation for Christian parents is to emphasize God’s law without emphasizing His grace. While each man sins against God in varying ways, his response must always be the same: Jesus. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8); “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Sexual immorality is devastating on multiple levels, but the grace of God in Christ Jesus is far greater. The shed blood of Jesus is both our motivation for purity and obedience, and our sure hope for eternal life. No man will approach Jesus pure and undefiled, and praise be to God that this is not His requirement. In the gospel accounts of the Bible, Jesus’ encounters with those who were sexually deviant were not guilt increasing, but hope restoring (John 4, 8). May it be said of Christian parents that we too, like Jesus, are clear and direct, yet gracious and compassionate as we address sin, especially sexual sin, in the lives of our children.
8. Set A Time and Do It!
What are you waiting for? Now is a great time to get the conversation started. Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to give you wisdom and courage, and make it happen. I think you will be surprised how natural it is to have these conversations with your children, and in the end, you’ll be very happy you did. Here are a few resources to consider along the way:
Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas
With One Voice: Singleness, Dating, & Marriage To The Glory of God by Alex and Marni Chediak
Everyday Talk by John Younts
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Instructing a Child’s Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp
Age of Opportunity by Paul Tripp
What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible by John Piper
(By: Nick Kennicott)