The Way of the Wise: Teaching Teenagers about Sex (Part II)


Three things are critical to a Christian model of sexuality.

Sex is a key way that a person expresses worship (Romans 1:18–27)

Romans 1:21–27 portrays sex as a principal way in which a person reveals who or what is really ruling his life. Sexual sin is by its very nature idolatrous; that is, it is a place where we refuse to live for God’s glory, where we exchange worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of the created thing. Sexual sin is driven by the sinful desires of the heart rather than a desire to live by God’s principles for His pleasure. It is a place where a person exchanges the protection and freedom of God’s truth for a host of self-serving lies.

It is significant that when Paul talks about the sinner’s rejection of God’s revelation and glory, the primary fruits he discusses are inordinate sexual desire and sinful sexual behavior. Sex is presented in Scripture as a principal way a person expresses his submission to or rebellion against God. He submits his heart and body to God’s higher agenda or uses heart and body to get what is pleasurable when and where he wishes.

Our teens need to see life as worship. They need to look at life from a covenantal perspective. They are either living actively in covenant with God, hoping in His promises, obeying His commands, relying on His grace, and desirous of His glory, or they are living in an idol covenant where some aspect of the creation has replaced the Creator, and they live for personal pleasure and the glory of self.

Sadly, few parents or youth leaders have conversations with teenagers on this level. Teens are not given a covenantal perspective on life that can provide them with a practical, diagnostic window on all that they do. In the absence of this critical perspective, Scripture is reduced to a fire escape for the future and a list of do’s and donTs for the present. The Christian life is reduced to a Pharisaical “do this and please Jesus” religion.

Sex is a key way a person expresses his identity (I Corinthians 6:12–20)

In the final analysis, human beings live out one of only two identities: that I am ultimate and autonomous or that I am created and dependent on God. All human thought, motive, and behavior are expressions of one of these two identities. In matters of sexuality, the question becomes, “Will I live out my identity as a creature of God (and for the believer. as a child of God) or will I live as my own god with no higher agenda than my own satisfaction?” It is easy to see how this perspective is a natural corollary of the worship perspective previously discussed.



In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul roots his entire discussion of sexual immorality in the identity of the believer. It is as if he is saying, “If you are ever going to remain sexually pure, you must understand who you are as a child of God, and you must make choices that flow from that identity.” There are four statements of identity in that passage which provide wonderful boundaries in which to live, not only in the area of sex but in every area of life. Another way of saying this is to say that one of our most powerful tools in dealing with teens about sex is to get them to look at sex and themselves from the vantage point of the gospel. Here is the Christian’s fourfold identity:

1. I am a servant of Christ. “Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” Christ has freed His children from bondage to the cravings of the sinful nature, not to self-directed liberty but to the wonderful freedom found only as they accept their slavery to Him. He is the Master who has freed His children from the tyranny of any other master (see Romans 6:1–14). We do not have to give the members of our body to be used as instruments of evil any longer but are free to give our bodies as instruments of righteousness. Our sexual lives will express either a joyful submission to Christ or an allegiance to another master.

2. I am an eternal being. “By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also.” The identity of the believer reminds him that this is not all there is; there is more to come. Neither the sufferings nor the pleasures of this present moment are worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come. A future hope changes the way a believer looks at the pressures, opportunities, and responsibilities of the moment. He lives patiently, not for the seen but the unseen, and conscious of the eternal value of every sacrifice he makes in the present.

3. I am one with Christ. “Do you know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? He who unites himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.” Believers are actually joined to Christ in an inseparable union. We must never think or act as if it is just ourselves alone. Everything we do must consider Christ, for our union with Him is eternal. Since our spirits are one with Him, our bodies belong to Christ as well. All of this is so that our lives would practically express the will of Christ. We must reject any thought, any fantasy, and any delusion of independence. We are one with Christ; to act any other way is to deny the gospel.

4. I am the property of Christ. “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” Paul reports a significant redemptive fact that has implications for the present. God bought us on Calvary when He paid the price with the blood of His Son. We belong to Him. We do not belong to us! Whenever we act as if our lives belong to us and we can do what we want when we want. we deny our identity as the children of God. Peter says that we are “a people for God’s own possession.” If we are owned, our obligation and joy is to please our Owner.

These four aspects of our identity provide boundaries that promote sexual purity and expose sexual immorality. They speak with power to the realities of sexual struggle. A believer must not let himself be mastered by anything other than Christ, and we realize that sex can be a life-dominating master. We will not let ourselves live for just this moment, and we realize that sex creates a narrow focus on present pleasure with little awareness of the future. We will not allow ourselves to function in independence, and we realize that sex draws us to meditate on what we want and “need.” We will not allow ourselves to function from a position of ownership, and we realize that sex is often about power, control, ownership, and entitlement.

We need to realize how a biblical sense of identity can function as a powerful tool against “youthful lusts.” If our teens buy into the cultural definitions of identity, biblical morality and the worshipful sacrifices it demands cease to make any sense. However, few people working with teens address the problem at this level. Much of our work seems to be done out of context because it is not rooted in larger biblical themes and a comprehensive Christian world view. We must do more than keep our teens “out of trouble.” We should settle for nothing less than their becoming “partakers of His divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Sex is a key revealer of a person’s heart (Ephesians 5:3–7)

In the Sermon on the Mount Christ declares sexuality to be an issue of the heart. It is not enough to say, “I have not physically committed adultery; therefore, I am pure.” For Christ, lust breaks the command against committing adultery. There is another way of saying this: A person’s behavior in the area of sex is a key revealer of what is ruling his heart. This is why a denial of God’s revelation and a rebellion against His authority and glory result in all kinds of sexual sin. Paul states it very plainly in Ephesians 5. The sexually immoral person is an idolater. Sex always involves the thoughts, motives, desires, demands, expectations, treasures, or idols of the heart. When we deal with our young people in this area, it is not enough to “keep them out of trouble” if by that we mean keeping them from committing physical sin. We must help our teens uncover the heart sins that their physical sexual sin reveals.

Sex is a key revealer of my need of grace (Romans 7:7–25)

Sex confronts me with my inability. As I examine myself in the light of God’s standard of absolute purity, I fall down with Paul and say, “I know that nothing good lives in me; that is, in my sinful nature” (7:18a). As a believer, I see God’s holy standard. I recognize that it is good, yet my heart wanders to fantasy worlds where I rule with no higher agenda than the pleasure of self. It is here that I am led to cry, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It is when I am confronted with my utter inability to meet the demands of God’s standard that I am also confronted with the reality and majesty of His grace. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (5:20). Sex reveals my need of grace. God’s call to sexual purity is as impossible for me to achieve without His help as it would have been for me to save myself.

It is important to help our young people connect their sexual struggles to these larger gospel themes. Here their need of Christ is clearly demonstrated. Here they will not find victory alone. Here they can develop a new dependency on and love for Jesus Christ. Here the teenager can learn both to mourn his sin and revel in His grace. Here the lies of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness are exposed. Sexual struggles in our teens present us with an opportunity to bring the hope of the gospel to them in ways they have never before grasped.


There has been a renewed interest in virginity both in and outside of the church. Christian and community groups are rallying teenagers to sign abstinence contracts committing themselves to virginity until marriage. On the surface, I am supportive of such an agenda. I, too, want my children to abstain from sexual intercourse until marriage. But this agenda does not go far enough. Let me delineate two deficiencies and layout another agenda from the Sermon on the Mount.

Where does the physical abstinence agenda fall short? First, it moves toward a less-than-biblical definition of moral purity. To be physically abstinent is not the same as being morally pure. Moral purity is a matter of the heart. If the heart is not pure, the body will not be kept pure for long. Our young people need to be confronted with God’s agenda here: to recapture the hearts of His people to serve Him alone. He will settle for nothing less (Ezekiel 14:5). We cannot allow our teens to relax be cause they have kept the letter of the law while breaking the spirit. We cannot let them be content with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:17–20).

Another problem is that the physical abstinence agenda tends to skew an evaluation of our teenagers’ relationships with the opposite sex. Are we really prepared to say that because a teen is physically abstinent the relationship is good? Is a physically abstinent relationship automatically a God-honoring relationship? A person could have a constellation of idolatrous goals for a relationship and yet be physically abstinent. We want our teens to do a much more thorough biblical examination of their relationships. We don’t want them to be comfortable with self-centered, manipulative, and self aggrandizing relationships simply because they have abstained from sexual intercourse.

Let me demonstrate the paucity of the abstinence goal. If you set abstinence as the standard for any other relationship, it makes no sense at all. For example, just because I don’t have sexual relations with my children, you would not conclude that my relationship with them is all that God has designed it to be. In fact, the physical abstinence issue is so obvious that it is not even one of the primary standards used to evaluate the health of parent-child relationships. I suggest that the same should be true in this case. Abstinence should be, at most, a starting point from which we move to assess our teens’ relationships in the light of Scripture (see Colossians 2:20–23 versus cultural emphasis on virginity).

Positively, what we are dealing with here are boundary issues. In sexual matters, where do we set the boundaries for our children? Christ gives us the needed direction in Matthew 5:27–30. Here He contrasts the original intent of the law with its interpretation by the scribes and Pharisees. Christ charges that the teachers of the law put the boundaries in the wrong place. They erected the boundaries of sexual purity at the edge of behavior. In so doing they misunderstood the law’s intent. Christ placed the boundaries squarely within the heart. This was the original intent of the law. If a person does not set them there, he will not be successful in maintaining the physical. behavioral boundaries.

We must place the boundaries where Christ does. Keeping within the physical boundaries is not a high enough goal. We must set the goal of living within the heart boundaries and not settle for culturally popular. humanly doable goals that encourage self-righteousness without solving the problem. We must in faith and courage uphold God’s standards and watch His Spirit recapture the hearts of our children.

(To be continued)

Paul Tripp is Academic Dean at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, 1803 East Willow Grove Avenue, Glenside, Pennsylvania 19038; telephone (215) 884-7676; fax (215) 884-9435; email

This article is reprinted with permission from the Spring 1995 issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling.