Thursday, March 5, 2015

Five things to recognize in a 'Fifty Shades' culture

The record-breaking reception for "Fifty Shades of Grey" -- including in the South and Midwest -- provides an occasion for us, as Christians, to consider what it means "to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27b).

That was the topic a group of brothers and sisters who are part of Covenant Community Church in Fredericksburg, Va., considered the evening of Feb. 15. The discussion came during our monthly care group meeting.

"Fifty Shades of Grey" is the movie about the sadomasochistic relationship between a billionaire and a college student that opened with a domestic box-office haul of more than $94 million, breaking the record for a President's Day weekend. The movie is based on the first of a trilogy of books released three years ago. It took only two years for the series to sell 100 million copies worldwide.

There is a lot that could be written about the popularity of the books and movie. The books have been labeled "mommy porn," apparently because of the primary makeup of their readers. Their popularity with women apparently carried over to the film. An estimated 68 percent of the opening weekend audience was female.

But our concern in the care group discussion was what it means for followers of Christ in light of the definition in James that "[p]ure and undefiled religion" in God's sight includes keeping ourselves unstained by the world. Here are some conclusions I came to with the help of that conversation:

(1) We should recognize we increasingly are going against the current of our culture. The popularity of books and movies such as "Fifty Shades" reminds us of this reality. When a fictional account of the torture of a woman is this popular, we can surmise our culture has passed over a previously uncrossed line of public morality. As followers of Jesus, we progressively find a culture that increasingly worships at the altars of many aberrant forms of sexuality in conflict with the standards of Scripture and the holiness of God.

(2) We should acknowledge the temptations that surround us in a hyper-sexualized culture. Sex is a wonderful gift from God in the context for which He designed it -- marriage between a man and a woman. It also is powerful, and that is a good thing in marriage. Outside of marriage, its power is dangerous. This is nothing new. The apostle Paul warned the Christians in Rome to avoid "sexual promiscuity and sensuality" (Rom. 13:13). John Mark Yeats, associate church history professor at the undergraduate arm of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently said of the early church, "During the first couple of centuries, any Christian living in an urban environment would have experienced an all-out assault on Scriptural standards for morality. From sexual exploitation in public baths to sexual rituals as part of worship ceremonies in pagan temples, believers were assaulted with every form of temptation and visual stimuli. Yet the Christian's firm grounding in the Word gave a stronger foundation to the family. Virtue became a clear defining principle of the early church. As the social units of the broader culture continued to collapse and struggle, the clear claims of the Gospel stood in stark contrast. The church truly was a city on hill that couldn't be hidden." While our culture flaunts sexual immorality almost ubiquitously, we have an opportunity to demonstrate by our flight from temptation the overcoming power and love of Jesus.

(3) We should value Christ above all. If we would resist the Siren call of sexual temptation, we should find value in the One who is supremely valuable. If we do not treasure Jesus as "our life" (Col. 3:4), we are setting ourselves up to be seduced by a false god. No idol may be more enticing in our culture than that of biblically forbidden sexuality.

(4) We should realize we are in an ongoing fight. This battle against the pull of immorality in a hyper-sexualized culture is a daily one. It requires alertness and perseverance. We must spend time reading and learning from God's Word, as well as in prayer. We must constantly remind ourselves of the truth about God and His gospel -- and what He has accomplished for us in the cross-work of Jesus that gives us true and lasting life, meaning, satisfaction, joy and peace.

(5) We should help one another. We would do well to acknowledge we are all soldiers in this battle. The skirmishes may differ somewhat from disciple to disciple, but we are in the same war on the same cultural battlefield. That calls for prayer for one another, encouragement of one another and accountability to one another. If we would be the true church in this culture, we would graciously support one another as fellow warriors who are dependent on Christ and blessed by His body.

So thank you -- Scott, Rob, Donna, Bob, Di, Jim, Christian and Linda -- for the great conversation and the important contributions to thinking about what it means "to keep oneself unstained by the world."

* -- Photo attribution.

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