Our world is insane about many things. Sin will do that, produce a form of insanity. But when it comes to Sex & Money, our world is really crazy. Paul Tripp’s newest book is about these “pleasures that leave you empty and the grace that satisfies.”
He confesses that this was a very difficult book for him to write, precisely because of what it revealed about his own heart. Really, that is what most of this book is about: the heart. The manifestations of a heart gone astray he’s focused on are sex and money. This is not an easy book to read for the very same reasons- the waywardness of your own heart will be revealed.
“I am sad to think that when it comes to sex and money, we still buy into the legalism that says if we can organize people’s lives, give them the right set of rules, and attach them to efficient systems of accountability, we can deliver people from their sex-and-money insanity. … Few areas of the human struggle reveal more powerfully the sad sinfulness of sin than the sex-and-money evils that are done thousands of times every day.”
He begins the book with a series of scenarios that illustrate our insanity when it comes to sex and money.
- A fifteen year-old self-appointed expert on oral sex.
- An 8 year-old boy who is addicted to internet pornography.
- A married man who masturbates daily.
- Teachers having sex with under age students (nearly nightly on the news these days).
- Unemployed high school students bombarded with offers for credit cards.
- The average amount of consumer debt people carry creating an “anxiety-producing dance debt.”
- Governments worldwide are deep in debt, near bankruptcy. And their citizens are rioting because they don’t get enough benefits.
And we could go on. You could go on. I know of pastors arrested in “massage parlors”. I know people arrested in the sting operations designed to get men trying to have sex with minors. And these are only what comes out in public. What of the sex and money sins that are still hidden?
“Both offer you an inner sense of well-being while having no capacity whatsoever to satisfy your heart.”
But there is a deeper theological orientation that Tripp wants us to consider: both creation and redemption. He made us sexual beings. He placed us in a world where sex and money issues are unavoidable and significant part of our ordinary experience. You should get the feeling that you are living in your own version of Deuteronomy 8: test, humbled and too often found wanting. Yet…
“The gospel graces us with everything we need to celebrate and participate in both areas of life in a way that honors God and fully enjoys the good things he’s given us to enjoy.”
Tripp moves into the dangerous dichotomy, expanding on the fact that God is Creator. One of the teachings that has done us much harm is that some of life is sacred and some is secular. The fact of creation shows, as Paul says in Colossians 1, that everything was made by God and for God. It is all intended to bring Him glory, and us good. it is all under His rule. A gospel-centered approach starts here because sex and money aren’t the real problem. We are.
We want to be autonomous and self-sufficient. We want to be in control of our lives, particularly our sex and financial lives. This means we often distort the purpose and design of creation instead of working with the purpose and design. This means that rules won’t fix our problem. Rules only reveal the problem. And we’ve got problems. We are idolators.
Here he dives into motivation. He returns to the heart. Our bodies, whether with sex or money, are only going where our hearts have already gone. You commit adultery with another person only after you first did it in your heart by seeking satisfaction outside of God and His revealed will. Our understanding of treasure has been distorted by sin. The sins we commit only reveal the “dark and needy condition of our hearts.” In the process, he strips us of the many excuses we make for our many and varied sins. The Deuteronomy 8 life makes us confess “we live in a constant state of susceptibility.” When we pretend we aren’t … we are more likely to be ensnared by our own foolish and dark desires.
He then talks about pleasure, reminding us that this was God’s idea. He made us in a way that enables us to feel a massive variety of pleasures: sights, smells, tastes, sounds, touch. Adam and Eve were placed in a Garden filled with pleasures for them to enjoy. God is not the cosmic killjoy. But He established boundaries so pleasure would not consume us. When we are ruled by Him, pleasure is not a problem. When we rule ourselves, we end up being ruled by our pleasures. The pleasures intended to draw us closer to the One who made them begin to call us away from Him.
Tripp now focuses on sex after these foundational issues. He wants us to see the difference between “big-picture sex” and “little-picture sex.” The former sees sex within its rightful place in our lives; part of how God made us and under His authority for our good. The latter isolates sex from those bigger purposes and context so it essentially becomes all about us.
- Sex is connected to God’s existence.
- Sex is connected to God’s glory.
- Sex is connected to God’s purpose.
- Sex is connected to God’s revelation.
- Sex is connected to God’s redemption.
- Sex is connected to God’s eternity.
“Big-picture sex acknowledges God, admits to sin, and celebrates grace and so grows in both purity and contentment. Little-picture sex lives in disconnected denial and never goes anywhere good.”
He expands on this in talking about the individualization of sex. Instead of worshiping God (through gratitude) with sex, we surrender our hearts to something else in worship. It may be a person, an act or a feeling. But worship we do.
Even when we keep sex within God’s appointed boundaries, we still try to claim it for ourselves. We still distort it, using it for our purposes, not God’s. This is the reality of a sinful heart. Here he spends some time in 1 Corinthians 6 addressing mastery, purity, and ownership. But that is not all. There are two commands: to flee sexual immorality, and to glorify God with our bodies.
This brings Tripp to the truth that sex is inescapably relational. It is about loving God and our neighbor. When sex is about me I am only loving me. When sex is about the other person, at the expense of God, it is still dangerous.
“Sexual sin always has a lack of live for God at its core. Or, in other words, in illicit sex we are replacing the love we should have for God with love for something else.”
Among the many helpful things he says is an illustration about a fence. The fence is the boundary God has established for our sexuality. There is much pleasure to be found there. Outside are things that destroy what is inside: predators, poisons, pests. Too often our problem is that instead of enjoying what is available to us to the glory of God, we are looking over the fence and pining for what we should not have. At times we may even climb the fence to experience it. I’ve found that the more you climb the fence, the harder it becomes to climb back. You become ensnared. You have given your heart to something “over there” and don’t want to go “back there.” It seems overly restrictive now. But mostly this illustration is about the orientation of our hearts: gratitude and contentment or covetousness and clamoring. Many of us never climb that fence, but we sure spend too much time looking thru its holes.
“Sexual purity begins with resting assured that what God commands is kind, wise, and good; no need for challenge.”
The gospel comes to rescue us, not from sex itself but from sexual sin. He stresses that sexual sin is not unpardonable sin. This is part of how we have to nuance our discussions of homosexuality. Too often we press the sin issue so hard that we neglect that fact that it is just as pardonable as adultery, fornication, etc. 1 Corinthians 6 should remind us of this. We must call these things sin, for they are. But we must never give the impression that Jesus’ work on our behalf is insufficient to deal with our sinful struggles in the sexual realm. There is hope for sexual sinners.
Thus far the book is excellent and humbling. You cannot help but feel the tug of conscience about your compromises, deceptions, rationalizations etc. Tripp neglects the issue abuse. That is not his purpose, but abuse does add a new dimension to the struggle. So that is one thing this book lacks. He does us a great service by addressing the heart instead of focusing on rules. Our legalism can’t deliver us from the dangerous desires within us. We need the gospel of Jesus Christ for that. About that Tripp is clear.
We’ll get to money soon.