Teaching Biblical Sexuality Points Teenagers to the Gospel

It was a conversation I was dreading. 

On our mission trip, a student had been asking pointed questions about what the Bible says regarding God’s design for sexuality. I knew the trip wasn’t the ideal time and place to discuss it deeply, so I set up a meeting for after we returned home. I anticipated pushback and frustration at the biblical framework I’d be sharing, which today’s teenagers often perceive as outdated. Ultimately, I feared this student might never return to our church.

Thankfully, I was wrong to anticipate the worst. It turns out this wasn’t the pastoral version of a root canal; it was actually an incredible opportunity for the student to see the reality and the beauty of what the gospel is all about. In a surprising turn of events, I now look forward to these conversations about sexuality with our students because each interaction gives me a chance to unpack God’s good design for human beings.

The actual conversation with the student, whom I’ll call Sean, was a number of years ago, and I don’t recall it word for word. But let me share the gist with you as a way to encourage you in similar conversations.

A Gospel Conversation

Syler: Sean, thank you so much for coming in today, and for asking so many good questions. I want to start by asking you a question and we’ll just see where this goes. So here’s a big one: Why do you think we exist? 

Sean: Oh you’re starting me off with an easy one, huh? I guess…to glorify God? 

Syler: Good answer! I think that’s actually the “right” answer. There are many Christians who say that’s the answer, but then don’t really live like it is. The way they live would suggest that they exist in order to make themselves as happy as possible. Do you understand what I mean? 

Sean: I think so. Like they know what to say, and they know they’re supposed to live for God’s glory, but in practice, they really make decisions that will make them happy, ignoring God. Is that what you mean?

Syler: That’s exactly what I mean. Let me set up two scenarios. In the first, Scenario A, honoring God, giving him glory, putting him at the center of all things is the point, and in another, Scenario B, it’s our own personal happiness, satisfaction and needs at the center. Some people think they’re living out A when they’re practically just doing B.

With Scenario B, when we put our own happiness at the center, we believe that we’re owed a number of things in life—things like 1) a healthy, long-ish life 2) friends we like who will be nice to us 3) soon enough, going to a good college and finding the job we want and 4) a romantic partner that “completes us.” Now…by God’s grace to us, it’s possible we might end up with all four of those things and more. But if these are the things we’re living for, we’re missing the big picture of why you exist. Not only that, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment when the stuff we think we deserve doesn’t come our way. Are you with me so far?

Sean: Yeah, I’m with you. 

Syler: Good. (And by the way, you’re so brave for coming in and listening to this! Not everyone would sign up for this…) Let me talk about this a different way. Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God in a new way, and when we give our lives to him, we can find meaning and purpose in that new way of doing life, namely: saying ‘no’ to our own interests, and loving God with all of our hearts as we seek to meet the needs of others. And when we put our faith in him, Jesus says we must take up our cross to follow him, meaning we die to our own desires, and say yes to all he has for us.

And that act of relinquishing all to him involves trusting that his design for sex, which Scripture makes clear is between a man and a woman in marriage, is the best one. Of course, in our culture today that seems extremely limiting for many reasons. Now in many cases, followers of Jesus will end up with someone they “fall in love with,” they eventually get married, have kids, and that relationship will bring him glory, and is a very good thing. Others won’t end up in that kind of relationship. 

Sean: Ok that’s my problem—it just doesn’t seem fair to me! If someone has same-sex desires, which they didn’t “choose,” then why wouldn’t God let them follow through on those desires?

Syler: I hear you. And I agree that on the face of it, it feels unfair. But it’s only unfair if your worldview has you at the center. And a worldview with you at the center will ultimately lead you to disappointment. It will never be enough. If your hope is in any particular person other than Jesus, that person will let you down. There are a hundred things Jesus asks us to say no to when we follow him, so that we can live with him at the center. But he’s actually done the hardest thing—he’s saved us for himself by dying in our place. Is it okay if we look at a verse for a second? 

Sean: Sure.

Syler: Let’s read Matthew 6:33. Jesus is speaking to a crowd and he says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Jesus contrasts worrying about meeting your physical needs with the alternative, which is seeking first the kingdom of God. He says when you do that (another way of talking about putting God at the center versus putting your happiness at the center), the stuff that you really need gets taken care of. 

Sean: I understand what you’re saying, and I think I’m going to need more time to think about it.

Syler: Absolutely. Again, I’m so grateful you took time to meet with me and ask me these really big, important questions. I will leave you with this: Ultimately what the Bible says is that the point of life isn’t sexual fulfillment or a soulmate. The point of life is finding ultimate purpose and meaning in in God and his kingdom, then trusting God with the rest. Can I pray for you? 

Sean: Yeah that would be great.

Syler: Lord, your Word is filled with difficult sayings. And we sometimes wish there was an easier path. But I pray that you’d give Sean and me the ability to walk the path in front of us, to love you with all of our hearts, and to love others as you would have us. Amen.

Do Not Fear

If you’re a youth minister dreading conversations like these, you’re in good company. And of course, this is a difficult task. It feels like it gets harder every day. But you’re not alone. The Holy Spirit is at work, and he will give you the words you need. Have boldness and confidence that, as Paul promises in 1 Corinthians 15:58, your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 

Interested in learning more about how to have gospel-centered and biblically faithful conversations about sex and sexuality with your students? Check out Rooted’s online training videos for youth pastors on Rooted Reservoir, including the course “Talking to Our Children about Sex.”

Syler Thomas is a native Texan who has been the student ministries pastor at Christ Church in Lake Forest, Illinois, since 1998. He writes a column for YouthWorker Journal, has had articles published in Leadership Journal and the Chicago Tribune, and is the co-author of two books. Syler and his wife, Heidi, have four kids.

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