I shared the following notes with a pastor friend who was preparing a message addressing sexual immorality and gender confusion. It’s a different approach, a verse by verse brief commentary on a passage. (I started with the last part of Ephesians 4 because it’s the foundation for Ephesians 5.)
These are tough issues, and they’re not going away. Now more than ever, Christians must consider how we can communicate with those with whom we disagree. The more we speak to these issues with grace and truth, not just one or the other, the better we represent Jesus and the gospel.
By the way, my friend preached a great message that truly was full of both grace and truth. His pastor’s heart was expressed clearly and many hurting people came to him in tears afterwards. Confused, disoriented, and deceived people are not our enemy—Satan and demons are our enemies.
I hope these reflections are helpful:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
God warns us against not just wrong behavior, but also against the wrong thinking that’s behind it—including the notion that sexual identity is disconnected from the body, as created by God and demonstrated by our sex organs, chromosomes, and DNA. It is a modern futility of the mind that sexual identity is a matter of personal preference as influenced by our life experiences.
18 They are darkened in their understanding,
All cultures historically recognized that boys are boys and girls are girls, but our culture is flying in the face of science by determining that sexual identity isn’t about the body with its parts and chromosomes and DNA, but is about our thinking and feeling, which are easily influenced by the Fall, and by personal experience, the stories of others, and propaganda, including teaching in school classrooms.
alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them
While we pride ourselves on our degree of knowledge, making ourselves feel superior to cultures of the past, much of what we now “know” about gender is steeped in ignorance of scientific and historically affirmed realities. (C. S. Lewis called this “chronological snobbery”—the belief that modern opinions are always automatically better than ancient ones.)
due to their hardness of heart.
Our problem isn’t just mental or cultural but spiritual. The world, the flesh/sin nature, and the devil are all working against us so that we keep getting it wrong about important matters of human nature and sexual identity, resulting in the corruption of our culture, parallel to the moral downward spiral of the once great Roman empire.
19 They have become callous
We have violated our consciences so long by entertaining wrong notions about human sexuality that our hearts are hardened, and we are now believing falsehoods that are lies of the evil one, designed to harm people who Satan hates because we are God’s image-bearers. (This is another example of how the evil one has a special hatred of children, and in this case, targets them with gender confusion. He wants to kill them, and he lies to facilitate and cover his attempts to destroy them.)
and have given themselves up to sensuality
Giving up means surrender. It’s putting ourselves under the lordship of a false god rather than the one true God, who tells us the truth about gender and sex. It’s letting the world, the flesh, and the devil take over our minds and our lives, rather than letting God transform us through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2) by meditating on Scripture, which is the source of truth and contradicts the lies about gender and sex.
greedy to practice every kind of impurity
When we unselectively feed our minds with whatever’s on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or network television, it will twist and undermine a Christian worldview and will inevitably lead to immoral thinking and living. (This is one reason I recommend VidAngel to screen out sex acts, profanity, and blasphemy.)
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus
The truth is not in what the world serves up to us about sex and gender. Rather, the truth is in Jesus, as revealed in God’s Word.
22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,
We do not naturally believe what is true—our opinions are deeply skewed and our natural desires are deceitful because of the Fall. We are inclined to follow them even though they are lying to us. They are Satan’s manipulative efforts to derail us and our children from following Jesus and enjoying a healthy sexual identity and lifestyle.
23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
The battle is won or lost in the mind; that’s why the current efforts in public schools and society to negate Christian morality and to undermine God’s teaching about avoiding sexual immorality and our identity are so dangerous.
24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Just as we put on one set of clothes instead of another, we must take off the wrong clothes of our sinful identity and choose to put on the right ones, those true to who we are in Jesus. “Putting on” requires effort and discipline. We must affirm not the fallen creation that tempts us, but the new creation in Christ that grants us righteousness and holy standing before God—this is the power source for thinking righteously about sex and gender, and living righteously. Actions flow from thoughts. Satan seeks to poison our minds so our actions will displease God, and therefore destroy ourselves and our families.
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood
We must first discern what is false (for example, what our culture is saying about gender and sex and abortion, etc.), and then we must affirm what is true, what God’s Word tells us. Finally, we must live by what is true, which is not only good but also smart and always in our best interests.
let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor
We owe each other the truth, and we must boldly speak it—all the more because lies are undermining the worldviews of unbelievers and many believers. There are churches, families, and individual believers being undercut in their walk with Jesus because we are not studying and loving the truth and sharing it with each other.
for we are members one of another. 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
The devil is an opportunist. He is eagerly waiting for you to give him a chance to take control of your life, destroy you, and ruin your relationship with Jesus. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If he’s looking for you, you’d better look out for him! He goes after Christians who settle for the world instead of Jesus, and who isolate themselves from the flock where there is some safety in numbers.
The people you choose to hang with and the places you choose to go (including over TV and internet) will determine your spiritual future. Sexual identity and sexual behavior are two of Satan’s favorite targets. Every time your eyes and mind go toward what displeases God and pleases the devil, you are casting your vote for Satan. Be quick to stop, repent, and step away from sin—give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4:27)!
28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths
This includes sexual jokes and innuendo, and also telling children that gender is a choice instead of a gift from their Creator, and that their body should be denied or changed to conform to what they are presently feeling. This is corrupting talk, and God detests it.
but only such as is good for building up,
We affirm God’s plan and His directives not to tear people down but to build them up. Satan pretends to build people up while sabotaging their lives.
as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
What builds people up is not always what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. We are not just here to make ourselves and each other feel good but to help each other be good. Grace is always vital, as is truth—Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and so should we. We should never heap guilt on someone experiencing gender confusion; instead we should listen and care lovingly and genuinely for them, and recognize we too are confused about aspects of our life and identity. All of us need to look to the God, who created us as He did for a glorious reason.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God
He is the one we should desire to please, and when we sin we hurt Him.
by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
If we address our culture’s gender confusion and sexual values from a posture of animosity, we will confirm their perception that we are haters, and we will lose the opportunity to have meaningful relationships from which we can speak into their lives. As we approach our brothers and sisters in Christ who are genuinely struggling with who they are and what their culture is telling them is normal, we need to be sure our hearts and words to them are wrath-free, anger-free, clamor-free, slander-free, and malice-free. We are to put away such things, and only Jesus has the power to do that life-changing work in us. But we do need to desire to change and to repeatedly ask His empowerment to do so.
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We are not to encourage sin in each other, but we are to be sympathetic to each other’s struggles, including struggles of sexual identity, which can be terribly difficult. But the answer is never to give in to the struggle, but INSTEAD to call upon God for His grace and empowerment. Even if our desires don’t change, we can say “no” to them, just as we are called upon to say no to other temptations. If this means never engaging in sex and remaining single all our lives, that is not the worst-case scenario. It is, in fact, exactly what the most fulfilled person who ever lived did—Jesus. And He had dear friends and family just as we can.
Therefore be imitators of God,
We’re not to be imitators of our culture or its idols.
as beloved children. 2 And walk in love
When you take a stand for God’s created gender design and for sexual morality, be sure you speak with genuine love, not as a self-righteous moralist Pharisee who loves to condemn others.
as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Christ is the model of how we are to address gender and sex issues, so that when people call us haters, others can see and say, “No, they disagree, but I think they love me and want the best for me.”
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
The answer to filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking isn’t just cleaning up your act, but giving thanks to God. When we give Him thanks in all things, it pulls us toward Him, and it pushes away what dishonors Him.
5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Let’s not ignore or quickly explain away this verse, as in, “Of course, this doesn’t mean sexually immoral and greedy people aren’t saved.” Clearly God is saying something vital here, that should shake us to our core if we are leading lives of immorality and materialism. Notice how God links sexual immorality with greed and materialism—some Christians are quick to condemn immorality when in reality, the immorality of greed permeates their lives. Everyone knows church leaders shouldn’t be sexually immoral. Why do we fail to realize they also shouldn’t be greedy and materialistic?
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
We should repent of sexual immorality not only because it is wrong but also because it is stupid. Unless we forsake it, it will destroy us.
7 Therefore do not become partners with them;
To tolerate or laugh at sexually immoral jokes is to mock God, and to remain silent is to endorse them.
8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
Our job is to recognize who God has made us to be in Christ, and live according to that reality, not according to sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil. We need our Lord and each other to do this.
9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
We need to stop trying to please people and echoing back what our culture is telling us. God is the Audience of One—Paul says, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Jesus” (Galatians 1:10). We’re to live according to what God has told us in His Word.
11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
It’s critical to refuse to do the works of darkness, and quickly confess and repent when we do. But it’s not enough to abstain from them. We should also expose them, which means having the courage and the love for others to call them out for what they are. Do not compromise, even if speaking out about our culture’s denial of truth and goodness costs you friendships or your job.
12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
We shouldn’t be unnecessarily graphic so as to tempt, though it is sometimes necessary to clearly show the evil of something God commands us to expose.
13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead…
The death we are to arise from is rebellion against our Creator and Savior. Colossians 3:1 says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
The rising in Christ is what He has both accomplished (already) and promised us (“not yet”).
…and Christ will shine on you.”
It all comes back to Jesus. We need to wake up to what’s happening, and speak the truth in love to a lost and increasingly confused, disoriented, and deceived generation. To shine with His light, we must first allow Him daily to shine His light upon us. We are to live the loving life of people risen in Jesus and covered with His righteousness. It’s all about Jesus. He must increase, we must decrease (John 3:30). And when we do this, we will be the happiest of all people, because He made us not for sexual confusion and immorality, but for His glory and our good.
He is the Audience of One. We must stop trying to “fit in” to our culture, and instead “be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world” (Philippians 2:15).Browse more resources on the topic of purity, and see Randy's book The Purity Principle and his booklet Sexual Temptation.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.