Fifty Shades of Nay, Not Grey
Fifty Shades Freed releases in major theaters today, three years after the first movie in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and not surprisingly — and yet ironically — just days before our annual celebration of love. The series of erotic novels exploring sexual domination and even violence has (tragically) sold over 100 million copies and has been translated into 52 languages. Yes, America has exported these scenes and this message in 52 languages to who knows how many countries.
Full disclosure: I have not read the books or seen either movie, and I will not. I’ve read about the story and have seen a trailer. I believe I’ve learned enough to write and warn my brothers and sisters in Christ (the lead male’s name is “Christian” for crying out loud). In a society that downplays the evil of evil, and even glamorizes it, we need to be regularly reminded of the danger of sin. Like a child that discovers a needle on the street and thinks it’s a toy, we can be dangerously naïve about what’s happening in our American entertainment.
The message that sex is selfish, manipulative, and even playfully violent will abuse and violate you. It might feel like a fun and harmless fantasy, but it’s not so subtly redefining the power and beauty of sex, creating spiritual blockages in your heart that will eventually kill you, and impairing your ability to enjoy real and lasting pleasure.
Ten Promises Truer Than Any Fantasy
Before you buy a ticket and some popcorn — or before you talk to a friend who wants to read the books or see the movie — I want to put ten of God’s promises before you. My hope and prayer is that the clarity and power of God’s words will convince many of you to save your money and your heart, and help you do the same for others.
1. True love — the love for which we were made — sets aside selfish desires and sacrifices itself for the good and safety of others.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9–10)
The sexy, tantalizing “love” of Hollywood mixes seduction, scandal, and passion. It suggests that the best love is forbidden love. True love — the purest, fullest, most pleasing love — was designed by God for our good, and then displayed by God at the cross. If love looks selfish — if it takes, rather than gives — it simply isn’t love.
2. Sin promises to please, but subtly and destructively wounds.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply. (Psalm 16:4)
If you’re honest, you don’t really need to be persuaded of this. Anyone who has experimented with sin has known her to be a dishonest and unfaithful mistress. Sin presents itself — often persuasively — as fulfilling, reliable, and enduring. But it never is, and it never does. Instead of quenching the craving in our souls, it intensifies it. It doesn’t satisfy our hunger; it only breeds it. Sin promises to produce happiness, but it only creates and multiplies pain, sadness, and need.
3. Sin that looks and feels like pleasure is only a poor shadow of something much more intense and satisfying.
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices. . . . In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:8–9, 11)
There’s no question, when we indulge the desires of our flesh, we will feel some kind of sensation and even pleasure. Sin wouldn’t have any power over us if we didn’t. The promise we’re forgetting or rejecting, though, is that the thimble of pleasure we receive in sin is short and pathetic compared with the ocean of pleasure we will have in God’s presence.
4. Those who choose to see less today will see more forever.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
“Sin that looks and feels like pleasure is only a poor shadow of something much more intense and satisfying.”
There are things we see and indulge in this life that blind us to God. There is nothing more spectacular and satisfying than seeing and enjoying God, but we so quickly and cavalierly trade that experience for 125 minutes (or less!) of titillation.
Every time we expose and entertain ourselves with impurity, we’re sacrificing our awareness and knowledge of the highest goodness and fullest majesty and greatest love anyone has ever experienced. Do not be fooled, we’re paying far more than the cost of that overly-priced movie ticket when we dip into impurity.
5. Lust — a devious, misdirected, or selfish sexual desire — dishonors, not honors, its object.
This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5)
The attention may feel like love, but lust is really a fascination with and fixation on self. At some point, we begin to settle for any sexual desire in a partner, regardless of how they view us. We feel honored (loved) by what is by definition dishonoring and degrading. The selfish, illicit sexual attention feels like it’s making much of us when it really doesn’t care about us at all. Its sole purpose is to fulfill an insatiable and deceived desire for pleasure. Lust is not love; it does not serve; and it will harm you before it surrenders its gratification.
6. The passions of the flesh are not the highest, but lowest of human experiences.
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world. . . [living] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3)
When Paul explains what happened to you when you were saved from sin, he says you were dead — not just broken or sick or wrong, but dead. And in the death you were living, you took your cues from the world and lived in the passions of the flesh, the natural, sinful desires of the body. That’s what it means to be dead.
When you were least alive, you were enslaved to lust — and every other species of sin. If you want to live — truly, lastingly, vibrantly, happily live — lay aside how you lived when you were dead. Escape the coffin of the world’s lies. Follow the course to heaven. Learn the passions of godliness. Carry out the desires of the Spirit. Live.
7. Self-control, not the control of others, is to be celebrated, cultivated, and imitated.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality. . . . I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19, 21–24)
The kind of love and sex celebrated by Fifty Shades of Grey is emptied of its meaning and power. Love doesn’t wield control in sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality. Love is patient, gentle, and resists its own selfish urges for the sake of others. Instead of saying yes to every rebel, foreign, deviant impulse, it asks again and again what will serve and satisfy the other. It controls itself, not its neighbor.
8. Sex is a stunning picture of the purity and love of God, and it can be a devastating weapon of Satan for destruction.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31–32)
Sex was given to us to tell us something of the love, intimacy, and trust we experience with God through Christ. Our relationship with God is not sexual, but sex — as the deepest, most vulnerable, most sacred experience two people can have in this life — is a stunning picture of the height, length, width, and depth of God’s love for us.
Piper: “We are sinful not because we’re victims of darkness, but because we’re lovers of darkness.”
At the same time, Satan has stolen sex and distorted it into something hideous and dangerous. The sex Satan sells is a counterfeit — a melting wax statue of the real thing. Instead of communicating the beauty and glory of God, it demonstrates the dangers of opposing him and corrupting his good gifts. The sex that rejects God rejects its own goodness. It misses the true point and pleasure of sex entirely.
9. Our deepest brokenness is not just that we engage in darkness, but that we love it.
“This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19)
As John Piper has said, “We are sinful not because we’re victims of darkness, but because we’re lovers of darkness.” One way to oppose God’s saving work in your life is to cultivate a love for darkness. If you find sin entertaining or enjoy that which suggests sin is good and pleasing, you will find yourself — either subtly and secretly or boldly and publicly — loving darkness. And a love for darkness cannot and will not live in the light (John 3:20).
10. God’s grace can cover any sexual sin — however selfish, dark, and even violent — but it never entertains it or makes peace with it.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. . . . How can we who died to sin still live in it? . . . We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 3:23–24; 6:2, 6–7).
“Those who choose to see less today will see more forever.”
If the blood of Jesus was strong enough to save David — the sexual sinner who slept with another man’s wife and then had him killed — he can save you from whatever sexual darkness you’ve seen or done. But he did not save you to keep you there. He died not just to rescue you from the darkness of hell, but from the darkness that’s crept further and further into our world and media.
He died to free you, not so that you could indulge your sinful fantasies, but so that you could escape them. The God who says, “I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25) also says, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Just Say Nay to the Grey
Sin is a needle that indulges deadly addictions and murders its victims. It is not the toy it pretends to be. It pierces quietly and deeply to the most vulnerable and longest-lasting parts of us. In whatever package — however beautiful, captivating, and culturally accepted — it is not safe. In the end, the guilty pleasure is no pleasure at all. Only God can please what our eyes and hearts truly crave.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis. This article first appeared on desiringgod.org.
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