Recently Trevin Wax shares an illustration given by Matt Chandler at the Desiring God conference. It is an excellent demonstration of the difference between moralism and the gospel:
During my freshman year of college, I sat next to a 26-year-old single mother trying to get her degree. We began a dialogue about the grace and mercy of Christ in the cross. Some other guys and I would go over and babysit her child and try to talk with her. A friend of mine was in a band playing in the area and we invited her to hear him. She agreed. She thought it would be a concert. I knew better. It was shady and she agreed to come.
The minister got up and said, “Today I want to talk to you about sex.” And I immediately thought, Uh oh. He took a red rose, smelled it, showed how pretty it was. Then, threw it out in the crowd and told them to smell the rose. “I want you to smell it and touch it and feel the texture in it.” (There were about 1000 people there.) He then began one of the worst, most horrific handlings of what sex is and isn’t that I ever sat through. It was fear-mongering at its best.
I’m thinking, with Kim beside me, What are you doing? As he wrapped up, he asked, “Where’s my rose?”
Some kid brought the rose back and it was broken. The petals were broken. And he lifts it up. And his big crescendo is to lift up that broken rose and say, “Now who would want this?”
Anger welled up within me and I wanted to say, “JESUS WANTS THE ROSE! That’s the point of the gospel! That Jesus wants the rose. That he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
I can share from personal experience how unhelpful such illustrations are to those that have messed up sexually. Before coming to Christ, and even after, I struggled with sexual immorality. Maybe that’s putting it too nicely; I’ll just say it…I was sexually immoral. After coming to Christ I remember many of these illustrations.
One such illustration involved chocolate cake. We had a delicious piece of chocolate cake (I guess it was delicious I don’t like chocolate caked). The first person took a bite and we began passing around the cake. Finally, when the cake had been around the circle for a little while the leader commented on how disgusting the cake was. And this is how we are when we give ourselves away sexually. And you know there is a good point in there somewhere. But what was communicated to me; one that had messed up? “You are no longer good for anything in this area of your life, nobody wants you, you are disgusting, you’ve blown it”. Redemption and the love and restorative power of Jesus were not what I was driven to. Instead I was driven to despair—which alongside pride is the only destination for moralism.
So, long before Matt Chandler shared this argument, I have been intentional in how I speak about sexual immorality. I know from experience what it feels like to be that “rose nobody wants anymore”. I do not use such illustrations. I do speak of the damage that sexual immorality does and encourage teenagers to make biblical decisions. But I do not do so apart from the redemptive power of Jesus. I also am careful to remind those that are sexually pure that such a state will remain only through the grace of God. So, I am very thankful that Jesus still wants that rose.
Pastor be careful how you speak on such things. Not just about sexual immorality but abortion, homosexuality, alcohol, gambling, and those other “big sins” that we forbid. Be sure to preach boldly on such things but do so to point to the redemptive power of Jesus and not to make us better people.
UPDATE: The great people at DG have now isolated this part of Matt's sermon--watch it here: