We all know we are surrounded by sexuality. It permeates our entertainment, our advertising, our identities, and even our news. Almost none of what we see regarding sex is presented from a biblical perspective. As Paul David Tripp emphasizes throughout Sex in a Broken World: “I’m deeply persuaded that when it comes to sex, we’ve gone culturally insane. The level of functional delusion, of self-deception and self-destruction, that accompanies the way we approach it is simply crazy.” In Sex in a Broken World, Tripp points us to the One who brings peace and order to the craziness. He reminds us that there is hope for those who feel controlled, abused, ashamed, and broken by sex.
Sex in a Broken World begins with several scenarios of both men and women, adult and teenager. These are people struggling with sexuality, with pressures, with addiction, with desires. One scenario ends with a woman asking, “How can I serve a God who hardwires me with desires and then tells me he’ll discipline me if I fulfill them?” This leads to her feeling depressed and confused. Undoubtedly, many people will identify with some of these scenarios and will ask similar questions.
If you’re in any of those situations, this is what you need to understand: you live in a deeply broken world that simply does not function as God intended… you will never completely understand our deep struggle with human sexuality unless you first understand the context or the environment in which the struggle takes place.
The Bad News
Tripp calls this the “bad news.” As the title of the book clearly states, we live in a broken world. He goes on to walk through Romans 8:18-39. Paul assumes we are going to suffer in this world. We are living between the already, but not yet. Christ has come, and we are saved. Yet, we are still living in the world waiting to be perfected in His image. If suffering is part of all of our experiences, we should expect to experience it in regards to sex as well.
You will suffer the reality that right here, right now, sex doesn’t function the way that God intended. You will face the redefinition, distortion, and misuse of sex. You suffer the temptation to take your sexual life outside of God’s clear boundaries.
That’s the bad news, but Paul doesn’t stop there. Paul points us to grace. Tripp writes, “He doesn’t promise us that we will not suffer… No, he promises us that in all these situations he will be with us, in us, and for us. God is the grace he offers us.” In fact, it is in the context of this passage in Romans that Paul states that powerful promise of “If God is for us, who can be against us.”
What I love about Tripp’s writing is that he doesn’t offer fluff. He doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t blow smoke. As a former co-teacher of mine use to say about students, he doesn’t give us too many fuzzy wuzzies when what we need is pricklies. I want that hard truth. Tell me like it is.
At the same time, I know not everyone appreciates hard truths. They knock the breath out of us sometimes. Tripp doesn’t just leave us that way. He brings us back to hope and the breath of life. He goes on to explain God’s grace in light of sexual struggle in detail.
He then explains that the problem is not just the environment, but ourselves—our hearts. He writes:
You see, the humbling truth is that when it comes to sex, we don’t have a thing problem; the thing (sex) is not evil in itself. We don’t have an environment problem, as if our surroundings cause the difficulty. No, we are the problem.
Again, there are some hard truths here. Making ourselves and our comfort, pleasure, and control the center of our universe violates the very nature of the world. God did not design us or the world to work that way. Tripp writes:
You see the problem is not that your heart has the capacity to desire; the problem is ruling desire. Let me say it as I’ve said it before: the desire for even a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing.
Monasteries, boycotts, and situational awareness won’t solve the problem, because the problem is our hearts. We are self-oriented and pleasure-addicted. As Tripp says, “This side of eternity, your heart is susceptible.” We have to know, understand, and believe this in order to embrace the fact that we can’t save ourselves. We can’t fix the problem.
Tripp goes on to examine pleasure in the next chapter. What is this thing that draws us to it and takes over our hearts? Pleasure is to be God glorifying, but pleasure demands boundaries. Pleasure without boundaries is not God’s design, and it doesn’t work.
Here’s the question: What are you asking of your pleasure? You have been designed by God for pleasure. You have been placed by God in a pleasure-saturated world. You have been hardwired with the senses to take in and enjoy the pleasures around you. In short, you are a pleasure seeker. The issue is what kind of pleasure will you give your heart to, and what will you ask of pleasures?
Pleasure is meant to glorify God, but when we ask pleasure to do things it simply can’t, things go terribly wrong. For example, using sex to establish power and control ends in damage and destruction of yourself and others. Using pleasure as a spiritual refuge from troubles will never satisfy you and will only compound problems. Pleasure was never meant to be used to establish our identities, our peace, or our contentment. It can’t save us.
Sex in a Broken World
What’s the difference between big-picture sex and little-picture sex? Tripp spends three chapters explaining what is probably the most shocking, but one of the most important concepts: Sex is an act of worship. Little-picture sex—the isolated, individualization of sex—violates that concept. He writes, “Worship of anything other than God always ends in the worship of self and the individualization of things that are designed by God to connect us to things that are bigger than our wants, needs, and pleasures.”
What are we to do with this? Tripp walks through 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Taking all of those hard truths into account, we have to turn to the scripture and the Lord over and over every day. Tripp walks through what obedience looks like. He walks through how sex is all about relationship. Finally, he gives some very practical thoughts on the gospel and how it applies. These are practical thoughts that people who are struggling with shame, guilt, and hopelessness need to hear because we simply don’t talk about these issues like we should in the church.
I’d have a hard time trying to think of a group that would not benefit from reading Sex in a Broken World—marriage counseling, teenagers, parents, those struggling with sexuality or pornography, the list goes on. It’s a topic that surrounds us, but we often feel ill equipped or ashamed to discuss. This is truly a helpful book on a difficult, but crucial topic. You can get a copy of the book here.