By now, you know that “50 Shades of Grey” is going to be arriving in theaters. What do we make of this?
For all I could say (and have said) about this film, I am going to turn things over to the biblical author (and half-brother* of Jesus Christ), Jude. His short letter (only 25 verses) has a surprising amount to say about our entertainment choices.
Jude, the self-described “servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (1:1), writes to “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (1:1). In other words, if you are a Christian, Jude is writing to you.
He kicks off his work with an exhortation for Christians to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (1:3). The fact that we need to contend, indicates that there will be something to contend against. There will be false ideas creeping into the Church, against which faith-filled men and women will need to wage ideological warfare. The sexual ethic promoted and celebrated by “50 Shades of Grey” is one of those false ideas.
How does Jude address the message of this movie? He warns us against those who would “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (1:4). As believers, we are free. Completely free. And that freedom means that we no longer have to sin. Sin used to hold us in bondage, but Christ killed our sin when He died on the cross. But it is a perversion of Christian freedom to say that we may now go and pursue the “50 Shades” kind of sensuality–a sensuality which rebels against the God-given parameters for sexuality. Sex is a gift from God, designed to be enjoyed between one husband and one wife, within the secure and blessed context of marriage. To take sexuality out of this context and distort it the way “50 Shades of Grey” does is to “defile the flesh” and “reject authority” (1:8).
Is this legalism?
Saying that Christians should not watch this movie is not legalism, any more than warning your child not to play with a steak knife is legalism. The knife is dangerous. So is sexual perversion. It is dangerous in this life, and perilous for the next one.
Jude warns us against the coming judgment of those who distort the truth of God’s freedom, and twist it into something profane: the Lord Jesus will return, “to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way…” (1:15).
What Christian Grey does to women in this story is ungodly. It is dehumanizing and destructive. It is a distortion of God’s beautiful gift. And Christ will not let it go ultimately unpunished. But of course, Christian Grey is a fictional character. The real judgment for sin will come upon those who celebrate, indulge in, and imitate his behaviors.
Jude exhorts us to hate “even the garment stained by the flesh” (1:23), that is, to avoid even the accoutrements of our sinful culture. Jude would warn us against even watching the “50 Shades of Grey” trailer and allowing ourselves to be enticed by it. Jude would make it clear that Christians who ignore biblical teachings on sexual holiness are “scoffers, following their own ungodly passions” (1:18).
For my part, I have been plenty guilty of letting the wrong kind of messages into my mind via the entertainment I feed my eyes. The way forward? Repentance, trust in Christ’s atoning death for my sin, and re-commitment to God’s way. Speaking of God’s way….
Two ways to live
There are really only two ways to live: the way of death and the way of life.
The way of death is what “50 Shades of Grey” promotes. Imagine an entire society in which this movie’s model was the norm for male-female relationships. On second thought, don’t imagine it. It makes the stomach turn.
The way of life is God’s way, promoted by the Bible. Yes, it’s old-fashioned. But get the images of Stepford wives and “Mad Men” husbands out of your head. It’s not 1950s old fashioned; it’s as old as the creation itself. The Lord created men and women to live together in marriage as equals, serving one another with complementary but equally valuable roles. A society built on this kind of ethic is one in which life is cherished, in which husbands may thrive as self-sacrificing leaders to their families, where wives may thrive as their essential, supportive companions, in which children can grow safely under the protection of parents who are partners in love and service.
The entertainment of the world is often enticing. It is tempting. If we are not careful, we are liable to slip into it without even noticing. The sin nature is slippery like that. Yet for the Christian who wants to live a godly life, Jude offers this sin-proof solution: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (1:20-21).
And lest we start to think we are oh-so-much-better than those carnal Christians who give into temptation (as if we ourselves would never do such a thing!), Jude tells us to, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” There is no room for pride here. The answer to sin is not self-righteousness but humble hope, remembering that apart from the preserving grace of God, we perish.
Build yourself up in your faith. Pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourself in God’s love. Wait for the mercy of Jesus. Believe in God’s promise of something vastly better than what the world offers. And help others to resist sin and cling to the Lord–without falling into sin yourself. This post is my humble attempt to do that.
*Because Jesus had no earthly father, any other children born to Joseph and Mary besides Him would naturally be the Lord’s half-brothers and half-sisters.