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Some questions are just too awkward to ask people face-to-face. So we took our team’s uncomfortable questions and asked some experts for their thoughts.
How far is too far?
We’ve probably all joked about this one, we’ve certainly all thought about it, and someone somewhere along the line has probably given us ‘the talk’. But why do we ask this question? It might be that we’re already trying to bend the rules on this imaginary scale or find loopholes within rules that don’t feel like our own! The trick seems to be to get as close to sex as possible without actually ‘doing it’.
The Bible is really clear that sex is powerful. In fact, Jesus said that it is powerful enough to join two people together. That’s why it has boundaries. The Bible - God’s word - talks of sex in a lifelong, faithful, and monogamous relationship. We call it marriage. Marriage provides a safe context for the incredibly powerful and amazing gift of sex, and a lifetime to perfect it! This is intimate stuff and it’s worth pointing out that there are other great forms of intimacy which are just as important and powerful as the physical. We need to think about our spiritual, emotional, intellectual, recreational, and even financial intimacy. Some of this will depend on your stage of life and the stage of your relationship. Demand deep levels of commitment for deep levels of intimacy.
Ultimately, there is no physical scale to work to. You have to decide where to draw these boundary lines for yourself. It’s a part of growing in maturity. But you’re not in this relationship thing alone and it’s important to talk about physical boundaries. Don’t do anything that you’re not able to talk about with each other and trusted friends or leaders.
What if you’ve already had sex? Our past relationships don’t have to define our future ones. Perhaps the question we should be asking one another is: how far is good for us?
Jason Royce is the director of Romance Academy
Is there a hell? Isn’t it more loving of God to let everyone into heaven?
God gets some pretty bad press because of hell. After all, why would a loving creator send anyone to a place of eternal torture? No wonder most Christians tend to avoid the subject. But Jesus talked about hell quite a lot. Or more accurately he talked about ‘Gehenna’ - a rubbish dump outside Jerusalem where the city’s waste was incinerated. It’s the sort of image that suggests a ‘final end’ rather than a never ending torture chamber with pointy-tailed demons (an image that owes more to Medieval art than the Bible).
Whatever hell is, I don’t believe that anyone who ends up there gets ‘sent’ by God. God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) and has made that possible through Jesus, but what if not everyone wants God in return? CS Lewis said, ‘The doors of hell are locked from the inside’. In the end if people choose to reject God then God will give them what they want - separation from him. To force everyone go to heaven would be like trying to force your husband or wife to love you - a contradiction in terms.
Just as hell has been popularly misunderstood, so too has heaven often been turned into a glorified retirement home in the clouds. In fact, heaven is God’s kingdom rule and reign fully realised on earth. But not everyone will want God as their king. Or to use a different metaphor from Jesus - not everyone wants to come to the party. We are not in the position to judge who says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the end. God is the only one who can judge the heart and mind of every person, but we can be sure that on the final day nobody will be able to claim he has not acted fairly. ‘Will not the judge of all the earth do right?’ asks Abraham in Genesis 18:25. We can answer confidently, ‘Yes, he will’.
Justin Brierley presents the faith discussion radio show ‘Unbelievable?’ on Premier Christian Radio and is senior editor of Premier Christianity
Is it ok to drink to get drunk?
I wonder if the real question here isn’t ‘is it ok to drink to get drunk?’ but actually, ‘why get drunk?’ For most people I talk to (teenagers and adults), their honest motivation for getting drunk isn’t that they really enjoy having a hangover, or that they think it’s the best taste ever, but because it provides a bit of an escape. They think that being drunk gives them the freedom (or at least an alibi when it all goes wrong) to let down their guard, do things they would normally never do, and act in a way that is less like them for ‘fun’.
Ephesians 5:18 says: ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.’ When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we become more like God and the person God created us to be - we become more ‘us’. But if we’re honest, drinking to get drunk isn’t about us becoming more us, but less like us, inhibiting the parts of us that we are insecure about and intoxicating us to act in a way we wouldn’t when sober. As a Christian, knowing God’s unconditional love and grace, I want to strive to be more like who God says I am, rather than trying to get drunk to become less me and more like everyone else. Why not ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit and experience the life it brings?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a legal drink occasionally - we know Jesus drank alcohol; in fact he performed his first miracle by changing water into wine for a party! But I think we need to keep track of our motivations - are we drinking to enjoy it, or just to get drunk to act like someone else?
Beth Stout is the chief executive of Golddigger Trust
Can I date a non-Christian?
The easiest answer, and the one you’re most likely to hear, is just to say no, don’t date someone of another or no faith. But you and I both know that there are lots of pretty convincing arguments why dating a non-Christian is absolutely fine. So let’s have a look at four reasons to date a non-Christian:
1. There are no nice Christians around
I was the only person my age in my youth group. I knew no Christian lads. I’d also heard the rumours that there were more women in the Church than men. Nightmare. In that situation, will we trust God with our desires for our future? That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely give it to us, but it means he’ll take care of us whatever that looks like. Even if there are no nice Christians around right now, that doesn’t mean your only options for the future are non-Christians or joining a monastery.
2. Sometimes non-Christians are just nicer
Often in these sorts of articles we paint non-Christians as terrible, devil-like creatures, desperate to drag you away from God and draw you into sin. Reality check: Christians can be rubbish and non-Christians can be amazing. But a relationship doesn’t last on the basis of nice-ness alone. Research shows that the relationships which last longest are those where couples share values and visions for the future. As someone who’s been there, it’s a tough life for both of you when together you can’t share the God stuff in your life, no matter how nice they are.
3. The Bible doesn’t say not to in black and white
This is so true. It’s one of those hugely irritating times where God hasn’t given us a ‘Thou shalt not’ Bible verse. But the Bible does give us a lot of things to help us make a wise decision. Try this one: ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:21). Where is your treasure? Is it God? Can someone who doesn’t share that truly find your heart?
4. What better way to introduce them to Jesus?
‘Flirt to convert!’ – we’ve all heard that idea. Please, please don’t go into a relationship with someone with the primary intention of changing them. Whether it’s changing their faith, their clothing, their personality or their friends - it’s not fair. So can you date a non-Christian? Well, yes, you can. But is it the best decision for building a good future relationship? Ultimately, I know what choice I’d make.
Sarah Percival is project developer at Romance Academy
What does God think about gay people?
The answer to this question is the same as if you change ‘gay people’ to anything else: murderers, short people, people who refuse to wear hats – he loves them. He loves them so much that Jesus died for them. Often in churches, we define people in a whole heap of ways that God doesn’t. God doesn’t see gay people as gay people first, and people second, but as a part of his creation that he loves unconditionally. God is far more interested in us following him and having a relationship with him than he is about our sexual preferences. As such, the Church’s primary response to gay people should be just that – loving them, supporting them and seeking to introduce them to Jesus.
What God thinks about homosexuality is an altogether different question. You don’t need to hang around Christian circles for long to realise that there’s no consensus on this. Some Christians believe that homosexual acts, as part of a committed, loving relationship (perhaps in the context of marriage) are fine, and that the Church needs to recontextualise its theology. Others believe that homosexuality is wrong and that people need to repent of not only homosexual activities, but also of homosexual thoughts. What the Bible does make perfectly clear is our response to them – to love, not judge. Jesus is pretty clear on the not judging part of that. He tells us to take the planks out of our own eyes before starting to point out the specks in other people’s, and when faced with a baying mob seeking to punish sexual immorality, he tells those without sin to cast the first stone.
One final thing: it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about homosexuality as an ‘issue’ or a ‘question’. But what we’re really talking about here is people, people made in the image of God. If we lose sight of that, and define them in any other way, then we totally miss the point.
Jamie Cutteridge is the journalist for Premier Youthwork
Should Christians date less and marry younger?
Back in the day, young people may have been more inclined to delay sex and get married. Today they are probably more likely to have sex and delay marriage. This state of affairs is probably as true in Christian communities as outside, so in a desire to do something about it, it’s unsurprising that some church’s responses are to encourage less dating and quicker marriages among young adults. There’s a tendency to see dating as an unnecessary, if not ungodly, process.
But encouraging less dating and earlier marriage feels less like ensuring strong foundations for lasting marriage, and more about a pre-emptive strike against something-else: pre-marital sex. Could learning to date well, longer and slower, offer something significant?
I don’t really care if it’s called dating, premarriage-mates, or a friendship that caught on fire: a pre-marriage relationship that puts faithfulness, selflessness and an emphasis on pursuing God at its heart gives the opportunity to grow in personal and spiritual maturity that leads to wiser decisions (pre and post-marriage) and greater commitment. It’s not the length of time a couple’s been together pre-marriage, but the quality of the outcome (singleness or marriage) that should be our focus. Encouraging dating loads and marrying later would be equally as unhelpful.
Relationships aren’t an exact science, but there are some things a couple need to be aware of before they make marriage plans. It doesn’t matter how they’re discovered as long as they know some essential truths about each other by the time they say ‘I do’. It’s things like being ready to think and act responsibly, sacrificially and selflessly, and knowing where you match, where you differ and how you will multiply the strength of these. It’s already having a history of bringing the best out of each other. How long this will take is up to each couple.
Rachel Gardner is the founder of Romance Academy
What should I do if I’ve failed my exams?
If you’ve just failed your exams, or you didn’t get the results you were after, that’s rubbish. Sorry. Maybe right now you’re feeling disappointed and guilty. Maybe other people – teachers, parents, friends – are also feeling disappointed in you. You may feel like you’ve let them down. You might even be thinking you’ve disappointed God by not doing as well as you could have.
If this is you, then this is what you need to hear: exam success is a terrible place to look for happiness and fulfilment. There is no lasting joy in fixing your identity on being good at studying. The Bible says the place to find your identity is in Jesus, and says that if you come to him, he’ll give you a new and better identity as a beloved child of God the Father. When everyone else is disappointed with you, know that God isn’t. When you can’t bear to share your results with friends or parents or even look at the results slip yourself, know God delights in you. Whether you did badly in your exams because you were lazy in your revision, or because you weren’t smart enough, or because you just had a really bad day, God sent his Son to die for you and secured his delight over you forever. If neither angels nor demons, death nor life, height nor depth, can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38), how can bad results? His love is carved into granite by Jesus’ death on the cross, not your grade in an exam.
What next? Well, the good news is that for those who love God he’s promised to work out all situations for your good (Romans 8:28). So in failed exams results, missed university places, resits and cancelled sixth form plans, God is going to work this out for your good somehow. How he uses them might remain a mystery till heaven, but he’s promised he will, and he keeps his promises. You haven’t screwed up your future forever - God is working things out even now for your best.
Mark Walley is a youth worker in Central London. He has one A-level (a D in physics)
It’s hard enough to get through school, let alone tell my friends about Jesus or be an influencer. What can I do?
Impacting the public place comes from investing in the private place. The best piece of advice I could give to anyone wanting to influence or speak to their friends about Jesus is therefore to invest that passion in the private place. Seek God in some way every day; pursue him, talk to him, read his words, share your heart and let him share his heart with you. Your appearance will change(Moses’ face actually glowed after he spent some time with God!), you will become more like Jesus by spending time with him, and through the Holy Spirit you will reveal Jesus to your friends in greater measure as you live life alongside them.
If you do this, and open your heart as you do, then people will notice. It will affect your thinking, the way you speak, the things you choose to do, or not to do, which is absolutely the best way of sharing Jesus in a meaningful way with those we do life with. Jesus gives us the best example of this when he says, ‘I only do what I see my father doing.’ (John 5:19). The more we intently ‘look’ at Jesus, the more we see. The more we seek, the more we find. So as Jesus reveals himself to us and our vision of him increases, we become more like him (often without even realising it).
Bob Wallington is the executive director of Onelife
Is it ok to look at porn?
I recently heard a teenage girl say, ‘We are in a generation now where porn is normal and everyone watches it’. She is right; porn has never been more accessible, affordable or anonymous. Thanks to your smartphone you can look at anything, anytime, anywhere. So here are three reasons to watch porn:
1. If you want to get addicted. Porn acts like a drug. More and more scientific research shows that porn causes our brains to overload on a chemical called dopamine which rewires how the brain works. Like a drug, with prolonged exposure your tolerance increases - what used to turn you on no longer has the same effect. You struggle to take control, ‘have to use porn’ even when there are negative consequences, and will suffer withdrawal when you aren’t looking at porn.
2. If you want to warp your views on sex and relationships. We all want to do anything we can to ruin our chances of having fulfilling and healthily relationships - porn can be a big help here. We fill our thinking with fake body shapes and a world where everyone wants nothing but sex with as many people as possible. Porn does an awesome job of making us insecure and moulding our unrealistic expectations of others. According to a recent study, 20 per cent of porn users said they preferred porn to being intimate with their partners, and 56 per cent said their tastes had become ‘increasingly extreme or deviant’.
3. If you want to mess with your identity and calling. If you are looking for something that makes you feel out of control and a disappointment to God, look no further than porn. Two of porn’s biggest punches are secrecy and shame. It’s not that God can’t forgive us or use you to play your part in changing the world, it’s just that shame holds us back. You are God’s child and he has a plan for your life. Porn is brilliant at squashing your true identity and robbing your God-given potential.
So is it ok to look at porn? You decide.
Ian Henderson is the founder of the Naked Truth Project
Christians have a reputation for being anti-everything. How can we change this?
There’s a great line in Casting Crowns’ Friend of Sinners which says: ‘Nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against, when we judge the wounded.’ The problem with us judging the ‘wounded’ is that it seems to imply that we’re better than they are. But the thing is, we’re not – we have all made a mess of our lives and have done things that we’re ashamed of. We are all, in some sense, wounded. Thankfully it doesn’t end there because of what Jesus did at the cross.
Who did Jesus spend most of his time with? It wasn’t the perfect people, the law keepers or the ‘religious’ – he spent a lot of time highlighting their hypocrisy and trying to help them find genuine faith. Instead, Jesus spent most of his time with people that his society would have labelled sinners and outcasts. His group of followers contained prostitutes, tax collectors and political rebels. This wasn’t an accident, these were exactly the sorts of people Jesus wanted to spend time with. Most importantly, he loved them unconditionally.
What does the average person think Christianity is? A set of unobtainable, unrealistic rules, given by a God who smites anyone who breaks them. This Christianity is neither particularly appealing nor accurate. The message of Christianity is that no matter how much we’ve screwed up, there is the offer of new life. So why is this not the message that people are hearing? Perhaps we are getting in the way of that message.
What if we started being a bit more like Jesus? Would people see Jesus more clearly? Would they begin to understand his message better? It’s time to break out of the negative stereotype that Christians are against everyone and everything and instead show people the Jesus who is for them and loves them.
Ruth Jackson is the media officer at the Oxford Centre of Christian Apologetics
Why doesn’t my faith feel the same when i get home from a festival?
It can be hard to remember that God is with us just as much when we’re at home as he is when we are worshipping with thousands of others, but there are lots of things we can do to keep meeting with him. One thing that helps us stay connected with God is reading a bit of the Bible each day. We know it can sometimes be hard to keep up the habit so we thought we’d do it together to motivate one another! From 1st September we’re going to start reading through the whole Bible, or the whole New Testament, and we’ll post daily videos from Mike, Ali, Andy and others, so we can think about how to apply what we’re reading to our everyday lives.
It’s also really important to stay connected to God’s people. None of us are meant to do the Christian life alone so get plugged in to your church and youth group. Commit to going along every week, get stuck in to serving, hang out with your Christian friends, encourage one another, and enjoy being part of the body of Christ.
Why not feed back to your church about what God has been doing so they can support you? We’re encouraging loads of youth groups to hold a Soul Survivor Sunday on Sunday 14th September to let their churches know what happened over the summer. We hope you’ll take part and let us know how it goes! Find out more and download resources at www.soulsurvivor.com/soul-survivor-sunday
Jonny Goodchild is the communications coordinator at Soul Survivor
Want more awkward questions? Check out Premier Gospel's AWKWARD show and listen to the episodes you've missed.