How You are Being Groomed
As we continue to ask God to search our hearts and minds and entire lives so that every thought may be taken captive to obey Jesus, we need to see and understand how the forces of unbelief are arrayed against us and specifically how the world is grooming us to be exploited by sin. Paul urged, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). In other words, ever since the Garden of Eden, Satan and the powers of sin have been at work grooming and seducing human beings to conform to the wisdom of the world (Gen. 3:1-6, cf. Col. 2:8, Js. 1:14-15). But Christians are called to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, to discern what is good.
Grooming & Seduction
What is grooming? Grooming is establishing a relationship with the express intention of normalizing certain topics or behaviors in order to lower inhibitions to the point where abuse can occur without resistance. This often happens to those who are most on the edges of a community, most needy, most disadvantaged, and the grooming begins with attention, praise, gifts, meeting needs. Over time, the relationship of trust also introduces elements of secrecy, maybe initially all very innocent but this in turn includes small lines being blurred and then crossed until the victim finds himself/herself trapped and confused. The book of Proverbs has a number of warnings about seduction that fit this overall pattern (Prov. 2:16-17, 5:1, 3-4, 8-9, 22, 6:23-27, 7:7-10ff). In every case, what begins as willing choices ends up in painful entrapment. Notice how the warnings begin with the mouth of the seductress: smooth words, lips that drip honey, and a smooth tongue. The warning is first of all aimed at what is said. She’s friendly. He’s kind. She’s funny. He seems intelligent. She just likes talking. He makes me feel special. But the end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword, held fast in the cords of his sin, clothes burned, etc. Nobody signs up for that kind of entrapment and pain, but that’s where the nice words, kind gestures, friendly messages are leading. Notice too, the secrecy of the shadows, lack of accountability. In our day the “twilight” might be texting, messaging, instagram, etc. It’s a very striking contrast to notice how Wisdom cries aloud in the streets and confronts the simple and the foolish: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1:20-22ff). Folly flatters; Wisdom confronts.
Grooming Today: Connecting the Dots
There is a significant difference between two people falling into sin mutually on the one hand and an overtly abusive relationship on the other, where one party wields a clear upper hand in power, authority, age, etc. But the point that I want to make is that all sexual sin is on the sexual abuse spectrum. In fact, whenever we sin against one another we are always using and abusing one another. The point isn’t to downgrade particularly heinous sins and crimes, which the Bible identifies and prescribes capital punishments for (Dt. 22:25-27). The point is that we live in a culture that is massively blind to the relationships between the flammable cultural material being pushed and the frequent fires we face. You can tell that you live in a culture that has been thoroughly groomed by the fact that it’s a bit scandalous and confusing to even refer to a woman as “dressed as a prostitute” (Prov. 7:10). Grooming works by blurring lines and slowly crossing them, and we live in a world that has been so thoroughly groomed that we have a hard time even knowing where the lines are anymore. Nevertheless, as we saw last week, we are commanded by God to pass on to our covenant children a thoroughly Christian culture (Eph. 6:4), which includes dressing like Christians (1 Tim. 2:9, 1 Pet. 3:3-4). Perhaps the single most glaring example of this is the claim that it magically becomes acceptable to wear your undergarments around in public if there happens to be water within fifty yards or the temperature is over 80 degrees. But the point is not in the first instance what sin may or may not be occurring at that moment. The point is: What is being normalized? We are either celebrating the glory and dignity of being made in the image of God and being trained to honor that glory or we are being trained to view other people as objects and dishonor them. When a man says that he isn’t bothered by immodesty that merely proves the point. He’s been desensitized. When a woman can dress immodestly and not feel embarrassed, she’s been desensitized. This is a set up for abuse to occur without resistance.
The other front of this battle is a broader normalizing of “transgressive culture.” Transgressive culture is not necessarily overtly sexual, but its aim is to cross lines in order to blur them. Dying your hair blue, getting unusual piercings, or wearing strange, outlandish clothing, or gender-blurring clothing – these are all examples of transgressive culture. Again, the point isn’t that some massive sin is happening in that moment (maybe or maybe not), but the point is: what is being normalized and what inhibitions are being worn down? We are always either practicing love and sacrifice for others or something else. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11). “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion” (Prov. 11:22). Part of the glory of the image of God is the love of creativity and beauty, and these things frequently mean new expressions of goodness and beauty. But transgressive culture is not about building cultures of goodness and beauty; it is about tearing down goodness and beauty. In the name of “fun,” transgressive culture is actually conditioning us not to value anything very deeply at all (Prov. 13:20, 28:7, 28:24).
So how do we resist the grooming of the world? Paul says to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1). There are at least two barriers to doing this. First, we don’t want to do this because it means dying, laying down our own wisdom and glory. Second, we don’t do this because we have a hard time believing we really are holy and acceptable to God. But we have concluded that “one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). Resisting the grooming of the world is fundamentally found in hiding in Christ, finding your identity, your meaning, your glory in Him.