Biblical Principles of godly sexuality
These principles will be affirmed and communicated throughout this preaching series on “godly sexuality”.
We are created as sexual beings
First, God created us as and blessed us as sexual beings. Our sexuality – maleness and femaleness – are irreducible to who we are as persons; they are of the very essence of who we are.
Therefore, on the one hand our sexual identity is not something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. As a Christian community we want to be able to talk openly and honestly about this aspect of our life. Sin holds power over our life when it remains hidden and covered in shame and fear. We experience healing and transformation as we walk in the light and apply the grace of Jesus to our brokenness.
On the other hand this is not a subject to treat lightly or flaunt. Our sexual identities and struggles, our wounds and shame, our brokenness and beauty must be treated with (1) deep seriousness because we know the dignity and glory God designed us to be and (2) deep hope because we believe in Jesus there is a mighty power to bring about redemption and healing in this area of our lives.
God has designed sexual boundaries
Second, God has designed us to experience and enjoy sexual intimacy within life-giving boundaries. These boundaries (1) teach us that God is our LORD. As our Creator He reigns over us. He has authority to establish boundaries; these boundaries are not arbitrary. They are created to reveal, guard and preserve Love for God and love for our neighbor; (2) remind us that God is our Father. We can trust Him that he who made us knows us best. His boundaries are life-giving even though they inevitably include some degree of suffering to live in; within the discipline of these boundaries we grow and mature as human beings through the calling and suffering of sexual integrity, sexual wholeness, and sexual purity; (3) reveal that God alone is our summon bonum, our chief and ultimate good. We are created for intimacy with God. Apart from God we will be unsatisfied and restless of soul. What are those boundaries?
First, God calls us to robust friendships and deep non-sexual relationships within and across gender boundaries. We are made for the profound intimacy of spiritual, life-giving friendship and deep relational bonds with people of the same and opposite sex.
Second, sexual intimacy is to be kept with within the exclusive, covenantal, monogamous marriage relationship between a man and a woman. God chose heterosexual marriage between people who are radically “other” (male and female) because it is in the context of a marriage relationship that we both know God (who is ultimately “Other”) and show God (It is not just “man” or “woman” who is in the image of God but “male and female” that reveal the full image of God).
The foundation of the marriage relationship is the covenant – the oath and promises – taken before God and in the presence of witnesses. Marriage unites a man and a woman in a permanent, monogamous covenant relationship and cultural partnership which Dan Allender helpfully calls an “intimate alliance.” Husband-Wife intimacy includes these different areas of intimacy: social intimacy (two families, histories, patterns of life, sets of friends, etc. coming together), financial (or cultural) intimacy, sexual intimacy and spiritual intimacy. One of the reasons that pre-marital sex is so damaging is that it seeks to enjoy sexual intimacy apart and removed from these other areas of covenantal intimacy. But sexual intimacy is best enjoyed and nurtured in the committed covenantal relationship that binds all these intimacies together.
Everyone is broken sexually
Everyone is sexually broken and has sexual wounds. That is, we have broken God’s designed boundaries (and thus wounded others). And people have broken God’s boundaries in violation of us (wounding us). We must assume that to some degree every person is sexually broken. It would be appropriate for Christians to use the language of AA: My name is Jason, and I am sexually broken in this way…”
Sexual sins are always, “branch sins” of the deeper “root sins” underneath. Often it is necessary to get the “branch sin” under control but never forget that for lasting, permanent change the root sins need to be addressed by the gospel and through Christian community and, often, counseling. Examples of root sins are (1) unforgiveness (not having forgiven people for past hurt, sexual abuse, etc.), (2) pride (often looks like self-righteousness, defensiveness, rationalizing), (3) unbelief (not trusting God that He is good and loves them personally), (4) Shame (not functionally believing they are covered, loved, accepted in Jesus), (5) Idolatry (looking to something else, i.e. sex, to be one’s Savior), (6), Secondary identities made primary (not basing one’s identity in Christ and one’s relationship to God but in some sub-identity: gender, ethnicity, wealth, family status, education, work resumee, etc.)
Jesus alone walked in Godly sexuality and so is able to be our Savior
Jesus alone lived and modeled “godly sexuality”. Jesus is the God-Man. Jesus was fully God and, at the same time, fully man. He had a sexual identity as a male. In Jesus we see a man who lived a full and complete human life as a sexual being without sin. If we want to see what it looks like for a human being to lead a life that is pleasing to God we must look to Jesus.
In Jesus we see sexual integrity. That is, who Jesus was on the “outside” (what he did) matched who he was on the “inside”(what he loved, what he thought). Christ’s heart was motivated by love for God and love for people. Jesus walked in intimacy with God his Father, and consequently in chastity with all people. He did not use people in sexual ways to fulfill his own lust; he did not take advantage of people to fulfill his own sexual desires.
What does Jesus’ sexual integrity mean for us? First, it means that Jesus’ perfect sexual integrity is transferred to us when we believe in him. This is the doctrine of justification. God declares us righteous and covers us in the “alien righteousness” of Jesus. In the sight of God, we stand before him as holy and blameless as Christ himself. Second, it means that by the power of Jesus in us we are transformed so that our outward behavior (actions) are coming more and more in line with the desires of the Holy Spirit in us. As we put off the “old man” which is being corrupted by evil desires, and put on the “new man” which is created to be like Christ Jesus in true righteousness and holiness.
In Jesus we see sexual wholeness. That is, Jesus brought the fullness of who God had made Him as a sexual being into all of His relationships and every aspect of His life. In Jesus we see that one can live a “full” and “whole” life as a single person apart from sexual intimacy. As a man, Jesus was both strong and courageous (typical masculine characteristics) and gentle and compassionate (typical female characteristics).
What does Jesus sexual wholeness mean for us? First, we must reject any viewpoint that equates sexual wholeness with experiencing sexual intimacy. One may live a fully human and relationally intimate life as a single man or woman. We must also refuse to (1) comform to a cultural stereotypes of masculinity or feminity (i.e., you haven’t come of age until you have had sex) or (2) be passive in regards to accepting and responsibly engaging your masculinity or femininity in all relationships and life.
In Jesus we also see sexual purity. Jesus lived within the sexual boundaries God’s Word prescribed. In both his actions and his thought, Jesus obeyed God’s commands and thus he loved God and his neighbor. Jesus trusted His heavenly Father’s plan for human relationships and human flourishing. Thus, in Jesus we see the dignity, beauty and impact of sexual purity.
What does Jesus sexual purity means for us? It means that we must believe that sexual purity (living within God’s boundaries) is the path to love God and our neighbor. Negatively, observing God’s boundaries constrains us not to make an idol, a god, out of sex. By saying “no” to sex outside of His boundaries, God calls us to find our rest, our satisfaction, and our self in Him. Positively, observing God’s commands constrains us to be “for others” in the most radical way – by engaging the “other” in life-giving, sexually appropriate, spiritual friendships and by preserving and protecting the sexual wholeness and integrity of the “other” by one’s chastity.
The gospel must be regularly applied to our sexual brokenness
The gospel of Jesus must be intentionally and regularly applied to our sexual brokenness if one is to experience the healing of our sexual brokenness. This includes:
Confessing: Our sexual brokenness – both branch and root sins – must be brought into the light (confessed) and turned from (repentance). The power of sin is when it remains hidden. Our shame makes us want to hide. But knowing the eternal and unbreakable love and acceptance of God our Father, and in a community of grace, we are able to bring our brokenness out into the light, name it, confess it, and repent (turn) from it. Confession goes counter to today’s pluralistic culture and sexual “liberation” but it remains an absolutely essential characteristic of godly sexuality and sexual healing.
Rejoicing: We must rejoice daily that through the gospel not only are our sins (including sexual sins) are forgiven but also Christ’s sexual purity, wholeness, and integrity have been “imputed” to us so that we stand “holy and blameless” before God in Jesus’ alien righteousness. We must daily “orient ourselves” and “do business” with the great truth of our Justification, our righteous status before God. We must not base our justification (our secure standing as beloved children of God) based on our sanctification (how we are doing in our walk of holiness). Rather, we must base our sanctification on our justification. We must learn the spiritual discipline of “preaching the gospel” to ourselves daily. Galatians 3 teaches us that as we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is poured out into our lives. Thus, the key to sanctification is a daily orientation to our justification.
Christian community is necessary for the healing of sexual brokenness
It is vitally important to recognize that we experience the healing of our sexual brokenness and move towards godly sexuality (purity, integrity, and wholeness) through Christian community. God created us as social beings; we are not designed to be isolated; we are meant to belong in community. Christianity is community in Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ. As the New Testament puts it, the church is the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12ff). When we are baptized “into Christ” we become members of his body and we belong to each other (Romans 12:5). Consequently, in the presence of my brother or sister in Christ, Christ touches me, speaks to me, ministers to me, challenges me, etc. There are many kinds of Christian relationships within Christian community and each of these relationships plays a role in the healing of our sexual brokenness. These include: (1) Spiritual friendships within and across gender lines, (2) Accountability, confessing, gospel-reinforcing relationships, (3) Life-affirming relationships in which we give and receive joy from one another, (4) relationships and community that call forth our strengths and gifts, and (5) For some, Christian marriage. What is vitally important to recognize is that while our sin isolates us from each other, Christ’s grace and forgiveness creates a community of broken sinners-rejoicing saints who love, welcome, serve and belong one to another. It is within such a gospel community that our sexual brokenness can be brought into the light (confessed and repented of) and true community and healing experienced (through the forgiveness of sin, through unconditional love, and through the shepherding of one another as Christ shepherds us).
We must learn to live in the tension of the already and the “not yet”
Understanding the path from sexual brokenness to sexual integrity, wholeness and purity involves holding together two truths that may, at times, feel in tension.
On the one hand, Christ’s healing power is real, as theologians say, it is “already.” We can hope in and seek real, significant, substantial healing and restoration of our sexual brokenness. The mighty power of God is at work in our lives. The Holy Spirit desires for and is working for our full conformity to Christ. Therefore, we must be realistic about the long-path of healing that lies before us and, at the same time, have a robust and steadfast hope that Christ is at work in our lives and able to heal us substantially in this area of our brokenness.
On the other hand, the healing of our sexual brokenness is a lifetime process and will not be fully complete in this life. As theologians say, it is “not yet.” For some people, their sexual wounds and brokenness go so deep that while we never lose hope in the power of the gospel to heal we are also realistic that miracle healing in their life may look very different than the people whose sexual brokenness is much more of a surface level. Thus we need to enter into the path of the healing of sexual brokenness recognizing that we are not expecting a “quick fix” and that we expect to need to have a long perseverance and commitment. Most people simply want “relief” and not “restoration.” The path of reconciliation is a life-long path. The following are some of the practices of life-long sexual healing.
To live joyfully within the tension of the “already” and the “not yet” of the healing of our sexual brokenness we must steadfastly, daily, engage the “means of grace” our Heavenly Father has given to us to guide, strengthen, form, encourage, nurture, train, discipline, and heal us. These include but are not limited to: Individual, family, and corporate worship, preaching the gospel to yourself, living in Christian community (including getting guidance from a counselor, participating in a support group, etc.).
Finally, living in the tension of the already and the not yet will require the practice of commitment, of perseverance. What Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction”
We must assume a life of suffering
As Christians who have accepted to live according to God’s sexual boundaries, who live under the command and Lordship of Christ, who are deeply broken and in whom the grace of Christ is working an even deeper healing, we must assume that God has called us to a life of suffering. To obey God’s commands is to accept a life of suffering.
That the Christian is called to a life of suffering is perhaps the most important principle of all. It is certainly the most anti-American. I am convinced that the Christian church in the west must develop a robust “theology and ethic of suffering” or we will have completely failed to equip the saints to walk in obedience to Christ.
Embracing a robust theology-ethic of suffering is especially relevant in the practice of godly sexuality and includes these elements: (1) To be a Christian requires one to take up the cross, in other word, to die to oneself, to no longer seek to save one’s own life, and to follow Christ wherever he leads, even if that leads to suffering. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “when Jesus calls us to himself he bids us come and die.” (2) To follow Christ in the area of godly sexuality will involve some degree of suffering. For all Christians this suffering will include saying “no” to many of our sexual desires and “putting to death” the misdeeds of our bodies. It will also include the “death” of the confession of our own sin and the offering of forgiveness to those who have sinned sexually against us. For single Christians this suffering will involve intentional celibacy. (3) Christian suffering will include the rejection of the lie prevalent in our age: that if something feels good it is right at least “for me.” Sex feels good (at least on the surface of things) and therefore it is ok to have sex outside of God-ordained sexual boundaries. (4) Finally, a theology-ethic of suffering means to bear the rejection and shame that accompanies identifying oneself with Christ and with his sexual ethic which is viewed as out-dated and even destructive to many of our friends, peers, associates and family members. We must be willing to accept the public humiliation and potentially, even the persecution and martyrdom that such identification may result in.
Finally, it must be said that there is a great reward to the path of suffering. To try to satisfy one’s soul through sex, cheapens and degrades a person. But, in contrast, to live in purity and sexual chastity, rather than degrading a person, ennobles and makes great a person through the path of suffering out of love and obedience to God. The discipline of celibacy can make you kinder, wiser, more noble than you ever dreamed. Obedience always causes one to suffer but it gives a weight of glory; In the language of John Bunyan, it makes one a “Greatheart.”