“The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”
(Marshall, 1945, p. 108. Cited in Piper et al., 2005, p.15)
The relation between sex and Christianity is rarely addressed in the churches where I grew up. Although topics about marriage and keeping sexual purity are often discussed and upheld, however it seems material about sexuality itself is only reserved for premarital counselling. I think this attitude is in part influenced by Eastern culture which permeates throughout the identity of my church and myself. Sex seems to be a shameful topic to us, especially among single Christians. In the context of singleness, sex is often viewed as something dirty and selfish. This view is not wrong in some sense, but nonetheless this culture of shame provides a disservice for Christians especially for those who need ample of resource and counsel on this topic like those who struggle heavily with sexual sin. Hence, this article is made in response to this need. The first part of the article will discuss how the Bible views human sexuality (The Christian perspective on sex) and will be continued with a discussion on the problem and root of sexual sin (Sex abused). The second part will examine how the Christian can amass resources to fight against sexual sin (Redeemed sex and the sufficiency of Christ) and it will end with how one can deal with the guilt that comes with his/her struggle with sexual sin.
A Christian perspective on sex
Despite the shame prevalent in the church, the Bible depicts sex in a positive manner. Sex was created by God and it is inherently good (cf. Gen. 1:31, where God judged everything He had made and called it “good”). Other than being good because God says so, it is also good because it was made for a good purpose. First, it is a necessary means for obeying God’s command of procreation (Gen. 1:28). Second, it was created to serve one spouse for mutual enjoyment (like what is shown in the Songs of Solomon) and to keep each other from temptation due to lack of self-control in the context of marriage (1 Cor. 7:5).
Moreover, sex also has a more direct connection with one’s relationship with God. In Ephesians 5:31-32, Paul connects sexual relationship with the relationship between God and His church. What do these connection signify? We could look at the context of this passage that speaks about how the loving relationship of husband and wife should imitate the loving relationship of Christ and His church (verse 28-30, 33). So taking account of this context, sex helps one to understand how Christ loves His church, or in other words, it serves as one perspective to understand the love of Christ to His church. Therefore, sex enables us to know God in a more profound way. Regarding this John Piper said:
“[God’s] goal in creating human beings with personhood and passion was to make sure that there would be sexual language and sexual images that would point to the promises and the pleasures of God’s relationship to his people and our relationship to him” (Piper et al., 2005, p. 26).
In addition, the Bible also uses sexual imagery to describe the loving relationship between God and His people more potently and vividly (Piper et al., 2005, p. 26). An example of this can be found in how the Israelites’ disobedience towards God is depicted as adultery (Ezek. 16:20-22) and their future everlasting faithfulness portrayed as a marriage (Rev. 19). Since God is a person, knowing Him always exists in a relational context. So when one gains more understanding on how one relates with God, one will also obtain a deeper understanding of who God is. For example, one would understand how God feels and the degree that He despises acts of disobedience when God says that the relationship in disobedience is like adultery. Therefore, God created men with a sexual passion so that they are able to know God more completely (Piper et al., 2005, p. 26). Indeed, God gave humans capability to know their spouse sexually for them to have a foretaste of what knowing Christ immensely look like (Piper et al., 2005, p. 30).
It is not be surprising then when the Christian Apologist Peter Kreeft commented that sex:
“…is like religion not only because it is objectively holy in itself but also because it gives us subjectively a foretaste of heaven, of the self-forgetting, self-transcending, self-giving that is what our deepest hearts are designed for, long for and will not be satisfied until they have, because we are made in God’s own image and this self-giving constitutes the inner life of the Trinity.” (Kreeft, 2002, p. 95. Cited in Piper et al., 2005, p.16)
So overall, Christianity views sex as something positive and deeply meaningful. It has an eternal significance of fulfilling God’s purpose in the temporality of creation, which is for humans to fill and subdue creation under God’s lordship, to love one another in the marital context, and to know God more intimately. Furthermore, sex is also portrayed as a legitimate need since it can profoundly satisfy our longing as God’s image to intimately and lovingly give ourselves to our spouse. But how can sex be associated today with much evil and shameful behaviour?
The Bible presents how evil and its consequences entered God’s good creation. It began with Adam’s disobedience to God by eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17;3:12). From there, sin and its consequences came into the world affecting humanity (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21). Further, Rome 1 states that in their sin, humanity suppresses true knowledge of God that would lead them to worship Him (verse 18,21). Instead, their minds and hearts became futile and this compels them to replace God with what man himself has created (verse 21-22). For this reason, God gave up humanity to dishonourable passions and acts of dishonouring their body (verse 24-27), which describes promiscuous sexual acts and passions. However having established their connection, how precisely does this suppression of the true knowledge of God corrupt human sexuality? Biblical counsellor David Powlison in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ lists some example of how sin distorts sex:
It corrupts sexuality by making it seem like our ultimate fulfilment.
Human as the image of God was created with a longing for fellowship with God and worship of Him. Psalm 42:1-2, and 4 said: (v.1-2) “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (v.4) “These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how would I go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and song of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” (ESV). The church father, Augustine of Hippo said a similar statement in his book “The Confessions”: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” (“CHURCH FATHERS: Confessions, Book I (St. Augustine)”, n.d., Chapter 1, part 1). Humanity longs for the ultimate intimacy and self-transcendent experience of having fellowship with the transcendent God who lies beyond creation, and yet He bares His loving presence with His people. However, when humanity fell into sin, they rejected the true God and exchanged it with false gods (Rom 1:23). This is because in rejecting the true God, they themselves longed for a god to worship, as this need is embedded in their identity as the image of God. This is the case with sex, one of the most pleasure-giving acts and one that enables men and women to enjoy intimacy and self-transcendence due to its ability to image the relational experience between God and His beloved people and even the relation between each Person of the Trinity, yet this once good experience becomes idolised in the hands of sinful men and women. As an idol, sex is given a place to determine one’s identity but also degraded to be something that needs to be satisfied no matter how (Piper et al., 2005, p. 70). Making sex into an idol made God and His assessment toward sex irrelevant (Piper et al., 2005, p. 70), and so does any value that does not conform with one’s subjective opinion on sex. This inevitably results in anarchy in sexual ethics; the only ethical code that matters is to follow what one desires. In other words, it made sex as a tool for one’s ego to conquer others for the satisfaction of their need. Since sex was not created for that purpose, it will ultimately lead to disappointment and devastation for every person involved (Piper et al., 2005, p. 70). This is essentially the root of all promiscuous sexual behavior listed in Romans 1:26-27.
Corrupted sex would act as a vehicle for other sins to further express themselves
For example when an angry teenage girl commits premarital sex to frustrate her overly strict parents or when a man seduces someone to fulfill his prideful desire for power and control over other sexual arousals. Other than being motivated by anger and pride, sexual sin can also result from seeking a false refuge, such as when a stressful worker watches pornography to vent out his stress. In other words, as Powlison puts it bluntly in his parody of Psalm 23:4 “After I’ve walked through that godforsaken valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because the photograph of a surgically enhanced female wearing no clothes is with me.” (Piper et al., 2005, p. 94). Further, promiscuous sexual behaviour can also be an expression of one’s longing to be affirmed and loved. For example, a lonely man goes to a prostitute to obtain a false feeling of intimacy and love. This makes the problem of sexual sin a more complex issue, since its motive can be other or more than an illegitimate fulfilment of sexual passion. However, the underlying problem is still the same: suppression of true knowledge of God, producing false knowledge of God that causes them to idolise self-fulfilment and not honouring God by disobeying His precepts. Therefore, Powlison concludes that: “Sexual sin is one expression of a deeper war for the heart’s loyalty and primary love.” (Piper et al., 2005, p. 94).
Corrupted sex can cause much fear instead of joy
As discussed previously, when sex becomes an idol, a false refuge, it becomes means for an individual to satisfy himself disregarding the interest of other. It sees other merely as an object for one’s sexual fulfilment, and would even sexually abused other to achieve it. For the sexually-abused individual sex become a phobia, something that brought shame, fear, and torment. Still, in marriage, this trauma can persist and would disable them to enjoy sex with their partner (Piper et al., 2005, p. 71).
Therefore the corruption of sin made sex a slave master that torment individual by blinding them to live only for the fulfilment of sexual ecstasy or stab them with fearful memory and shame. It also destroys the significance of sex as merely used for selfish fulfilment on a whimsical moment. Also, more importantly, it distracts people from the true knowledge of God. However, out of love, God reached to humanity when humanity failed to reach Him by providing the solution for this corruption. Jesus Christ came and died to offer freedom from the bondage of sin and give access to a true relationship with God for anyone who trusts Him as his God and saviour. Through this faith, one would be united with Christ and receive this precious gift.
Redeemed sex and the sufficiency of Christ
2 Cor. 5:17 said that if one is united with Christ, he is a new creation. What does it mean by new creation? It is whom that obtain new life so that they are enabled not live for themselves but for Christ (2 Cor. 5:15), including in their sexual life. This means freedom from the corruption of sin that hinder one to live for God and to honour Him. But how does one live in a manner that honour God? One aspect of it is to recognise Him as who He is; as Lord who has the right to direct one’s live (Matt. 28:18, Eph. 1:19-23) and Refuge that satisfy one’s deepest need, even in the day of trouble (Ps. 46:1, Jer. 16:19, Matt. 11:28). In this light, Christian often regard Christ as sufficient for believer’s need. But what does it mean for Christ to be sufficient in the context of living out one’s sexuality for God?
Christian view sex in exclusively relational context, and that it points to true knowledge of God. Therefore from this point of view, one of the essences of sexual need is a relational need. It’s a longing to know another person intimately and be satisfied with his self-transcending beauty so that one may joyfully give oneself for the enjoyment of others. Christ fulfills this through His blood atonement because it enables the human race to have a loving relationship with God and an intimate knowledge of Him. It’s the consummation of human need of knowing something supremely transcendent and immanent since human as God’s image was created for having a relationship with God. To know God is to know the creator of all reality: time and space, knowledge and wisdom, and all valuable things within. To know God is to experience the height of interpersonal ecstasy; to be loved and known thoroughly by a loving and omniscient God even while we are undeserving, with a love that cannot be separated by time, pain, and even death (Rome 8:39). Although this often does not mean that it will satiate one’s need for sex, it does make one not enslaved by its sexual desire since one has found a relationship that satisfies one’s deepest relational longing. Consequently, this enables one to exercise self-control over one’s sexual desire and even not fulfilling one’s sexual need bearable if God calls one to lifetime purposeful celibacy.
However, for most people, Christ calls them to marriage to fulfil their sexual need as sex only can legitimately be expressed in marriage between one man and one woman (1 Cor. 7:1). Powlison notes that “The erotic is meant to be a bright expression of mutual loving-kindness. Sex thrives in a context of commitment, safety, trust, affection, giving, closeness, intimacy, generosity. The erotic flourishes as one normal, everyday expression of genuine love within marriage” (Piper et al., 2005, p.71).This does not contradict Christ’s sufficiency because for most people this is His means to fulfil their sexual need and it is from Him alone that true enjoyment of sex came from (note that the biblical concept that ownership/opportunity does not necessarily include the ability to enjoy it, see for example in Ecc. 2:24-26). For other whom He gave the gift to celibate, He gave it through the gift of containing sexual expression.
Having a loving relationship with God also means that one ought to not doing what is sexually immoral and also have the power to do so (2 Pet 1:3-4). This includes the power to suffer in keeping those purity (e.g. from not fulfilling sinful sexual desire, humiliation from wider society for considered being too restrictive on sex), because knowing Christ frees one for the impulse for minimising pain and maximising pleasure in this life (Piper et al., 2005, pp. 44-6) as God had promised to those who are in Christ will experience peace that surpass all understanding when they pray, think, and practice what is good (Phil. 4:7-8).
Furthermore, sex will no longer a selfish endeavour but an act of self-giving to express love and give enjoyment to one spouse. Indeed even sex can express one’s “…honesty, laughter, play, prayer, and ecstasy.” to his spouse (Piper et al., 2005, p.71). Even more, sex is renewed to be an act of stewardship in marriage to prevent one another from falling into sexual temptation (1 Cor 7: 3-5).
Closing: Facing guilt over sexual addiction
However, even for those who believed in Christ, the process of turning away from sexual sin is not always immediate. Christian can experience rapid change from living a blatant sexual life to suddenly no longer misuses people by not honoring their sexual purity. For other, they experience steady growth in treating other with genuine care rather than treating them as a sexual object. However other Christian (or the same Christian in a different time) may experience prolonged failure in keeping their sexual purity (Piper et al., 2005, pp. 81-2). This experience can lead to despair because they did not feel freedom from sexual sin promised for those who believe in Christ. However, the Bible depicts freedom from sin not as a condition without a struggle. For example, in 2 Pet. 1:10, Peter told the church that they must diligently work out Christian qualities he mentioned in verse 5-7 even though they have been freed from the corruption of sin (verse 4). Furthermore, even believer can experience despair in his struggle like what shown in Psalm 88. However one must remember that sin and guilt made one exalt his own opinion about how desperate himself is (Piper et al., 2005, p. 74), blinding one to God’s promise that those who believe in Him will reach perfection in glory and obtain eternal life (Rome. 8:28-30, John 6:40) and that no power experienced by believer will separate him from the love of Christ (Rome. 8:39) even the power of sexual addiction.
Therefore if one sincerely believe in Christ there is no longer condemnation (Rome. 8:1). For one to be able to truly believe in Christ means that God already works in Him (Matt. 16:17, 1 Cor. 12:3) and He will bring His work to completion (Phil. 1:6, Rome. 10:9-11). In the midst of a struggle with sexual sin may one remember this promise so that one will have confident praying for God for mercy and strength in time of need (Heb. 4:16). Only then will one have sufficient resource to continue the fight.
May this article be a helpful resource to encourage us for delighting in God’s gift of sexuality and in the fight against sexual sin. The love of Christ will transform those who believe in Him to see others as their family; their intention in their interactions will be to care and nourish them rather than seeing them as sexual objects (Piper et al., 2005, p. 101). Let us now then be transformed by His love. (DH)
Piper, J., Taylor, J., Mahaney, C., Dever, M., Patterson, B., Powlison, D., Mohler, R. and McCulley, C. (2005). Sex and the supremacy of Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
CHURCH FATHERS: Confessions, Book I (St. Augustine). Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/110101.htm