“Sex is so good, a loving God would never withhold it from us.”
I was a bit shocked by the young man’s words. He offered the statement as a justification for why he was sleeping with his girlfriend. The man claimed to be a Christian, but this was one area he wasn’t willing to concede. If God would ask him to remain celibate, even for a season, that wasn’t a God he wanted to know or follow.
His logic didn’t add up, but in the moment I wasn’t sure how to respond. We live in a world that glorifies sex and sexual identity. It’s not surprising, really. Sexual expression can be one of the most meaningful human experiences. But our culture’s elevation of human sexuality creates all kinds of conflicts between what the world says and what God says about sex.
At face value, God’s take on human sexuality can seem restrictive. Sex must take place within marriage, between one man and one woman. In a sexually-permissive culture, this seemingly narrow channel for sexual expression can appear to be primitive and even unrealistic. What about the same-sex couple that wants to get married? What about the committed dating couple that sees moving in together as a prudent trial period before marriage? What about the man or woman who uses pornography as a sexual outlet, believing it’s not hurting anyone?
Practices like these are common in our world and make perfect sense to those who aren’t following God. Paul explains this phenomenon in 1 Corinthians 1:18 when he says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” He reinforces this idea a few verses later: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (vs. 25).
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these words are found in a letter written to the church in Corinth. Sexual immorality was rampant in the Corinthian culture and had infected the church. In chapters 5 and 6, Paul addresses obvious violations of sexual behavior acceptable for Christians. He is also clear that he is speaking of how Christians should behave, not those outside the church (5:9-12).
True love does wait
I grew up in the era of the True Love Waits movement. The emphasis was on guarding your physical virginity like a precious treasure so that you could offer yourself to your future spouse as “unsullied” as possible.
While the concept of this type of sexual purity wasn’t exactly wrong (sex outside of marriage is sin and is detrimental to the health of a future marriage), I believe it focused on the wrong thing. Giving my sexuality to God boils down to this question: What is my primary reason for staying within God’s boundaries for my sexuality? Is it to earn my way to greater holiness? Is it to bless my future spouse? Or is it to show my love for God through obedience to His stated will?
As I’ve grown in my faith, I realized the sole reason for following God’s directives for my sexuality is to obey Him for the benefit of our relationship. Sex is special, and I can trust that His plan is best for this very intimate area of my life. I can believe that His intentions for me are for my good and not to harm me or withhold something good from me. In a sense, “true love waits” applies; only the “true love” is not for my current significant other or future spouse, but for my God.
Sex is a battlefield
In many ways, giving my sexuality to God by stewarding it in purity and self-control is no different than giving over other areas of my life — my career, my finances, my relationship status or my time. Every day God calls me to make choices that honor the “word of the cross” above my own feelings and desires. When I don’t feel like telling the truth, I do it anyway. When I don’t feel like showing kindness, I do it anyway. And when I don’t feel like following God’s directives for sex, I follow them anyway, believing that His way is right and best.
Sometimes my choices may look foolish or prudish or even intolerant to the world, and I need to be prepared for that. But God is my master, and everything I do should reflect that fact — even, and especially, my sex life.
1 Thessalonians 4:2-5 lays out the issue clearly: “For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
A natural reaction to knowing God is learning to control my body in holiness and honor. That also means committing to God’s directives regarding sex. When I was single, I had to give my sexuality to God by adhering to the higher standard for purity — of heart, mind and body — presented in God’s Word. I wrote about this in “Leaving the Edge”:
“Loose sexual boundaries in a dating or even engagement relationship will carry over into marriage. Adultery, pornography, abuse and all types of sexual dysfunction plague Christian marriages and families. And these are simply behaviors that overflow from a heart where sexuality has not been brought under Christ’s control. A heart where gratification trumps God’s way. Sex is about giving sacrificially to another person within a covenant relationship, not taking whatever you can get away with.”
Having been married almost 10 years, I have found these words to be true. Whether married or single, holding to a Christian ethic for sexuality involves self-sacrifice and giving. Christians must be alert so the enemy doesn’t get a foothold in this area.
As someone married, my commitment must go beyond marital faithfulness, which, while important, is the minimum standard. Giving my sexuality to God means exercising wisdom in what I watch and the thoughts I entertain. It’s being intentional and loving in the way I incorporate sex into my marriage — using it to build up the relationship rather than weaken it. In every season, I am called to control my body in honor and holiness. And as I do, I can discover God’s best for my life and relationships.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.