by Jonathan Daugherty
I don't think anyone would argue with me if I said that there is a lot of confusion in our American culture surrounding the topic of sexuality. Turn on any news feed or hop on any social media platform and you will be bombarded with all kinds of ideas about sex and sexuality. And right in the mix you will find many professing Christians tangled up in the same web of sexual confusion.
This article is for Christians who struggle to answer the question, "What is sexuality?" While this article won't answer this question exhaustively, at least it might help give you a framework to respond to this question with biblical clarity and Christlike compassion.
In God's Image, Male and Female
To answer the question "What is sexuality?" it is important to start at the beginning. God created sexuality. It is stated this way in Genesis 1:27,
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Therefore, whatever sexuality is it originated in the mind of God and is tied in some way to His image, or His "reflection" in the world through human beings. We will come back to this reflection idea a little bit later.
The distinctions in human maleness and femaleness are intentional. God did not make humans some homogeneous, amorphous creatures. He created us male and female, specifically unique and distinct in our design.
Therefore, human sexuality starts with design: we were made in the image of God, male and female.
Be Fruitful and Multiply
After God created human beings he gave them this instruction:
And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28)
One of my favorite things to say to Christians is that God's first verbal command to the first human beings was, "Have sex!" That's what "be fruitful and multiply" means. Therefore, another important part of sexuality is the act of sex -- and it's effect: multiplying.
At this point you might be thinking that the culture seems to be "obeying" God quite well on this instruction. After all, lots of people are "being fruitful and multiplying." But before you jump too quickly to this assumption, it's important to understand that God provides a specific context for this act of sex: holy marriage.
Two Shall Become One Flesh
God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, and performed the first marriage ceremony. The story is found in Genesis 2:21-25 (emphasis mine),
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
God brought Adam his wife, Eve. And, of course, Adam flipped out with delight! Just as God designed him to respond. After this marriage ceremony between one man and one woman the writer of Genesis goes on to say,
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Human sexuality was made by God for its fullest expression and enjoyment within the covenant bond of marriage between one man and one woman. This is how we most completely "reflect" God's image in the world; the oneness between a husband and wife. (This is usually the point of greatest contention among those who do not hold to a biblical, Christian worldview.)
But sexuality is not merely about gender or sex or marriage. It is about Jesus Christ and His Church.
Christ and the Church
One reason why I believe so many Christians find it difficult to define sexuality is because they fail to understand the larger context into which it fits. Sex and sexuality often remain locked only in the physical realm and many don't see the spiritual connection. But the apostle Paul helped us get a glimpse of this mystery when he wrote these instructions to husbands,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:25-32)
God created sex to be a metaphor of something far greater than what we can only see in the physical. It is ultimately meant to be a picture of the love and intimacy Christ has with His bride, the Church. This is a mystery because we cannot fully experience this kind of unhindered intimacy with Christ in this life because of our sinful nature. But we have been given a picture in our sexuality of what is to be between us and Christ one day in our eternal home in heaven. And what a day that will be!
What About Desire?
We have looked at God's design for sexuality; male and female reflecting His image.
We have looked at God's context for sexuality; one man with one woman in the covenant bond of marriage.
We have even looked at God's purpose for sexuality; a tangible picture of the kind of intimacy Christ has with His bride, the Church.
But what do we do with desires when it comes to defining sexuality? What is the biblical perspective on desire?
The Bible actually says very little on the topic of sexual desire until it crosses a line of sinfulness. For example, adultery is forbidden by God. But this isn't merely a physical act. Jesus said that "lustful desires" are equal to adultery in their sinfulness before God (Matt. 5:27-28). But what about sexual desires that are not lustful?
I believe God extends tremendous grace to us when it comes to desire. We must remember that the world is stained by sin, and we even carry sin in our being. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that no one has desires (any desires, not just sexual) that are not distorted in some way due to sin. This is why sexual temptation can be so appealing; our sinful nature longs to disobey God. And the enemy works hard to point our sexual desires toward outcomes that dishonor God and distort His image.
But rather than trying to "police" desire, it might be best to focus instead on God's clear design, purpose, and context of sexuality and then ask ourselves if our lives are faithfully reflecting God's image. From there we might gain a better understanding of our desires and how we might align them to trust and obey God more deeply.
So, what is sexuality?
Human sexuality is being made in God's image, male and female, to reflect His covenant love with our bodies through fidelity to His Word and His Ways. There is power and passion and purpose wrapped up in all that it means to be human; "male and female He created them."
As Christians, we are called to live by God's design and for His purposes. And why wouldn't we want to? When we understand the gospel and God's gracious forgiveness, the only proper response can be to worship Him in spirit, mind, and body...
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)