...and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23).

An online interactive spiritual publication for the strengthening and building up of the Kingdom.

01 August 2012

Counterfeit Sexuality: Sexuality as God

Sexuality remains the proverbial "elephant in the room" for a lot of people as they go through life. People think about it, participate in it, but seem rarely comfortable discussing it. To an extent, this is understandable and not entirely bad: sexuality should remain a private matter, and we should not be promoting lasciviousness. Nevertheless, sexuality is a part of life, and if it is not directed according to God's purposes for sexuality, but toward a worldly counterfeit form of sexuality, sin, pain, and misery are sure to follow. Far too many people are being devastated and destroyed physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually because of the pursuit of counterfeit forms of sexuality and the consequent loss of sexuality the way God intended it to be.

Many of these troubles come from the forms of sexuality promoted actively within our culture and expressed through the arts and media. At other times we have investigated the sources of these difficulties and contrasted them with a Biblical understanding of sexuality. Nevertheless, why do we see sexuality so aggressively promoted and discussed within our society? After all, it is not as if sexually deviant behavior and counterfeit forms of sexuality are a new thing; they have been around for thousands of years. Yet only recently have we seen such expressions of sexuality aggressively and actively promoted in such public ways. A lot of the reasons center on the elevation of sexuality as one of the primary gods of our society.

This is not terribly surprising when we consider greater societal trends. Over the past hundred and fifty years, all things supernatural have lost credibility in the public sphere. Emphasis is placed on that which is material and observable. The doctor and the scientist now have the pride of place once reserved for the clergy and the theologian. Meanwhile, individualism has run rampant, and virtues tend to be defined toward the maximum benefit for the individual even if it becomes detrimental to the group: liberty and independence are now understood more in terms of personal freedom to do as we please as opposed to any collective sense of benefit.

Despite (or even because of) these trends, people still feel as if something is missing in their lives. They often feel lonely, isolated, and afraid. They are concerned that no one loves them for who they are; they do not feel accepted. They surely want what is best for them as individuals, and value their freedom, and yet they still yearn for connection and relationships with other people.

These feelings are entirely understandable according to the message of the Scriptures. We are grasping for something beyond ourselves (Acts 17:26-28); we can perceive that we are separated from what will make us whole, described in Scripture as the recognition of the separation between man and his Creator because of sin (Isaiah 59:1-2). The Bible reveals that humans were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and God Himself embodies the relational unity of the Three Persons in One (John 17:20-23, 1 John 4:8). As God is One in relational unity, so humans, as made in God's image, yearn for relationships with both God his Creator and with his fellow man (John 17:20-23).

Meanwhile, God has so designed human sexuality to be the physical shadow of the spiritual reality of the intimacy in relationship which should exist between God and mankind (Romans 1:19-20, Ephesians 5:31-32). Humans are made with sexual desire and are to seek one special person of the complementary gender with whom to develop a lasting relationship, and sexuality is designed to cement that relationship (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24). This is why there is a sense of a mystical union within the sexual bond. This is all good: God created it as good (Genesis 1:31).

But in a society which has discredited all things supernatural, the only somewhat mystical, other-worldly dimension of life left is sexuality. And what do we see in our society but the elevation of sexuality as a god, perhaps as the ultimate god for many?

When we speak of idolatry, we often do so in terms of making something which was created as good the absolute purpose and goal in life. Jesus and Paul, in Matthew 6:24, Ephesians 5:5, and Colossians 3:5 speak of money and covetousness as gods or idols. They say this because many people make it their life's aim to make money, and by their actions they demonstrate that obtaining money and things is more important than anything else. They are motivated by a desire to have more above all other things. It is not as if they bow down to a statue of money or "things," or even necessarily understand their identity in terms of money. Yet since it runs their lives, it is an idol. It is in this sense we often speak of sexuality as a god or an idol, and it is sadly true: many people allow sexuality to run their lives.

Yet, with sexuality, it seems to go even further. As we have discussed earlier, modern man still feels the pain of separation, loneliness, and isolation, and yearns for connection. Society's answer is not to look toward God but to sex and sexuality to fill that void. Looking for connection? Have sex with people. Do you feel lonely? Find someone with whom to have sex. Do you have a hard time accepting yourself for who you are? Well, sex will make you feel better, and since someone is having sex with you, they have clearly accepted you to some degree. The only other "god" which society directs people with any similar fervor is that of consumerism, and even then, many times consumerism is promoted through sexuality!

The problem, of course, is that sexuality is not God. At its best, the moment of the experience of the mystical union found in healthy sexuality does not last very long. We come back to that moment again and again, and it never truly satisfies. One can maintain even a godly, proper, and healthy sex life and still feel separated, alienated, alone, unloved, and unaccepted! Sexuality can never fully satisfy; it can be good, but it can never be absolute.

Meanwhile there are many other consequences to this big lie. People are deluded into thinking that sexuality really can fulfill, and they seek out new and more exciting experiences to see if they can find that fulfillment. In the process they sin against themselves; ironically, as they seek fulfillment, they move further away from maintaining sexuality in a single relationship and therefore become develop an increasingly dehumanized, animalistic sexuality which can never satisfy or fulfill at all (cf. Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:13-19). Such people feel it: they feel as if sexuality has been cheapened in some way. They can tell, to some degree, that they have been sold a bill of goods. Yet so many keep pursuing it anyway.

We cannot begin to imagine the amount of emotional and spiritual damage, misery, suffering, and pain caused by the pursuit of sexuality as god. How many people have recognized too late that their quest for sex has led to damaged, broken relationships? How many have entered into sexual relationships to find fulfillment and end up with someone who abuses them or degrades them? How many have thought there would be a special bond with someone because of sex and that bond did not actually come to pass? How much pain and misery has existed within relationships because of pornography and adultery? And how many have turned away from seeking true satisfaction and fulfillment in life in God because they believed they would find it through sexuality? We hope and pray many repent and turn back toward God, but how many never will?

Such is always the problem whenever something good is taken and made absolute: it becomes a distraction, it never satisfies, whatever enjoyment which could be had does not last, and life is often spent in the futile pursuit of that fleeting moment of "happiness." Meanwhile, the rest of life does not work out as well as we would like, and we might experience great distress in mind, body, and soul. Such is the end whenever we turn away from God and seek after gods of our own creation or desire (Romans 1:18-32)!

So many of the challenges regarding sexuality posed by our culture are exacerbated by its thoroughgoing obsession with it. When there is no trust in God, some god must be found in which trust can be placed, and as Paul makes clear in Romans 1:18-32, obsession with sexuality and its deviant forms are often the result. This is not the way it has to be or even should be: only God is god, and sexuality, while a major part of our lives, can never truly satisfy as the ultimate pursuit of life. Sexuality was always intended to be confined to the marriage relationship between a man and a woman; it should reinforce and heighten the physical, emotional, and spiritual bond of that relationship (Genesis 2:24). When it does so, it functions as God intended, the physical shadow of the spiritual reality which ought to exist among God and mankind (John 17:20-24, Ephesians 5:31-32). Proper sexuality points to God as its Author and Creator, not back to itself as the ultimate form of satisfaction in relationship in life.

Yet, in the end, sexuality is like any good thing in life. When exercised properly, it can be a source of enjoyment, satisfaction, wholeness, and wellness; when indulged to excess or used outside of its proper boundaries, it becomes a source of pain, misery, suffering, resentment, even betrayal. As with any good thing, sexuality can be a healthy part of human existence; when taken out of its proper context, it leads to degradation and dehumanization. All of this boils down to the choice we have in life between honoring God as our Creator and giving thanks to Him for all the good gifts and blessings in life, finding true wholeness and satisfaction in relationship with Him and with our fellow man through Him, or we turn from God, darkened in our understanding and futile in our thinking, and end up making counterfeit gods out of the good things created for our use, finding little but pain, suffering, misery, disappointment, and failure. Let us make sure that the One True Creator God is the God of our lives, not sexuality or any other created thing, properly use all good things which He has given us, and ever give all thanks, praise, honor, and glory to Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry
August 2012

01 July 2012

Counterfeit Sexuality: Sexuality as Reduced to Animal Impulse

Few topics prove as sensitive and yet as controversial as sexuality. The topic generates a lot of interest; sadly, few conversations regarding sexuality prove very profitable. Most people understand their sexuality according to the terms of their culture and the world; few challenge the perspective and the narrative they are told regarding their sexual desires and the proper exercise thereof. Unfortunately, this remains true even among God's people: they have heard all sorts of lessons about sexual purity and holiness and may have a desire to maintain sexual integrity, and yet deep down they often maintain the same prevailing assumptions and attitudes about sexuality as most of the rest of the people in our culture. The challenges with this situation are evident: Christians may profess a different standard of conduct than many other people in the world, yet they often are just as guilty of adultery, viewing of pornography, and involvement in various forms of sexually deviant behavior as those who do not hold to the Biblical standard.

The problem is not found in exhortations toward sexual purity and holiness, although we would do well to make it clearer that there is much more to holiness than just sexual purity (e.g. 1 Peter 1:15-16). The problem is within the conflict between the imperative of sexual purity and holiness and maintaining an understanding of sexuality informed by worldly, societal standards. This conflict exists because the understanding of sexuality promoted vigorously within our culture and society is really counterfeit: it pretends to seek to provide the mystical experience and satisfaction within sexuality but is not rooted in nor does it respect the true purpose of human sexuality as designed by its Creator. Therefore, societal concepts of sexuality are fraudulent: they suggest to offer what they cannot provide because they are incomplete, settling for physical pleasure alone when sexuality was designed to provide emotional and relational fulfillment as well (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Ephesians 5:31-32). Of all the different ways in which society promotes counterfeit forms of sexuality, perhaps none is as detrimental, dehumanizing, and yet pervasive as the reduction of sexuality to the physical, animalistic impulse. It is very hard to seek to maintain sexual purity and holiness if one views sexuality as merely the satisfaction of a desire, akin to eating when hungry or scratching an itch!

The desire for sexual satisfaction does exist, and it is one of the primal, basic, and in many ways "animalistic" impulses of humanity. Many people feel the desire acutely, perhaps feeling as if the sexual desire is greater than all other desires. Yet people are different: some are not nearly driven as much by sexual desire, but may always want to eat, or are greedy for money and/or power. Few indeed are those people who do not strongly feel any of the basic impulses of humanity, and even then, much of that is due to our abundance of food, drink, and material blessings. If food and/or drink became more scarce we would learn just how powerful those desires are as well! Regardless, humans were created with sexual desire to develop and maintain a strong relationship with a member of the opposite gender (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:24). The physical impulse was placed within us not merely to be satisfied but to direct us toward relational unity with our spouse (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Ephesians 5:31-32).

The emotional and relational aspects of sexuality, however, can be divorced from its physical aspect, and this is what we see done so powerfully within our society. Different forces are at work promoting this trend, whether consciously or unconsciously. The scientific establishment bears much of the responsibility: many scientists really promote scientism, a religious dogma suggesting that there is no god, no real meaning to life or the universe, and humans are just overdeveloped animals. For many scientists all things must be seen, understood, and explained through the evolutionary/Darwinist prism: sexual behavior is no different. Sexual conduct is analyzed in terms of its evolutionary implications. To this end scientists provide certain explanations for different types of behavior: adultery, for instance, is explained as men attempting to father as many children as possible with as many women as possible so as to perpetuate his lineage, and women as attempting to have children with the best genetic heritage while receiving care from the most competent male provider. Scientists can and do caution that these explanations are not meant to be justifications, but that does not stop people from internalizing these ideas as being true. Since there is no attempt at understanding adultery in moral terms, the emotional and relational consequences of adultery are not discussed; it is all about physical calculations, spoken of no differently than had baboons or squirrels been the subject of conversation. These theories and explanations leave very little room for a dignified view of man as made in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-28): according to the scientific standard and viewpoint, we are just animals. In such an environment, who should be surprised to hear a song with the chorus, "you and me baby ain't nothing but mammals / so let's do it like they do on the Discovery channel"? Such is the fruit when the scientific perspective is magnified to the detriment of all others!

Whereas some scientists may have decent motives for their work, many other forces promote sexuality reduced to animal impulse for far baser reasons. Sexual impulses are primal and transcend all sorts of boundary markers: ethnic, linguistic, geographic, cultural, and so on. Sex, therefore, sells. But it is not true sexuality which sells; you cannot graphically display an emotional, spiritual, or relational connection. But you can graphically display the human body, and marketers, advertisers, and salesmen constantly bombard us with highly sexualized imagery in order to entice us to buy their products, remain loyal to their brand, watch a television show or movie, and so on and so forth.

The ultimate illustration and expression of sexuality reduced to sexual impulse is pornography. Pornography provides all of the physical aspects of sexuality without human interaction: the viewer experiences the mental and physical sensations consistent with sexual experience without any real connection at all with anyone else. Here we have sexuality reduced to its most basic self-seeking impulse toward satisfaction, little different from scratching an itch or eating when hungry.

Yet much more is going on. Depersonalized sexuality is inhuman sexuality. This is true even on a biological basis: human sexuality is quite different from most forms of animal sexuality. For most animals, sexuality is instinctive: when females are able to procreate, they give off visual or olfactory signals toward that end. Males may engage in all sorts of competitive behavior with other males, but when mating time has arrived, the act is rather instinctual. It requires little mental activity and need not suggest any long-term connection between the male and female. For most animals, sexual behavior is purely procreative. But this is not so for human sexuality. While we are learning that human females do give off certain signals during ovulation, humans participate nevertheless in sexual behavior at times when fertilization is unlikely or impossible. The human mind must be quite active in order to participate in sexual behavior, and both human men and women are shaped differently from animals in such a way as to foster greater connectivity in sexuality. Therefore, even on a biological level, human sexuality is different from animal sexuality: animals engage in sex for procreation, but humans engage in sex for connection.

Therefore, if we deny the relational aspect of sexuality, our sexuality is not truly human. We experience the disconnect when someone attempts to excuse their sexual behavior by saying that it is "just sex." They mean, of course, that their sexual behavior is not designed to lead to any sort of real relationship, and seek to deny that there is any emotional or relational consequence to their sexual conduct: "just sex" is imagined to be two people putting body parts together in order to experience physical pleasure.

In reality, none of this is entirely new. It is not as if the physical aspects of sexuality have been disconnected from its emotional, spiritual, and relational aspects only within the past two hundred years; the problem is likely as old as humanity. Consider what Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20:

All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall bring to nought both it and them. But the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body: and God both raised the Lord, and will raise up as through his power. Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid. Or know ye not that he that is joined to a harlot is one body?
For, "The twain," saith he, shall become one flesh."
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.

The word the ASV translates as "fornication" is the Greek porneia. There is no one English equivalent which fully captures the meaning of porneia: it is often translated "sexual immorality," but perhaps "sexually deviant behavior" best captures the essence of the term. The word can and does refer to a range of sexual behaviors which deviate from the norm: adultery, pedophilia, homosexuality, bestiality, polygamy or polyandry, etc. Even though the word has this range of meaning, for Paul and his audience, porneia had one main referent: that which a man did with a porne, a prostitute/harlot/whore.

In the Greco-Roman world of Paul and the Corinthians, three expressions of sexuality were common and commonly accepted. Marriage existed, but sex with one's wife was not intended to be fun: that was for procreation and perpetuation of the family. This attitude was so ingrained that the Greek author Herodotus, writing of a Lydian ruler named Candaules, finds it worth mentioning that he had fallen "passionately in love with his own wife" (Herodotus, Histories 1.8). Some Greeks in particular felt that the best sex was with prepubescent boys; such pederasty was glorified in Plato's Symposium. But the sex that most men would have for pleasure with women would be with the "female companions," or hetairoi, in drinking parties, or with the porne the prostitutes in town. Brothels were quite common in the ancient world; archeological evidence for them is unmistakable and abundant.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul provides a critique of porneia with the porne, the prostitute. He declares that the body is not meant for sexually deviant behavior, but for the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:13); he will conclude by declaring how our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is present with us and how we have been bought with a price (the blood of Christ), are therefore not our own, and thus we should glorify God in our body, which ostensibly means that we should not come together with a prostitute (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Thus, Paul does emphasize sexual purity and holiness. But what about 1 Corinthians 6:14-18?

Paul explains the need to flee sexually deviant behavior, declaring that the one who commits sexually deviant behavior sins against his own body. We understand the imperative to flee sexually deviant behavior, but how is it that the sexually deviant person sins against his body?

1 Corinthians 6:18 is ground zero in debates about sexuality and rules. Everybody seems to accept the logic of Paul's statement: every other sin is committed outside of the body, but porneia is against the body. Therefore, many people reason that many sexual "sins" are not really that "sinful" in comparison with murder, stealing, lying, cheating, fraud, etc., since those participating in those sexual behaviors are consenting adults, and their sins are not necessarily causing harm to others. As of this writing, this argument would not be tolerated in terms of pedophilia, bestiality, incest, or rape, since such behaviors do not involve consenting adults. Society still somewhat frowns on adultery, but its prevalence means that few speak out strongly against it. Yet society has come to fully justify premarital sex and homosexuality, and will no doubt soon also include bigamy, polygamy, and polyandry in this list as well.

Yet, as Paul is making clear, there is more to sin than just hurting other people. Sin, in general, degrades humanity. If God made mankind in His image, righteousness and justice are therefore truly human endeavors, while all sin thus must be inhuman and degrading (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). So what does Paul mean that porneia is committed against the body?

One answer that immediately might come to mind is sexually transmitted diseases; STDs are certainly consequences of sexually deviant behavior. Yet is this all Paul has in mind? Not likely.

Sexually deviant behavior here is seen mostly in terms of sex with prostitutes, and sex with prostitutes is really sexuality reduced to animal impulse: it is all about pleasure. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul associates sex with a prostitute with the meaning of sex expressed in Genesis 2:24, but what does that mean? It surely does not mean that one becomes married to a prostitute: Paul is seeking to underscore the seriousness of the connection that happens during sex. The two are becoming "one flesh," but not to cement a relationship. Neither person involved would show much concern for the welfare of each other; sex here is reduced to a business transaction. It is "just sex" as much as it could possibly be, and it proves lacking in every meaningful way. By engaging in porneia with a porne, or prostitute, a man is dehumanizing his sexuality, separating the physical pleasure derived from sexual behavior from the mental/emotional/spiritual aspects which are intended to cement a relationship. When sexuality is no longer used to cement a relationship, it will be hard to use sexual behavior to cement a relationship. The conscience is seared; the man has sinned against his own body.

Therefore, perhaps what Paul is saying is that when we engage in sexually deviant behavior, reducing sexuality to the animal impulse, we sin against ourselves because we are dehumanizing ourselves in terms of our sexuality. In such circumstances, we are not using sex as a means by which we relate and connect with another; we are just using sex to satisfy a physical impulse, little different than satisfying hunger or thirst or scratching an itch. Unlike food, drink, and itching, however, sexuality was designed to be much more than something akin to pushing a lever in order to get the pellet. But if we treat sexuality like it is just a physical impulse, and we keep pushing down on that level to get the pellet, our consciences and minds are seared, and it becomes very difficult to be restored to a full appreciation of sexuality, not just in terms of the physical, but in terms of the emotional, spiritual, and relational aspects as well. Whether we want to admit it or not, once we engage in sex as reduced to its animal impulse, we have degraded ourselves and dehumanized and depersonalized our sexuality.

This is the battlefield on which so many Christians are being slaughtered by the Evil One. Christians find themselves constantly tempted to degrade their sexuality into subhuman forms: pornography, premarital sex, our modern "hookup" culture. We can emphasize sexual purity and holiness all we want, but the temptation is strong to satisfy pleasure. If Christians continue to view their sexuality in ways little different than society, then they will express their sexuality in ways little different than society. If the big concern with sin is only to make sure that we are not hurting other people, how can we make it clear that premarital sex is dangerous? How can we communicate how harmful pornography really is? Why should we be surprised to see so many men enslaved to pornography and women hurt in so many ways in marriage because of it if we do not address the root problems of the counterfeit sexuality peddled by our society?

True sexuality honors God and His intentions for mankind; true sexuality points to relationship, wholeness, and integrity. Any sexuality which degrades and dehumanizes is a counterfeit sexuality, and sexuality reduced to animal impulse is the worst. When sexuality is reduced to the animal impulse, humans find themselves even more separated from God and one another than before. We might yearn to find connection in sex, but its hollowness and meaninglessness exacerbates the pain. Ultimately, such behavior impacts the way we look at the world. The object of sexual desire is now judged entirely by physical and superficial concerns; their minds and feelings mean little. Pornography turns humans into mere pixels on a screen for pleasure; who the people are and what they feel are entirely irrelevant. If we succumb to these degrading and inhuman forms of sexuality, we find ourselves rather permanently scarred, for we have sinned against our own bodies. By reducing our sexuality to animal impulses, we have rejected God's purpose for sexuality in ourselves, even if only for a short time, and its impact will extend far beyond the activities in which we engaged.

We like to think that sexuality is just another part of life, but we all know that sexuality is special. Impacts are more severe whenever sex is involved. Perhaps this is because human sexuality was designed for such a unique and uniquely important relationship, between a husband and wife, fostering and cementing their connection. Few desires intertwine the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational aspects of life like the sexual desire does. Therefore, sex can never be "just sex." Pornography can never be just a "harmless diversion." We either properly channel our sexual desires in order to connect with our spouse and experience human sexuality as intended, or we improperly channel our sexual desires, often disconnecting the physical from the mental, emotional, and spiritual, and degrade and dehumanize our sexuality in the process. Let us reject the counterfeit sexuality of sexuality reduced to animal impulse, always remembering that sex is more than just body parts coming together, and seek to honor God through our proper use of sexuality in connecting with our spouse!

Ethan R. Longhenry
July 2012

01 June 2012

Counterfeit Sexuality: Sexuality as Identity

Sexuality remains one of the most sensitive and yet "hot-button" issues within our culture and among Christians today. Such a controversial issue features a lot of passion and debate regarding the surface level issues of proper and improper forms of sexuality, and in such an environment, digging deeper and finding a Biblically centered and balanced perspective can be challenging. Nevertheless, the Scriptures do provide such a view and a robust theology of sexuality: human sexuality is the physical shadow of the spiritual reality which we are to seek in communion with God in Christ (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24, John 17:20-24, Ephesians 5:31-32). Sex is part of God's good creation, and therefore it can be good (Genesis 1:31).

While God made the creation good, sin has since entered the world. Humans have been corrupted by sin in their thoughts, feelings, and actions, and the creation is now subject to futility (Genesis 3:1-15, Romans 5:12-18, 8:19-23). People reject their Creator and find ways of bowing down to the creation, taking pleasure in counterfeit gods rather than serving the One True God (Romans 1:18-25). As it has happened in general with the creation, so it is with sexuality as well: consciously or unconsciously, people have rejected holy, fulfilling sexuality and have instead set up counterfeit forms of sexuality after which they seek fulfillment. Such forms of sexuality are "counterfeit" because are false, claiming to represent true sexuality but without the wholeness, holiness, and appreciation of true intimacy in mind, body, and soul which comes with the type of sexuality God established and provided for mankind. These counterfeit forms of sexuality represent the distortion of human sexuality into the various types of perversions (in every sense of the word) which we see peddled in modern society. The main forms of counterfeit sexuality include sexuality as identity, sexuality as reduced to animal impulse, and sexuality as god; for our purposes at this time, let us consider how establishing sexuality as a principal marker of identity leads to a counterfeit sexuality.

Identity remains a complex phenomenon. Each one of us has many identity markers, including gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, class, language, religion, generation, point of geographical origin and/or present geographical location, profession, hobbies, professional/sports/etc. affiliations, as well as sexual predilections. While all such identity markers are equally true of us, we nevertheless privilege certain markers over others when we consider who we are in relation to other people. Each person, whether consciously or unconsciously, prioritizes the relative "importance" of the different identity markers which makes up his or her existence. While many factors may influence this prioritization, it remains a free-will choice. We choose whether we will consider our gender identity over our national identity, our class identity over our linguistic identity, and so on and so forth. We tend to understand our place, our efforts, and our context in terms of the identity markers we have deemed most important in our lives, less so those we have chosen to consider less important. That narrative will change based on which aspects are deemed more important than others; this is how two people who share many identity markers may nevertheless see themselves very differently.

There is no doubt that we are all shaped by our identity, but we are the ones who decide what really defines who we are as human beings. In theory, we could take any physical aspect of our bodies, any work we do, any practice in which we participate, anything we believe is true, and center our identity around it. This is why Jesus constantly exhorts Christians to prioritize their relationship with God as primary: if our primary identity marker is that of being a servant of God, the proper attitudes regarding ourselves and our conduct as well as how we treat other people will naturally follow (Matthew 6:33, Galatians 2:20, etc.). If the primary aspect in our existence is our faith in God, all things will flow from our faith; if the primary aspect of our existence is another identity marker, all things will flow from it.

Therefore, it is possible to define ourselves in terms of our sexuality. We can understand all things we feel, think, say, and do in terms of our sexual impulses. Yet is this a good idea? What do the Scriptures teach?

First and foremost, we must note that the Scriptures never define anyone by their sexuality. No one in the Bible is called a heterosexual, homosexual, or asexual (in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the term sometimes translated "homosexual" is the Greek arsenokoitai, defined as "one who lies with a man as with a woman," reinforcing our premise). In the Bible, no one is their sexuality. Instead, people have sexual impulses, desires, and urges, and decide whether and how they will act upon them. Therefore, in the Bible, sexuality is never reckoned as a form of identity; sex involves the behavior of individuals, however appropriate or inappropriate.

This is not some strange concept; for most of human history, people have understood how sexuality involves practice and is not a form of identity. Ancient Greek men engaged in sexual behavior with young boys as well as women, and held men who only had sex with men in contempt; they would never define themselves as "homosexual" because at times they participated in homosexual behaviors. This type of behavior, while sinful, was not unknown in many societies. It is only in the Victorian era when people start thinking of sex as not just behavior in which they participate but as an expression of their identity. The gap between sex as "something I do" and "something I am" may seem slight but its consequences are many and significant.

When the modern understanding of sexuality as identity is paired with the equally modern obsession with sex as an idol, one's sexual identity easily becomes either the primary or one of the primary identity marker(s). Sexual identity becomes a toxic primary identity marker, because everything then becomes sexualized. A person for whom their sexual identity is one of their primary forms of identity defines their lives by how well their sexual life is going. Such a one will view others primarily in terms of their sexual desirability and availability. It is easy for sex to run their lives, reducing their humanity (and everyone else's humanity) down to the animalistic sexual lust, enslaved to lasciviousness at least and sexually deviant behavior at worst (cf. Galatians 5:19). This is no way to live!

For that matter, sexuality will be privileged as a form of identity only by a society obsessed by sexuality. This is evident in the common response to anyone who might actually decide to live asexually. Those who choose to live asexually are most often considered freakish by both "heterosexuals" and "homosexuals," (sadly) by many professing Christianity as well as those who reject Christianity. The common expectation is that every adult of the age of consent should be actively participating in some form of sexuality, and if they are not, their lives are somehow not complete or fulfilled. In such an environment, nothing seems more foolish than both Jesus' and Paul's commendations of the asexual life devoted to God and His purposes (Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7:6-7, 25-38). The existence of such people exposes the limitation of the paradigm of sexuality as identity since they are not practicing any form of sexuality. This is not a problem limited to the world: even within the church, those who are single often find themselves under constant pressure by fellow Christians to get married, and not a few of the errant doctrines regarding divorce and remarriage stem from wholesale acceptance of the premise that we "are" our sexuality and it is therefore "unjust" to expect such sexuality to not be expressed.

This leads us to one of the major conflicts in the "culture war": homosexuality. Those advancing the cause of acceptance of homosexual behavior have done well at convincing everyone that since sexuality is a form of identity, to do anything to discourage people with homosexual desires to not act on those desires is unjust, immoral, and highly discriminatory. The claim that acceptance of homosexual behavior is a civil rights issue, akin to equal rights for African-Americans or women can only be legitimized in an environment in which sexuality is accepted as a form of identity. This premise may be more pernicious than many think. A lot of young people experience different desires as their developing brains are going through puberty; they may have a fleeting time in their lives when they might feel attracted to members of their own gender. In an environment where sexuality is understood in terms of behavior, involving desires which we choose to act upon or not, such may either lead to (proper) rejection of such desires and a refusal to act upon them or it may lead to (improper and immoral) "experimentation," but of the sort that goes no further, and the person will later behave according to a proper channeling of desire (cf. Matthew 19:4-6). But in an environment declaring that sexuality is identity, such a young person may believe that they are now "homosexual" because they have experienced some of those desires and might begin shaping their identity around that premise and thus, by all accounts, "become" homosexual. How many people who practice homosexuality in America do so because they have bought into the premise that one "is" their sexual behavior?

We do well to understand how sexuality is not identity. Think about it: do we want to think of an infant or a small child as being "heterosexual," "homosexual," "bisexual," or any other kind of "-sexual"? How can deviant forms of "heterosexual" behavior, like adultery and polygamy, be considered as forms of identity? And what about those who practice pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, or other sexual practices which are (at the time of this writing) still generally confessed to be deviant? How is their sexuality any more or less a part of their identity than anyone else's? And why should any of us define ourselves by our sexual behavior or the lack thereof? There is much more to life than sex, and the value of a person's contributions to society should not be inherently measured by their sexual predilections.

We do well to recognize that sexuality involves the sexual desires, urges, and impulses and how we choose whether and how we will express them. Sex is behavior just like every other form of behavior: we are under no more or less compulsion to express sexual desire than we are to express any other desire we may have. Sexual desire is just like all other desires: there are proper ways to express the desire, and there are improper ways to do so as well (cf. Romans 1:18-32, James 1:12-15). Sexual behavior does have consequences; our lives are shaped in many ways by our sexual behavior and how that sexual behavior either connects us with that one special person of the opposite sex, allowing for that intimacy which is a shadow of the spiritual reality of the communion we are to share with God, or it is disfigured by improper usage, the sinning against the body, denigrating that which was made in the image of God down to the mere satisfaction of a physical impulse (Genesis 2:24, Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Ephesians 5:32-33). But just because our sexual behavior affects who we are does not mean that we somehow "become" our sexual behavior, or that we should see ourselves in terms of our sexual behavior. If we believe in God and Jesus His Son, we "are" to be Christians, primarily identifying ourselves as His followers, defining ourselves in terms of the image of Jesus, privileging our relationship in Christ above all others (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20). Sexuality as identity is a counterfeit form of sexuality, tempting in principle, but reducing all of us to be defined not in terms of our contributions to society and well-being but by what we do (or don't do) in the bedroom. Let us affirm God's view and understanding of sexuality and reject all counterfeit forms of sexuality peddled in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry
June 2012

01 April 2012

A Theology of Sexuality

Sexuality remains the "elephant in the room" in most of "Christendom." Whereas many of the flash points in the struggle with culture norms involve sexuality, struggle with sexual sin remains some of the most difficult challenges facing Christianity today: in any congregation of God's people, there are struggles with fornication, lasciviousness, pornography, adultery, and/or divorce. We might exhort people to holiness, but we do not seem to provide much of a challenge to society's narrative of what sexuality is and how it should be exercised.

This is a terrible tragedy, since the Bible provides a robust theology of sexuality. By understanding God's creation of sexuality and why humans are sexual beings, we can begin to critique the distorted view of sexuality peddled by modern society.

A theology of sexuality must begin with the beginning.
And God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:26-27).
And the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him." And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the heavens; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them: and whatsoever the man called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the heavens, and to every beast of the field; but for man there was not found a help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:18-24).
And [Jesus] answered and said, "Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?' So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:4-6).
God made both man and woman in His image, and from the beginning they were made with sexual desire. But proper sexuality can never be divorced from its intended context within the marriage relationship of a man and a woman. Jesus explains how this intention for marriage exists "from the beginning," when God made them "male and female" and declared that they were to cling to one another and "the two shall become one flesh."

Man and woman, therefore, were made for each other. They were made with sexual parts and sexual desires. All of these declarations about the man, the woman, and becoming one flesh come before man's fall into sin, before corruption and sin entered the world. Therefore, human sexuality is part of the creation deemed by God as "very good" (Genesis 1:31).

We have a natural revulsion at any attempt to associate sexuality with God. In many respects, this is good and healthy: God is spirit, and from all that has been revealed, the spirit realm is not to be sexual (Matthew 22:30, John 4:24). There is an unhealthy tendency in some parts of Christianity to understand the believer's relationship with God in terms of a "Jesus is my boyfriend" style paradigm, and we do well to resist this. There is no need to sexualize every relationship! But does this mean that sexuality has nothing to do with spirituality?

The Scriptures frequently reveal parallels between sexual relationships (both proper and improper) and spiritual relationships. This parallel makes sense: both are intended to reflect intimacy and structured by covenant, or agreement (cf. Exodus 19:1-23, Malachi 2:13-16). When God seeks to communicate to Israel the severity of the transgression of idolatry and the pain which it caused Him, by what means does He frequently do so? Time after time He speaks of idolatry in terms of adultery, graphically embodied through Hosea (Hosea 1:1-3:5) and viscerally described by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:1-63). God "betrothed" Israel to Himself; she "committed adultery" or "played the whore" with other gods.

The parallel is also made in a more positive way in the New Testament.
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church. Nevertheless do ye also severally love each one his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see that she fear her husband (Ephesians 5:31-33).
All of Ephesians 5:23-33 is a "dual-track" image of Christ and the church and the husband and wife, with illustrative parallels for each. And yet, as Paul is concluding this image, he goes back to the beginning and the declaration of God's intention for the proper sexual relationship and finds spiritual application between Christ and the church.

It is common to wish to speak of "the two shall become one flesh" in more romantic terms, speaking of the coming together of mind, emotions, and body. Yet this is not the case in Scripture; Paul's use of the idea in a critique of the sexual attitudes of his own day is instructive:
Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? shall I then take away the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid. Or know ye not that he that is joined to a harlot is one body? for, "The twain," saith he, "shall become one flesh." But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
There is no "romantic connection" with a whore; "the two shall become one flesh" is a referent to sex (which leaves "cleave to his wife" as the way we see the need for the mental/emotional connection; Genesis 2:24). But, as Paul says, the one who is "joined to the Lord" is "one spirit."

This brings us back to the power of the metaphor. It is true that a metaphor intends for the target (in our case, spirituality) to be understood in terms of the source (sexuality), and not the source in terms of the target. Nevertheless, for the target to be understood in terms of the source, there must be some reason why the source can do so. We could say that it is a major coincidence, or it "just happened" that sexuality can help us understand some spiritual truths, but do such things really "just happen"? Or is it part of something greater? Perhaps the metaphor works because God so created the world and humanity so that the metaphor could work!
For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse (Romans 1:20).
Paul declares how many aspects of God are evident in the "things that are made"; this is not limited to birds, rocks, trees, and the like. God's "divinity"-- His divine nature-- is most clearly exemplified in creation through those who bear the image of God, mankind (Genesis 1:26-27).

We do well to remember how God is spirit (John 4:24); we should not press the parallels too far. Nevertheless, that which makes man distinct from the animals tends to reflect God's image. Of all the animals, we are conscious; we reason; we are capable of amazing creative projects individually and collaboratively. And sexuality, for humans, is far different than sexuality for animals. For most animals, sexuality is almost purely instinctual: they truly "cannot help themselves." They engage in sexual behavior for procreative purposes and at no other time. This is not the case with humans: humans can (and do) engage in sexual behavior even when conception is not possible. The pleasurable aspects of human sexuality and the feelings they engender are unique. Human sexual behavior involves the mind as much as the body (if not more so!). Human sexuality is far more than putting body parts together!

As we have said, so we say again: God is not "sexual." But He made both man and woman in His own image, and He made them with sexual desires. He did not do so in order to punish us or test us; it was part of the creation before the Fall, before things went wrong, while all was "very good." We must therefore ask: why were humans created with sexual desire? What is the theology behind sexuality?

I would like to suggest that the marriage relationship, and the proper expression of human sexuality inherent in that relationship, is the physical shadow of which communion with God in Christ is the spiritual reality.

This may seem strong, but if we replace "human sexuality" with "intimate relationship," and again consider Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, Ephesians 5:23-33, and consider John 17:20-24 as well, it is hard to deny the connection. This is why the metaphor of idolatry or other forms of covenant faithlessness as adultery is so effective; the intended covenant between a man and a woman and the intimate union which they are to share is a shadow of the intimate, higher, and spiritual relationship between a man or woman with his/her God.

This theology of sexuality explains the power of sexual desire. Sexual desire, first and foremost, is our confession of our insufficiency in ourselves. Sexual desire demands desire for another. God made man and woman with complementary parts; each man and each woman has a physical reminder of their lack of completeness in and of themselves.

There is a reason why we declare that "no man is an island"; we are intensely social creatures, made for community, and even within that community, we are made for a special, intimate relationship with the other who is also created in the image of God. We can enjoy friendships with many people, but we still seek that one relationship where we can be completely and fully exposed and intimate with another. Sexual desire by itself cannot make a marriage, but sexual desire is the driver that leads people into seeking marriage. In our society, this search for intimacy gets perverted into being only physical, but all the brainwashing of society cannot deny the feeling people have inside of them seeking full intimacy with their partner. We want to be as emotionally and spiritually naked before one special person as physically so. There is a reason why the man is to "cling to his wife" and then "the two shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24): the physical sexual relationship is intended to cement the emotional and spiritual bond inherent in the covenant of marriage.

To say that we are created in the image of God is to say that we are created in the image of the Three in One: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The unity of God is not based in personhood; it is based in relational unity: unity in substance, essence, purpose, will, and being (John 1:1, 17:20-24, Colossians 2:9, etc.). God is love (1 John 4:8-10): that love is first and foremost manifest within the relationship of the Three.

Therefore, "one in person" is always insufficient. Since God is one in relational unity, that which is in His image is going to seek to be one in relational unity as well; this is that universal impulse to seek after God mentioned by Paul in Acts 17:26-27.

Therefore, it is not surprising that man made in God's image should be seeking connection with others. He seeks connection with his fellow man who is made in the image of God as friends and associates. But humans also look for a far more intimate relationship with the one who complements them physically. It is evident that man is created for woman and woman for man; each provides for the other what is lacking, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Likewise, spiritually, we are to seek unity with one another as we seek unity with God in Christ (John 17:20-24, 1 John 1:4-7); nevertheless, the connections we develop with fellow Christians will never reach the depth or the intimacy of the spiritual relationship which we all should be seeking and developing with God our Creator.

Furthermore, what is true of healthy relationships is also true of healthy sexuality: showing true love, finding fulfillment in seeking the happiness of and that which is best for the one whom we love as opposed to simply trying to satisfy our own desire, remembering that God is God and not to make an idol of anyone else whom we might love, being patient, kind, and so on and so forth. Healthy sexuality is never an end unto itself; it is part of the recipe of a fulfilling relationship. Sexuality may drive people into relationships, but it cannot bear the burden of making a relationship. A theology of sexuality, therefore, understands the importance of sexuality in its proper relational sphere.

Yet we must always remember that sexuality is the physical shadow of a spiritual reality. As in all such comparisons, the physical shadow is always inferior. We may all have sexual desires during our lives, but as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, one does not have to be married and/or sexually active to live a fulfilled life. One can share in the spiritual reality of deep, intimate communion with God in Christ without a husband or wife or sexuality at all! We have been promised better things than sex: the eternal weight of glory awaiting the believer is far superior to any pleasure that can be enjoyed through sexual behavior (Romans 8:17-18, 2 Corinthians 4:17)! The sexual connection is not the most intimate or greatest connection that man can ever know; it pales in comparison to the true fulfillment, true spiritual ecstasy, and true satisfaction that comes with "face-to-face" communion with God (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

A theology of sexuality, therefore, understands the drive for physical union and intimacy as a physical shadow of the spiritual reality, the quest for spiritual union and intimacy with God our Creator through Jesus Christ in the communion of the saints (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 5:22-33). As God is one in relational unity, love within Himself, seeking relationship with each person made in His image, so we have been created to be one in relational unity with others, the singularly deepest of which involves seeking an emotionally, mentally, and physically intimate relationship with that one special person who is the complement to ourselves (a man for a woman, and a woman for a man, since God made both man and woman in His image). Seen in this light, human sexuality was made as a good thing, a reminder of our individual insufficiency in ourselves and our need to give love and receive love in relationship. Human sexuality might be a powerful driver but has always been insufficient in and of itself when seeking to achieve its end; it demands not just the physical but the mental and emotional aspects of mankind as well. It is truly the giving of oneself--not just the body, but the mind and spirit as well--just as Paul said (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). As the "two becoming one flesh," sex is a mystical, ecstatic, and intimate union of a man and a woman.

Human sexuality was made to be good, part of the means by which we can make that deep, intimate connection between ourselves and our respective spouses. Sex is special as a shadowy glimpse of the ecstasy that can come from full communion with another, only to be perfectly realized spiritually in our relationship with God in Christ in the day of resurrection. If we maintain a healthy sexuality, we will confess the limitations and proper exercise of sexuality, understanding that any expression of sexuality outside of its proper sphere is not just perversion but really is counterfeit, demeaning what it would theoretically exalts. Let us maintain a robust theology of sexuality so that we may be able to counter the counterfeit forms of sexuality so prevalent in the world around us!

Ethan R. Longhenry
April 2012