In the last post, we talked about sex and Scripture. Scripture is not a rule-book with loopholes, but a story about God and his world in which he created humans to live and serve him. In a sense, Scripture is a commentary on identity – especially the identity of God and our identity. It addresses a serious problem: our identity crisis.
We have many such crises. I want to talk about 3 identities: body identity, sexual identity, and social identity.
First off, it is very unfortunate that American Christians tend to associate their faith primarily with “heart and soul” and “life after death.” Actually, spend some time in the Old Testament and you will see, Israel knew their relationship with God to be very “here and now” and very much “in the body.” God redeems our soul, but he also wants our whole self – including our bodies. The apostle Paul underscores this in many places. When writing to a very dysfunctional church in Greece (Corinth), he reminds them, you think you can do whatever you want with your bodies, but you have forgotten one important thing: when you accepted the lordship of Christ, you filed for bankruptcy on your body and God bought it out. It doesn’t belong to you anymore. Your body is worth a lot (a lot more than you think), and God paid a high price for it (the blood and honor of his only Son). (This is my very loose paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20!)
Jesus died for your soul. Yes. Jesus also died for your body.
Secondly, we need to understand our sexual identity based on God’s perspective (and as taught in Scripture). The stale, old, traditional (though inaccurate) view is that sex is dirty and bad, and one should at least have the decency to hide it in marriage. Basically, for this view, “sexual purity” means “no sex. Ever.” I found a study from the 1970’s done among a group of Christians which asked this question: “Did Jesus feel sexual attraction?” According to 81% of respondents: “no.”
Apparently Jesus never read the Song of Solomon either! You may have heard that Biblical interpreters throughout history have had a hard time explaining why the sultry Song of Solomon is in the Bible at all. Well, that is because God wants to remind us sex is good! It is a gift!
Here’s the thing, though. It is a powerful gift. Why? Because it is a bonding agent. It is relational duct tape. God is not anti-sex. But he wants to teach us that it has a meaning and purpose.
Thirdly, we must think about our social identity. We are not alone in our sexual choices. We are a part of a community called the Church. Like it or not, God has given the Church a “say” in our sexual partner.
If you don’t like that – too bad. No man is an island. No Christian is a lone ranger worshipper. To quote Cyprian, “He who does not have the Church for a mother, cannot have God for a Father.” What you do with your body affects the “body of Christ,” the Church. Your choices are part of a community of friendship and fellowship (the Greek word for fellowship, koinonia, by the way, means partnership). By allowing Christ to enter and rule your life, you are joining the Church and submitting yourself to her authority as well (that is why pastors “officiate” weddings; God permits the Church to consecrate marriages and the context in which sex should properly take place). To decide to have sex is not an independent decision. You are part of a sacred community (the Church) and your decisions must take that into account.
On Being God’s Image
The last thing I want to mention in this post is the notion of being made in “God’s image.” To be an image-bearer of God (as all humans are), is to recognize our role and responsibility as leaders among all creation. We humans (especially the Church as the marred image of God being renewed into the likeness of Christ) are God’s ruling agents. This is an awesome privilege, and we need to take our responsibility seriously. How we behave affects the reputation of God whom we “image.” I believe we can empower our youth with a clear sense of self-respect by reminding them of who they really are – representatives, proxies, agents of the king of the world. We need to remind teens that sexual “freedom” is not really freedom at all (in the same way that not training for a sport is not freedom either, especially when they get tackled or outrun in the big game). Freedom is not the ability to give in to cultural pressures. It is the power to always choose what meets the fullest potential of who you were created to be. I often repeat to students the powerful line from a Switchfoot song: “This is your life, are you who you want to be.”
Stay tuned for the third post, which offers some tips for how to talk to teens about sex.
In these posts, I have barely scratched the surface of the subject of sex, God, and Scripture, but I hope you will find it to be a helpful start. Below is my “starter” list of suggested reading.
Boulton, E.M. and M.M. Boulton, “Sacramental Sex: Divine Love and Human Intimacy,” Christian Century March 22, 2011: 28-30.
Hollinger, D.P. The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life (Baker, 2009).
Winner, L.F. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (Baker, 2006).
Dr. Nijay K. Gupta
Assistant Professor of Biblical Theology and Exegesis