Holy Sexuality 1: A Biblical Foundation

I want to begin this post on Holy Sexuality with a confession. And my confession is that I have been very reluctant to write or preach on this topic for a long time, and there are a number of reasons for my reluctance.

First, human sexuality is a deeply personal topic. There is something about sex that connects with the deepest part of the human soul. Our sexual thoughts and desires often start in the deepest regions of our inner being. Our sexual actions are very private and intimate. So, whenever someone dares to comment on a sexual matter, you are talking

Mirror 3 by laurenz-kleinheider-OsC8HauR0e0-unsplash
Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

about something that is very personal and private to people.

The second reason for my reluctance about human sexuality is that is an issue around which many of us have deep shame or guilt. Perhaps we were taught as we grew up to think that sex was dirty, or maybe, through our own initiative or through the will of others, we had sexual experiences that we think, or know, were wrong and we feel shame and guilt about that. Or maybe we struggle with certain thoughts about sex and we feel guilt and shame for having those thoughts enter our mind. So I have been reluctant because I don’t want to trigger shame in you, especially if it is false shame, shame that you ought not to have.

The third reason for my reluctance is that human sexuality is an issue with moral and ethical implications. Many of you may have already formed your opinions about the moral and  sexual implications of sex, and if what I say is contrary to what you already believe, you may turn away from this church,  or from Jesus, because of what you hear today. I am concerned about that.  I am hoping that you will have grace to at least listen to what I say.

I have also been concerned about people misunderstanding what I say and then reacting on the basis of what they think I have said instead of what I actually said. If I say something today that concerns or upsets you, I invite you to listen to the podcast of this sermon or read the sermon text online to make sure that what you thought I said is what I actually said. But I also want you to hear your questions and concerns. So please feel free to contact me and maybe your questions or concerns can be dealt with in my next post on human sexuality in about three weeks.

However, there are many reasons why I should speak to you on the topic of human sexuality. The main reason is, if I don’t, you will never know the fullness of the love that God has for you in this area of life, you will never know what God has in mind, his plan for you, in this area of life, you will never know how to direct your sexual thoughts, words and actions, and  you will never know how to have a faithful conversation with someone else about human sexuality.

And there is another really big reason why it is important for me to talk to you on this topic at this time. In our day, the Christian position on human sexuality is being misunderstood, marginalized and misrepresented. This is a problem, because we, as Christians, need to be able to engage thoughtfully and faithfully in the conversations that are happening in our coffee shops, work places, schools, neighborhoods and in our own homes.  And people won’t be able to do that if they don’t know what the Christian teaching is about human sexuality. So that is why we are having this sermon on this topic on this Sunday.

As I begin, I want to express a word of appreciation for three people who really helped me work through this issue through books that they have written. Those people and their books are Rosaria Champagne Butterfield and her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Christopher Yuan and his book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, and David Bennett and his book A War of Loves.  I also want to thank everyone who has prayed for me as I prepared this message because doing something like this it totally beyond me. But confident in God and his loving presence, we will begin.

But before we do that, I want to say something about language. Language is always very important, but it is especially so when discussing the topic of human sexuality. As I speak on this topic, I will endeavor to use biblical language as much as I can. The reason for that is a lot of the language that our society uses to talk about sex comes from non-biblical sources and brings with it non-biblical assumptions that will only confuse the conversation. For example, homosexual and heterosexual are words that come with the understanding that our identity is rooted in our sexual thoughts and activities, but the Bible uses the biological terms of male and female to describe who we are.

Above all, my prayer is that you will understand that what I am trying to do is speak the truth in love to you. This is what I try to do every Sunday, but it is especially the case today and again on September 29 as we reflect on what God says about the gift of sexuality that he has given to humanity. So, I hope and pray that you receive my words as truth spoken in love.

We begin our search for a biblical foundation for our understanding of human sexuality by looking at Genesis, chapter 1, starting at verse 26:

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!

And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. (Gen. 1:26-31 NLT)

From this passage, we can see three things that relate to our topic today. First, and the item I want to spend the most time on, God created human beings in his image. I am going to come back to this in a moment.

Second, God created human beings male and female. This tells us that the distinction between male and female is something that was created in us by God. Therefore, sex, sexuality and the distinctions of male and female were all God’s idea.

Third, in their original form, sex, sexuality and sexual distinction were declared by God to be very good. So the idea that sex is dirty or inherently sinful is not true. Sex is a good gift from God which he has given to humanity for procreation, but also for intimacy within a marriage relationship and for joy. And is amazing when you think about it, because God did not have to make sex as pleasurable or as joyful as he did. He could have fulfilled the procreation aspect of sex by making it an instinctual thing. But he didn’t do it that way. It is as if God gave to humanity a special bonus gift as an expression of his love for us.

Now let’s go back and reflect on what it means to be created in the image of God. One way to help us understand this is to take out a coin and look at it. On our coins, we have an image of Queen Elizabeth II. That image tells us some very important things. It tells us that there is a special relationship between the coin and Queen Elizabeth. The coin was made in a country where Elizabeth is the head of state. In a way, that coin was made under her authority. Second, the coin has very special worth because it bears the image of Elizabeth. This coin is worth 1 dollar. Why? Because, in a way, Elizabeth said it was worth that much when she created it and she put her image on the coin as proof of its worth. I realize that Elizabeth is not in the Royal Mint in Winnipeg stamping out loonies[1] Third, the coin is meant to be a reminder of the rule and reign of Elizabeth. Ideally, people would look at the coin and think of her.

In the same way, when the Bible tells us that all human beings bear the image of God, it is telling us that each and every human being has a special relationship with God because God is their creator.  Bearing the image of God also means that each and every human being is of special worth. God showed us that he places infinite worth on us when he made humans the high point of his creation, higher than even the angels. Every human being is of infinite worth because they bear the image of God. So whenever we say, think, or do something that harms one of our fellow bearers of the divine image, we are not only sinning against them, we are also sinning against God whose image they bear. And that is true whether the other person is a Christian or not, whether they are our friend or our enemy, and whether the other person loves us or hates us.

Each and every human being should be loved because they bear the image of God. I often think of this when I visit people in nursing homes and I see people with various mental and/or physical handicaps—some of them may even be challenging to care for—and yet the staff treat the residents with dignity, respect and loving care. The people who work in those nursing homes are doing godly work because they are treating the residents as human beings who bear the image of God.

Now ideally, we would be like the coins in our pocket and reflect the image of our Creator so well that when people would look at us and be reminded of God’s loving rule and reign over all creation.  But that doesn’t as much as we would like it to because that image of God, which we all bear, has been distorted, and that distortion has happened because of original sin. When our first parents disobeyed God, they and all of creation were corrupted. When I use the term original sin, I am not referring to what Adam and Eve did wrong, I am referring to the corruption that is in us as a result.

What that corruption means for human beings is that the image of God that we bear has been tarnished and now it is hard for others to be reminded of God when they look at us. It is like looking at a picture that has been intentionally distorted.  It can be difficult for us to figure what the image represents.

Another major consequence of original sin tarnishing the image of God that we still bear, is that, without God’s saving work in our lives, it is impossible for us not to sin. Let me repeat that. One of the consequences of original sin is that, without God’s saving work in our lives, it is impossible for us not to sin.

Here is what this means is when someone says that they don’t believe in God and they are going to live out their sexuality anyway that they want with whomever they want and they are not going to be restricted by a marriage license or cultural standards or anything else, their biggest problem is not the way that they live out their sexuality.  Their biggest problem is not having a relationship with the God who saves. So when we Christians look at someone who is living a wayward sexual life and we expect them to clean up their act and then they can be one of us, we are expecting them to do something that is impossible for them to do, and it is impossible for us to do as well.

Only Jesus, God’s one and only Son, can help anyone experience healing and wholeness in the area of sexuality. Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.  He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,” (Col. 1:15). The image that Jesus bears of God is perfect, so we can look at Jesus and see what God is really like. In Jesus, we see that God accepts people with guilt issues like tax collectors who betray their own people for money. In Jesus, we see that God welcomes people with shame issues like prostitutes who sell their bodies for money or women who are caught in adultery.

After living a perfect human life, Jesus willingly went to the cross to suffer and die for all the sins of the whole world. On the third day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead to declare to us that we have in him forgiveness of all our sins, including our sexual sins, and he also gives us a new life with him that will last forever. As part of that new life, Jesus also gave us a new nature. Our new nature only wants to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. With our new nature within us, there will be in this life an ongoing battle between our old nature, which has been corrupted by original sin, and our new nature, which has not. But with our new nature from Jesus it is now possible for us not to sin. With Jesus, we can actually do the right thing.

This then raises the question: What is the standard that we should be aiming for? And here is another area where we Christians tend to make a critical mistake. We tend to think that the ideal for human beings is heterosexuality, but that view is short-sighted because it ignores all the many forms of sin that fall within heterosexual activity. The ideal is a term coined by Christopher Yuan called “Holy Sexuality.” In the Bible, God does not say, “Be heterosexual because I am heterosexual.” God says, “…be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  The opposite of sexual sin is not heterosexuality. The opposite of sexual sin, or any sin, for that matter is holiness. So then, because of the new life and the new nature that Jesus has given us, we ought to strive, with his help and forgiveness, to be holy in all aspects of life, including our sexuality. So what is Holy Sexuality? Let me quote what Christopher Yuan wrote in his book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel because he not only coined the term, he defined it and he says it better than I can. He writes, “From Genesis to Revelation, in the entirety of the biblical witness, only two paths align with God’s standard for sexual expression: if you’re single, be sexually abstinent while fleeing lustful desires; if you’re married, be sexually and emotionally faithful to your spouse of the opposite sex while also fleeing lustful desires.”[2]

Even if we are single and abstinent or married to a spouse of the opposite sex, striving to live in Holy Sexuality is a struggle because it not only involves our outward actions, but also our interior thoughts and desires. Not all desire is bad, and there is also a difference between unwanted sexual thoughts and temptations, which are not sin, and lustful desires, which are. These lustful desires are very challenging to us, especially since we live in a world that encourages us to have lustful desires. What is a lustful desire? It is any desire which, if it was carried through to its end, would result in illicit sex.[3] Yet even though we struggle to live in Holy Sexuality, both with our thoughts and our actions, we continue to do so confident in Jesus, his forgiveness for us and his patient, loving, faithful work within us.

What then should our posture be towards people who are not endeavouring to live their lives in Holy Sexuality? Taking our cues from Jesus, our posture should be one of compassion and unconditional love. Compassion because they are caught in the struggle with lust and sin just like we are. Unconditional love because they still bear the image of God and so they are still worthy of unconditional love from God and from us. But we also love unconditionally because that is the way of Jesus, and the only way many people will get to know Jesus is if we love them like Jesus loves them. And when we relate to others with compassion and unconditional love, we more accurately reflect the image of God into the world. Amen

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on September 8, 2019.  For more info, go to wglc.org.)

[1] A Canadian 1$ coin is referred to as a “loonie” because it has an image of a loon on the side opposite to the one with an image of Queen Elizabeth II.

[2] Christopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2018), 48.

[3] Yuan, 60-61.

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