This post was adapted from a talk given at Knightlife in February 2017.
Lots of people in the world, and maybe even you, think that God is just a big kill-joy who is only interested in restricting our sexual appetites and consigning us to a life of sexual boredom or impossible abstinence. After all, isn’t the Bible just full of rules telling us not to have sex outside of marriage and basically not really enjoy sex at all?
Well, what the Bible does say is that sex is a beautiful gift to be enjoyed within marriage but the reason God asks us to enjoy it that way isn’t because He wants to stop us having fun, but quite the opposite. It’s because He made us, loves us and wants us to enjoy it with as much freedom as possible.
But before we can talk about sex, we actually need to start with understanding who we are as people. Right at the beginning of the Bible, God says something which shapes the way we think about our identity, and our relationships. He says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. And then just a little bit later it says “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” Those few words radically change how we think about ourselves and how we think about each other. These verses tell us that each person ever born is a little reflection of who God is. We don’t do it perfectly, but being made in God’s image means we are HUGELY precious and have dignity and value beyond anything else.
That means that we need to treat every person with the dignity and value that God has already given them. In whatever situation we’re in, whether it’s someone you work with, or the person who serves your coffee in Costa.
So how do we apply that to sex & relationships? There are a lot of messages in the world around us that we’re hearing that compete with the Bible’s message about sex, and a lot of ways that young people are learning about sex, and that’s what I want to focus on in this post.
Firstly, culture tells us that everyone should be able to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want, however they want. Having sex has become a human right. And if you can’t have it, your life is restricted and unfulfilled. How often do we see plot lines in films and TV shows about sexually frustrated men and women, desperate to sleep with somebody? They’re written in such a way that we feel sorry for the sex-deprived character and yearn for them to have their desires fulfilled. Or what about the guy who has a learning difficulty and still lives at home at the age of 37 but is desperate for a girlfriend – shouldn’t he be able to freely go and sleep with a prostitute? It’s a common attitude that there’s no point in dating somebody unless you can have sex with them.
But let me ask you this – have you ever heard of anybody who has died purely because they haven’t been able to have sex? How many families have been ripped apart because of the unfaithfulness of a husband or wife? If it’s ok to have sex with whoever you want, whenever you want, how come it’s so painful when your partner cheats on you?
Secondly, culture tells us that if the sex isn’t great, you’re with the wrong person and it’s time to move on. Actually, something I’ve learnt as a married person is that sex isn’t all about the physical sensations. They are really just a bonus feature of an incredible emotional intimacy you have with the person you’re having sex with. That’s why sex is so precious, that’s why God wants us to protect it in marriage. If you’re not prepared to commit to somebody for life and enjoy that emotional connection then you’re not ready to have sex with them. If you can’t bare your soul with them, you shouldn’t be baring your body. God’s model of sex, where it’s enjoyed in the most secure of commitments, means that you don’t need to worry about pleasing your partner, or whether it’s good enough for either of you, or about your performance, or about how your body looks. Because that person loves you and has committed to you, you know that their love will still be there no matter how good the sex is. Which means you can be free to enjoy it even more.
Marriage is so much more than sex, and so I don’t want you to think I’m saying ‘if you want to have sex, get married!’ Marriage needs to be carefully considered, it’s not just a way of having sex and being ok with God.
Young people today are learning about sex in ways that are really damaging, and that’s what I want to spend the rest of this post considering. I’m guessing that most people have seen porn at some point in their lives. Some are watching it lots. And many young people have either sent or received a message asking for a naked selfie, or a picture of part of your body. Let me tell you this: Porn is a lie, and you are worth so much more than a naked photo.
Firstly – porn. It’s so easy to find isn’t it? Just a few clicks away and you can find any kind of porn freely available, on your phone or your laptop. I’m guessing most young people learn more from watching porn than they do in sex education lessons at school. But here’s the big secret that the porn industry wants to hide: pornographic sex is not real. Not only are the actors and actresses often faking it, it’s not a real picture of what real sex is like. Porn is all about women doing what men want, whether they like it or not. And there has been lots of research that shows that if you watch a lot of porn, you’re less satisfied with the real thing. What you’re seeing on the screen is teaching you the sex should be a certain way, and men and women should look and act a certain way, but the reality is that it’s not normal, and often it’s not ok. The more porn you watch, the more you get desensitised, the more hardcore and violent your desires will get, and the less satisfying real sex becomes. I could talk for a really long time about how damaging porn is, but then this post would be far too long! But please, I beg you, stop watching porn before it’s too late. If we’re treating people with dignity and value because they are precious and made in God’s image, then we shouldn’t be watching porn. If you want help to kick the habit, then please speak to someone.
Secondly – naked selfies, or sexting. When I was a teenager, the most exciting thing I could do on my phone was play snake, so this is something that I don’t have any direct experience of! But again we need to come back to what I said right at the start, that as human beings, every one of us has incredible value and worth because we are made in God’s image. We are more than just bodies. We are more than naked flesh and something to look at. We are human beings with characters and personalities and amazing skills and abilities. Sending or asking for a naked selfie is basically saying ‘this person is just a body’. Don’t you want to be valued for more than how you look, with or without your clothes on? How can you be sure what’s going to happen to that photo once you’ve sent it? Unless somebody has committed to you for the rest of their lives in marriage, they can easily walk away at any point, taking all those intimate photos with them. You can’t get them back.
This is all pretty dark, and heavy isn’t it? I want to hold up a better picture of what God offers. Did you know there’s a whole book in the Bible all about sex? It’s a bit odd and on the face of it, the descriptions are super weird! But look at this bit, where the husband is describing his wife….bear with it because it doesn’t sound particularly flattering to begin with!
1 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.
3 Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
are like the halves of a pomegranate.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built with courses of stone[a];
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your breasts are like two fawns,
like twin fawns of a gazelle
that browse among the lilies.
6 Until the day breaks
and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hill of incense.
7 You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
come with me from Lebanon.
Descend from the crest of Amana,
from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon,
from the lions’ dens
and the mountain haunts of leopards.
9 You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
Now, I know most girls probably don’t want to have their teeth compared to sheep, or their hair to goats! But hopefully you get the sense of how much this guy loves and adores his wife, how beautiful she is to him. Girls, don’t you want a man who will adore you like that? Guys, don’t you want to be the kind of man that treats a woman like this, that the girls are going to be waiting for? Elsewhere in the book it says ‘If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised’. It’s basically saying you can’t buy love with money or stuff. Paying for porn isn’t going to buy you the love you are searching for. Sending a naked selfie isn’t going to buy you the love you are searching for.
Well what difference does Jesus make?
In the Bible Jesus actually doesn’t say a whole lot about sex. But whilst He might not say much verbally, He says a lot in his actions.
Firstly, Jesus never had sex. He is the ultimate example to us that it’s possible to live a life without sex and not be totally unfulfilled. I have no doubt that as a human man, He will have faced many temptations, but the Bible tells us He was perfect, so He never gave in to those temptations. He’s been through the same temptations you’re going through in one form or another, and He managed to resist them. But in resisting, it didn’t kill Him and He had lots of deep and meaningful relationships with those around Him. His life shows us too that being single isn’t a second rate existence, it’s just as meaningful and valuable as being in a relationship.
Secondly, He showed an extraordinary amount of forgiveness to those who did mess up with their sex lives and relationships. One of my favourite examples is in John chapter 4 where Jesus meets a woman from a place called Samaria. There are lots of reasons why it was a total scandal that Jesus was talking to her, but in the course of their conversation it turns out that she has had 5 husbands already, and she’s not even married to the man she’s living with now. That would have been horrendously shameful in her culture and it’s not something that’s particularly celebrated now. But does Jesus, this perfect man, the Son of God, condemn her and tell her to leave her boyfriend and never have sex again? No, He continues to spend time with her and teach her and because of her, her whole village believe in Jesus. Jesus went out of His way to spend time with people who were socially outcast, and who had made a mess of their lives. And He showed them, and everyone else that they were loved, forgiven and welcome in God’s Kingdom.
So whether you’ve messed up and made mistakes in your relationships, whether you don’t care about God’s way of life, or whether you’ve never made a mistake in this area – you are welcome in God’s Kingdom. There you will find freedom, forgiveness and a future full of life and fulfilment if you choose to say that knowing Jesus is more precious than everything else.
As part of my work with Saffires (a ministry working with women in prostitution), I went to a brothel and while I was there I asked them what they thought I should say to young people on this topic. One woman said ‘tell the girls it’s ok to say no. They don’t owe a guy anything, even if he pays for dinner’. Another said ‘tell the boys they need to respect girls’. These are women who have been used and abused by men, who know everything there is to know about sex and yet struggle with depression, anxiety, alcohol problems and much more besides. And they want them to know that women are worth more, and that sex isn’t a given. Guys – you are also worth more. Sex doesn’t last forever, but the pain of broken relationships does last a lot longer.
Ladies: Don’t cheapen yourself – you are worth so much more than your body. And don’t settle for anything less than a guy who will treat you as the incredible woman you are.
Gents: Be a man and take the risk in committing to a girl. Learn to respect her and treat her as the incredible woman that she is.
And to all of you: No matter what your past has been like, no matter what you’re struggling with right now, Jesus understands and He wants to offer you freedom and fulfilling relationships. Sex isn’t everything, but a relationship with Him is.