Sexuality: Christian Friend or Foe?

In Christians, Non-Christians, and the “Fully Man” Problem With Jesus, I wrote that I equate having a sex drive with necessarily being sinful insofar as Jesus said, “Do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I then joked that virtually every man with a sex drive looks at a woman lustfully at least once a day—“maybe twice, if he’s had a good night’s sleep.”

A reader responded with a comment that caught my attention. He said, “I’m not sure about [your] comment about equating a sex drive with being sinful. Having one is not sinful if it’s kept under control, and self control IS part of the fruit of the spirit.”

So here we have the idea that a devout Christian, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is capable of so utterly controlling his sex drive that he actually stops having lustful thoughts about women. The Holy Spirit, in effect, simply short-circuits his lustful thoughts.

The model of the Pure-Minded Christian is certainly common enough, is it not? It’s within the shadow of this assumed ideal that so many Christians struggle so mightily (and worthily!) to be constantly blameless before God.

Relative to the nature of sexuality, I think there are two very different kinds of Christian men. The first considers their sexuality their enemy, in that it constantly compels them to offend God. The second considers their sexuality their friend, in that it constantly reminds them of their profound humanity, and of the literally unfathomable power with which God has infused all living beings. (I wrote more about this in Sex is God’s Way of Humbling Us.)

That said, though, it does seem worth noting that, generally speaking, young men naturally tend to fall into the former group, while, with age, one gradually begins (hallelujah!) slipping into the latter.

Sex. It’s so … inescapable central to the human experience, yes? No matter our understanding of God’s will; no matter the strength of our own.

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  • Matt

    So just for clarification, do you agree or disagree with the statement:

    "So here we have the idea that a devout Christian, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is capable of so utterly controlling his sex drive that he actually stops having lustful thoughts about women. The Holy Spirit, in effect, simply short-circuits his lustful thoughts."

  • I don't know what you're asking. Yes, I "agree" that that is an idea that's common amongst Christians.

  • Matt

    I apologize for being unclear. I'm asking if you subscribe to the idea that sex drive, lust, and thoughts of that nature can be controlled by the Holy Spirit's power. Not if that belief exists, but if you yourself believe it.

  • It depends on what you mean by "controlled." But I'll say this: If any man claims that due to the power of the Holy Spirit within him he never has lustful thoughts about women, I will know that he is either gay, or lying.

  • Matt

    I certainly agree to say "never" is ignorant and arrogant. But as I think I understand (from this post and in trying to glean from others) you do attribute power to the Holy Spirit to help "control" the lustful impulses of humanness.

    p.s. thanks for taking to the time to suffer my clarification inquiries, ha.

  • Lots of things ripe for comment here. Juicy, succulent ripeness…

    Dangit! You can tell which fruits of the Spirit I'm lacking.

    I actually don't think Jesus was saying lustful thoughts are sin. He just said that's adultery of the heart. At an objective/psychological level, my response is "duh". When I see a hot chick, I sometimes imagine things. Yes, that's virtual adultery. Exactly what Jesus said.

    But does virtual adultery qualify as "sin"?

    I wonder if Jesus just wanted us to consider that, if left unbounded, virtual adultery will probably eventually turn into real adultery. Endless fantasy has a way of one day becoming reality, as it's hard to achieve things you haven't visualized, whether that thing is hitting a baseball or sexing a co-ed.

    So maybe that's why he gave some warnings about thought patterns. Not because the thought itself makes us sinful, but because it could lead us into actions that come with serious consequences.

  • Matt: I don't think it's about the Holy Spirit controlling one's sex drive. I think essentially pitting the Holy Spirit against one's sexuality is the wrong paradigm. Instead, the idea (as I'm sure you know) is that the Holy Spirit, by its very nature, transforms those aspects of one's sexuality that run contrary to the will and purpose of God into something more in accord with what anyone would agree is generally a good deal more healthy and beneficial.

  • Matt

    Very well put. Thanks for the clarification. Greatly helps me with the tone of the original post and the subsequent insights.

  • Tone? (he asked, already knowing he should just let it go, but not cuz he's sitting in a coffee shop basically being bored…)

  • Matt

    Sure, tone. 🙂 The one drawback from blogging is that so much of non-verbal communication is lost. (and yes, I know you are thinking "duh" right now) But without that interaction words can be interpreted in seemingly infinite ways (apathetic, attacking, gracious, purely honest, purely sarcastic, etc.) The clarification questions help shed some (albeit not nearly all) light on that tone. I was just curious of it that was all. Please know my tone is one of simply curiosity and laid-back conversation.

  • You're right, of course. And though this has virtually nothing to do with the matter of this post, the entire point of effective writing is to leave as little room as possible for varying interpretations of the words at hand. I know learning to do that is how I've spent my whole stupid life. (Which isn't to say I'm GOOD at it—but just that I've made doing it the focus of my life.)

    For whatever it's worth, I once wrote a bit about this, here:

  • Matt

    Thanks for the link (hadn't made it back that far in the archives yet) Came across your blog not too long ago via a mutual facebook friend so I'm playing a little catch up. Hence the tone questions, trying to get a better context for the thoughts from your head. 🙂 And can you tell I'm bored today too?

  • Dude, you hardly have to apologize for not having read something I published on my blog….however long ago it was. I appreciate you checking out my stuff at all. Thanks for that.

    If I ever find you've joined my Facebook fan page, I'll know you've found my work worth your association. If NOT, I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to hunt you down and start stalking you. Sorry. Those are the rules. There's nothing I can do about it.

  • Matt

    I'm always looking for things to read. It's what keeps me thinking and grounded. If I don't have other peoples thoughts to dwell on, the only thoughts left are my own and that leads to serious intellectual narcissism.

    And feel free to stalk, ha, but if you are going to do it in person please bring along a certain Marquez acquaintance… would be nice to see him again. Also, I think I may have actually joined your page already, I'll have to check.

  • Des

    Ok, so what would sexuality look like if sin had never entered the world? We know that Adam and Eve were naked, so we can assume that their sinless offspring would have been also. Since no one would have ever grown old, can we say that poor Adam would be struggling today with lustful thoughts by looking upon millions of naked women?

  • @Des: following on the heels of what John said in a comment up higher (the Holy Spirit, by its very nature, transforms those aspects of one’s sexuality that run contrary to the will and purpose of God into something more in accord with what anyone would agree is generally a good deal more healthy and beneficial.)

    I think it would be more like: Adam would still be lusting after his own wife.

  • Christine

    Redlefty: Kinda agree with what you were saying in the context that maybe Jesus was saying one leads to the other. But I di believe thoughts are still sin. The things is though Jesus was inherently human he was without sin. So this leads me to think he didn't lust. But he was tempted as man is so therefore some dodge thoughts must have popped up now and then in order to tempt him. Sothis leads me to believe he still had thoughts. Thing that confuses me is that he said the THINKING was wrong. So in between both camps here. Ah crap, think my brain exploded

  • Christine: Sheer, stupid logic demands that if Jesus was a fully human man, then, by definition, he lusted. If he didn't, then he wasn't fully human. But it MUST be an either/or. I don't care how mysterious the incarnation is, what cannot be altered is the brute, clear fact that if Jesus didn't lust, then–not matter what else he might have been—he was not fully human.

    Yet we want—we insist—upon a Jesus who never lusted.

    Which absolutely cancels out one of our most cherished understandings of who Jesus was.

    This, right here, is why theologians make the big bucks. (And why, invariably, they talk and write in such vague, fuzzy, meta-language.)

  • Christine

    Ah but isn't that refuting the Jesus, the man that DIDN'T sin?? If he himself says it is sin then isn't he then denying the fact that he was sinless?? See this is what confuses me. I know that to lust is human, that guys will see and then think. But he himself seems to contradict that.

    And hey man, don't dis theologians cos studying to be one LOL. Na more studying to apply it to relevant life issues of today

  • I think it's not so much about the lusting itself (e.g. I doubt anyone would argue that lusting after your own spouse is wrong), as the *temptation* we as humans fall prey to. After his baptism, Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness. Isn't that what we struggle with every single day– temptation? Because he was fully human, he was able to BE tempted– and I believe that includes sexual temptation. But because he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he was able to resist that temptation. And that's what sets him apart from the rest of us.

  • Christine

    Yes but, and I quote "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” HE said that, which imply's he NEVER lusted otherwise HE wuold be sinning!!! I am only confused over why HE would say that when everyone says that HE must have lusted to be human. He doesn't say, "anyone who thinks lustfully and continues that thought into fanatsy…." he says just anyone who even looks!!! AHHHHHHHHHH John this is YOUR fault for bringing this up LOL

  • I think you're exactly right, Helly. It's not that Jesus wasn't fully human; it's that he was fully human, and THEN some—and then, of course, so very much more. In the same way, I have been fully a child—but am now so much more. (Well. On my better days, anyway.)

  • I think our sexuality can be likened to nuclear energy, and there may be some support in our mythology for a connection between them. Not only was the object that brought us to the tipping point of the sexual revolution named after a nuclear test site (namely, the bikini), but some would also say that there is a connection between plants of the Artemisia genus (including the wormwood) and the village of Chernobyl where the worst nuclear accident in history took place. Proverbs 5:4 says of the wayward wife, "Her end is bitter as wormwood." Hmmm …

    Whatever the biblical and mythological connections between sexuality and nuclear energy, it seems pretty clear to me that there is a parallel in that both are extremely powerful and can be used for both good and evil. A nuclear reactor can form part of a power plant, which when connected to a distribution network can supply enough energy to perform much valuable service. That same reactor can also be used destructively outside that context, setting off an endless chain of reactions that continues getting more destructive over time. When sexuality is taken outside its proper context, it becomes a diabolical weapon that destroys every person it touches, bringing in its train defilement, guilt and broken relationships.

    So what can we do about the reactor's tendency to 'go nuts' while it's still being prepared for use, or at other times when such a 'reaction' would be destructive? This is something that 99% of men and increasing numbers of women do battle with every day. We have to live in the body, and it does us no good to deny the goodness of sexuality as a gift. Being aware of the potential dangers of giving in to this powerful energy can make life more uncomfortable than being ignorant of it, to be sure. It's a delicate balance that the Christian must tread between denial and repression on the one hand, and inappropriate destructive expression on the other. The New Testament's ethic of love gives us a clue when it says that "Love does no harm to its neighbour,…" and it helps to remember that outside its proper context sexual expression is harmful rather than helpful to those who participate in it, as well as those who depend on their integrity (which may be one's spouse and children, partners in ministry or secular work, employees and clients, or in some cases one's wider public). If one is not yet (or not currently) married, there is always one's future spouse and children to consider, because the habits developed before marriage don't change easily after it. In short, there is much potential for far-reaching damage from inappropriate sexual expression, which underscores the seriousness with which Jesus and the biblical writers treat the subject, and which sometimes makes life without it seem a more bearable option.

    The situation is further complicated in our own day by the seemingly inescapable expansion of sexual suggestiveness into so much of everyday life. This is not unprecedented, however, and the Early Church Fathers dealt with a similar sex-saturated culture in the pagan Roman Empire. Some of their writings were quite misogynistic, but mostly there was a concern for the exploitation of women as theatre, which has returned in our own day in the form of pornography. It is true that some varieties of feminism see pornography as an exercise of power over men, a weapon in the 'War Between the Sexes', but as something that is outside God's intention for women is a diabolical exploitation nonetheless. Certainly it is something for which anyone who produces or consumes it will be held to account in the end, even if it was seen at the time as a form of empowerment. All sin is primarily against God in any case (Psalm 51:4), even where others are involved; therefore, God has the right to judge everything we do, even if it doesn't appear to hurt anyone, or if it was done by 'consenting adults'.

    The only way out of the bind is always to see people as God sees them – as hungry, hurting, needy, dying souls in need of the Bread of Life; as pilgrims together with us on the journey; as brothers and sisters on the same road. Only God really knows the battles others are facing, whether sexual or otherwise, and ultimately no one will appreciate being thought of only in terms of his or her sexuality. We need to take a deeper view of the people around us, and a longer view of the purposes of God in the lives that we share. Yes, as human beings we do fall, but God is ready to set us back on the road again once we choose to get up and set our face in the right direction again.

  • Tim

    John- I love that you are getting Christians talking about this stuff. Sin’s a drag but it makes for good reading.

  • Tim– your comment reminded me of a video by Kirk Cameron whereupon he laments the fact that many of today’s “seeker friendly” churches downplay the subject of sin in an effort to not turn off, well, seekers. As a new believer who’s still on her journey, and as a member of just such a seeker-oriented church, I can see why both sides have merit. Broaching the subject of sin right off the bat is sure to turn off sincerely curious folks. Yet without a full understanding of what sin is (and many people today don’t), you can’t truly appreciate grace and what it means to be saved. So I agree– it’s definitely good to talk about this stuff, and I, too, enjoy the discussion!

  • Well, I like to think of sexuality as my friend.

    Ahem … sorry. I was thinking about my wife, of course.

    Ahem … anyway … I think that the Holy Spirit could defuse a person's lust, effectively making the person a eunuch. He doesn't do it for most of us, though, putting us in the place of constantly needing forgiveness and grace.

    I'd argue that that was the point … Jesus reminded us that we all sin, constantly, and that we're constantly in need of forgiveness.

    He also made that forgiveness available.

    Christians aren't without sin, we're just forgiven.

  • I liked Cat's explanation way back when of how Jesus could be fully human and still not lust. I think you should have her write guest posts every so often. =)

    My two cents…sexuality is like everything created by God and called good. Awesomely fantastic in its intended form. But tainted by sin and all that. I liked what you said, John, about how the Holy Spirit transforms the parts that we have messed up.

  • goatgirlbookworm

    Your post is quite interesting! I personally believe that sexuality and sex drive were created by God. Have you read Song of Solomon lately? My whole blog, Scarlet Naivety is actually about this subject and my whole journey.