Solutions are always found by creating or restoring a sense of design. Everything has a design—from the veins of a leaf to the mane of a horse, from a computer chip to Chicago’s Sears Tower, from a child’s toy to a supercharged Thunderbird. Everything has a design, a time, and a place. Everything demonstrates the existence of a creative mind behind the design. The same is true for our sexuality. It is the product of an all-wise Designer.
According to Genesis 1:26-28, after God made the world, its plants, its animals, and its seasons, He said:
“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them have dominion . . . .” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 2 expands on the origin of our gender and sexuality. In a second and more specific account, Moses told us that after first making Adam alone, it became apparent that there was no suitable companion for him among the animals. So from a rib of Adam’s own flesh the Lord made a woman. Then Moses concluded:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:24-25).
The Genesis account of God’s design makes it clear that sexuality comes from God. While being male or female is thought by many today to be a curse, it was not so in the beginning. In the beginning, gender was a precious gift from God. Man and woman were the crown of creation. Together they possessed complementing sexual identities that enabled them to be good for one another. In marriage their complementing genders would provide a basis not only for companionship but also for the mutual pleasures of a shared physical sexuality and oneness. Outside of marriage, man and woman would enrich one another by the social blending of their masculine and feminine differences. They would give to one another the richness of personality and relationship that is missing in all-men or all-women gatherings.
Genesis also shows us that while man and woman were made somewhat different from one another, they both were made very different from the animals. Together man and woman shared the image of God in a way that gave them no counterpart in the animal world. As a result, Moses’ view of the sexes differs significantly from modern evolutionary theory. The naturalistic philosophy that has shaped so much of current education suggests that there is no deep-rooted distinction between man and animal. It is no surprise, then, that those who see themselves as more related to the animals than to God act like animals in their sexual relationships.
With decades of naturalistic, evolutionary theory built into our educational system, it is understandable that our generation would defend its sexual choices by citing occurrences of homosexual or multiple-partner sexual relationships among the animal world.We often hear, “Sex is natural and beautiful. Look at the animals. They show us that we don’t have to be so uptight and moralistic about freely expressing our heterosexual or our homosexual desires.”
Moses showed us, however, that even though we share with the animals a common Creator, we are not animals. Unlike the creatures of the animal world, we were created in the image of God. Furthermore, God chose the human sexual relationship to reproduce His own likeness in every child that is born.
It is this God-likeness that is so violated when men and women view one another as sexual objects rather than as whole persons with shared needs, dreams, and destinies. There is something very dehumanizing about a kind of sexual ethic that views women merely for the physical, sexual pleasure their bodies offer. It’s degrading to value one another for “parts” that quickly age and lose their appeal. It is far more dignifying to see every man and woman as a whole person who needs not to be exploited and defrauded for someone else’s sexual pleasure, but to be honored, loved, appreciated, and enjoyed as a whole person. It is far more noble to be a man who loves women as friends than one who sees them as objects of sexual conquest. Yet it is not just a matter of being noble. The truth is that we have been designed for a desire that is far higher than self-centered sexual aggression.
The Genesis account of creation, however, does more than describe the dignity and origin of our sexuality. It also takes us back to the roots of our sexual problems.
The Distortion Of God’s Design. In Genesis 3:1-5, Satan suggested to Eve that God was holding out on them. Pointing out the one tree in the garden from which God had forbidden them to eat, Satan said:
God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (v.5).
Oswald Chambers said, “All sin is rooted in the suspicion that God is not very good.” Satan seduced Eve into believing that God was selfishly keeping the best things for Himself. And if that were true, He couldn’t be trusted. Satan’s half-truth had an evil twist. Genesis 3:7 says:
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
From then on, their sexuality became a constant source of temptation and struggle. No longer controlled and protected by perfect love, human sexuality became a strategic battleground between heaven and hell. From then on, that which was made to be enjoyed in the intimacy and pleasure of a faithful, mutually loving relationship became an indicator of the extent of human rebellion.
Sexual fantasy is what many people use to cope with the inescapable loneliness of a tragic world racked with sin. It is the attempt to force our way back to Eden to recover what has been lost. Patrick Carnes, in his book Don’t Call It Love: Recovery From Sexual Addiction, notes that “Americans spend more on pornography in one year than the annual sales of the Coca-Cola corporation” (p.57). The centerfold photographer knows how to sustain the illusion. So does the prostitute or the partner in an affair. They all feed into the fantasy that “somewhere there is someone who will love me perfectly.”
In our rebellion, we refuse to accept the tragic reality that we can’t go back to Eden. So, instead of turning to God for mercy, the best we can do is to try to dull some of our pain with some form of pleasure that is within our power to control. Sexual immorality works well. It creates a false sense of life and passion that for a few brief moments allows us to escape the pain of our daily lives. Thus, we seek to indulge our twisted sexual passions to soothe the ache in our souls. In essence, we exchange the one true God for a false god. But there’s a price to pay.
Harry Schaumburg writes, “When people seek a taste of heaven by their own means, they create a living hell of uncontrollable desires” (False Intimacy, p.60). The root of all sexual perversions and immorality begins with the desire to relieve one’s pain with pleasure. But the passionate desire for intimacy with God is too deeply imbedded in the human heart. It cannot be silenced, so it degenerates into a futile attempt to kill off all passion.
According to Hosea, the replacement of passionate worship of God with some pitiful pleasure results in nothing that deeply satisfies:
They will eat but not have enough; they will engage in prostitution but not increase, because they have deserted the Lord to give themselves to prostitution . . . . A people without understanding will come to ruin” (4:10,14 NIV).
It is this image of prostitution, adultery, and idolatry that is repeated throughout Scripture (Jer. 3:2-5; Ezek. 16,23).
Because man suppressed the truth about God (Rom. 1:18), he “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” of his own making (v.23 NIV). So God gave mankind over to the control of sinful things that we prefer more than Him:
• heterosexual perversions (v.24)
• the perversion of homosexuality (vv.26-27)
• perverse thinking leading to perverse behavior in every area of life (vv.28-32)
Harry Schaumburg notes:
God’s action is severe in that He gives us over not only to our desires but to a condition of ungovernable desires. We demand, God steps back.We choose to regulate our lives rather than honoring and obeying God; we lose the ability to regulate our desires (False Intimacy, p.59).
The point is this: Once we abandon passionate worship of God, whatever we have passion for will become our god. Paul’s words should serve as a warning that if we don’t allow the Lord to passionately stir our hearts to worship Him, our passions will inevitably be stirred by something else. The progression is clear. Once people turn their back on the truth about God, their thinking becomes skewed, their understanding becomes darkened, their heart becomes hardened, and the ability to deeply experience passion is diminished. The only thing that scratches the heart’s surface is sensuality. But its effectiveness is diminished. Instead of controlling our desires, we become slaves of our desires.
But there’s hope. God wants to restore the passion to our lives, not destroy it.
The Recovery Of God’s Design. Dealing with our sexuality in a way that is consistent with God’s design is not easy. But with our Lord’s help, with the saturation of His Word, and with the help of friends who will share our pain and confidentially hold us accountable, it is possible. Several steps can begin to reverse the addictive patterns exposed in Ephesians 4:17-19.
1. Acknowledge that we are designed for desire. God does not want us merely to deny or repress our desires. There’s a close relationship between our passion and our ability to worship. Desire is what God uses to bring us to Himself. David implied this when he wrote:
Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4).
This doesn’t mean that if we delight in God we will get whatever we want. It does mean, however, that God is so good, so loving, so powerful, so close to us, and so committed to our eventual well-being, that He can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart.
A man named Asaph expressed this very confidence when he wrote:
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You (Ps. 73:25).
What is interesting about Asaph, however, is that he didn’t come to that confidence without a struggle. In the earlier portions of Psalm 73, he expressed a great amount of disappointment with God. He began by saying that while he knew God was good to Israel, he wasn’t all that sure that God had been good to him. In fact, he was so unconvinced of God’s goodness to him personally that he almost lost his faith. Only after receiving insight into the destiny of the people he was envying did he learn to be deeply satisfied with God. Only then could he honestly say, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You” (Ps. 73:25).
Asaph’s problem was not that he was too full of desire to be satisfied with God. His problem was that, prior to his “moment of insight,” he had not thought clearly enough about the ungodly or about God Himself to see where real pleasure and satisfaction is found.
John Piper in his book Desiring God makes a similar point when he writes:
The great hindrance to worship is not that we are a pleasure-seeking people, but that we are willing to settle for such pitiful pleasures (p.77).
Consider what God has offered to us for seeking a deepening relationship with Him. C. S. Lewis writes:
It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.We are far too easily pleased” (The Weight Of Glory, pp.1-2).
2. Honestly face the dark side of desire. While we are designed for desire, it is just as true that misdirected sexual passion poses a great threat to our well-being. Sexual struggles are far more than skin-deep. The problem is not just out-of-control hormonal urges that can be brought back into line with exhortation and rigid self-discipline. Sexual immorality involves the faulty direction of our depraved human heart that refuses to worship the God who made us.
After all our foolish efforts to control our lives by worshiping the false god of sexual pleasure have failed, we must begin to see God as the only Person who can relieve the terror of our isolation with His powerful and good presence. He desires to draw us to Himself with the hope of joyful involvement and to rid us of our stubborn determination to survive on our own.
Courage is required to face the terrors of life (Josh. 1:9).We fear that we will find something or someone who will destroy us. But courageous faith is believing that we can handle anything life throws at us because we belong to a God who has already handled it (Jn. 16:33). Courage is required to face both the disappointments of our external world and the depravity of the dark regions of our hearts. That means that we refuse to pretend about anything, and that instills integrity.
Humility is needed if we are to honestly face the arrogance and rage behind our determination to survive this world on our own because of our suspicions that God isn’t good. If we are willing to humble ourselves before Him and confess our rebellion against Him, He will extend grace and mercy to sustain us through life (Jas. 4:6).
Are we more passionately moved by an illicit affair, a sexual fantasy, or an internet illusion than we are when we read the account of our Lord’s death in the Bible? Do we feel more alive when watching a steamy love scene on TV than when we have the opportunity to share our faith with an unbeliever? If so, we have just exposed our own commitment to a darkened understanding of life apart from God (Eph. 4:18).
3. Ask God to redirect your desires. The root problem is not out-ofcontrol sexual urges but an unbridled heart that has hardened itself against the warming rays of God’s grace and truth. The pleasure of illicit sex (or any sinful addictive pattern) is short-lived. Satan is the one who constantly seeks whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8), so every addiction (or false god) has been designed to destroy the worshiper. Satan doesn’t reward the desires of the heart; he destroys the desire of the human heart so that there is no longer a passionate desire for anything, especially God.
Confessing our sins to God (1 Jn. 1:9) and to one another (Jas. 5:16) must never be limited to our actions and observable behaviors. It must always take into account the sinful root of our sinful actions— hearts that are hardened to God’s extension of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Repentance at this level is a change in heart direction away from a false god to the one true God (1 Th. 1:9).
True repentance is always marked by a broken and contrite heart. That is the passionate heart that God delights in (Ps. 51:16-17).
4. Passionately commit yourself to living by God’s design. If we are now devoted to life in Christ (Rom. 6:11), we have reason to listen to the apostle Paul when he wrote:
Offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13 NIV).
We are all involved in the war for the souls of men and women.We will either become a weapon in the hands of the evil one to rob God of glory and worship (Rom. 6:12-13), or we will become a weapon for good in glorifying God by the way we enjoy Him.
Sexual promiscuity is an effective weapon Satan uses to rob God of glory and honor. Quite often we don’t stop to think of it that way, but how we handle our sexuality affects God and how others see Him. Whenever we participate in illicit sexual activity, we drag God into the scene with us and make Him a participant in our immorality (1 Cor. 6:12-20). When we refuse to indulge in sexual immorality because of the deep joy and gratefulness we feel in our hearts for God’s goodness to us, we defeat the cause of the evil one by doing good (Rom. 12:21). Saying no to immorality, then, becomes a pleasure because illicit sexual activity pales in comparison to the enjoyment of our Father’s presence (Ps. 16:11).
While sexual temptation will always be attractive to us as long as we are alive, it will become more resistible as we focus on our pursuit of a passionate relationship with Christ. Enjoying a growing intimacy with God will expose the allure of sexual indulgence for what it is— a thief that robs us of the exquisite joy of genuine intimacy. In that realization, the desire for sexual pleasure becomes far less important or threatening.
5. Gratefully accept the precious gift of gender. While learning to see sexual pleasure in perspective, it is important that we don’t minimize our sexuality in the process. There is a difference between sexual desire and sexuality. Sexual desire is a God-given capacity that all too often is overrated as a pleasure. Sexuality, on the other hand, is a God-given gift of gender that is often underrated as a factor of identity. Sexuality is a dimension of personhood, which reflects the way we have been selected and designed to reflect the image of God.
Throughout the ages, because of prejudice and abuse, many have seen their masculinity or femininity as a curse. Some Jewish men, for instance, have been known to thank God regularly that they were born neither as a Gentile nor as a woman. Yet masculinity and femininity, as they are built into the design of our race, are part of the good and wise plan of God.
While the sexes are often in conflict, the apostle Paul pointed out that both men and women owe their existence to God. Neither could exist without the other (1 Cor. 11:11-12). Both have equal access to salvation in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:28). And both have distinct roles in God’s plan for the family and church (1 Cor. 11:1-16; Eph. 5:17-33).
As a result, the Scriptures place a strong prohibition on cross-dressing (Dt. 22:5), homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:9), or any other kind of behavior that intentionally masks the gift of gender God has built into us.
6. Honor the marriage bed. The pleasures of sexual intimacy are intended to be a celebration of marital intimacy.Within the context of an enduring, faithful marriage, mutual submission and love are the guidelines for the enjoyment of each other’s bodies (Prov. 5:15-23; Song 4:1-15; 7:1–8:4).
God’s design for the marriage bed, however, cannot be separated from God’s overall design for a one-flesh marriage relationship. The “marriage act” is to be shared by a man and a woman who relate to each other “outside of the bedroom” in a manner that reflects Christ’s relationship with His church.
Ephesians 5:22-33 gives us a picture of the kind of relationship God has designed to accompany the sexual act of marriage. Seventy-five percent of what Paul wrote in this passage focuses on the man’s responsibilities to reproduce in miniature a reenactment of the incarnation of our Lord:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her (v.25).
The example is one of aggressive action, tender strength, and deep purpose. It is not characterized by withdrawal but by active movement toward His bride that is intent on washing away anything that mars the beauty and radiance within (vv.26-27). God has built within a man the desire to be actively involved in the life of his wife to draw forth her inner beauty.
Paul’s command to wives was that they were to submit to their husbands (vv.22-23). That doesn’t mean that a woman is supposed to passively disengage her brain and just do whatever any man tells her to do. Far from it! It means that she is to actively engage all of her feminine faculties of personhood for the sake of her husband. God’s design is that she will experience the most joy in life by responding to her man the way the church experiences joy by receiving Christ as her bridegroom (v.24). The church is expected to openly trust the good intentions of Christ and to receive His involvement even when the outcome is hard to accept. In the same way, a wife is to respect her husband (v.33) and hold him accountable to his calling to be the tender lover of her soul. In the process of giving her inner feminine beauty to him (1 Pet. 3:1-6), she will respectfully encourage him to be the man God designed him to be.
This is the kind of relationship God has designed to accompany the marriage bed. Since the heart is the ultimate source of sexual feeling and pleasure, it is apparent that God is far wiser than those who treat sexual pleasure as little more than a matter of technique. God knows that it is from clean, mutually faithful hearts that the most meaningful sexual pleasure is derived.
7. Make love your goal. Whether we are married or single, a love for God must become far more important to us than the pursuit of sexual pleasure.We will become more resistant to the allure of sexual temptation when we intentionally focus our energy on passionately loving Him and sacrifically serving others.
The man or woman who is enjoying a growing, loving intimacy with Christ will not be willing to defraud another person sexually. Love won’t let that happen. Love produces an overriding desire to honor the Lord and to see strength of character produced in the other person (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
Sexual passion is very strong, but it can be bridled by a passionate obedience to Christ that is more than mere dutiful compliance to the letter of the law. A deeply felt hunger and thirst for God (Ps. 42:1-2) can help us to see one another through His eyes rather than through the self-centered demands of blind desire.
The apostle Paul knew the kind of love that comes from a heart focused first on God. He gave us the finest tribute to love ever written:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:1-8).
This is desire redirected. It gives meaning and direction and satisfaction to life whether there is opportunity for marital sexuality or not. Where such love exists, men and women do not use and defraud one another of that which is not theirs to give or receive. Certainly, such love will always be incomplete and imperfect this side of heaven. But to the extent that this love exists, it will redirect our hearts to the kind of selfless passion for which our God has designed us.