Tag Archives: Sexuality

Fulfilling Our Deepest Desires

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The recent death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was another reminder of the radical and sweeping changes over the past 40-50 years regarding popular attitudes toward human sexuality.  While many things could be said about these seismic transformations, two major and interrelated claims have emerged which bear special mention.

First, sexual fulfillment—whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature—is now considered centrally important to human identity and flourishing.  Second, and closely related, we are told that suppressing and rebuffing strong sexual desire not only leads to unhappiness, it is detrimental to human well-being and may even lead to psychosis.

The idea that strong personal desires should be sublimated (redirected) and subjugated (denied) in contemporary life is not only considered unreasonable, it’s deemed downright dangerous.  Instead, we are repeatedly told that life is fuller and more meaningful when we pursue and fulfill the deepest and strongest desires of our hearts, especially those that are sexual.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the fulfillment of our heart’s desires is actually biblical language.  Consider, for example, Psalm 37:4 where David says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

There are at least two things to notice here.  First, the desires of our heart arise from delighting first and foremost in the Lord.  When we delight in God, He gives us desires for good and noble things, and then fulfills those desires as we trust and seek Him.  Second, however, there is an implication: Our heart’s desires could also be directed toward what is evil and base.  This is why Jeremiah 17:9 warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”  In fact, we have a choice in the matter.

The decision to delight in the Lord above all other persons and things is the essential and indispensable prerequisite for experiencing divine fulfillment of our heart’s deepest desires.  Our heart has to be redirected and reshaped by the things that the Lord loves and values.  When we consciously and continually choose to delight in Him, our desires become very different than what they used to be.

At the same time, however, we must admit that our delight in the Lord is never perfect or uninterrupted.  We still struggle with those pesky and sometimes overwhelming evil desires of the flesh.  As James 1:14-15 explains, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

This dangerous element of strong wrong desire leading to sin is not taken seriously enough in contemporary society, a society that now expects and demands our deepest desires—especially sexual ones—to be granted every right and opportunity to be fulfilled.  In this context, we rarely, if ever, want to be told what we can and cannot do as well as when we can and cannot do it.  Human selfishness and sin make us prone to demand whatever we want, as much as we want, as often as we want it.  But these are the attitudes of spoiled children, not mature adults.  Mature adults learn to curb their voracious and capacious appetites.  But how do we become mature?  We must do two basic things: subjugate and sublimate our desires.

To subjugate our desires means we must bring them under the Lordship of Christ.  No matter how strong they are, no matter how much our society has told us we have every right to fulfill them, all our desires must be placed upon the alter of the Lord.  As we do, He may or may not see fit to fulfill them, but when we offer them up to Him, He gives us the grace to resist temptation and develop spiritual maturity and strength.

The second thing we are called to do is sublimate our desires.  Here, we consciously redirect them so that they might either be fulfilled in their proper contexts or be turned into desires for something or someone better and greater.

In speaking about subjugation in Colossians 3:5, the Apostle Paul uses the language of homicide and slaughter: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

When Paul speaks about sublimation and the redirection of desire in Philippians 3:8-10, he highlights the incomparable joy of knowing Jesus Christ above all else.  He knows that without something or someone better and greater to gaze at and aspire to, we would easily fall back into fulfilling our desires for lesser and ultimately harmful and dehumanizing things.

The world is wrong about many of our deepest human desires.  Their denial and redirection, far from harming our humanity, is most often the pathway to a deeper knowledge of God and a greater experience of who we as human beings were meant and created to be.

As we continually submit our desires to God, we can, like Asaph in Psalm 73:25-26, honestly say of Him, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

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Authenticity, Immorality, and Homosexuality: How do I find my “true self”?

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On May 31st, Trey Pearson, the lead singer of the Christian band, “Everyday Sunday” wrote an open letter to his fans explaining that he was gay and was coming out of the closet.  Married for seven and a half years and the father of two children, this coming out included divorcing his wife.  He claims the vast majority of people, his ex-wife included, have been extremely supportive and encouraging.

I suspect if Trey had openly confessed to his fans he was divorcing his wife because he was having an affair with another woman, their response would have been quite different.

Many Americans find heterosexual unfaithfulness in marriage far more offensive than when a homosexual who has been married to someone of the opposite sex “comes out of the closet” and professes his or her “true sexual identity.”  When they leave their spouse behind for another partner of the same sex, they are considered “courageous” and “authentic.”  The heterosexual offender, in contrast, is deemed “immoral” and “unfaithful.”

This is due to a number of factors, but the link to the idea of “authenticity” stands in a direct-line relationship.  Being “authentic” and faithful to oneself is considered far more important than being covenantally and sacrificially faithful to another.  And what is truly “authentic” is based almost entirely on the internal longings and desires of the individual self.

That we might refer to sacred norms and traditions, that there is an externally designed human purpose and goal, are given little serious consideration, if not overtly ridiculed and mocked.  The idea that there is an ideal human nature that exists apart from—and often stands in evaluative judgment of—the choosing “I,” seems ridiculous and strange to the postmodern thinker who believes that no one and nothing outside of the self can tell a person who they truly are.

Only under this kind of radically emotional and personalist ideology of “authenticity” can someone be publicly praised for using homosexuality as an excuse to forsake a heterosexual marriage vow in order to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex.

But all of this can be set aside for a moment to address what I believe is a deeper danger and greater tragedy.  Because homosexual practice goes against God’s perfect design plan for human flourishing and personal as well as social well-being, it ultimately damages the commonwealth of society and hinders personal connection with a holy God, leading to all kinds of deleterious repercussions and predicaments.  It becomes yet another source of dissatisfaction and ungodliness, just one more form of refusal and lack of desire to be like God on His terms.  As in Genesis 3, we want to “be like God” but only selfishly and in the crudest and most demonic sense of that term.  Thus, homosexuality is not the problem but merely another symptom of the more fundamental problem of being alienated and disconnected with the one true and holy God.

In this sense, when I see the way homosexuals wrestle with their sexuality and inner desires, I see a mirror of myself.  I see my own struggles to be sexually pure, to understand my own true identity, to understand what it means to be a godly man and a male in a world of emotional immaturity, moral cowardice, and sexual confusion.  And if the goal is merely emotional authenticity, then I see the authentic sinner standing at the base of every man, woman, and child who will not yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

In short, homosexuality is symptomatic rather than paradigmatic.  It’s just one more illegitimate way (among many) to try and fulfill a normal desire (sexual pleasure) and need (procreation and relational intimacy) that is, at its root, no different than the alcoholic who tries to meet a normal desire (feeling good) and need (satisfaction of thirst) by drinking too much and too often.  The illegitimacy of the means to try and fulfill such desires and needs ironically results in the distortion and lack of fulfillment, thus making sense of the studies showing homosexuals—especially men—almost always have inordinately higher numbers of sexual partners than their heterosexual counterparts.  The need remains as intense as ever but the wrong way of meeting it only extends and exacerbates the problem of unfulfilled desire.

In the end, they seek but do not find.  They knock on doors where nothing and no one stands behind to open and answer.  Thus, one of the great tragedies of our age lies within the catastrophic canard that tells the homosexual that all that stands between him or her and authentic fulfillment is social acceptance and full freedom to seek satiation.  The terrible truth is they are being given an open and celebrated invitation into greater frustration and deeper bondage.  I genuinely grieve for homosexuals who look for fulfillment in all the wrong places by all the wrong means, because this is what sin loves to do—damage and destroy those who embrace and pursue it.

In a recent speech, Mars Hill Audio Journal founder Ken Myers puts the idea this way: “We are all creatures made in the image of a Triune God, called to fellowship with him, to love for one another, and for stewardship of our earthly home.  Our hearts are restless until we rest in him.  These are not religious opinions, but faithful descriptions of what is really the case.  We are in fact this sort of creature, and our shared public life should honor this sort of fact, not just those facts measurable through material means.”

The good news is you can discover your true self.  There is a source of authentic humanity, but it comes from outside the self and even outside the universe.  It also has a name: the God-man, Jesus Christ.  If you want to find out who you really are, only the One who made you can tell you, and only He can make you who you ought to be: a truly authentic and genuinely godly human being.

I will say more about this counter-cultural and counter-intuitive authenticity in my next post on Christian authenticity.

Who am I and how do I know? Biblical Perspectives

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In part one of our series on human sexuality we began by giving some broad biblical perspectives regarding the LGBTQIA movement. These activists are pushing for the total acceptance and celebration of new ways to understand and express human sexuality. While much of the debate has centered around homosexuality in particular, the recent rapid expansion of the field of identified sexual expressions illustrates that what is at stake is a fundamental reordering of the way we understand what it means to be human.

Sexuality strikes at the very heart of our identity as human beings. Am I male, female, or something/someone else? What does it mean to be a man, a woman, or something/someone else? Perhaps more importantly, how do I know? In this installment, we will explore how sexuality relates to human identity by looking very briefly at some of the ways the Bible addresses and explains this important relationship.

The dynamics of identity are complex. In general, people gain their sense of identity from a variety of separate and interrelated sources like genetics, family, friends, and culture. For Christians, the question of identity appears, at first glance, to have a relatively simple starting point of reference. Genesis 1:27 tells us human beings are made in God’s image—male and female. Genesis 2 explains in more detail that because we are made in His likeness, we are lovingly endowed with unique responsibilities, capacities, and qualities not bestowed upon the rest of creation. In short, we have a distinctive nature and special role God has given us and called us to fulfill. Part of that mandate is fulfilled by bearing children within the context of a marriage relationship.

But there is more to the story than mere creation. In Genesis 3, we are also told of sin’s tragic entrance into the world along with its dreadful consequences: alienation; from God, from life, from ourselves, from each other, and from creation. We also get a glimpse at divine redemption and the promised restoration God will bring about through the coming messiah in verses 15 and 21.

From these foundational passages of scripture, several important implications follow.

First, we are not self-made gods but dependent, finite creatures wholly reliant upon God for our very existence and ongoing life. We are not self-contained, self-reliant beings, but require hospitable environments, food, drink, shelter, and social networks to exist and survive. These limits call us to both humility and gratitude—humility to see we are needy and dependent, and gratitude as we recognize the many faithful ways our needs are met by a loving and gracious God.

Second, to see the image of God accurately through image-bearing human beings requires both genders to fulfill their God-given nature and roles. The context of Genesis 1 and 2 shows that this singular divine image is only completely expressed through sexual dimorphism. In short, God made us in His image, male and female. Thus, even prior to the fall, for us to see God’s nature without distortion, both male and female genders must work in tandem with Him and each other to reveal His likeness in all of its glorious fullness. God is neither male nor female, but somehow through our unique human sexuality, His being and character is reflected and revealed.

Third, God created us to fulfill certain predetermined expectations and requirements. As David Naugle puts it on page 262 of his book, Worldview, if God exists as the ultimate reality, “The meaning of the universe and the authority to determine it are not open questions since both are fixed in the existence and character of God.” He is the nonnegotiable reference point for determining who we are as human beings and how we were designed to live our lives. Human nature and identity is not indeterminate but established by God. It is not fundamentally alterable by any social conventions or human ideologies.

Scripture tells us we were made to know God, become who He created us to be, and do what He calls us to do (cf. Micah 6:8). The life-goals we should set and choices we should make are not completely our own to determine. God has told us there are proper and improper ways to live and act that either honor or dishonor Him and can either hinder or contribute to human flourishing.

Biblically, then, we were not made to fulfill sexual desires beyond the bounds of marriage, and marriage is an institution instituted by God between one man and one woman for life. This institution is intended to provide a safe and nurturing environment for subsequent generations of divine image-bearers to be born, raised, and serve their Creator.

In a counterintuitive sort of way, our freedom comes not from the invitation or ability to do or be whatever we want, but from fulfilling the design God makes known to us in the Bible and through our passionate search to know Him, be like Him, and do His will (cf. Jeremiah 29:13). Only in this context can we make sense of the idea that we can know the truth and that truth can set us free from the bondage of stepping away from God’s purposes and plans for our lives (cf. John 8:32).

Fourth, sin has real consequences for our understanding and expression of human sexuality. The impact sin has on all human conceptions and relationships is profoundly important and deeply damaging. We are fools to ignore this fact, but we need not be overwhelmed by it either. In this life, sin’s impact is pervasive, but it can also be forsaken and forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. Through Him, sin’s damage can be repaired and our lives restored to what God wants them to be and become.

Why take so much time and space to make explicit what may seem obvious to most Christians? In part three of this series I will contrast this theistic Christian vision with an increasingly secularist outlook, explaining some of the history of how and why contemporary society has significantly altered—and in some cases completely rejected—a biblical perspective of human life and existence. As a result, many people think the notion of finding one’s purpose and identity through a right relationship with God not merely incredible, but also oppressive and even detestable. The consequent loss of a divine perspective on human life and gender-related issues has led to widespread conflict, confusion, along with deeply dysfunctional expressions of human sexuality.

The LGBTQIA Movement: Questions Needing Answers

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There’s a lot of talk and press these days about the LGBTQIA movement. This letter string represents an acronym of the first letters in a growing list of sexual identities such as Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered/Queer/Questioning/Intersexual/Asexual/Androgynous. With all the confusion and politicization surrounding the issue, it’s very hard to know where to begin and, like the expanding list of initials in the moniker, where it will all finally end.

The movement raises a number of important challenges to the traditional ways people understand what it means to be human, challenges that deserve thoughtful responses from the Christian community. Many of the issues pertain to the following questions and problems:

  • What does the Bible say about human sexuality in general, and the moral status of homosexual behavior in particular?
  • How did the LGBTQIA movement come to hold their views on these issues?
  • What relationship does human sexuality have with personal identity?
  • Can people who struggle with sexual identity truly change their orientation?
  • From a pastoral perspective, how should Christians respond and what should they expect and prepare for as the LGBTQIA movement continues to gain cultural acceptance?

In this mini-series, we will briefly address these and other relevant concerns regarding the difficult but important issue of human identity and sexuality. I will especially try to touch on aspects of the debate that in my estimation are often not raised or adequately dealt with in the Christian community. Before looking more closely at the complex question of human identity and its relationship to sexuality, we first will touch on some general biblical issues regarding it.

I begin by admitting that dealing in detail with every passage of scripture addressing homosexuality in particular or human sexuality in general is not possible in a piece like this. Whole books have been written on the subject. For those who care to look more deeply at the question, an excellent recent example is Kevin DeYoung’s, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? We can, however, make some initial observations about the Bible and the question of human sexuality.

First, biblical teaching on sexual purity should incorporate broader questions of human nature and identity, not merely atomistic passages dealing with specific sexual issues, as important as these are. There is a tendency to quote individual verses of scripture and forget that they are part of a broader coherent complex of biblical teaching on human sexuality. If we fail to give a fuller Christian perspective and carefully construct a more compelling narrative of what it means to be genuinely human, we likely will only succeed in further alienating, confusing, and talking past our non-Christian audiences.

Second, biblically speaking, sexual ethics flows out of the loving and righteous character and will of God. When God gives a prohibition in this area, it is neither capricious nor arbitrary. There is always a good reason for the prohibitions God gives, even when that reason is not spelled out for us, and even when we fail to see what it could possibly be. Usually time reveals the reason, but even if it doesn’t, we trust God is far wiser and more righteous than any of us can dream or imagine. As the One who made and designed us, He knows what is ultimately best for every human being.

Third, all attempts I have read to provide biblical justification for homosexual activities and unions (for example) have worked very hard to redefine words and bring socio-historical backgrounds to bear in a way that sounds more like an exercise in hermeneutical gymnastics than a genuine attempt to hear what the text is actually saying. In seminary we called this process “eisegesis,” the attempt to read into the text what was not really there in order to make it say what we want it to say. Instead, we must always submit ourselves to the divine authority of God’s word, hearing and obeying what it actually says, no matter how hard or countercultural it might appear.

Fourth, and closely related, it is significant to mention that throughout history, the vast majority of biblical interpreters and scholars have taught that the Bible condemns homosexual sex, as well as a number of other related sexual behaviors, which are described together as aberrant and inappropriate expressions of human sexuality. It should always give us serious pause when we are tempted and encouraged to sweep away the overwhelming majority position of church history simply because contemporary ethical mores on human sexuality have changed and because some Christians in the church have become advocates of that new morality.

Technological advance has sometimes tempted us to conclude that whatever is new is “better,” an improvement over the old and out-of-date. In Christian ethics, however, “progressive” moral campaigns, far from being ethical advances, are frequently ethical regressions. They end up acquiescing to the spirit of the age, rather than submitting to the Spirit of the Lord.

As G. K. Chesterton put it so eloquently on page 159 of The Everlasting Man, “We cannot pretend to be abandoning the morality of the past for one more suited to the present. [Christian morality] is certainly not the morality of another age, but it might be of another world.”

In the next installment, we will examine in more detail some biblical perspectives on the complex question of human identity, especially as it relates to human sexuality.