Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and this week’s is all about our attitudes towards sex–and what we think God thinks about sex.
I received this really fascinating question earlier this year:
I need your help to correct my thinking patterns! I have been doing your 31 Days book and have been reaping benefits already. I am trying very hard to embrace my sexuality and learn that it is good to receive pleasure from my husband. But then, God brought some scripture to mind that seems to…not contradict…but I don’t understand how to embrace my sexuality, while still be this meek and quiet woman of God.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
To be sexual, I have to release control, not be self-controlled. To be sexual, it seems too desirous, not reverent. To be sexual and to receive pleasure without tensing up and worrying about whether or not I’m being a good little Christ follower…I feel like I have to temporarily forget all I know about who Christ wants me to be. I know I’m missing something. I want to think correctly, but I don’t know how.
I thought about how to answer this–how to do a big defense of sex that is both hot and holy.
But the more I looked at it, the more I realized that wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand sex; it was that she didn’t understand God. And I think many of my readers are in that same boat.
So let’s look at some theology today (and don’t worry–I promise this won’t be boring!).
Being self-controlled doesn’t mean being in control. It means not letting sin control you.
The Bible talks a lot about control, but I think we misunderstand what is meant by the term “self-control”. We think of someone who is always aware of their surroundings; who is always proper; who isn’t carried away by emotion or passion, but instead is calm and logical.
We think that to be self-controlled means to be in control.
But it doesn’t.
Who is supposed to be in control of our lives? It certainly isn’t US. It’s God. That’s what it means to walk in the Spirit–that God is in control.
When the Bible talks about self-control, it’s not asking us to be in control; it’s asking us to not let other things be in control.
Here’s another verse on self-control from the same chapter above:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age–(Titus 2:11-12)
So to be self-controlled is to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions–or the passions that consume us and take us away from God.
Here’s another way to look at the same thing, from Ephesians 5:18:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
So instead of letting wine control us, we’re to let the Spirit control us. That is what being self-controlled means–that we live a life led by the Spirit. To try to be in control by ourselves is actually the opposite of what God wants, and He has another term for that: living by the flesh. Romans 7 and 8 are great chapters for seeing the difference between the two–Romans 7 is all effort; Romans 8 is all life by the Spirit.
And so let’s look at some opposites today–what words and phrases characterize a life led by the Spirit vs. what it means to live a life led by the Flesh. Obviously this is the “grace vs. works” dilemma, but I don’t want to use those words, because most of us are used to that debate. I want, instead, to look at new phrases that would fall under each category, and see how this impacts our view of God–and ultimately our view of sex.
Life in the Spirit
- Knowing God
- Pursuing God
- Having God’s Vision
- Living in the Moment
- In Awe at the Beauty of all of Creation–even our bodies
- Worship and Intimacy
- Gazing Up at God
- Purity as a Matter of the Heart
- Being Missional Matters
- “He’s not a tame lion, you know”
- Faith is Messy
- Valuing Extravagant Love
- Love is over all
Life in the Flesh
- Understanding God
- Pleasing God
- Making Detailed Plans
- Being Constantly Disciplined
- Taking Satisfaction in Doing Things God’s Way
- Orderly and Understandable
- Looking Down to the Tasks at Hand
- Purity as a Matter of the Body
- Being Proper Matters
- God wants us to follow specific rules
- Faith is Quantifiable
- Valuing Being Right
- Truth is over all
If I could sum it up, I would do so with John 10:10:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Here’s the clincher: when we believe that the thing that God wants for us most is discipline, we will miss out on great sex. But we will also miss out on intimacy with God!
I am not saying that the things in column 2 are wrong, by the way. Truth is good (Jesus, after all, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life). Discipline is good. Pleasing God is certainly good.
But these things must all be done in the light of column 1. We cannot truly pursue God without also wanting to please Him; but many people are trying to please God without actually pursuing Him. They’re trying to live a life of rules without any relationship at all.
Do you see the distinction?
That’s why when you see verses like the ones this woman quoted that would naturally fall under column 2, we must read them in the light of column 1. It’s not that they don’t matter; it’s just that they must be viewed through the lens of an extravagant love for God and God’s extravagant love for us.
My heart is hurting today because I truly believe that this is the root of so many marriage problems–a profound misunderstanding of God. We think that what God wants is for us to be proper and right. But what God wants is for us to be totally sold out for Jesus! And that’s going to be scary, and it’s going to be a leap of faith, and it’s going to mean you’re not in control. But boy is it fun!
Now let’s get back to sex for a moment. Think about a few of those words from column 1:
Passion. Revelling in the Moment. In Awe at the Beauty of Creation. Intimacy.
You know what that sounds like to me?
Seriously. If God made sex partly to reflect his relationship with us, then that orgasm is the height of being out of control; of being truly intimate; of becoming one with someone else; of revelling in relationship. That’s the picture of what our life with Christ is to be!
Too many Christian traditions have focused so much on living a life of rules that we’ve missed the boat. We’ve focused on trying to understand God and trying to be the one denomination that is totally “right” that we’ve missed how to KNOW God.
And if you don’t understand how to have real intimacy with God, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to let go enough to have great sex with your husband.
In The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I have a whole chapter on how God made sex to be both hot and holy–and how being “hot” is actually very pure in God’s eyes! If this just doesn’t compute for you, please pick up the book. Don’t let yourself be stuck without really understanding how stupendous God wants sex to be in your marriage.
Check out the book here.
I’ve written before about how being a control freak won’t work in the bedroom, but it goes so much further than that today: The way we view intimacy with God and the way we view intimacy with our husbands is so inextricably linked.
God isn’t understandable. Jesus isn’t a tame lion, as C.S. Lewis said. He doesn’t want us living a nice, orderly life with rules. He wants us taking that leap of faith and walking out on the water! He wants us knowing His vision, but not necessarily His plans. He wants trust, and faith, and intimacy, not rules and discipline and head knowledge.
The Pharisees had the rules and discipline and head knowledge, and Jesus came to show them they were wrong. And yet we have replaced our own version of it, especially within marriage, with demands for authority and rules and discipline and gentleness in a way the Bible never intended.
Let me end with an Old Testament story that speaks to this.
The ark of the covenant (the most holy piece of furniture that lived in the temple, where God’s spirit literally dwelt before Jesus came and gave us the Holy Spirit) had been captured, and wasn’t in Jerusalem anymore. David decided to bring it back to the temple, and he did so with great fanfare–parades and worship.
Here’s 2 Samuel 6:13-16, talking about what happened when David’s wife Michal saw this:
When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
Afterwards David had a talk with his wife, and he said this (verses 21 and 22):
David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.
To follow God is not dignified.
And marriage–the act of marriage–is not dignified.
And that’s okay.
Let me suggest that if you can’t be undignified before God in worship (at least in private), then you will have a very hard time being undignified with your husband.
So let’s get a different view of God. It’s not about being right. It’s not about understanding everything. It’s not about being proper. It’s about living a life in the Spirit, and that’s not controllable.
Let me know in the comments: Do you get what I’m saying? Have you struggled with this in your church or your marriage? How did you resolve it?
I’d love to chat about this more, because I really believe that THIS is the root of so many problems. Let’s help each other!