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Morning over the bay

Sexuality and the Sensuous Sphere

Available languages: Lietuvių, العربية

  • Tom S.

    This was a very good article except it did not cover anything about using birth control as a means to being responsible and not having more children than a couple can take care of. Would the writer please consider addressing this issue in regards to marriage and sex?

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4–5

The Bible speaks of the heart as the center of a person’s inner life. In the heart, decisions are made and the direction is set as to what kind of person we become (Jer. 17:10). But God also created us as sensuous beings. To the sensuous belongs everything that we perceive with our senses, including sexual attraction. The scent of a flower, the warmth of the sun, or a baby’s first smile brings us joy. God has given us a great gift in our senses, and if we use them to praise and honor him, they can bring us great happiness.

Yet just as the area of sensuous experience can bring us close to God, it can also mislead us and even plunge us into demonic darkness. All too often we tend toward the superficial and miss the might and power of what God could otherwise give us. In grasping at what we experience with our senses, we forget about God and miss the possibility of experiencing the full depth of his will.

Lasting joy is found not in our senses, but in god.

To despise the living senses is to reject God and his handiwork (1 Tim. 4:1–3). The Holy Spirit does not want us to ignore the body or its emotional powers. But we should not forget that Satan seeks to undermine every good thing; he is a twister of the truth and is always waiting to deceive us, especially in this area.

Admittedly, the soul is drawn to God through the spirit, but it is always joined to the physical through the body. Our physical being is not the real enemy of the spirit, and it must never be rejected. The real enemy is Satan, who continually tries to attack the human soul and sever it from God. God’s will is that every part of life – spirit, soul, and body – be brought under his control for his service (1 Cor. 10:31).

In and of itself there is nothing wrong with the sphere of the senses. After all, everything we do, whether waking or sleeping, involves a sensory experience at some level. But because we are not mere animals, because we are made in the image of God, far more is expected of us.

When two people fall in love, the joy they have at first is usually on a sensuous level: they look into each other’s eyes, they hear one another speak, they rejoice in the touch of the other’s hand, or even in the warmth of the other’s closeness. Of course, the experience goes far deeper than seeing, hearing, or feeling, but it still begins as an experience of the senses.

Yet human love can never remain at this level – it must go much deeper than that. When the sensuous becomes an end in itself, everything seems fleeting and temporary, and we feel compelled to seek our satisfaction in experiences of greater and greater intensity (Eph. 4:17–19). Spending our energies on the intoxication of our senses, we soon exhaust and ruin our ability to experience life’s vital power. And we also lose the capacity for any deep inner experiences. An acquaintance who has been married for over thirty years told me:

When my wife and I first married, I always wanted her to dress smart and sexy. It was the heyday of the mini-skirt, and I thought she looked great in one. I did not recognize the damage this attitude did to her, to other men, and to myself. I was actually encouraging the lustful glance that Jesus so clearly denounces. Only later, when my wife and I realized this, did we find freedom from an unhealthy emphasis on each other’s physical appearance and the way forward to a more genuine relationship.

Unless we submit ourselves (including our senses) in reverence to God, we will be unable to experience the things of this world to their fullest. Time and again I have seen how people who focus on gratifying their senses wind up leading shallow, aimless lives. When our senses rule our lives, we become frustrated and confused. But in God we can experience the eternal in the sensuous. In him we can satisfy our heart’s deepest longings for what is genuine and lasting.

When we surrender our sexuality to God, it becomes a gift.

As a gift from God, sensuality is a mystery; without God, its mystery is lost and it is desecrated. This is especially true for the whole area of sex. The sexual life has a deep intimacy all its own, which each of us instinctively hides from others. Sex is each person’s secret, something that affects and expresses one’s innermost being. Every disclosure in this area opens up something intimate and personal and lets another person into one’s secret. Therefore the sexual sphere – even though it is one of God’s greatest gifts – is also the sphere of shame. We should feel ashamed to unveil our secret before others. There is a reason for this: just as Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness before God because they knew that they had sinned, all of us know that we are sinful by nature. This recognition is not an unhealthy mental disorder, as many psychologists claim. It is the instinctive response to protect that which is holy and given by God, and it should lead every person to repentance.

Sexual union is meant to be the expression and fulfillment of an enduring and unbreakable bond of love. It represents the supreme surrender to another human being because it involves the mutual revelation of each partner’s most intimate secret. To engage in sexual activity of any kind without being united in the bond of marriage, therefore, is a desecration. The widespread practice of premarital sexual “experimentation,” even with a partner one intends to marry, is no less terrible, and it can severely damage a future marriage. The veil of intimacy between a man and woman must not be lifted without the blessing of God and the church in marriage (Heb. 13:4).

Even within a marriage, the whole sphere of sexual intimacy must be placed under Christ if it is to bear good fruit. The contrast between a marriage where Christ is in the center and one where the flesh is the focal point is best described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:19–24).

People who see sexual lust in the same way as they see gluttony do not understand the significance of the sexual sphere. When we give in to the temptations of lust or sexual impurity, we are defiled in quite a different way than by gluttony, even though that, too, is condemned in the Bible. Lust and impurity wound us in our innermost heart and being. They attack the soul at its core. Whenever we fall into sexual impurity, we fall prey to demonic forces, and our whole being is corrupted. Then only through deep repentance and renewal can we be freed.

The opposite of impurity is not legalism.

The opposite of sexual impurity and sensuality, however, is not prudery, moralism, or false piety. How seriously Jesus warns us against this! (Matt. 23:25–28). In everything we experience with our senses, our joy must be genuine and free. Pascal says, “The passions are most alive in those who want to renounce them.” When sensuality is repressed by moral compulsion rather than disciplined from within, it will only find new channels of untruthfulness and perversity (Col. 2:21–23).

In our corrupt and shameless time, it is harder and harder to raise children with a deep sense of reverence for God and all that he has created. All the more, we must strive to bring up our children in such a way that whether or not they marry as adults, they become men and women committed to a life of purity.

We must be watchful that neither we nor our children talk irreverently about sexual matters. Yet at the same time we cannot avoid the issue. Rather, we need to bring to our children a spirit of reverence. We must teach them the significance and holiness of sex in God’s order, and impress on them the importance of keeping their bodies and minds pure and undefiled for the single purpose of marriage. They must learn to feel, as we do, that sex finds its deepest fulfillment, and therefore gives greatest pleasure, only in a pure and godly marriage.

God has joy when a newly married couple experiences full uniting: first in spirit, then from heart to heart and soul to soul, and then in body. When husband and wife lift the veil of sex in reverence before him, in relationship with him, and in the unity given by him, their union honors God. Every couple should strive for this reverence, for the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8).

a couple strolls toward an orange sunset
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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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