"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
"Purity is not about avoiding the sight of the human body. Purity is about seeing God embodied in Jesus."
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Sexual self-pleasure is a gift from God. Yet many Christians continue to condemn the practice. Why?
We all have our own opinions on porn. But defining what it is and finding what God says about it is not as easy as you may think.
A brief history of sex bans in the Bible. Starting at the beginning and on through antiquity, sound doctrine provides proper context.
By: Jason A. Staples, Ph.D.
By: Dr. Kyle Harper, Ph.D.
By: Sir Roger Scruton
Director: Louise Lockwood, BBC Two
By: New Heights Church sermon series
Judging from culture and religion, you might think that God hates nearly everything sexual. But does he? Does he really hate all of the euphemisms and nudity and lust and sex positions and techniques and sex toys and cosplay and lubricants and smells and sensations and sights and sounds that people come up with? Is God really that prudish about sex? After all, he’s the one who made it.
The answer here has to be a resounding no. But how can we be so sure? Does God spell it out for us somewhere in scripture? If so, where? He does actually talk a lot about sex in many places. Likewise, there are a number of things the Bible clearly tells us that God even hates (Pr. 6:16-19), but sexuality doesn't ever seem to be one of them. What we need is a theology of sexuality and the body.
It’s no surprise that Christianity has had had an ambivalent history with the human body, especially with sex and naked people. Yet, God has made each one of us sexual beings. He made the whole world and everything in it for his glory and our joy. And he created all of us and our bodies to image who he is. It's a shame then that men and women, when simply appreciating mere visual sexual beauty, are themselves shamed by those wielding vague, carte blanche condemnation of sexual immorality. It’s this rocky relationship with sexuality and subsequent failure to fully embrace embodiment that leaves us susceptible to harmful messages - such as Gnosticism.
Over the centuries, countless Christians have been misled to believe that mainly the spiritual realm is good, and the physical realm is not; in other words, that only intangible things have real worth, and that physical desires have little. This is otherwise known as Gnosticism. With its origins in pre-Christian and Jewish culture, this false belief system purports that this knowledge ("gnosis" in Greek) will allow its followers to overcome the adulterated human nature.
For Gnostics, salvation is attained through the knowledge and practice of renouncing certain physical desires by denying them, avoiding sensual pleasures that God created for us and thus, attaining “pure” desire by adhering to harsh asceticism. Part of these pagan beliefs include legalistically denying ourselves certain food and drink, God-given sexual enjoyment, and other blessings he gave us and deemed good.
It may be that your reaction to Gnosticism is that it sounds archaic or even irrelevant, but it's definitely alive in the church today in things like repackaged purity culture, Catholic penance, and men forsaking bikini ads. Gnostic beliefs can also be found pervasively embedded elsewhere in the likes of prudish religious moralism, unnatural self-denial, and by calling certain good aspects of sexuality evil, which itself is a sin (Is 5:20).
While any of this could sound unassuming or even benign, subtle lies abound - lies such as our bodies, beauty and sexuality are dangerous, and that the male sex drive is more prone to sin than females. Gnosticism also implies God was wrong to create strong sex drives, and by extension that through our own efforts we need to attain sexual purity by avoiding things like masturbation, viewing sexy people, nudity, and unfiltered internet. All of this is unbiblical.
So then, if that’s the case, why would anyone ever ascribe to Gnostic beliefs? Well, for one, people tend to use them as rationale to justify moralistic views on sex, either knowingly or not. The downside, unfortunately, is that Gnosticism is contrary to faith in God, which is a bummer. Also, and closely related, is that it's a way to feel a sense of control. Now, there’s definitely something to be said for having control over one’s self. But while everyone needs to feel some level of control in their life, believing falsities is not the way to do it.
Our world continually purports all matter of false beliefs, specifically about body theology. The result is many people are either embarrassed, fearful, or outright ashamed to talk about sexuality. But why? Is it our conditioning? Why are we as a society so afraid of and even disdainful of the human body? We all have one, so we might as well learn to live with them, right?
Christianity’s rocky relationship with the body makes things awkward for both the nudist and the prudist. Let’s fix that.
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God created the human form in his own likeness and called it good, not shameful. We shouldn’t freak out over that. Neither does he say anywhere that being naked is wrong. In fact, the embarrassment experienced from nudity is typically a result of culture or conscience, and not shame from sin. Additionally, he created us with bodily functions, sexual desires, and a need for beauty. Those desires are a natural part of the way he made us, just as much as eating or rest or relationships or any other needs we may have.
God made everything good when he created it, including sex drives and also the naked people (which he called very good). Even so, many still have a problem, particularly those in the church, with men wanting, even needing so much sex. Some moralists will argue that the physiology of our hormones and brains lead us to sin or are even sinful in and of themselves. In other words, they implicate the Creator as part of the problem. They tend to think men in particular are the ones most likely to sin sexually, simply by being male. Or they think those people who are more visual in nature are inevitably prone to do wrong by looking at attractive individuals.
What the? Maybe we should only look at ugly people then.
What is it in our fallen Christian culture that leads people to think this way? Because it's certainly not the Bible. Just where does God tell us that looking at sexual beauty or nudity is wrong? Was it Matthew 5:28? It could seem like it, but then again that verse is probably not what you think.
There really are no clear theological prohibitions in the Bible against viewing the nakedness of someone unrelated. If anything, a case can be made in the other direction. For example, Saul in 1 Samuel 19, overcome by the Holy Spirit, laid naked with all the prophets. Later on, God told the prophet Isaiah to live in the nude for three whole years! In doing so, was God leading either of them to sin by way of their birthday suits? Might he even be encouraging nudity? Well, not exactly.
But then you have Song of Songs, a whole book all about sex, smack in the middle of the Bible. Talk about euphemisms. The explicit nature of this work would easily have to be on par with literary porn. Many Bible teachers won’t touch it, yet God clearly wants us to intimately know the sexual exploits of the married couple, even to meditate on them. It’s almost enough to make the reader feel sexually immoral. However, that wouldn’t be right, right? Seriously, doesn't God realize what the excitement of breasts and clits and penises and fluids and sex acts do to us?
So, what do we do with it all? It’s important to remember that you are your body, and because of that, what each of us does with ours matters. If we consider fundamental aspects of our natures to be flawed when we shouldn't, we start to do crazy, potentially harmful things like avoiding certain food or drink or aspects of our sexuality. Our bodies are created for the Lord to glorify him. As such, we glorify him by doing anything he designed them to do within the parameters he intended, such as eating, working, resting, appreciating beauty, sex, and so on. These are God-given joys and nowhere in the Bible are they condemned.
Averting our eyes from all beauty of those we’re not married to is a religious battle God never meant for us to fight. As well, showing or viewing nudity (or even lovemaking) within the rule of law is not sinful. It may not always be best, but God never calls it sin. By concluding that the male sex drive makes men more prone to sin and that female beauty is a danger to overcome through fighting a “battle” for purity, or by prohibiting the reasonable, God-given, natural desires of our bodies, we create a weak-willed, religious human morality, devoid of the grace of Jesus.
The answer to this problem, however, is a sound theology of the body, which can only come from knowing Christ, who himself became incarnate. By doing so, he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, having experienced what we are made of. Hebrews 2:14 tells us Jesus shared in our humanity, “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil.” This is the reason Jesus took on an eternal body. He became a flesh and blood human and lived among us, dying, rising from the grave, and defeating Satan, sin, and death. He gives us true freedom in this life and the next, and that is why we worship him.
David by Michelangelo
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We all have a deep, God-given need for beauty.
Matthew 5:28 is a notoriously misinterpreted verse with a complicated history, and a reputation of being a marriage killer.