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When God created mankind, He created them as male and female (Gen.1:27). They are both made equally ‘in His image’, but both of them are physically and psychologically different from each other. God does not value men and women differently (Gal.3:28). The distinction that exists between men and women is only for the time when we are on earth, because there are different roles men and women have to fulfil here. In our life in eternity we will be like the angels who have no gender (Matt.22:30). While we are on earth this distinction also makes for the most intimate relationship possible between two people, and the complementary roles that lead to procreation, family life, and the extension of life from generation to generation. However, because of mankind’s fallen condition, this distinction also makes for much misunderstanding that leads to quarrels, abuse, and break-ups of relationship.
For many centuries, women have suffered neglect and abuse, with men treating them without respect, value or validation, as if they were less than human. They have been used, abused and sold as if they were commodities or sex-objects. The rise of the women’s liberation movement was an attempt to counter this trend and to restore the status of women to be equal to men. This has brought out big changes across the world, even though there is very much to be achieved still. Many men even now continue to consider their wives essentially only as servants or sex partners. On the other hand, some attempts of the women’s liberation movement have overshot their goals, by trying to depict (wrongly) sameness between the sexes in the name of equality, which is unreal. They claimed that whatever men could do they too could, ending up as attempts to obliterate the actual differences that exist and which need to be taken into consideration in practical life.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, research in the medical and psychological fields using fMRI equipment providing insight into the way the brain functions has confirmed what people have actually observed over the centuries, that men and women think, feel and behave differently on many counts. Many books have been written now about this subject, and more and more people are beginning to become aware of this. It has also been discovered that men and women do not respond in the same way towards certain medicines because of the difference in their body chemistry, and the idea of gender-specific medicine came into existence!
Physical differences between the sexes make men, in general, able to do tougher physical work with stronger muscles, larger hearts and lungs, bigger shoulders, etc., compared to women, to fit in to their primary role as breadwinners. Women, on the other hand, are created physically and psychologically to be suitable for their role as mothers. They have better ability to communicate, better rapport with children and the ability to handle multiple tasks at the same time. They are also able to endure physical pain and handle discomfort over longer periods compared to men. Men tend to look at life as a challenge in terms of practical achievements, and they go after one target after another. Women thrive on relationships, and seek to build and sustain different levels of relationships with people. When a man and woman get married, these differences come into play in such a way that if their differences complement each other and what they can do together will be much greater than what they could have done individually. What is needed is mutual respect and interdependence.
The fact that men and women have strong sexual instincts has caused must confusion especially because the Fall has distorted this instinct. What we see now is sexuality with an inclination towards sin. But that was not what God had designed in the beginning. When God created Adam and Eve as male and female (Ge.1:27), obviously there were sexual differences between them and also sexual desires towards each other that would result in being able to be fruitful and to multiply (v.28). Remember, this was before the Fall! That their sexual desires were pure is seen from the fact that it did not trouble them that they were both naked (2:25). In their pure state, their sexuality did not produce any sense of shame or guilt in them, as it did just after they fell (3:7).
This is the first truth that should set us free in the area of sexuality, that sexuality by itself is not sinful. Normal sexual relations between a husband and wife need not be viewed as a sinful activity or something to be ashamed of. Of course, these sexual acts are to be done in the privacy of their relationship – hidden from the others in that sense – but there is nothing to be ashamed of in the act itself.
When David said that he was born in sin and his mother had conceived him in sin (Psa.51:5), it was only to say that he had received his sinful nature from birth itself from his mother (and father). It does not imply that his mother was sinning when she conceived him. A wrong teaching on this can distort our whole attitude towards sexual relationship and keep us permanently guilty because we find ourselves actually enjoying the relationship but still regarding it as if we have committed sin! If we think that there is something sinful about sex, it could even lead to some forms of sexual dysfunction in marriage.
So, what can make sexual pleasure sinful? Clearly, when it is outside the design of God who has drawn boundaries around it. When we recognise that sexual relationship is a part of God’s design to ‘multiply’ and propagate the generations, that rules out sexual relationship between unmarried couples, adulterous relationships, so-called same sex marriage and masturbation. Between husbands and wives, sexual relationship need not necessarily be aimed at having children, but it is also an intimate and pleasurable expression of love between them, as can be seen from the Song of Songs. Masturbation is outside the will of God because it is also not in line with self-control, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and it is associated with lust. The many ways in which it negatively affects one’s personality also help us to understand that it is not the will of God. Many Christians tolerate masturbation saying that the Bible does not directly prohibit it. It is not right to teach from the silence of the Scriptures, but we ought to draw lessons from what is revealed. The other thing that should be unacceptable to Christians comes under ‘unnatural acts’, even between married couples, because they go against nature itself (and also not healthy), and outside God’s design in creation. Some Christians object to this saying that anything married couples enjoy doing with each other should be OK. However, Romans 1:26,27 mentions ‘unnatural’ and ‘indecent’ acts that we need to avoid.
Sexuality is a strong and powerful instinct that men and women have that needs to be addressed properly when we look at the practical aspects of Christian life. Proverbs 5:23-35 describes sexual desire to be as dangerous as carrying fire in our bosom or walking on burning coal. David, who had the reputation of being a man after God’s own heart, fell low when he saw by chance a woman bathing in the neighbourhood. Instead of turning away from there in haste, he let the fire start burning in his mind, and fell into adultery and murder. Sexual desire is something that can come up like a spark of fire in a moment, and unless we learn to keep it under control and within God’s boundaries by relying on the Holy Spirit, it can set fire to our life and even spread it to burn others near us.
Both men and women have strong sexual desires. But even though in general both can enjoy the pleasure of sex equally, it appears that men have a stronger physical urge to have sex compared to women. Men can easily get stirred up by the sight of women or their pictures, and later on they can get stirred by the memory of what they have seen. Other things such as touch, closeness to a woman, etc., can also act as triggers. A lot depends on what men have learned to define women as. Those who grow up in good families with normal interaction between brothers and sisters face less of a problem compared to others who grew up with neglect or rejection, who later pick up ideas from the teenage friends about girls being sex objects. Girls generally look for affection and it is affection that leads them to sexual intimacy. Girls who have grown up without sufficient affection or attention from parents may be too eager to get married, and careless about whom they choose. They may yield to sexual advances from boys, fearing that they might lose their friendship otherwise.
Teenage years are the time when we develop sexually both physically and psychologically, and if we learn to interact with boys and girls with pure friendships, mutual respect and practical boundaries, that will provide us with a proper foundation in this area for later years. The Bible talks about boys and men viewing girls and women as sisters or mothers, with purity of thought and behaviour (1Tim.5:2). Keeping a healthy distance in our interaction with people of the opposite gender is always wise. Many affairs develop in the workplace when people start opening up boundaries with their colleagues and let them into their personal lives.
We need to be aware that the best way to avoid getting burned with sexual lust is to avoid it getting fired up in the beginning itself. Once it catches fire, it can easily become uncontrollable. In other words, we should learn to nip the desire in the bud before it can bear fruit in an actual act. When we are drawn towards someone and sexual desires begin to come up, we must recognise what is happening in our thoughts. If we allow these thoughts to develop into imaginations, we have already sinned in our heart. The easiest way to deal with temptations in our thoughts is to divert our attention to other subjects! Jesus clarified that looking at a woman with desire towards her was already adultery in the heart (Matt.5:27,28). If we get pleasure in our imaginations, it is still a sinful pleasure even though no physical act has taken place yet. If we continue in our imaginations, our brain will start preparing us physically for the sexual act, and once this happens it becomes more and more difficult to back out and we may end up actually doing something sinful. Remember what the apostle James says about how temptation develops into sin (Jas.1:13-15).
Job may have understood this mechanism of sexual temptation to some extent because he decided that he would not allow himself to even gaze at a woman (Job.31:1).
Many Christians do not even aim for such purity in life, because they satisfy themselves with merely keeping the Ten Commandments externally without understanding how Jesus came to open a greater life for us under the new covenant. But if we carry the fire of lust inside us while we pat ourselves thinking that we are not doing anything wrong, it will be like an accident waiting to happen, at a time when we are least expecting it. On the other hand, when we learn to depend on the Holy Spirit to help us, God is able to grant us grace to be faithful in this area of life. Even if we have been slaves to sexual lusts or acts in the past, we must know that Jesus came to set the captives free (Lk.4:18) and to give us an abundant life (Jn.10:10).
With sexual lust being as powerful as it is, and children not getting prepared properly to handle it when they come into the teenage years, it happens that a large percentage of people become enslaved to it in some form or another. The current world situation is such that temptations hit us from so many directions, and it is not easy to live a godly life. 2 Timothy 3:1 says in the Living Bible, “You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian.” But Jesus comes with the good news that He can set us free. An important secret of victory is to admit our helplessness against the giant of lust and to learn to depend entirely on God’s strength with honesty and sincerity. When the children of Israel came to the borders of the Promised Land and most of their spies told them that they looked helpless like grasshoppers in front of the giants in the land and stood no chance of occupying the land, Joshua and Caleb said that if God was with them, they did not have to fear any giant (Num.14:8,9). This is true of victory against any temptation, but especially true of victory over sexual lust. We must not allow pleasures promised by the temptation to pull us in, and we must not allow our thinking to be influenced by worldly wisdom or compromising Christians.
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