When it comes to sex, most Christians have been taught the right actions but few have been taught to align their thoughts and desires with those actions. Even more, the primary lesson of God’s beautiful design for sexuality is almost never included.
This teaching begins during childhood. What was the sex talk like for you? What’s Sexual Integrity?
Were you inspired by the beauty of God, his lavish love of pleasure, his desire to create new life through us? Were you even taught that sex was God’s design and idea in the first place?
Or were you just told how babies are made and to avoid sex until marriage? Perhaps you didn’t even have a sex talk with your parents at all.
The point is that very few are given God’s vision for sex, let alone how to become men and women who think, desire, and act sexually according to God’s design.
Without vision the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).
What’s Sexual Integrity?
Sexual integrity means a person’s thoughts, desires and actions align with God’s beautiful design for sexuality.
At the most basic level, sexual integrity means reserving sexual expression for a loving, life-long marriage between husband and wife, or alternatively, remaining sexually abstinent in singleness.
But, sexual integrity is more than just saying no to pornography and sex outside of marriage.
On a deeper level, sexual integrity (think: wholeness) is when all that makes you sexual is submitted and conformed to the self-giving love of Jesus.
To become a person of sexual integrity is a life-long process.
Falling Short of Sexual Integrity
As Christians, we begin by thinking that a better way is “continence”: white knuckling our way through our thoughts and desires so that we don’t act on them.
While this is a start, it is a far cry from Jesus’ admonition to love and not lust from our hearts, the core of who we are (see Matthew 5:27-28).
It turns out that a vague, brief and fearful talk about sex with my parents, plus 6th grade public school health class weren’t enough to communicate God’s vision for sexuality.
Who would’ve known?
I knew that sex, swearing, and drugs were the worst kinds of sins by the way they were spoken about growing up. But this negative vision did nothing to give me the desire for more. So, when watching unrated movies with my friend who was allowed to, I didn’t have the courage or desire to turn away.
Bad movies turned into bad decisions on the computer as the unstoppable force of puberty met the starved desires of my young heart.
To turn from something requires having something better to turn toward. As Christopher West comments, fast food is better than no food, but still doesn’t truly nourish.
Whether through silence-induced curiosity, the invitation of our peers, or soul-tearing boundary violations of our precious bodies, our journey away from sexual integrity did not begin in a vacuum.
Regardless of the origins, at some point those of us navigating sexual brokenness began to repeat or reverse early relational experiences (check out these great videos from Jay Stringer and Drew Boa to learn more). At some point, each of us allowed evil to turn our hearts away from hope in a better way.
Dallas Willard challenges us in his great work The Divine Conspiracy (see ch 5) to see that Jesus’ sermon on the Mount was not just another set of laws to show us that we don’t measure up. Rather, they were Kingdom principles that come from a new heart empowered by the love of the Holy Spirit.
Sexual Integrity Growth
Growth toward sexual integrity begins at the place of God’s grace wherever we are.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)
God doesn’t wait for us to clean up our act before loving us. His love comes first, and is the basis of all growth and healing in the Christian life. Not only that, but His grace also gives us a new identity: sons or daughters of the Loving Father who has no darkness in Him.
It is from these foundations of intimacy and identity that we can begin to face our brokenness. With the help of the Holy Spirit who searches our hearts (Ps. 139:23-24) we can begin to discover what is broken.
This is a crucial step in growing in sexual integrity because without God’s searching light, we often mis-identify the root issues.
For years, I thought that my biggest sin was lust. After several years of not engaging in sexual sin, I asked God what sins I was struggling with. I was shocked when the word “despair” came to mind.
I never have thought of myself as someone who struggles with despair. But, God, in His wisdom, was helping me see that I had not yet learned how to hope in Him (Romans 5:1-5). It was actually this lack of hope that drove much of my past sexual behavior, something I was completely ignorant of. God’s conviction around the root sin of despair helped catapult forward the process of aligning my thoughts and actions with God’s design for sexuality and growth in love.
In addition to discovering root issues, the journey toward sexual integrity includes engaging our stories. In his book Unwanted, Jay Stringer helps us to realize that almost every specific trigger we face has its origins in the way we are subconsciously repeating or reversing past wounds.
God’s Beautiful Design for Sexuality
The core of God’s design for sexuality is love. Love is literally benevolence: willing (volence) the good (bene) of another.
God is love, and out of His core character He wills the good of every single person. This is the opposite of lust, which is to use another person for our selfish gratification.
His love includes safety. Not in the sense of avoiding risks, but in the sense of doing no harm. True love sometimes hurts (like the dentist, or like loving a prodigal child), but it never harms (abuse, ultimate bad, etc.). Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor. 13:7)
The love of God respects boundaries, even those that say no to His love. Unlike those who have harmed and abused us, and those who have sought to force their bad wills upon us, God honors our boundaries.
Love also delights. There is a kind of love that is passionate (Greek: Eros). It is not just sexual, but also includes a love of beauty and life. There is also a kind of love that is self-giving, like the love God has for us and was demonstrated by sacrificing His Son Jesus so that we can spend eternity with Him (Greek: Agape). Passionate love and self-giving love were never intended to be experienced apart from one another. When sin came into the world, passionate love and self-giving love became separated. So, instead of passionate love being married to self-giving love, we have ended up with a distortion of passionate love in our world.
Consider this: God—out of His extravagant love—is the one who created sex! He designed sex to be pleasurable, passionate, and procreative. Yet sex is just an icon. Out of his self-giving love, he passionately loves us more than any lover ever could, and in eternity, we will live in the bliss of loving Him back; fully known and fully loved.
Ultimately, love is what distinguishes us as disciples of Jesus.
So, What’s Next?
Learning how to live out sexual integrity is more than just working on our stories and processing our pasts.
We become people that love what God loves through His loving people.
Without community around us, we lack the support in love, prayer, accountability, and encouragement that are necessary for long term integrity.
As has been said:
Relationships are the places of our deepest wounds, but they are also the places of our greatest healing.
Ultimately, growth in sexual integrity is growth in freedom to love, not just freedom from bad behaviors.
“Dream about what it would be like to walk in sexual integrity, to have nothing to hide, to have no more sexual fear or shame. Sexual integrity isn’t about giving up your sexual freedom, it’s about giving up your sexual captivity and becoming truly free.” (Awaken Mind lesson 1)
And, if you are a man who wants to grow in integrity alongside other men, check out Awaken.