The next point follows on from this second one. Just as each of us is a sinner, so every area of our lives is tainted and distorted by sin. We recognise this in so many ways. In our teaching and pastoral care of people in our fellowships, we will portray the biblical ideals to which we all aspire, whether this is in the area of marriage and family, or in the development and nurturing of fellowship, or in terms of integrity in our personal and work lives. The fact that we fail to live up to these ideals is something that we accept, albeit somewhat regrettably, because we realise there is a tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not-yet’ of our faith. As John Stott describes it, “There is a paradox at the heart of the church. It is the painful tension between what the church claims to be and what it seems to be…the tension between our final, glorious destiny in heaven and our present, very inglorious performance on earth” (John Stott, Calling Christian leaders, page 17). We are back with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, where we are living out the reality of the resurrection while still in the perishable body of this age. It is only when we are “clothed… with immortality” that the fullness of this reality will be known. Until then, we all still struggle in the battle between spirit and flesh.
Our sexuality is as much a part of the fallenness of our humanity as any other area of our lives and the tension between what we are and what we will be, which Stott talks about is experienced by us all in this most personal of life’s aspects. At the start, God created adam as both male and female who are described as being made equally in the image of God (Genesis 1:27-30). This creation of the two sexes implies strongly that while God himself is not ‘sexual’ in our understanding of the term, our sexuality reflects something deep in the very nature of God himself. God’s declaration that his creation was “very good” is also important as it helps us to see that sexuality is a good thing and part of God’s original plan for humanity.
The creation account gives us the background to our sexuality, the rest of God’s word deals with sexuality not as something separate from everything else, but as part of the bigger story of God’s dealings with humanity. In our society, sexuality has become the defining aspect of an individual’s life and they way they view themselves. In biblical terms, we are defined rather by who we are in relationship to God. It is this story, which culminates at the cross, which we need to tell in order that our sexuality can be placed in its correct context. And part of this story is what happens in Genesis chapter 3.
The rebellion of the man and the woman in the garden has a devastating effect on every area of our lives, including our sexuality. No-one experiences their sexuality untainted by sin. So, there is no heterosexual man reading this article who has not – at some time or other (and probably more times than they would care to admit) – looked at a woman with lust. This is the reality of life east of Eden, it is a reality which we have to come to terms with as we seek to serve God faithfully, knowing that our compromised sexuality will only be healed in eternity.
This tainting of sexuality is found universally, among heterosexual and homosexual people. The challenge for us as Christians is how we live up to our calling to a holy and pure life despite this fallen state. It is important that we recognise that holiness is the aim and nothing else. It is all too easy for those who do not experience same-sex attraction to see the aim of a christian life as being heterosexual. But the reality is that a man or woman who experiences same-sex attraction may never change to experience other-sex attraction. There is every likelihood that they will live with this attraction throughout their lives on earth. What we are all called to is holiness, of which sexual purity is a part. Or, as Ed Shaw writes, “True Christ-like, self-sacrificial love means saying ‘No!’ to any sexual activity outside of marriage (Eph. 5:3), as well as giving up a whole host of other attitudes and actions. But, crucially, this call to sexual purity is a sub-section of godliness, not the definition of it” (Ed Shaw, The Plausibility Problem, page 99).
Our third principle is that while every area of our lives, including our sexuality, is tainted by sin, our calling is to a life of purity where we gradually show an increasing measure of God’s holiness in our lives but where we recognise that perfection will only be ours in glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Dealing with issues of sexuality is not simple or easy. However, in all humility, recognising our own sinfulness and imperfections, we need to proclaim the reality of victory over sin and death that is found in the resurrection of our saviour and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, so that we can fulfil the hope of our faith. We can, then, “turn and face the strange”, confident that, “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13,14).