Sex and the Great Commission

  1. Share
3 3

Several years ago, I shared with a friend the vision of Authentic Intimacy. My friend listened patiently and then shared her honest opinion, “Why is it important to help people have better sex lives? Shouldn’t we be spending our time feeding the poor and sharing the gospel instead?” That same friend is now an avid supporter of this ministry. What changed? 

Sexuality has historically received very little attention from Christians. In the wake of the sexual revolution, youth pastors and parents crafted purity messages, hoping to incentivize teenagers to save sex for marriage. This generation is now reaping the fallout of silence and simplistic approaches to the complexity of human sexuality. 

You may think that sexuality is a peripheral topic, delegated to specialized ministries and counselors. In this blog, I hope to convince you that reclaiming biblical sexuality in western culture is now absolutely essential to accomplishing the Great Commission . 

The core of Jesus’ commission to His disciples is two-fold: make disciples, baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (evangelism) and then teach them to obey everything I have commanded (discipleship). Individuals and ministries that are ill-equipped to enter the space of sexuality will be hamstrung in their efforts to both evangelize and disciple.

 

Sexuality and The Gospel

I had just finished speaking at a conference in St. Louis and was exhausted. My coworker, Kristi, and I stopped at a local coffee shop to kill a few hours before our flight home. As we worked on our laptops, we could not help overhearing a very intense conversation in the booth behind us. A young woman was meeting with a mentor, sharing agonizing details about how her marriage was failing apart because of sex. After about thirty minutes, the older woman left and the young woman sat alone, still obviously emotionally hurting. 

I looked at Kristi and we both knew this was a “divine appointment.” I approached the young woman and said that I couldn’t help but overhear her conversation. I briefly explained that I run a ministry helping people navigate sexual issues and asked if there was any way I could encourage her. She ended up joining us in our booth, gave us a brief rundown of her situation and finally asked the question that was on her mind. “Will I go to hell if I divorce my husband and marry a woman?” 

This woman was not primarily asking a sexual or marriage question. As a lapsed Catholic, her agony was spiritual. How could she navigate her sex life in a way that wouldn’t destroy her relationship with God? 

In this generation, sexuality represents one of the most pressing issues standing between people and God. Daily, we see teens and young adults walking away from the faith of their childhood over questions about sex. 

  • Does God love trans people? 

  • Where was God when my uncle sexually abused me? 

  • How can I trust God when the church is filled with hypocrites and predators? 

  • Why would a loving God give me desires that I can’t act on? 

  • Is God a misogynist, telling women to essentially be sexual slaves for their husbands? 

History has proven that Christian doctrine is robust enough to entertain every question of the human heart—even our sexual questions. However, the Church is woefully ill equipped, falling back on quoting verses without a compelling explanation of God’s heart for human sexuality. Evangelists and apologists regularly remind me that if we can’t engage sexual questions, seekers want nothing to do with Chrisianity.

In his exposition of John 4, John Piper  explained that Jesus knew that “the quickest way to the heart  is through a wound.” To reach the woman at the well, Jesus had to identify the source of her thirst. In the same way, we must be ready and equipped to enter into the sexual wounds and questions as we share the Living Water with a lonely and thirsty world. 

To be frank, many have experienced the Christian church as a source of deeper sexual wounding rather than a place of healing. The shame, silence and hypocrisy (not to mention the atrocities of clergy abuse) has pushed people further from the mercy of God. This will only change as God’s people intentionally push past long-held traditions and humbly step into the hurt with the hope of Jesus Christ. 

 

Sexuality and Discipleship

Jesus did not call us to make converts, but disciples. Christian discipleship means the whole-hearted pursuit of stewarding our lives under the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

Following Jesus goes way beyond our actions. We are new creations in Christ Jesus, set apart and called to be transformed in our thinking and desires. There is perhaps no arena in which discipleship is more necessary today than sexuality. 

God created us as sexual people. He is the One who invented sexual desire, reproductive organs, and the pleasureable brain chemicals involved in sex. Although you may blush reading this sentence, can we agree that God created the orgasm? God is also deeply aware of how painful and destructive our earthly experience of sexuality can become. Yet, most Christians act as if they must manage their sexuality on their own, never thinking to integrate biblical truths in this area of their lives. 

As a result,  the majority of committed Christ-followers (including Christian leaders) have no idea how to steward their sexuality. They have real-world complex questions like:

  • Is masturbation a sin? 

  • How do I stop looking at pornography? 

  • Should I get a divorce if my spouse had an affair? 

  • What is the purpose of my sexual desire as a single Christian? 

  • Would God allow me to attend my son’s gay wedding?  

  • How do I deal with the impact of past sexual trauma on my marriage? 

  • If my wife never has sex with me, do I have grounds for divorce? 

  • Do I call my niece by her requested male name and pronouns?

  • Are sex toys OK within a Christian marriage? 

I promise you that every one of these questions (and many more) are top of mind for the men and women (young and old) to whom you minister. 

The good news is that you can be equipped to engage in sexual conversations! In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul instructed the early church on how to be unified and equipped to do the work of God. He reminded them that God had granted the members of His Body spiritual gifts for the purpose of unity and spiritual maturity. As each part does its work, we will no longer be like spiritual infants, tossed around by the thinking of our culture. This is not the work of a single ministry; it is our work together. 

Jesus did not leave us alone to figure out how to accomplish the Great Commission. As with the first disciples, He promises “I will be with you always!” The Father has given us the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth, giving us everything we need right here, right now. 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about sex and the great commission and how to address tough questions like the ones mentioned in this blog, consider becoming a member of Sexual Discipleship today!

 

Community tags

This content has 0 tags that match your profile.

Topics I'm Interested In

Comments

To leave a comment, login or sign up.
  • Gregg Pitts

    Gregg Pitts

    Thanks for sharing this Joy, and thanks Juli and Kristi for taking the risk to engage in this conversation. This is real life stuff that is not going away even if we continue to ignore it.
  • Janna Nordeman

    Janna Nordeman

    Great article! These are definitely questions coming up frequently in my counseling office. I am so thankful for you and your ministry that is equipping me to feel comfortable to have these kind of conversations. I’m always hungry for more. I cannot wait for the Reclaim conference!!
  • Joy Skarka

    Joy Skarka

    I'm glad this was so helpful. Janna, we can't wait to see you at Reclaim!

Related Content

2
The Importance of Sexual Discipleship™
For the past few years, I’ve been using this term “sexual discipleship™” to describe the passion behind the ministry Authentic Intimacy. I’ve noticed that when people hear me put those two words together, they are intrigued. Although you may have been discipled in your walk with Christ at some point, chances are, that discipleship never permeated questions about your sexuality. (Presione aquí para leer en español). I grew up in the church with loving, caring parents. They did their job having “the talk” with me and sporadically offered dating advice. My youth group and Christian school had days and even weeks with a focus on purity, dating, and sexuality, but they addressed these topics tenuously. The teachers seemed nervous, measuring their words, and the kids just felt awkward. As I've grown into adulthood, the same strategy seems to have been implemented regarding sexuality—a class or book occasionally offered to teach about sex in marriage; the church’s general approach toward sexuality is to offer pockets of sex education. Let’s compare that approach to how culture tackles the topic of sexuality. It is everywhere! In every media outlet imaginable, we are confronted with an aggressive message of how to think about marriage, sexual activity, dating, and sexual identity. Even godly, committed Christians are far more likely to think like the world on sexual issues because they have been trained to do so. The church has offered sex education while the culture is sexually discipling us, forming our opinions and worldview on everything sexual. What Is Discipleship? We often throw words like discipleship around without taking the time to consider what they actually mean. A discipleship approach is very different from an educational model. The essence of discipleship is expressed through Moses’ charge to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the decadent culture of the Promised Land: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, NIV) There are three critical elements in Moses’ teaching to parents that still apply thousands of years later: A clear understanding of what is right, what is wrong, and the lordship of God in our lives A daily integrating of that teaching into everyday life A modeling of what it looks like to walk according to God’s commands If we want to know what sexual discipleship™ looks like, we can just take a look at the world. Honestly, they are modeling it masterfully! The world's system has its own great commission. They are doing a fantastic job of converting us into disciples of their worldview and sexual agenda. Much of the media, news outlets, and educational leaders are aggressive about passing on their sexual values to children and adults. You are shunned and ridiculed if you express an opinion that differs from these values. Looking at the outlets representing the world’s system, do you see a clear doctrine or vision of what they believe about sexuality? From what you observe through entertainment media, news outlets, the government, and educational system, is the messaging about sexuality from the world consistent? You bet it is! From preschoolers to senior citizens, the world’s sexual mantra is loud and clear. Turn on the news. Browse through random magazines. Flip through satellite television channels, surf the Internet, walk around on a college campus, and you will see very consistent messaging. In fact, our children are barraged by the world’s sexual doctrine everywhere they turn. Tweet: Our culture doesn’t just preach sexual immorality, it readily and effectively models it. @DrJuliSlattery It is conceivable that your children may never see what it looks like to live with sexual virtue and purity. However, they will inevitably be exposed to hundreds—perhaps thousands—of examples of what sexual immorality looks like. Sexual discipleship™ is a lot more than a “talk” or retreat teaching about sexual purity. It means walking with people through the journey of sexuality through all the stages of life and addressing questions that arise from life experience and cultural pressures. Sexual discipleship™ goes beyond sex education. Biblical sexual discipleship paints a complete picture of sexuality as not simply something to avoid but a great gift to be treasured, celebrated, and reclaimed. What Must Change Parents often ask me how and when to talk to their children about sex. Before we ever talk to our kids about sex, we need to be sure that our own sexual worldview is grounded in truth. The vast majority of Christians have very little idea of how to integrate their sexuality with who they are as children of God. Those who are single don’t understand why God would give them sexual desires without an outlet of sexual expression. Those who are married don’t know how to tackle problems like no sexual desire or a spouse who looks at porn. We don’t know what to do with traumatic experiences of sexual abuse or how to get out from under the shame of past sexual sin. Why do sexually related topics cause us to feel nervous and awkward? The expression of sex is sacred and private. It should be held in honor and handled with wisdom. However, this does not mean that purity equates to silence. After all, the Bible does not shy away from addressing sexual themes throughout the Old and New Testaments. Some biblical teaching is so specific (particularly the Song of Solomon) that modern translators have “toned down” the interpretation to make it more acceptable for today’s readers. At Authentic Intimacy, we want to invite men and women into a conversation that promotes sexual discipleship™. What would happen if Christian parents and the Christian community were committed to defining, teaching, and modeling a godly sexual worldview? What if several times a day, we were given positive messages and examples of God’s beautiful design? Through our blog posts, podcasts, speaking events, social media, books, and website, we hope to be part of a movement to see these changes happen.
6
Why I Went to a Marriage Intensive
In November, I took my first sabbatical since starting Authentic Intimacy in 2012. What a gift! The sabbatical was for rest and refreshment but also for personal reflection. For the past year, Mike and I have tossed around the idea of going through a marriage intensive. Sabbatical seemed the ideal time to do this. So, we headed out to Colorado to meet with a counselor for three hours a day for a week. The counseling lived up to the name - it was intense! Perhaps like you, I’ve been discouraged and saddened by the many examples of Christian leaders falling away from faith and leading double lives. It’s natural to assume that what happened to them could never happen to me. That’s simply naive. Mike and I have taken the warning seriously. In this blog, I want to candidly share with you why Mike and I took this step of going for intensive counseling. No, we are not currently in a marriage crisis. But we also recognize that pride (even of a good marriage or sound mental health) often goes before a fall.  Transparency and Accountability The day our intensive began, I joked with a friend that I was ready to “go under the knife.” Any form of counseling requires that you place trust in the person and the process. Since I knew our counselor, I was ready to trust. I wasn’t there to critique him or to out-therapize my husband (which were both real temptations). Had I done so, we would have wasted time and money. I was there to place myself and our marriage before the kind and searching eyes of God through the Holy Spirit. My spirit needed to be humble, ready to receive whatever the Lord might reveal.  Because I teach about marriage, sexuality, and intimacy, sometimes I believe I shouldn’t have the same struggles as other people. This is one of Satan’s greatest weapons. Paul knew this when he warned Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” and when he wrote to the Corinthians, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, because he is ready to fall.”  When I personally struggle, the weight can feel enormous because I think I should have it all together. When my kids make mistakes or my husband and I argue, the enemy screams lies about how I’m disappointing God and people. Sometimes, it makes me want to quit. More often, I want to hide behind my computer and the excuse that I’m an introvert.  Mature Christians, including leaders, fall because they are isolated and lonely. They don’t think it’s safe to let anyone in to know their secrets. We went to a marriage intensive partly to demolish this potential barrier.  We need “eyes” on our lives and marriages. There can be no hidden compartments of pain and shame. Through counseling, I was reminded of the pattern I can fall into of being the “therapist” or teacher even in my close friendships. While this can seem altruistic, it actually keeps me from intimate friendship and accountability.  Addressing Unresolvable Conflicts Over the past decade, Mike and I have learned some great conflict resolution skills that have dramatically changed how we address our disagreements. We are far less likely to yell, stonewall, or blame each other. Even so, there have been some underlying conflicts that come up all the time. Whenever we try to address them, we seem to get nowhere. No matter how much we listen, validate, and strain to understand each other, we end up talking in circles. Have you ever felt that way?  Our hope was that through the marriage intensive, we would be able to navigate these specific issues. We wrote them down and shared them with Pete, our counselor, on the first day. Rather than simply play the referee (“Mike is right about this one” or “You should listen to Juli about that”), Pete helped us see why we both dig in on these issues. This gave us more empathy for each other’s “triggers” and a greater awareness of how what happens between us can tap into fears and pride in our own hearts.  Discovering Fault Lines Marriage is made up of two people. Marriage is not a thing you can “fix.” It is a dynamic that flows from the hearts of both individuals. In order to “work” on your marriage or any relationship, you have to be willing to look at the fault lines in your own heart.  Although Mike was with me every minute of our marriage intensive, there were chunks of time in which the Lord did surgery individually on each of our hearts. We were both challenged to see how Satan uses early experiences and pain to keep us from true freedom in Christ. Yes, I “knew” how my childhood has formed my personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I even wrote papers on this in my graduate training. But God led me to a deeper “knowing” and a richer healing.  It's always a challenge to connect my head and my heart. My eyes can be stubborn to let go of tears. The joys and grief my brain acknowledges can show up in a blog without ever being felt deeply in my heart. Through the intensive, I was reminded that God wants me to love Him first and foremost with my heart. Understanding God’s love and walking in it are two different things.  I have no illusion that taking a sabbatical or going to a marriage retreat will inoculate me from failure and future spiritual struggles. The Christian life is not a one-and-done decision to love God. Even though my soul is sealed with the Lord, I still need to “work out” that salvation every day.  What the Lord showed me during my sabbatical can quickly be forgotten in the busyness of jumping back into ministry and routine. I don’t want that to happen! I want my heart to be tender, my relationships to be authentic, and my love for God to be a fire that can’t be extinguished. That can only happen through a daily decision to engage in regular “mini sabbaticals” and intensives. Search my heart, O Lord.  Regardless of whether you are in some form of spiritual leadership, remember that your faith will consistently be under attack. Sometimes, the enemy strikes through crisis, but more often through complacency.  I’m not sure what it looks like for you in 2021 to “work out your faith with fear and trembling.” Maybe you will choose to see a counselor or be able to take a sabbatical. These are wonderful tools, but they only “work” in as much as they bring us back to the feet of Jesus. Regardless of the tools, practices, or rhythms you may choose, your most important choice is to spend time at His feet, worshipping, loving, confessing, and receiving.