5 Ways Your Sexuality Impacts Your Spiritual Formation

You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t believe God has something to say about sex and sexuality. Depending on your experience, that may sound like a checklist of “good” and “bad” that I’m either proud of conforming to, ashamed of messing up around, or trying to dismiss because I “can’t” live a certain way. But your sexuality impacts your spiritual formation much more deeply than a certain list of behaviors.

When you hear “Biblical sexual ethic” you may have an idea what we’re talking about; the place for sex is between one man and one woman within covenant marriage. The many contemporary debates on the topic both in culture and in the church center more around whether that applies today, or trying to find explanations or excuses that “allow” a certain behavior I “want” to engage in. We can argue about the sin list, but the Biblical picture is actually very clear.

So what do we do with that? Considering sex/sexuality in the framework of spiritual formation says a lot about both of those things. And they’re more connected that you might think.

Here are five ways dealing with your sexuality impacts your spiritual formation more broadly.

Our Integrated Human Nature

There are few if any other areas of life that demonstrate how closely integrated we as humans are in body, mind, and soul. Sex and sexuality obviously involve our bodies; sex organs, sex hormones, sex drive (or not), the physicality of sex itself. That’s all God’s design.

But sex also involves your emotions and beliefs. Desires, values, past trauma, shame, early experiences, close personal relationships, entitlement or fear or pain – these factors are all at play around sex. And what about relationship with God? Does your heart believe He has anything to say about this? Whether you see Him as an ogre, as authoritarian and harsh, or perhaps as distant and uncaring, is closely related to how you feel about God and sex.

This is why sex is never just about sex. What you do or don’t do sexually, how you believe and think and make decisions, and what role you see God playing in your life are all deeply intertwined, and every aspect affects the other aspects of your sex life also.  And trying to split body, mind, and soul when it comes to sex always leads to a mess.

Behaviors Matter: Your Heart Matters More

It certainly matters what you do with your body. For example, as good as contraception or “protection” may be, the only way to guarantee no STDs or no pregnancy is to not have sex. Behaviors have consequences – both short and long term.

But as Jesus highlighted, matters of the heart matter even more. Early in the sermon on the mount Jesus put sexuality squarely in this light; looking at someone “with lustful intent” is committing adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). This is in large part why arguing about what’s on or not on the sin list misses the point.

That brings up questions such as, what really is lust? How can I find sexual healing? What does sexual wholeness even look like? If spiritual formation does not address these matters of the heart, it will never work.

What Evil is After

The area of sexuality also demonstrates how bad evil is. I’m one who believes there’s no one alive who has not experienced the enemy’s work to steal, kill, and destroy in the area of sex and gender. Shame, pain, addiction, isolation – all this and more come from intimacy gone wrong. I’m sure you could quickly come up with a list of categories where evil has wrought untold destruction by using sex in harmful ways.

Why? Why has evil targeted this part of our human experience so relentlessly? I believe it’s because God created human beings with the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy; that’s core to us being made in His image.

Evil is after our separation – from God and from others – which leads to death. Sex and intimacy are related by not the same, and when the enemy can cause us to confuse those things, to look for love in all the wrong places, and to then hide behind virtual walls of self-protection it blocks our experience of intimacy with others (regardless of relationship status) and with God.

The Human Need for Intimacy

Yes, intimacy is a need. You can live without sex, but you cannot live without intimacy. Even Jesus experienced that need. Even though He was moment-by-moment in true intimacy with His heavenly Father, Jesus also needed people. He sought deep authentic connection with a few people, as messy as that was for Him – and for us.

And this speaks directly to how sexuality relates to our spiritual formation. Our need for intimacy that God built within us means we need deep authentic connection with a few others. You cannot become spiritually whole and mature any other way. Whether married or unmarried, you can’t experience intimacy just by taking the clothes off your body; your heart, mind, and soul must be uncovered as well.

Scary? Yes! Necessary? Absolutely. That’s why you need a few people to walk with whether you’re married or single.

Making Jesus Your Lord

You’ve heard of and perhaps experienced the devastation of someone who knows all the right information but falls into bad behavior, often sexually, when the matters of the heart aren’t dealt with. And you may also have experienced how “trying harder” doesn’t work very well or very long, especially when it comes to sexual stuff.

We are all broken in some way, and the only way to wholeness is to allow Jesus to do His work from the inside out so that you become a different person. He doesn’t drop it on you as if from “on high;” you learn to cooperate with God and follow where He is leading. You determine that what He says goes. You’re not your own boss; you choose Him as your Lord in every area.

And as you make Him the Lord of your sex life it will necessarily involve every part of you (back to the first point – our integrated human nature). You can’t become whole sexually without also following Jesus in the areas of your time, your relationships, your thoughts and feelings, healing your past, your beliefs and values, all of it.

Sexual/Spiritual Formation

Becoming sexually whole means becoming spiritually formed to look like, live like, become like Jesus. This is no external checklist; it’s about the very nature of your being. With sexuality touching such deep places in our human soul, this is a great example of what it looks like to become whole in any part of you that needs what Jesus came to bring.

Your Turn: Have you imagined the only way sexuality impacts your spiritual formation is conforming (or not) to a specific behavioral checklist? How does the fuller picture of sexuality and spiritual formation change things?   Leave a comment below.

Want More? This week’s podcast episode is a conversation with Brent Hanson about “real men.” And we include talking about sex. Listen or watch.

Tweetables: why not share this post?

  • Sexuality and spiritual formation are more connected that you may think. Becoming whole sexually requires spiritual formation, and it also illustrates what spiritual formation in any area requires.  Tweet that.

Do You Need some Sexual Discipleship?

My new book is just that; sexual discipleship. Sexpectations: Reframing Your Good and Not-So-Good Stories About God, Love, and Relationships.

If your heart is struggling with anything around sex, love, and intimacy, you need this! This book will help you:

  • reinterpret your sexual story with honesty and compassion
  • find freedom from shame, compulsive behaviors, past harm, and hiding
  • redefine the way you look at God, sex, love, and relationships
  • orient your sexuality as God intended and embrace what He has for your future
  • experience Jesus coming right into the middle of your story to bring healing and wholeness

Check out our new Sexpectations website where you can find related resources. You can download a free chapter of the book, and order the book for yourself.