What’s Required for Healthy Sexual Discipleship?

A spouse feeling hurt and lonely because their partner seems uninterested in sexual intimacy. A young (or not-so-young) person heavy with shame while feeling unable to break free from pornography. Someone hiding behind thick though invisible walls because of sexual harm, trauma, or abuse. A single person wrestling with being alone while trying to handle their sexual drives. A newly married spouse struggling with sexual intimacy because of old baggage. A young person confused over the conflicting sexual messages the media and the church are giving. All these individuals need sexual discipleship.

How have you been sexually discipled? You have been, you know. Maybe it was via the one-time birds-and-bees talk that was actually “too late.” Or that occasional talk in youth group at church. For many, pornography was your sexual discipleship, or popular messages in music, media, or movies. Whether healthy, quite incomplete, or grossly toxic, and whether you’re having sex or not, you have been sexually formed. How’s that working for you?

Sex and marriage were God’s idea. And yet the church has too often left sexual discipleship to the world. Oh, the church has often said “Just say No.” That is until you say “I do.” Then “Just say Yes.” But church conversations have often been fights about what’s on or not on the “sin list.” And what about the many men and women for whom “sex and marriage” is not currently, or perhaps will never be, a reality? There’s a big need for deeply and persistently helping young and old, men and women, married and single, through a journey of sexual discipleship God’s way.

Sexuality really is a spiritual issue. We cannot let the world own the portrayal of what sexuality is all about.

So what can we do about sexual discipleship?

Picture of God

As Dr. Juli Slattery says, at their root all sexual questions are spiritual questions. And if the gospel doesn’t have answers for these often-challenging questions, does it really have much of value at all? How and what we think about sex and sexuality has a lot to do with what we think about God.

I believe with my whole being that there’s no issue, no life area, no need or challenge or brokenness or sin, that the gospel doesn’t speak to. The gospel’s answers, however, are not proof texts or one-liners. Embracing these answers demands that we look deeper. Your and my sexuality was created by God, as part of how we are made in His image. Jesus came to redeem this area of our humanity just as He seeks to redeem every other part of us. What does that mean?

Put the words God and sex in the same sentence. What would that sentence be? What’s the emotional tone of that sentence? And what does that sentence say about how your heart feels about God? Do you see Him as a kill-joy, keeping you from pleasure or from “getting your needs met”? Is He just watching for you to mess up? Does He even care that much about your sex life? Are you supposed to “clean yourself up” before He will allow you to be close to Him?

Perhaps the most important step in sexual discipleship is addressing our internal picture of God. And that doesn’t become healed just by stuffing more facts about God into our intellectual L brain. As much or more, this requires bringing your emotional R brain into play, dealing with how you deeply feel about Him, and being with Him.

How This Impacts Sexual Discipleship

Sexual issues touch deep places in our souls. For many if not most, sex and intimacy have been confused. Yes, you and I are embodied beings with physical realities. But underneath that is the need, desire, and capacity for intimacy that God built within us. Going to sex to fill that need at best only results in momentary and superficial satisfaction.

Beyond addressing our picture of God, here are a few things sexual discipleship must include:

Get Below the Surface. Behaviors matter! But we must get beyond talking about what’s on or not on the “sin list.” Let’s seek to understand why God created us as sexual beings, what the gospel has to say about our sexuality, and how God would have us walk forward in a life of growing in sexual wholeness, married or single. Let’s seek God’s interpretation of our need, desire, and capacity for intimacy physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Embrace Sexual Healing. Intimacy has gone wrong for all of us in some way – broken from the sexual harm we’ve experienced, prideful over our chaste behavior, ashamed of our sexual past, and/or continuing to seek intimacy in ungodly ways. We need to be both challenged and loved. Becoming sexually whole includes what you do or don’t do with your body, but it also means healing from the past and becoming capable of true intimacy.

Pursuing Intimacy. Our need for intimacy is real regardless of age, gender, or relationship status. For those who are married pursuing intimacy means all the aspects of oneness, not just exchanging biological fluids. For everyone, but perhaps especially for those who are single, this means deeply seeking connection with a few others who see and know you, as messy as that may be. And we must all continue to seek intimacy with Jesus.

Fruit of Sexual Discipleship

Sexual discipleship may seem like a side issue, separate from the core message of the gospel. But this is more central than you may realize. The early followers of Jesus lived in an extremely sexually broken culture, and they became known as those who espoused sex as only between one man and one woman in marriage. That was counter-cultural in that day, just as it is in ours! And they also became known for being deeply connected in small groups, doing life together as a family.

That’s what we need today. Sexual discipleship for us can lead to freedom from the ungodly sexual behaviors culture promotes, and true intimacy regardless of relationship status for everyone (including good sex for those who are married).

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.


Your Turn: What has sexual discipleship looked like for you? What aspect of intimacy or sexuality do you most need to grow in? I’d love you to leave a comment below.

Want More? On the podcast this week I talk with Anne Edward about her journey of sexual discipleship that included coming out of lesbianism, and how she helps disciple others now. Listen or watch.

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