The Image of God, the Fall, and Sexuality1
#6 in a Series on the Doctrine of Man, Sin, and the Person of Christ
The great commandment of our day is to not encroach on one’s personal freedom. By freedom I mean the idea that nothing and no one can encroach on by necessities. In other words, freedom from necessities and encroachments means that if a biological man identifies as a women then we should view him as such. Or if one has sexual desires for the same sex then this should not only be accepted but celebrated.
The notion of SSA and transgenderism are at odds with each other, but they do have this in common: I should be able to live sexually however I want. This is the sacred freedom of our day.
Christianity also champions freedom, but not in the same way. Christianity champions happiness, but not in the same way. The disagreement is not about wanting what is best for people. I feel confident that everyone is really trying to do what they think is best. The disagreement centers on what is actually best. Put differently, when someone says to you, Christian, “Why do you want to keep someone from love?” We should not accept the premise in that question. That is a question akin to asking someone, “Why do you beat your wife?” That question assumes that I beat my wife! In the same way, the question about getting in the way assumes that you are getting in the way of love. That is not why Christians protest against transgenderism, homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and pornography. We protest because of our focus on love: our love for God and our love for our neighbor. The divide is not some wanting love and others wanting to prevent it. The divide is how we will truly experience love and who deserves our ultimate allegiance: God or ourselves.
The Holy Fire of Sex
Sam Allberry has an illustration about sexuality that captures the Christian view quite succinctly. At the center of the illustration is a fireplace. He writes about it this way,
A fireplace “is the one place in the house where we can light a fire. Light one here and it gives light, warmth and life. Light one anywhere else and it will be dangerous, destructive and even life-threatening. In the right place it can perfectly enhance a home. In the wrong place it can burn the whole thing to the ground. Sex is like that. It is a from of ‘holy fire.” In the right context it expresses and depends a particular form of love. In the wrong context it can cause enormous pain and destruction. This is why the Bible insists on sex only being for a particular setting. Within this, sex can be a gift from God. Outside the right context, it can become harmful.”2
This is a good analogy not only because it is vivid. It is good because it actually helps us see what the Bible says about sex. But I don’t want you to simply take my word for it. Let’s spend the rest of our time looking at what the Bible teaches us about sex. In order to do this, we cannot simply jump to a few verses. If you recall our first week in this Equipping Time series, I noted that we cannot read the Bible as a disconnected encyclopedia. It is an unfolding story. While we could pull out a few verses here and there in order to make our points about sexuality, we should see that each of these passages that teach us about sexuality are actually informed not just by their immediate context but by the whole of the unfolding story of Scripture. Since this is the case, we need to look at what the Bible says about sexuality in light of its unfolding story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.
God's Good Creation Sets the Standard for Sex and Sexuality
The story of the Bible begins with the good creation. As we read in Genesis 1 and 2, after God finishes different aspects of creation, he looks on his work and declares it “good.” Let me stress this so that we are all on the same page: in the beginning, everything was good. There was nothing sad and nothing bad. Of particular import for us in understanding the goodness of creation is Genesis 1:27-28,
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…”
Again, in Genesis 2:20-25 we read,
“The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Let’s make some observations about what we see in God’s good creation (things as they are supposed to be).
God has not created us to be alone: Genesis 2:18 records God as saying, “it is not good that the man should be alone.” Up until this point, we are used to hearing that everything is good, but not this. We should gather from this that humans are created for community, and animals will not do. God provides for this need by giving Adam his wife. And, as we see in Genesis 1:28, they are to create even greater community by being fruitful.
God created sexuality and sex: And sex is part of the good creation, so we must say that sex and the sexual difference that makes sex possible are good things. This much is clear from Genesis 1:27-28, 31. In these verses God makes the man and the woman and then, in verse 31, declares “It was very good.” Remember with me how Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 fit together. Genesis 1 is the big picture while Genesis 2 is zooming in on the highlight of the big picture: the creation of humanity. We should read Genesis 1:31, that God saw all of it and noted that “it was very good” as taking place after Genesis 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” There is something very good about this union that we should not be ashamed of. As Christians, we should not think that sex is a necessary evil. At the same time, we should not be vulgar and flippant.
God created two genders that are tied to biological sex: Look at Genesis 1:27. There we see that men and women are created in the image of God. There is a difference between men and women. There is not a spectrum of sexuality but two distinct sexes that are interdependent. Additionally, we see in Genesis 2:20-23 that gender—our roles as men and women—are connected to our sex. The woman was created to help the man in the task of ruling and filling the earth. Another man would not do in order to fit this task. Men and women are equal in that they are both image bearers of God, but they are not the same. They are interdependent on each other, but they are not interchangeable with each other.
Marriage is a sexual union intended to produce children: Genesis 1:28 makes it clear that God wants men and women to have children. The sexual difference that is clear in Genesis 1:27 leads to the possibility of fruitfulness that is commanded in verse 28. And the way this fruitfulness takes place is by a one flesh union, as describe in Genesis 2:24. The expression “one flesh” describes what we now see as two things but were intended by God to be one thing: marriage and sex. The expression “one flesh” notes that these two become one new family unit by means of sexual union.
This is one reason why sex outside of marriage is so wrong: it is a lie that we tell with our bodies.
This is the standard of human sexuality. God, as our creator, sets the terms of what our sexuality is for and how it should be used. What your sexuality is and how it is to be used are defined by God. That this is unchanging is affirmed by the fact that when Jesus is asked about divorce, he upholds that Genesis 1-2 is the authoritative standard for marriage and sexuality (Mark 10:6-8). Jesus instruction about marriage centered on what was original. But he doesn’t just say that the union should not be undone. He goes out of his way it seems to note that marriage is between a man and a woman. Why? Because marriage by definition is a union between a man and a woman. To say that you have a marriage between two men or two women is, in the eyes of Jesus, like having dry water or darkness that illuminates.
But if your sexual identity is defined by God, then how do you explain your contrary desire? How does one with same sex attraction view his or her desires? How does one who truly feels like he is a woman inside a man’s body understand his feelings?
The next part of the Bible’s story helps us with this.
The Fall Helps Us Understand Our Sinful Desires Rightly
We can’t understand who we are without grappling with the reality of sin entering the world. We read of this in Genesis 3:6-10,
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her. And he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
What does these verses teach us?
Humanity has rejected God’s good word: Look at Genesis 3:6. At the heart of all sin is the rejection of God’s good word. Adam and Eve doubted the goodness of God and believed that he was actually holding out on them. There was something that would be genuinely good for them that he was denying them, so they took it for themselves. That is how sin started and it is how it continues to this day.
This rejection has corrupted…
Our relationship with God: After Adam and Eve sinned, they no longer desired to be with God. Having their very hearts corrupted by sin, they could not bear to be in his presence. They feared him and felt guilt and shame for their sin, as 3:8-10 displays for us. What once brought them joy, communion with God, now sends them running. Sin inclines us to move away from God and not toward him.
Our relationships with each other: Genesis 3:7 also foreshadows what we see in the rest of the Bible, namely that sin separates people from each other. There had been nothing but peace and joy between Adam and Eve until this moment. In Genesis 2, seeing each other had led to joyous declaration. Now it led to shame filled covering. We experience this in all of our relationships. We had from the people that we are closest to and love the most. We fear them because we know that we are sinners. To be a sinner is to have legitimate shame; to have things that you do not want others to see or to know about you.
Our sexuality: Genesis 3:7 also shows us that our sexual relationships are corrupted by sin. Adam and Eve were not just buds. They were husband and wife who are now ashamed to be naked with each other. Sin doesn’t just make our relating difficult but makes every aspect of our relating to each other difficult—including the aspect of our sexuality. Each one of us has a skewed vision of sexuality. For some men, that results in a burning lust for sexual gratification. For some women, it results in the same. For a few it results in same sex desire. For others it manifests in sexual desires that seem to be unpredictable. But we all have this in common: Everyone is some kind of sexual sinner. Everyone of us has missed the mark in how we have used our sexuality. We have sinned sexually and we have, most likely, also been sinned against sexually. So we deal with shame as those who have sinned sexually and have been sinned against sexually. This inevitably has inflamed how we view and use our sexuality.
The story of this corruption unfolds in the rest of the Bible. As scripture continues, we see further that humanity seeks to rebel against God and hurt others with, among other things, our sexual capacities. As his image bearers, we have certain capacities. Everything God has given us for his glory, we are now inclined to use against him, including our sexuality. In fact, rebellion against God can show up most clearly with how we use our bodies as his image bearers. Take Romans 1 as an example.
In Romans 1, Paul notes a long list of sins that characterize a society that is in a free fall of rebellion against God. Speaking of this society, we writes in Romans 1:22-26,
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
Recent interpretations of this passage have argued that Paul here is really just concerned with one of two things. Either he is rebuking people from participating in homosexual practice as part of pagan worship or he is rebuking men who are actually predisposed toward heterosexuality from participating in homosexual practice since that is unnatural to them. But this presupposes that Paul had the concept of two sexual natures in his mind: one in which people are attracted to the opposite sex and one in which a person is attracted to the same sex. Paul did not view sexual orientation as a valid concept, however. There are not a plurality of sexual natures. How do we know this? Because Romans 1 is an exposition of Genesis 3. If you look at verse 20 and verse 25, you see that Paul is referencing the creation order as a foundation to his argument. In verse 20, he notes what has been clear about God since creation. Again, in verse 25, he points to God as Creator. In the creation, as we saw when we looked at Genesis 1-2, God determined the nature of mankind’s sexual makeup.
The point of Romans 1 is that mankind has rebelliously twisted God’s created order as an act of rebellion against him. So God has given them up to even more of the sin that they have craved. Ed Shaw, in his book Same Sex Attraction and the Church, outlines the argument of Romans 1 as follows:
Humanity should be oriented toward God but turns in on itself (Rom. 1:25)
Woman should be oriented toward man, but turns in on itself (Rom. 1:26)
Man should be oriented toward woman, but turns in on itself (Rom. 1:27)
He then summarizes, “Same-sex sexual activity is one sadly brilliant example of all human rebellion against God—getting us worshipping ourselves, on our own terms, rather than worshipping the God who made us, on his.” But homosexual acts are not the only type of sexual immorality that serves as idolatry. This is true of all sexual immorality. Listen to what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:5, “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure or who is covetous (that is, an idolator), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”3
I hope you know that there is good news in the Bible story. As sexual sinners, we need it.
Redemption Gives Us Life and Power for Life
Let’s focus on two texts as we think about redemption: Romans 3:21-26, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justified of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
I read all of that just to make two quick by absolutely vital points.
We are all sinners: No matter who you are, not one of us can say that we are sinless. This is essential to grasp for all of us, but I want to speak directly to you if you fit one of the following categories: you do not identify as a sexual sinner because you view your sexuality as your identity. That is to say, you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and think that God made you that way, so it cannot be wrong. I just want to point out that the fact that having a desire does not make it right. I would guess that you have some sexual boundaries. Do you discourage pedophilia? Why would you if someone told you that they desired it? Would you approve someone having an affair? How could you not if the person desired it? God’s design, not your desire, is the ultimate check on what is right and what is sinful.
But perhaps you are in another category. You do not feel like a sexual sinner because you have “done everything right.” But you, too, are a sinner. Perhaps your sin nature has manifested itself in other areas, but you are still a sexual sinner. When Jesus tells us that to lust is to commit adultery in the heart, every person confesses guilt. As Zach shared last week, a little bit of poison in your cup will kill you just the same as a cup full of poison.
We are all sinners in need of a Savior.
All can be saved through faith in Christ: All are sinners and all are justified by faith. That isn’t saying that all are automatically justified, but that all who have faith in Jesus are justified. It doesn’t matter how much sin you bring to the table because the righteousness that Jesus brings is greater. Think of that for a moment. However defiled and wrong you feel because of your sexual sin, the redemption that Jesus brings is greater. Whatever shame you are covered in, he gives his righteous robe to cover you. This is “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (22). And it comes to us because “God put forward [Jesus] as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (25). God desires to be “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (26).
The judgment I deserve and the judgment you deserve is paid by Jesus on the cross. And faith in Jesus doesn’t just remove the wrath of God and make us counted as righteous. We are truly redefined in our identity. Look at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which is a warning from Paul as well as a word of comfort,
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
What do these verses make clear?
Some practices put you outside of God’s Kingdom: There are certain ways of living that if you continue in them show that you are not part of God’s Kingdom. This is antithetical to the modern demand that we “live and let live” and the modern invention of personalized Christianity. If you claim Christ, but choose to live in one of these listed ways, then you have no part of God’s Kingdom. As John writes in 1 John 1:6, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Christians by faith receive a new identity and so Christians no longer live out the desires of the flesh. The worst thing that you can do for someone who is claiming Christ and who also lives in sexual immorality, including homosexual practice, is to act or affirm them as being on good terms with the Lord. Such living shows that they are not part of the Kingdom.
Christ changes your identity forever: When you come to Christ, the truest thing about you is not what you feel, nor what you have done, nor what someone has done to you. Your identity is defined by Christ and what he says of you, what he has done for you, and what he is doing to you. It is his heart for you and not your desire for sin that ultimately defines you.
In Christ, you are a new creation. You have not been completed yet, but you are not what you used to be. You are washed, sanctified, and justified.
When you come to Christ, it matters not what sins you bring. The parable of the prodigal son is true for everyone who comes to God in Christ. We move from being dead to being alive; from being mourned to being celebrated; from being outside to be a son with full status.
You may struggle with desires, but God will provide you the means to follow him in faithfulness and graciousness. Does that sound like a hard life? In many ways it is. But it is a life worth it because of what is coming.
New Creation Gives Us Hope
There is difficult in the Christian life. Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
What do we see in this teaching?
Following Christ guarantees suffering: Taking up a cross is not simply being uncomfortable. It is to take a one way trip that will end in death. When you take up a cross, you do not think, “Maybe I’ll make it.” Instead you wonder, “How long will it take me to die?” Following Jesus means becoming like Jesus and he came to suffer and die. While you may in fact not actually die, you will have to give up desires in this life, and in doing that you might feel like you are dying. This includes fighting against sexual sin.
Why follow Jesus then? Because while following him necessarily includes suffering, it doesn’t end in suffering. It ends in glory. As we read in Hebrews 12:2 of Jesus, saying of him that he “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the same, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The weight of glory that awaits you far surpasses any pain, struggle, or loss in this present time.
But in order to understand that, we have to consider another teaching of Jesus from Mark 12:25. This verse captures Jesus response to a question about marriage and the resurrection. The question that is posed to him is that there is a woman who was married to 7 different men. They wanted to know who she would be married to in the resurrection. Jesus replies, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
What can we glean from this response?
Marriage (and thus sex) are temporary: Notice that Jesus doesn’t try to address who this woman will be married to because she won’t be married. Marriage expires and is terminated at death. Now, if marriage and sexual union is the greatest thing that you can imagine, heaven just became a lot less appealing to you. Why would God design it this way? Because marriage, and thus sex, is a mere picture of a greater reality. It was designed to help us look forward to the greater treasure which is union with Christ in the new heavens and earth.
This is Paul’s argument in Ephesians 5. Husbands and wives get to display the beauty and glory of Christ and the church. Paul, in Ephesians 5:32 makes this point, calling marriage a mystery—that is, the reason for it was a mystery—until Christ appeared. Then it became clear: marriage is meant as a sign that points us to the union of Christ and the church as the greatest joy.
Marriage and sex with it are a picture. In the new heavens and earth, you won’t need the picture anymore because you will have the real thing.
Don’t believe that this is the direction of the Bible? Listen to Revelation 21:1-8,
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
The joy of Union with Christ is eternal: When Jesus returns and makes all things new, you will not regret giving up on your broken desires. What we will have will make anything we surrender now look like nothing. Heaven will be better than earthly marriage and it will certainly be better than any sexual encounter you could have now. So do not throw away the gift of eternal life in exchange for fleeting pleasure now.
The structure and much of the subject matter of this lesson is from Same-Sex Attraction and the Church by Ed Shaw.
Sam Allberry, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? (The Good Book Company, 2020), 39
Ed Shaw, Same-Sex Attraction and the Church (IVP, 2015), 144.