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It’s Just Physical

From the series Relational Intelligence

At this point in American history, there's an undeniable sexual ethic: "My body, my rules." In part 4 of this series, Ryan Ingram explains that that prevailing mantra has resulted in a culture that's saturated with sex and yet starved for intimacy. How did that happen? Sexuality and spirituality became compartmentalized. Ryan helps us re-integrate the two, as God would love for us to understand and enjoy.

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Message Transcript

We started off saying in week one, talking about relational intelligence that it’s the skill of navigating relationships well. It’s the wisdom of God who created and designed us of how to navigate and go about relationships well.

And we said this: that it’s both counterintuitive and counterculture. Oftentimes, relational wisdom, relational intelligence is counterintuitive and countercultural. We are wading into perhaps the most countercultural, counterintuitive subject, relationally for us, today.

I think, unfortunately, the Church hasn’t always done a good job in communicating God’s wisdom when it comes to our sexuality and our design. And I recognize also that for many, as we talk about this, that this is a deeply personal, incredibly for some, painful, difficult, emotional wounds and even confusion as we talk about this.

As I’ve been thinking about this and wrestling with, okay, how do we begin this conversation, I want to begin here, it’s not the place I want to start, actually. But I think it’s the place culturally where I have to start.

Because I want us to just talk as a collective, as just people learning how to follow and walk in the ways of Jesus. But I believe the Church, the capital “C” Church, the Bride of Christ, unfortunately in our day has all too often become known for what we are against than what we are for.

And when it has come to marriage and sexuality, the Church has lost its influence. And part of the reason why is the capital “C” Church in America has tried to hold the world to conformity while not holding itself accountable.

Now, here’s what’s amazing, now think about this, this is so incredible. In John’s gospel, when he is trying to unpack for us who Jesus is, he is trying to help us understand: who is this Messiah? He says this. He says, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us and we have seen His glory.” Like, we beheld the glory of the One and only.

And then it says this line, “Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the fullness of both. He is not all grace and He is not all truth, but embodied in the Son of God is the fullness of grace and truth.

See, grace is just, you come as you are, you stay where you are. I have news for you: Jesus says, “Come as you are, but I want to change you. I want to transform you. I want to see a metamorphosis in you.”

And He’s not all truth either. It’s not: you just have to fix up your life and do better. He was grace embodied. And so, He hung out with all the “wrong” people. He died on the cross for “all the wrong people.” He had a reputation for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and the like.

And here’s what’s so amazing about Jesus: people who were nothing like Jesus really liked Jesus, really enjoyed hanging out with Jesus. They were drawn to Him. All the “wrong” people were drawn to Him. What’s fascinating is all the religious people were repelled by Him.

He was the fullness of grace and truth. And if you read the gospels carefully, what you’ll find is when He came to someone who was far from God, He always led with grace and then followed with truth.

He always led with compassion and then He followed with clarity. And then if you read it carefully, all the religious people, all the Pharisees, He reversed it. He led with truth and as they responded to the truth, He followed with grace.

Unfortunately for us as the Church, when it comes to this area, the Church has really led with truth for those who are far away from God and never gotten around to grace.

And so, the capital “C” Church has unfortunately said to a people that Jesus died for, came for, that they are not welcomed or loved.

And so, if you’re in the LGBT community here, I want to say that you’re welcomed and loved in the name of Jesus. I believe the Church should be the safest place to wrestle with questions that we, the Church, need to be known for how we love.

I believe loving the way Jesus loves is incredibly messy. It’s not clear, it’s not so boxed in the way we like it.

And I believe when someone experiences the love of Jesus, they are changed by Him. And so, my prayer for us as a church, is that we will be a church full of grace and truth.

And, yes, we at Awakening hold to an historic, orthodox, Christian view of marriage and sexuality as expressed in the New Testament, that marriage is a covenant commitment between one man and one woman for life. And our sexuality is designed to be expressed only within that covenant commitment.

And here’s what we believe: followers of Jesus, we are to bring our lives into obedience with that truth. And so, the question before us this morning, is: how are followers of Jesus to go about relationships in a sexually confusing world? This isn’t how everybody else is. And for many, you’re going, If that’s what it means to follow Jesus, I might not follow Jesus after this, okay? How are followers of Jesus to go about relationships in a sexually complex, confusing world?

The mantra, when it comes to our sexuality today is: it is just, physical. Listen, you have to test drive the car before you buy. “I’ve got to find someone who is sexually compatible, Ryan.” Fifty-two percent of singles have had a one-night stand. Forty-one percent of singles, according to, yes, this is singlesinamerica.com, and it is a legitimate research that they have done, by the way. Forty-one percent of singles have had an FWB, which I found out was friends with benefits.

However, thirty-two percent of singles agree you have to be in love to have great sex. And eighty-four percent say sex is better when you are in love. How are followers of Jesus to go about relationships in these sexually confusing times?

Well, America’s sexual ethic is saying this. It’s simple but it is profound, and it is adopted not just by the culture, but it’s adopted by followers of Jesus. My body; my rules. It’s my body. I have the right to do with my body whatever I want. I make the rules. It’s my body and so they – and it is then my rules.

And the underlying belief under this says: you are a sexual being with cravings, appetites, and desires. You have the right to fulfill that appetite with whomever you wish, however you wish, and whenever you wish as long as it is consensual.

America’s sexual ethic: my body, my rules. You are this sexual being that has these cravings and appetites and desires, just like any other appetite or craving. And so, you have the right.

No, in fact, it would go one step further than that. It would say: to restrict one’s appetite is both closed-minded and ignorant. You have the right with whomever you wish, however you wish.

Now, C.S. Lewis actually wrote and spoke into this so poignantly over fifty years ago, seventy years ago now, actually almost. He says this, “Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth. Sex in itself is normal and healthy. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal.”

What if we just simply applied our sexual ethic and presupposition and beliefs about them being cravings connected to our other cravings and appetites and desires?

One, sex is not of base or core need. Let’s just get that straight. I know some of you don’t think that’s true, but if you don’t have water or food, you’ll die. If you don’t have sex, you will not die.

Now, let’s just apply this to our other appetite, food, for example. With food, I have the right to fulfill that appetite whenever, however I wish as long as it’s consensual. That doesn’t really make sense with the food. And to restrict that appetite is closed-minded and oppressive.

Here’s what’s funny about our food, isn’t it? Too many of you are gluten free to adopt that or, right? Hey, no, I’m restricting carbs, clean eating, organic, naturally sourced. When it comes to our food, we are intentionally focused, restricting, knowing that – yeah – I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. However, it has a drastic impact on my health. And we apply that same principle to our sexuality.

Let me dive a little bit deeper. Because “it’s just physical” is the mantra of our world. If it’s just physical, why is there so much shame for those who have been sexually abused? If it’s just physical. Did you know thirty percent of all women report their first sexual experience was not voluntary?

Forty percent of girls’, under the age of fifteen, first sexual experience was not voluntary and unwanted. Twenty percent of college women report to being to be forced to have sex against their will. And if it’s just physical, why is it that a woman is way more likely to report being mugged than being raped or molested?

If it’s just physical, why is it that sexually active teens are three times more likely to be depressed than those who abstain?

You see, our sexual ethic of the day is undermining the desires and the core of who we are made to be. See, sex and sexuality has shifted from a physical expression of love and intimacy to that of experiencing personal fulfillment.

The result is we live in a society that is saturated with sex, yet starving for intimacy. The old adage is more true today than it has ever been: it is easier to find a lover than a friend. And the root issue is we have compartmentalized our sexuality and our spirituality.

You, just take this in, you are sexual and spiritual at the same time. The gospel says that your sexuality and gender is important but it’s not the most important thing about you.

In fact, in an identity dysphoric culture, as we have attached ultimate value, meaning, personhood to our sexuality, the gospel speaks loudly into this and says: No, no, no, no. Your identity in Jesus Christ is the most important thing about you.

And so, we have to once again marry sexuality and spirituality. Why? God invented it. Some of you are like, God’s a prude. No! He’s the One that invented it. It was His idea. So guess what, He has the best thoughts and wisdom in how we are to express our sexuality.

And so, how do we reintegrate our sexuality and our spirituality? How do we marry these once more as a people to become whole, to experience life in this area?

What’s amazing is the apostle Paul spoke to this issue almost two thousand years ago. In fact, as we read it today, you would think he’s writing to us and yet he’s writing to this church in Corinth.

And it’s actually, they are dealing and wrestling with the same things we are today. It’s funny, in our modern arrogance, we think we are so progressive and advanced and yet the mantra “it’s just physical” has been around for thousands of years.

If you’ve got your Bible, would you open up to 1 Corinthians chapter 6? 1 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 12. And here’s what the apostle Paul is going to do. He’s going to start with the philosophical assumptions of the day of the city, then he is going to move and he’s just going to apply logic. It’s not even something that is really deep and profound, logically, you’ll look at that and go, “Yeah, that’s true.”
Then he’s going to move to theologically, why we have to once again marry spirituality and our sexuality together. And then he’s going to bring it home real practically for us. So let’s start philosophically or logically, if you will, marrying sexuality and spirituality. Here’s what he says, and he’s going to give us.

He’s going to say, “The right to do whatever you want doesn’t make whatever you want right.” The right to do whatever you want doesn’t make whatever you want right. Notice what he says, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say,” it was the philosophy of the day. It was the philosophy of Corinth. “I have the right to do anything.” Doesn’t that sound American to you?

I have the right to do anything. I can sleep with whoever I want, whenever I want, however I want. Don’t you dare tell me. “‘I have the right to do anything I want,’ you say,” now notice this, “but not everything is,” and would you say this with me, “beneficial.” Yeah. I can eat whatever I want, but not all that I eat is beneficial. We get that. The right to do whatever I want does not make whatever I want right or good or beneficial.

And here’s what we have done. We think the question is: do I have the right to? The apostle Paul says, “No, no, no, the question is: is it beneficial?” Some of you are going, Well, I want to demand my rights! Fantastic. You have the right to do it. We live in America. You’re free. The question isn’t: do you have the right? The question: is it good? Is it beneficial? Is it helpful?

Did you know the research says, you can argue with the research, abstaining from sex before marriage yields to the highest rates of fidelity in marriage as well as the highest overall sexual satisfaction. Did you know that those married, on average, have more sex than those who are single as well as more adventurous sex with their partners?

There’s this lie that married sex is boring. Newsflash, I just, well, I’m just talking about mine, it’s not! You’re like, “Please don’t. Please don’t.” Did you know living together or cohabitating leads to fifty percent more likelihood of divorce than not? You have the right to do whatever you want. But it doesn’t make whatever you want right or good or beneficial. The question isn’t: do I have the right? The question: is it beneficial?

Would you begin to ask a better question for your life? A better question for your sexuality? Then he goes on and he’s going to move from our rights then to an idea about freedom. Now, here’s what he’s going to say. He’s going to say: self-control, not self-indulgence is a mark of freedom. Self-control, not self-indulgence is a mark of freedom.

Notice what he says, “I have the right to do anything,” he goes back to their mantra: it’s just physical. I can do whatever I want. Now, notice this, “But I will not be mastered by anything. You say ‘Food for the stomach and stomach for the food, and God will destroy them both.’” You notice they are making the same argument of cravings and appetites saying, “It’s just an appetite to be fulfilled.”

In our culture we have redefined freedom as the ability to say “yes” to whatever we want, whenever we want – what we desire in t he moment. And, however, self-control, not self-indulgence is a mark of freedom. See, when I have the ability to say “no” I am not mastered by anything.

Let’s stick with the food illustration. We’ll take sugar for example. If I cannot say “no” to sugar, then I am not free from sugar, I am mastered by sugar. I can spin it to say I am free to eat all the sugar I want. But the truth is, I am not free at all, because I cannot say no. That is what we have done with sexuality. That is what we have done in our culture today.

I’m free to look at all the pornography that I want! No, you’re not. You’re not free to do otherwise. I’m free to sleep with whoever I want, whenever I want. No, you’re not. Because I, listen, as a pastor, and I’ve been – I’m going on almost two decades of pastoring. I’ve had so many heartfelt, painful conversations with people who are hooked and stuck in slavery to their sexuality, to pornography that they long for that freedom and they are not able to say no. And Paul says self-control, the ability to say “no,” not self-indulgence, is a mark of freedom.
Paul says self-control, the ability to say “no,” not self-indulgence, is a mark of freedom. And he goes on and so he starts philosophical. I have the right to do whatever I want it just doesn’t make whatever I want right. Self-control, not self-indulgence is a mark of freedom.

Then he’s going to move it theological. And this is so important. This is so profound. This is where we make this grand disconnect with our sexuality and spirituality. And he says this, “All of you,” not just part of you, “is meant for God.” All of you, not just part of you, is meant for God.

Notice what he says, “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord.” Whoa. Did you catch that? And we are going to unpack and define sexual immorality in just a minute. But just hang with me here. The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality. Now, what we think he would say right after that moment is, “But for sexual chastity or purity or whatever.” And he doesn’t.

He says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for,” who? “the Lord, and the Lord for the body,” then he makes a theological argument. “By His power God raised the Lord from the dead and He will raise us also.” Jesus was not raised merely spiritually from the dead. He was raised physically, bodily, as well that we, too, will have a physical resurrection from the dead. And that our bodies aren’t intended for this earth, but our bodies are intended – heart, soul, and mind – all of us, for the Lord.

See, all of you, not just part of you, is meant for God. The philosophy at the day is Greek philosophy that was embraced and it was this dualism that your body was evil and your spirit was good.

And so, you’re – what mattered is the spirit and the body didn’t matter. You can do with your body whatever you want and it doesn’t impact the spirit. And Paul is saying, “Nuh-uh.” All of you, all of you, not just part of you, is meant for your Creator.

Christopher West said it so beautifully. He said, “The sexual confusion so prevalent in our world and in our own hearts is simply the human desire for heaven gone berserk.”

And so, and so, here’s what he’s saying. If all of us, not just part of us is meant for God, then sex is more than just about sex. There’s something deeper there. This is why he would go on to say, “Flee,” run, “from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside their body, but whoever sins sexually sins against their own body.” Something we all have seen, and some and many have experienced the pain and the regret and the shame and the hurt that comes sexually he wrote over two thousand years ago.

Sins against our own body. Because sex is more than just about sex. Well, what is this sexual immorality? I think when we think about this idea and sexual immorality, it’s like, Ooh. Like, okay, adultery, right? I mean, we go to the extremes. This is the Greek word porneia.

It’s the broadest term for anything that is outside of God’s design for sex. And so, sleeping together with your girlfriend or boyfriend is sexual immorality. Porn, and taking in movies that are erotic is sexual immorality, an emotional affair with another person who is not your spouse is sexual immorality.

You see, what we need to recapture is this vision for our sexuality. That sex was designed by God to express oneness with another person and it’s actually this picture of the intimacy we are created to have with our Creator.

I like the way Tim Keller said it. He said, “Sex is a God-invented way to say to another person, ‘I belong completely and exclusively and permanently to you.’”

And so, he says, man, God says, I created this. I’m not down on it. It’s awesome. And the context is within a covenant, committed relationship called marriage between one man and one woman for life. And outside of that it will create great harm and pain. And it’s a way to express the oneness that I have made you for, but it’s so much deeper than that. It’s a way for you to get a glimpse of actually how I have made you to be in relationship with Me.

This is why he says, “Flee from it.” Run from it. Like, anything outside of God’s design, anything that is pulling you away, like our world, our dating world, like the mantra, like the progression is you hook up, you shack up, and then you break up and then repeat. And that’s what you do. You just – dating, it’s expected. You have sex. And it’s like you hook up and then you eventually shack up because you’re sleeping together, you might as well live together. And then eventually you break up and you repeat, and you go through it.

And He says, No, no, no, no. I have a vision for your life and your sexuality and I long for you to embrace it for your good, not because I’m trying to keep you from fun, I’m trying to keep you from pain.

And here’s the thing we do. We go, “Well, how,” if we’re followers of Jesus, we’re like, “how close to the edge do we get?” Right? How do I get here? Like, “Ryan, here’s my question.” “Okay, great.” “How far is too far?” Okay, is heavy petting too far? You’re like, “Did you just say that in church?”

And then, like, how far is too far? And I just get to this edge. And Paul says, “No, no, no, run!” Get your running shoes on, put them on, and go, “You know what? How close can I get to Jesus?” That’s the question. Wrong question. Not: how far is too far? How close, Jesus? How close, Jesus?

And then you just look around yourself, singles, as you run after Jesus, who is running at the same pace with you? That’s a great marrying person. Because sex is more than just about sex.

And then he gives you a picture, he gives me a picture. It’s something that you have probably never thought about your body before. And, yet, it’s so true and if you really get it, it will change the way you think about your body.

He says this, “Your body is the temple of God.” Your body, your body isn’t just a random body. It’s the temple of God. Notice what he says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in you whom you received from God?”

The picture, the same way in the Old Testament, the people would come to the temple to meet with God and that the Spirit of God resided there, he is saying, “Now, because of the finished work of Jesus, when you place your faith in Him, the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, is now deposited and dwells in you.” That you’re not just an anybody, you are a Spirit-filled body.

Then he says this, “You are not your own.” No, no, no – my body, my rules. That’s fantastic. Follower of Jesus? You are not your own. Why? You were bought at a great price. The Son of God hung and bled and died to buy you back, to bring you from death into life, from an enemy of God to a son and daughter of the King most high. Therefore, in light of that, I will honor God with my body.

And so, follower of Jesus, when you step into a relationship, when you invite Him to be the Savior and the Lord of your life, this is what you’re saying: I am laying down my rights, my preferences, my desires, and my sexuality at the foot of the cross. I am going to follow You, Jesus, and Your ways. I am no longer my own, but I am Yours. And so, Jesus, You get to call the shots.

That is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And so, singles, would you refuse the hookup culture? Men and women alike that are medicating with porn, would you come out of hiding? Would you get help and go, “No, no, no – not my way but Your way”?

Marrieds, would you not supplement your sex life maybe with emotional conversations or outside things? Dating, you don’t have to move in together to be together. Same-sex attracted, where you would say, “I’m going to deny myself, pick up my cross, which I understand is incredibly painful, and follow You.”

You know, it’s interesting, I have some good friends who are deep, wonderful, followers of Jesus who are gay and who are honoring God with their sexuality and this one friend was telling me that one of his fears was to die alone. As he has chosen a life of celibacy and he says, this is where when we talk about family and the Church, it has got to mean something and where the Church has really got to return to being the family of God for every person who are followers of Jesus.

Sam Allberry writes on this. He’s a Christian who is gay, honoring God with his sexuality, he says, “We need to recognize the cost of discipleship for everyone. For many in our churches, the cost of discipleship for the LGBT background people looks cruel and unusual. I suspect in most cases that is because we are not counting the cost of discipleship in other areas of life. Jesus says all of us have to say a profound ‘no’ to some of our deepest longings and intuitions. That is discipleship. Jesus says it up front; He doesn’t bury it in the small print. The wonderful paradox of the Christian faith is as we deny self, we become our real selves.”

This is what it means to follow Jesus. Debra Hirsch in her book, a great book, I’d encourage you to read it, Redeeming Sex, it’s worth just the opening of her story. Like, I cried, the introduction, I just read it and wept. I was just like, “Oh my gosh,” and seeing how God has redeemed her life.

“Every human being on the planet is sexually broken. Everybody’s orientation is disoriented.” It’s not saying, I’m not coming up here going, “I have it all together.” So let me start with my sexual brokenness.

When I was a teenager, I got hooked on pornography. I brought that darkness into my marriage. It brought incredible pain and heartache. And it has been a journey and a process of God restoring and redeeming and bringing freedom in my life. And still to this day, lust is a struggle in my life.

And I’d love to say, “Healed!” When I see a girl, I don’t have any thoughts. No. I’m a red-blooded man who is heterosexual who has thoughts and I’m being daily redeemed by His grace. Broken. Broken. We are broken.

Repentance. It involves accepting our broken condition and looking to the Savior, Jesus, to fill our gaps. We can’t have it on our own terms. We have to accept God’s perspective on the human condition.

Your body, my body is the temple of God. And so relational intelligence says it has never been just physical. But you already knew that. Even though it has been pushed down, you already knew that. It has never been just physical, and so I will honor God with my body.

No longer will I say, “I have my sexuality over here and my spirituality over here, but I have me who God created, fully spiritual, fully sexual, and those are actually to work together.”
So let me give you just a little bit of application. What does it look like to honor God with your body? Singles, contrary to public opinion, you are not incomplete. You’re not lacking.

I think we have this desire, in our culture especially, everybody has someone to love but me. If you’re single, this is what you feel. You’re wrestling with this. And I just, I need to somebody to complete me. Here’s the beautiful reality of our Savior. Jesus, fully God, fully human, which meant fully sexual, was single but not incomplete.

Christianity was actually the first religion ever to elevate singleness. And you can be single and it does not exclude deep levels of intimacy. And some are single because of circumstance, some are single because of choice, out of honor for God. Others are single of calling. And you can live a full and fulfilled life apart from your sexuality.

Like, there’s the deep – the pointing of that is the deep levels of intimacy and says, “You don’t have to find someone to complete you. You are complete in Christ.”

Dating, would you refuse to settle? Would you refuse to settle? You go on a date; sex is expected. You don’t want to be weird. I get it. But you refuse to settle. Would you say, “No, no, no, I am going to honor God with my body.”

What does that look like? Where you would put some boundaries in your life where you say, “I am going to run. I’m going to flee. I’m going to run. I’m not going to have this.” I got this from my old youth pastor. I still use it to this day. Dating Guidelines. And we’re just going to go through this quick because we don’t have a lot of time on this.

But would you say, “Here are some boundaries that I am going to put in place that are going to keep me far from anywhere close to that boundary line for my own good.” First area, the bikini rule. If you’re dating, would you refuse to settle and go, “I’m not going to touch any area that is in the bikini area, male or female.

I am not going to,” as the Song of Songs says, “Awaken love before its time.” The H factor – if you’re dating, would you not get horizontal? Right? You get horizontal, you’re watching a movie, you just kind of slide down.

The bikini factor, the H factor, third one: nothing good happens after midnight. The later it gets into the night, the lower your inhibitions. Your ability to say no. You’re like, “Lots of good things happen after midnight!” But would you honor God with your body?

And finally, Joe’s secret weapon. Joe in the Bible, Joseph, he was pressured, Potiphar’s wife. And what did he do? He ran. And for some, you’re in that moment, it gets heated, and the only thing you can do is run. And I encourage you, it may be weird, but it’s worth it, run.

Singles, you’re not incomplete. Dating, would you refuse to settle? And married, would you water your own grass? Would you water your own grass? It has been said that if the grass is greener on the other side, it’s time to water your grass. We look to the greener grass and go, “I need to go over there.” No! You’re just doing a bad job watering!

My brother and I, we have some good friends and it has been a season of heartache and pain as we have watched friends of ours that are close, their marriage of fifteen, twenty years end in divorce. One where the wife ran off with another man and we’re just watching families being devastated.

And we are just heartbroken and trying to figure out how to walk alongside and so, this is what my brother and I have been saying to each other: water your grass. Because it’s easy in the busyness of life to kind of go, date nights, to slip, right? It’s easy to just get caught up with all of the stuff that is going on and just go, “You know what? We’ll put that on the backburner. The kids need this or work needs this or…” And then what happens is the grass begins to get brown and you don’t notice it, but then you start to notice someone else’s grass and you’re like, “Huh.”

And so, we have seen what we don’t ever want to be. And so, we just remind each other every once in a while, make sure date nights with our spouses are a priority, getting away every once in a while is a priority. Marrieds: water your grass.

It’s never been just physical. And so, I will honor God with my body. Today, some of you have an incredible decision in front of you and are wrestling.

And there is no shame with God. He says, “Come to Me. I want to give you a brand-new start, but you’ve got to come.” Would you do that? May we be a people full of grace and truth.