Let’s Talk About Sex: A Q&A with Pastor Doug Sauder and Dr. Juli Slattery

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“Christians desire to authentically pursue what is true based on God’s Word and character,” said Dr. Juli Slattery, clinical psychologist, speaker, president/co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, and the author of Let’s Talk About Sex. “The heart of who we are is what we choose.”

On August 24, Slattery will be chatting with Pastor Doug Sauder from the pulpit about God’s design for sexuality, and how whether single or married, we can all consider our commitment to sexual integrity. Meanwhile, here’s a preview to their upcoming conversation . . .

What is the world’s definition of authentic intimacy and how does it differ from God’s design for sexuality?

Doug Sauder (DS): If love is authentic, it will last a lifetime. If I say “I will love you forever” and circumstances change my love, then my love is revealed as something less than authentic. I think often we are “in love” with the idea of love and so we chase feelings, and as our feelings change (and they will) we end up chasing the wind. As for intimacy, it is much more than a physical act, but a mingling of souls. Like the painting of a masterpiece or the writing of a best-selling novel, intimacy cannot be rushed. It takes time to experience intimacy—to be fully known and fully loved. This is the essence of God’s unconditional acceptance of us. As we trust God’s love and acceptance for us, that’s when we experience true intimacy with Him . . . and that's when our relationships can experience life-giving intimacy.

Juli Slattery (JS): “Authentic Intimacy” combines two words that our culture and God would define differently.

On Authentic: What’s the most authentic or important thing about you? Culture tells you it is based on how you feel and your experiences. To be authentic means to freely express whatever you think and feel without shame. This means that I might authentically love someone now but authentically despise them a year from now, based on how they treat me or make me feel. The Bible has a different definition of authentic. Basketball legend John Wooden put it best when he said, “Ultimately being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” Christians should authentically pursue what is true based on God’s Word and character. The heart of who we are is what we choose.

On Intimacy: This means closeness, vulnerability, and experiencing each other’s presence in a profound and meaningful way. Intimacy requires safety and trust. The Bible says we were created for intimacy with God and others. That intimacy can take the form of close friendships, spiritual kinship, co-laboring for the Lord, and family relationships. Marriage is a unique form of intimacy. It is set apart as a covenant representing Christ and His bride, the Church. God has created sex as a way to mark and celebrate that covenant promise.

The world tends to minimize most forms of true intimacy. Relationships are superficial, transient, and “me centered” rather than based on longstanding connection and commitment. Even marriage is often founded on feelings of being in love, not a life-long promise. As a result, loneliness is at an all-time high. Sex is used by our world as a substitute for true connection.

Our church is looking for new ways to talk about sexuality. So, what are some things we should talk about so believers understand and apply God’s design for sexuality?

DS: It is clear in our world that we are not going to win the argument on the streets by being the morality police. Our greatest apologetic is living out what we say we believe. Christian couples should have the best marriages, the closest friendships, and the best sex lives. Christian singles should enjoy their devotion to Jesus and their community of friends as they live in purity and build the kingdom of God. This way of living is so counter cultural and so distinct that it should attract nonbelievers to the Christian community out of a deep curiosity. If we teach the biblical sexual ethic without modeling it ourselves, our words will seem empty to those we are trying to reach.

It is clear in our world that we are not going to win the argument on the streets by being the morality police. Our greatest apologetic is living out what we say we believe.—Pastor Doug Sauder

JS: Even the most seasoned Christians have difficulty articulating God’s design for sexuality. Growing up in church, we probably learned a list of rules related to sex, but we never learned God’s heart. Why did He create us as sexual people? Is it just so we can get married and have babies?

Before we talk about any sexual issue, we have to get to the heart of the underlying narrative. Our narrative explains the why. Frankly, culture presents a compelling narrative that describes the purpose of sexuality. In contrast, the church’s traditional teaching on sexuality has been quite one-dimensional, focused on saving sex for marriage. Over the past several years of study, I have discovered that the Bible presents an amazing, powerful narrative that helps us make sense of all of our sexual desires, struggles, and temptations. God’s purpose for sex isn’t limited to “just hang on until you get married.” Sexuality is a holy metaphor created to show us the spiritual reality of God’s covenant love.

Christians are not winning the argument about sexual morality in a lost world, so how do we reach the broken and capture human hearts?

DS: We will win the moral argument by being distinct. There will be refugees from the sexual revolution taking place and they will be looking for something to fill the void. We know that void is spiritual and can only be filled by Jesus, but our way of life is what they will see first. Tim Keller describes the attraction of the early church in a broken sexual culture this way: “The early church was strikingly different from the culture around it in this way—the pagan society was stingy with its money and promiscuous with its body. A pagan gave nobody their money and practically everybody their body. And the Christians came along and gave nobody their body and practically everybody their money.”

JS: We need to make a distinction between the conversations we have with fellow Christians and those we have with non-believers around sexuality. Christ-followers need to be discipled in how to live out their faith in every area of their lives, sexuality included. However, people who don’t know God are unlikely to be drawn to Him because of our ability to win an argument about gay marriage or any other sexual issue. They don’t need biblical sexual morality. They need the Lord.

While we should have robust conversations within the body of Christ about what it means to honor God with our sexuality, I don’t believe those discussions often belong outside the church walls. In fact, they can be a deterrent to the real conversation we need to be having: Who is Jesus Christ to you?

We have lost our ability to share hope with the world not because we don’t know what to say about sexual issues, but because we have forgotten how to live and love as Christ loves us.—Juli Slattery

Jesus told us to be light in a dark world. We should live differently than everyone else in our culture. We are aliens who don’t belong here. Our sexual beliefs, actions, and attitudes should appear strange to a watching world. This is our witness and what will cause people to wonder why we make different decisions about every area of our lives, including our sexuality.

The “do whatever you want” narrative of our world will not ultimately satisfy the deep longings of the human heart for connection. To some extent, we have all experienced the emptiness of seeking romance and sexual fulfillment apart from the intimacy it was intended to represent.  God’s design for covenant and sexuality is wired within our bodies. When what the world offers doesn’t satisfy, we should be prepared to give an answer for the hope within us. That answer is not a list of rules, but the invitation for Jesus to become Healer, Redeemer, and Lord.

Whether single or married, how can Christians commit to sexual integrity?

DS: As Christians, we were bought with a price. Our bodies belong to God. So, for Christians it should be a simple decision of the will. I choose to honor God because of my trust in Him and my love for Him. This decision of the will is not easy to live out, but neither are other convictions we carry. Titus 2:10-11, which describes grace that “has appeared to all,” teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and live self-controlled upright lives in this present age. It is possible with the active grace of God and the support of good friends in the Christian community to live distinctly different from the culture and hold up a standard of holiness that honors Jesus.

JS: Integrity communicates the idea of being undivided and consistent. For Christians, this means that every area of our lives is consistent with our claim to bow before Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Many Christians view their sexual choices and beliefs as a special category that is unrelated to their commitment to God. This lacks integrity.

No matter your marital status, every Christian struggles with sexual integrity. For example, you may not be looking at pornography or sleeping around, but you have sexual trauma in your past that is tucked away. This is not consistent with the claim that your life belongs to Jesus. He wants to redeem and heal every part of you! In many marriages, sexuality is avoided or used only for the purpose of personal pleasure. Just because you are married doesn’t mean you are necessarily honoring sex in your marriage. A lot of couples are “sexually active” with each other but not “sexually intimate.” This lacks integrity because it is not the fullness of what God designed sex to be within marriage.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expanded the Jewish law to include the impossible standard of having a perfect heart. I believe He wants to do the same with our view of sexual integrity. Sexual integrity isn’t just about keeping a list of rules. It’s about surrender. This means that all of us are called to a journey of maturity, made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Rather than view only some people as sexually broken or sinful, we need to form communities around the fact that we are all on this journey of sexual integrity. I believe that would fundamentally change the way we approach every sexual issue, beginning with our own.

About the Author

Maritza Cosano-Gomez