Sexuality and Spiritual Life I

Dallas Willard Part 20 of 34

In 1993 Dallas began teaching an intensive two-week residential course for Fuller Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. His task was to teach about spiritual life in a systematic way so that its full connection to the work of the minister was clear. These sessions from 2012 are from Dallas’s last year of teaching the course before he died. Though a bulk of the course was usually centered on the nature and practice of disciplines, the beginning of the course dealt with more theological themes like the nature of spiritual reality and the end of the course dealt with topics in spirituality like vocational issues. [Editor’s Note: We know that the class was taped on other occasions and would be glad to find these recordings.]


If you haven’t picked up on what I am saying in regard to the wealthy, do understand that the wealthy have a greater need to hear the Gospel than the poor. They have a greater need because they are going to be held responsible for more and the preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom to the wealthy and many of these people are in our congregations and they don’t know what to do and they have greater need to hear the Gospel than the guy sleeping in the box in the alley because they have greater responsibilities. So, I hope you can identify with that and see the point of it and if you haven’t read the chapter in The Spirit of the Disciplines on Is Poverty Spiritual?—I  beg you to read it because you can test this out. Ask your people; everything else being equal, is a poor person closer to God than a rich person?  Ask them and don’t, you know, try to do it innocently so they will not suspect something and if you do that, I think it’s quite a revelation as to where God’s heart is. OK. [1:43]


So, now we are going to talk about sexuality in the spiritual life and I use the term chastity for this discipline because I really can’t find a good term for it. It actually would refer more to the outcome of the discipline than the discipline itself. So, here is what it is on page 64. The discipline is to refrain for a lengthy period of time, which you might say is at least longer than you can hold your breath, or a lengthy period of time from sexual acts, thoughts and desires. Now, that’s the abstention—to refrain for a lengthy period of time from sexual acts, thoughts, and desires as a way of accustoming oneself to freedom from domination by sex.  By domination, you can be generous here and just think in terms of a set of desires, images and so on that possess or govern your thought life, your emotions and of course in some people, that spills over into action. Now, I need to say here, as with all disciplines, it isn’t sinful in the appropriate circumstances to have sexual relations. It isn’t sinful to have thoughts and desires of sex and one of the things that really messes people up is thinking that thoughts and desires are sinful. They are not but they certainly can be troubling and we need to practice freedom from engaging in sexuality in all these dimensions as a way of accustoming oneself to freedom from domination. [4:17]


Now, that takes a lot of forms and I can’t deal with all of them here so we will just do what we can. There is a wonderful passage in Job 31 where Job is talking about why he is in so much trouble and protesting his innocence and the very first verse in Job 31 says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then should I gaze at a virgin?” (or young woman?)  So, he’s talking about a particular way of looking at people, which Jesus also is talking about in Matthew 5 and we will come to that. Job shows, or the writer of Job shows a great sensitivity to how things go here. Verse 5, “If I have walked in falsehood and my foot has hastened after deceit, let God weigh me with accurate scales and let God know my integrity. If my step has turned from the way.” Fascinating phrase—this is a person who is wondering, who is not engaged in serious attention to their life—they are just wondering. It’s what a lot of people do when they go on the Internet. They wonder. “If my step has turned from the way, or my heart followed my eyes…” You have to really work your way into all of those descriptions because your heart following your eyes puts you in a different category than your eyes. “If my hand; if any spot has stuck to my hands, let me sow and another eat and let my crops be uprooted.”—probably a symbolic reference to generating children or having a relationship with a husband or wife. “If my heart has been enticed by a woman or I have lurked in my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind for another and let others kneel down over her where that would be a lustful crime; moreover it would be an inequity punishable by judges for it would be fire that consumes to Abaddon, and would uproot all of my increase.” That’s a very incisive description of a process of sexuality. [7:05] A lot involved in it and this is a complicated kind of exercise and what Job is saying, “I know what that is and I stay out of it. I don’t go there.” And, of course, now, we have to understand that if you get involved in that process, it will probably take you further than you intended to go. That’s the nature of evil is that it absorbs us and we get on the conveyor belt and then we delay getting off and that puts us in the buzz saw. [7:53]


So, now, let’s look at Jesus’ discussion of this in Matthew 5, and again, He is looking at a process and in this one, He is dealing with people who say, “Well, I didn’t do it so I am okay.” This is parallel to the previous teaching; “I didn’t kill anybody so I am okay.” Jesus’ response is, “Well, who would you liked to have seen dead? Let’s talk about that.” So, the problem –now, we have to come back to this tomorrow or the next day when we are talking about the Sermon on the Mount but what Jesus is pointing to is the source of the problem and saying, “Cut it off at the source; don’t get started in that.” He says similar things in other places and this causes people a lot of problems because they can’t get past the Pharisaical reading of Jesus’ teachings so He says here in Matthew 5:27, “You heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks on a woman to lust [please note, it doesn’t say, “and lusts” but to lust for her] has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” That is to say that he is already engaged in a process that has, as it’s natural outcome, adultery because in doing this, there has been a consent of the will to something that is naturally involved with the act. Now, as with murder, Jesus’ teaching here is, “Go to the root; don’t let it fester and try to stop it but cut the root to the act.” We have something like 35,000 to 40,000 people murdered in this country every year and where does that come from? Well, people don’t just sit around and say, “Well, I think I’ll go murder someone today.” Right? It comes from anger and contempt and the same thing with adultery. It comes from an attitude of mind, which is accepted and sees, a word for that is “titillation” and you think about how much in our society is given to that.  [11:01]

Now, He has a teaching for the Pharisee and He says, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than the whole body be thrown into hell.” Well, that’s true, isn’t it? If someone presented you with a proposition now, “If you will tear your eye out and throw it from you, you won’t go to hell.” Right? You would probably, if you were smart, you would say, “Well, that sounds like a bargain.” And you have to ask yourself—you think Jesus is offering you that bargain? IS that the point of the passage? “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off. Throw it from you for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish than your whole body be put into hell.” Again, that would be a bargain, wouldn’t it? You live a little while without an eye or without a hand, then you’ve got eternal life forever. Now, again, you have to ask yourself, “Is that what Jesus is teaching you?” [12:19] The point here is repeated elsewhere in the Gospels. So, you will expect me to say, “No” won’t you? Right? He is speaking to Pharisees and He is addressing the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee and the righteousness of the Scribe and the Pharisee is located in action. So, if you eliminate the possibility of action, you eliminate the possibility of sin. Right? Jesus is teaching precisely that that’s not where sin is and so He is practicing here what in logic we call reductio ad absurdum; that is to say, assume your principal is true and deduce an absurdity from it. The principle is your sin is in your actions. The conclusion is—make it impossible to act and you won’t sin. Right?  So, if you are sinning with your eye, get rid of your eye. If you are sinning with your hand, get rid of your hand. Whatever it is that you are sinning with, get rid of it and you will roll into Heaven a mutilated stump. You think that’s what Jesus is teaching? Jesus is teaching is “you don’t sin with your members; you sin with your mind, your heart, your soul” and you could still be eaten up with lust and have no eyes and no hands or whatever else might be involved. Go to the root of the problem. Get rid of your cultivation of lust and adultery will take care of itself. Get rid of that. You have to think differently about people and sexuality. [15:17]

Matthew 19; we need to look at these. Matthew 19: 3-12: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” This is a teaching about the unity of people who are man or woman and wife or husband. So, then, okay, they say, “Why did Moses legitimate divorce?” And he did legitimate it and said that, “If you divorce someone, you have to give them a certificate of the divorce—a pink slip, if you wish and send her away. Now, if Moses did that, is that the ideal and Jesus responds that, verse 8: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives but from the beginning it has not been that way and I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Well, this got their attention because the only question in that religious atmosphere was not whether you could divorce but under what circumstances and that’s why it says, “for any reason” because some of the rabbis said, “If she burns your toast, you can divorce her.” Others said, “It had to be more serious of some sort.” But, what you have here is Jesus presenting—it’s hard to find the language—but the tenderness and the depth of the marriage relationship and He doesn’t say that you can’t get divorced but He is talking about the seriousness of that and the disciples say, “Well, it’s better not to marry.” See, that’s a solution if you wish. Just like in the history of the church, we had people who decided that you could solve the problem without tearing your eye out; just make sure you get some place where you never see a woman. So, you had people who would brag about how many years it had been since they had seen their mother or their sister. Of course, that’s one of the things that offloads the problem on the woman and makes her the problem and develops a tendency to treat her as the source of evil and wickedness. So, Jesus teaches about, well if you want to not marry, that’s a possibility but He doesn’t really think that that is the ideal. The ideal would be to marry under God and keep your vows and live your life in that way of faithfulness and interestingly enough, not in this passage but in the next two verses, 13 & 14 are about children. Obviously, there is a connection.


OK, well, I have here 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7. You can look at that. It is about faithfulness also. [19:17]


So, now, that’s a teaching about how sexuality is to be handled and we all know that unfortunately it isn’t handled in that way in our world and all of the terrible harm that comes and the brutality and meanness around sexuality. Now, then, the teaching of Christ is not that sex is bad in itself anymore than food or conversation. It is like all of the teachings of the Scripture—desire for sexuality and sexual union is good in its place; not elimination but subordination to the good is what is needed. So, “as now lived in our world, sex is a major source of evil for those in ministry and those they serve. We are operating from broken souls with devastating results.” The world is embedded in the souls and 1 John 2:16 repeats that thing about the things that are in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. [21:00]


Now, then, Paul, in Romans 1 and Ephesians 4:17-19 gives profound analysis of desire when it goes mad by being not subjected to God and His teaching. Ephesians 4 is one of the most analytic statements about how things go here and I would like to look at it briefly. Ephesians 4 generally is about how the church develops after Pentecost and how the building up of the church through it’s ministers and gifts by Christ’s grace is given and the body is built up, verse 15, “by speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects with Him who is the head, even Christ.” That’s the natural process. That is further described in verse 16 so that’s the healthy side. Now, look at 17: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind.” Now, what causes the futility of their mind? Basically, living for desire.  Desire captures the mind and twists it and makes it its servant and that comes out in the form of what we call “rationalization” and rationalization is where you have the mind now made to serve desire and you see that all the time. In some of the worst cases, you will see it showing up in courts of law where high priced people go to great lengths to get what they or their clients want without regard to whether or not it is good. See, there are two interestingly contrasting understandings of what the profession of law is and one is that the function of law is to see that what is good is done and what is bad is not done and so you have a lot of high filuting talk about courts and those sorts of things and young people who go into law; for example, many of my students go into law and what motivates them is the desire to see to it that what is right is done. This is sometimes called justice. So, that’s what they want to do; they want to see to it that what is right is done.  The other view is that a lawyer and the courts are an arena where those who are able to get what they want get what they want. Of course, there are lots of provisions to try to help the things go right but those two pictures of law are the ones that are dominant and with all of our efforts to see to it that the law serves the good purpose of protecting justice or what is right, we all know that, unfortunately, it is possible to use the courts to enforce or get what is wrong. Desire is the problem. So, notice what he continues to say here, “Being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” They are no longer touched by what is right and what is good. Their heart is hardened “and they, having become callous.”  Now, you know what a callous is, right? You get a callous on your foot or on your hand and that callous prevents you from feeling. You don’t feel. “They having become calloused have given themselves over to sensuality and sensuality wants to bring back feeling so you have the callous but then you try to engage in things that you want to restore feeling. “For the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” That drive to gain satisfaction keeps pushing and there is no place where that is stronger than in sexuality and that is why when you take the road of trying to get the greatest satisfaction out of sexuality that normally leads you progressively into more and more kinds of activities that will cause you to feel and that then reflects back on the question, “Well, what is sexuality for? Is it for feeling and is feeling something to live for?” So that now, back to the issue of divorce, you might say you don’t make me feel anymore and so and so makes me feel. So, done with you and up with them. Now, feeling for a person like this makes them have the impression that they are really alive and that is what feeling does; it gives you the impression of being alive and when you are living dead, you need feeling and so, you need to be leading a kind of life that doesn’t leave you dead and push you into things that give you feeling whether it’s drugs or sex or violence or whatever it is. Sports—see, that’s one reason why people go crazy on sports. It’s because it makes them feel.  Sports cultivates desire and even if you’ve gone somewhere where you are not really in favor of either side, you are apt to pick up on one side and start cheering for them because that way, you are able to feel. Now then, the extension of that to places like the last time Detroit won the World Series, for example, they practically burned the city down Why is that? Why are sports in spectators so involved in violence? It’s for feeling and people live for feeling and this comes over into sexuality and causes terribly destructive things to happen. You think of a man who spends thousands of dollars to go to Cambodia to have sex with a three year old girl or boy. You say whatever—it’s feeling, see? Feeling exhausts itself now over mastery in life and when that happens, then you live for that and you do all kinds of things that are just, all you have to do is think about it and say, this should not be done but it gives feeling.


Now, there is a healthy way of having feeling but it is not a way where you have identified something that gives you feeling and you keep hitting that button trying to get feeling, more feeling. So, what can deal with this? One thing that you have to accept is that you cannot deal with desire by trying to satisfy it. You cannot deal with it that way because it will always cry for more and the only way that you can deal with desire is by limiting it and that means saying, “No.” Right?  Not following the lead of desire. You say, “No I’m not going there.” That’s what Job is talking about in the passage; “No, I am not going there,” he says. See, that’s how you handle desire. Now, in order to do that, as I say here at the top of 65, third line, “only vision and practice of the good can restrain it.” [30:46] Verse 18 there in Ephesians, “they having become calloused have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” See, that’s what driving it is the need to feel.  Now, if you are locked into a hedonistic vision of your life, you have no where to go except more feeling or deadness and many people choose deadness because they see the disaster but then of course that makes life very hard to bear and you can’t always predict when you are going to flip out of it because deadness is really the opposite of peace and if you have deadness, you don’t have peace. It isn’t the same thing as peace. [31:40] Peace is more a sense of abundance and fullness. Shalom is a sense of rich provision that you can rest in. Deadness is not stable and in one way or another, the person who is come to the point of deadness in their feelings is in a position of great danger. [32:14] I say here, “ Joy and love in life generally is to be cultivated as a bulwark against domination by sexual experiences.” Now, that is provided by the pursuit of things that are good. Right? That is why in Philippians 4, Paul gives you the positive side of such a life and many people think that, “Well, if I don’t pursue what is wrong, my life is going to be uninteresting” and Paul is a smart man. He knows the literature on the subject and he is well informed and so here is what he says after talking about how to proceed in life in verses 4 and following and he says in verse 7, “And the peace of God,”—see, that’s the foundation—“the peace of God”-the sense of comprehensive goodness” which passes your ability to understand shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Now, that’s really an important phrase. “Peace of God will guard you” and it is the fullness of God’s provision in life that enables you to have that peace.  But, now notice, how full a life he recommends. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” So, that’s a choice and the ability to concentrate on these good things—truth. What is truth and lovely and so on is what fills out the life so that sensuality does not overpower us. It is the goodness of the world that God has created and placed us in that makes it possible by choice and by grace to escape the pull of sensuality and to be able to look at it and say, “I don’t need that” and maybe to recognize that you want it but not be governed by your wants. [35:13]


So, now, we have to recognize the importance of drama and intimacy in human relationships and especially in marriage or relationships between partners who have been drawn together now and we have so much discussion about marriage now and I expect any day to find that a dog and a cat has got married. [Laughter] They have a right to it. But see, the challenge here is to understand what marriage is. I mean, is it actually this relationship that is uniquely full of drama and intimacy and that gets into all kinds of things like how do you sustain that and of course, we need help with understanding that. Basically, we have to recognize that marriage is a profound relationship between persons and if you leech that out and turn it into something else, it may come to the point that there is no reason why you couldn’t have a dog and a cat get married. Right? It’s just like the t.v. series, Murphy Brown was in some years ago and she redefined family, as wherever there is love. Well, I mean, a cat and a dog can love one another, you know? And then when marriage is thinned out to a certain degree, there is no reason why people of the same sex can’t say, “Well, we can be married too.” Now, there are a lot of issues involved in that and I can’t get into all of them at least right now but you can see how you have to have a very high view of joy and love with people who are married to sustain the goodness that will keep them steady through the stages of life and will prevent them from continually shopping for something else. [38:06]


OK, so I say here in dark letters on page 65, “In interactions generally, people to people, we desire the desire of the other. Heightened in the case of sex. Sexual significance of the face and the eyes therefore is very important. Sex is a matter of people relating to one another fully—

expressions of desire, of longing.” We don’t even want to go to lunch with someone who doesn’t want to go to lunch with us.  We desire the desire of the other. That’s a general truth about persons and it extends in a special way to sexuality and that causes a lot of troubles and we need experts sometimes who can help us so that we can handle that. We are looking for personal union and here I recall Lewis’ selection on The Weight of Glory and the hunger for union. See, that is the deep drive that is pushing people toward sexuality and intimacy and that is why you have people who keep hammering away on sex when what they want is intimacy and they can’t find it because intimacy requires shared experiences between whole persons. Whole relations of all kinds that have to be good and strong but especially in a marriage partner and that has to be cultivated carefully. It is not something that automatically takes care of itself and when it drops away, you throw someone away and pick up with someone else. So, I give you the quotation here from Proverbs….. [40:09] “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, be exhilarated always with her and her love.” See, that’s the whole person and to live with another person all of your life and go through the good and the bad and learn how to be faithful and loving in all circumstances, see, that’s the challenge that is placed upon us in sexual relationships. [40:44]


So, now I have some other remarks here on page 66 that—topics under “Chastity”, the place of looking and that’s because, again, you see, the primary connection is between persons and the look is thrilling and captivating. The whole person enters into them and sexuality is not just the matter of genital stimulation; it’s the whole person that we are looking for. Now, that’s something that Job is talking about. “I have made a covenant with my eyes.” See, he knew where to get ahold of this problem. You stop it at the eyes. Right? Now, if you are, as he says, “your foot is wondering out of the way,” then you probably are going to have trouble with your eyes because wondering is not in a good place to be. See, David…when Kings went forth to war as the story goes there with David, David didn’t go to war. He stayed home. His foot was out of the way. That’s when his eyes got the best of him and things moved on then to a terrible outcome. So, now, he didn’t have to look. Looking is not like gravity. You can learn to govern the look and we must do that. That’s what Jesus is talking about when He talks about adultery in the heart.  I comment here on why stolen water is sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. It’s because it creates intimacy—false intimacy in many cases. The exclusion of the real world produces an intense atmosphere of intimacy and of mastery and these are powerful sexual stimulants. The Internet’s power over people who step in is astonishing and so many people have been ruined by the Internet and they don’t know why but it creates a different world and in that world, they feel different things and it’s just amazing what people will do when they get drawn into this. Pornography works on the same kind of principles; it creates a sense of intimacy and we need to come back and talk about pornography later because that’s a topic in itself and I like to use it to illustrate spiritual formation, because pornography is a person who has had a particular spiritual formation and then that can be turned around and we want to talk about how that is.


I mention here, because it’s a topic that continually comes up and troubles people—masturbation. Scripture says nothing whatsoever on this topic. It clearly could involve things that are wrong but there is a lot of harm done, especially to young people on this topic and we need to help them understand it and come to grips with their bodies and how they develop and I recommend here. I don’t know if it’s still in print but Letters to Philip and Letters to Karen by Charlie Shed is one of the best things that have ever been written on this and if you can get ahold of it, I encourage it.  I think it’s one of the most useful things in pastoral leading for young people that you can get ahold of. Now you can’t say they didn’t know about it in the Scripture.  Certainly they did and if it was a huge issue, no doubt something would have been said about it. I have heard people in most exalted contexts take the passage in Genesis 38, which isn’t about masturbation at all; not at all and then treat it as if it were. A guy who was involved there wound up dead so that’s pretty serious. You can easily get adolescents to thinking that’s what’s going to happen to them.


OK; now there is one further topic here and what I would like to do now is stop because we are close to the end of the hour. Let’s quit!

Listen to all parts in this Spirituality and Ministry 2012 series