Australia has been distracted in recent days with questions about an art show of naked children. Police raided the exhibition last Thursday and seized some of the images of naked 12 and 13 year old children. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke out against the display, while the artistic community defended the show. Questions emerge such as “was there consent” and were the images “sexualised”. Art advocates point out that the naked body has been the focus of art for thousands of years.
This is timely for me, as it raises an issue which I have recently been thinking about. I believe that nudity is, in itself, a distortion of sexuality. I believe that our personal nakedness is a divine preserve. When we become lax about the sanctity of the naked body we have already crossed an important line in the loss of purity.
In all the debate that is now going on about the child photos there is recognition that some display of nudity is pornographic and an abuse of people’s privacy. I contend that any display of nudity should be seen as a violation of a sacred preserve. Now, before you dub me a wowser, take a moment to think a little further through the issue, with the Bible as your reference point. Follow me through the following notes.
As I tackle sexual deviancy in its various forms I have come to realise the importance of teaching on ‘purity’. Purity is a lost quality in the west, where sensuality and the “what’s in it for me” mentality reign supreme.
As I teach my Straight Talk on Sex material around the world I find myself more optimistic than I should be. I keep expecting Christians to have an understanding of and a commitment to moral purity. In my own childhood, although addicted to lustful thoughts and sexual obsessions, I carried an acute sense of my own impurity. I continue to be surprised, although I should not be, when I find Christians and Christian leaders who have abandoned the key ground of purity.
So let me challenge your thinking about ‘purity’ and relate that to nudity and sex.
The Call To Purity.
The starting point of each of our lives is that we have been created by God. Furthermore, we have been created in the image of God. So we are to be holy just as our heavenly Father is holy (Leviticus 11:45,19:2). We have a creation mandate, to be holy, just like God, who created us in His holy likeness. If we are not holy we defy God, rebel against His creative purpose for our lives and destroy the very thing God sought to establish. We cannot be unholy, for any reason. No matter how unholy those around us are, we must live in the fear of God and be holy and pure before Him.
Paul the Apostle insisted on this level of purity 4,000 years after the creation, as he set things in order within the infant church. Paul insisted that believers should “possess their body in sanctification and honour” (1Thessalonians 4:4). He exhorts Christians to “cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” and to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2Corinthians 7:1).
Jesus Christ demands our holiness. He instructed His followers to “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). And the Apostle Peter added his voice to the case, saying that we are not to live by the lusts that we had before we were Christians , but are to be holy in all our lifestyle, just as God is holy (1Peter 1:14-16).
So, purity is not an optional extra for Christians. It is not something for the more devoted to think about, which ordinary Christians can ignore. No, indeed! Purity is something that is mandatory for all people who want to walk with God. And we have that from the Old Testament, from Christ, from Paul and from Peter.
The Spirit-Flesh Tension
God created us in His image. God also gave us human flesh. Our flesh is an area of vulnerability for us, as it is tempted to seek indulgence of its appetites. We are torn between our calling to be like God, and our lusts to be self-seeking and indulgent. God refers to this problem of the human condition by saying that man is “also flesh” (Genesis 6:3). The implication is that man is a spirit being, made in the image of God who is spirit, but man is also flesh, pulled by lusts. Mankind has a pull in both directions – toward God and holiness and toward self and degradation.
Christians need to be transformed from the old self-indulgent, fleshly lusts, into glorious freedom from self-indulgence. Look at the way Paul puts this case. 1Thessalonians 4:3-8 “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel (body) in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence (sensuality), even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God has not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness. He therefore that despises (the calling to holiness and the sanctity of the human body) despises not man, but God, who has also given to us his Holy Spirit.”
Now, let me package this up in a simple summary for you. You are created by a holy God and you have a divine mandate to be holy. Your flesh pulls you toward self-indulgence, lusts and degradation. Christ has paid for your sins, so you can be forgiven, and the Holy Spirit is given to empower you to put your flesh to death so you can live free of your fleshly lusts and glorify God.
Nakedness / Nudity
The human body is the starting point of purity. God created the human body to be kept sacred by each individual. Personal nakedness is a divine and sovereign element of human purity. To expose the body, or to go further toward sensual and sexual activity, is sinful and degrading.
As soon as Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden he knew that he was naked and he felt shame (Genesis 3:10). Adam was not ashamed of seeing Eve’s nakedness, because she was ‘one flesh’ with him, but he was ashamed of letting God see his nakedness, since nakedness is private, not for public display.
Noah’s godly sons would not look on his nakedness, because they knew that it was a sacred preserve of their father’s purity. Even though drunkenness had left Noah exposed on the floor of his tent, these sons took pains not to see his nakedness. They maintained their own and their father’s purity.
When a beautiful woman presents herself in a sensual manner, to attract the attentions of men, she demeans herself and degrades her value – she no longer holds her body as something honourable (1Thessalonians 4:4). She is toying with her nakedness, even when she does not expose it, by seeking to arouse sexual interest. She has demeaned her created holiness and lowered herself to the level of a pig. Proverbs 11:22 “Like a gold jewel in a pig’s snout, so is a fair woman who is indiscreet.”
When a man looks on a woman to lust after her, even though he does not see her nakedness his attention is drawn to exploiting it, and that lusting is deemed to be the same as committing adultery with her (Matthew 5:28). Lusts bring corruption into human society (2Peter 1:4) and those lusts actively contend within and war against the soul of a person (1Peter 2:11).
When a couple marries, God establishes a moral miracle, where the two independent bodies are deemed by God to be one body (one flesh) and so the nakedness and sexual intimacy between the couple is now moral and not impure. They are allowed to see and enjoy each other’s nakedness, even though no-one else is allowed to. Nakedness is still sacred, but it can now be shared between the husband and wife. The sexual freedom enjoyed by a married couple is undefiled, within the sanctity and privacy of their own marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4).
When a society becomes lax about nakedness it has become impure. When people stop protecting the sanctity of their own body and the body of others, impurity has contaminated the society. When people dress in an alluring manner and when nudity is exposed on movies, TV, magazines and billboards, impurity takes over. The people are despising God. When people will not treat their own nakedness and the nakedness of humanity as a sacred preserve given them by a holy God, they are despising God, Himself. It is an act of rebellion against God. I remind you of 1Thessalonians 4:8 “He therefore that despises (the calling to holiness and the sanctity of the human body) despises not man, but God, who has also given to us his Holy Spirit.”
This is what I am saddened to see in too many Christian circles. The refusal to honour the sanctity of the human body and each person’s personal nakedness is a mockery of purity and it is rebellion against God. Yet churches and church leaders are guilty of exactly that.
Christians are called to put their flesh to death, with its affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24), and they do that not by human effort but by relying on the Holy Spirit to empower them (Romans 8:13). This results in Christians living a life that is free from lusts and the pressures created by their flesh (Galatians 5:17), and they are able to live in the ‘glorious liberty of the Children of God’ (Romans 8:21). They then live in purity, and enjoy the fullness of joy which God created for them.
A disclaimer: The flesh is able to be enslaved by lusts, but God gave us our flesh and He has made provision for us to enjoy life in our bodies. Christians crucify their lusts, and then enjoy the natural life which God gave them. God intends us to enjoy our human existence in our human bodies. God created an idyllic garden resort for Adam and Eve, with the best tasting and the prettiest plants. God designed woman’s beauty as a gift for her husband to enjoy. God commends eating the sweet honeycomb. God encourages us to be ravished by our wife, to be satisfied with her breasts and to live joyfully with her. We are not sentenced to morbid existence, killing every pleasure. But we are to live in the fear of God, bringing our body under, so that we live out of our spirit and glorify God in our body and our spirit. Having done so, we will enjoy many delights through the five senses which God gave us.