How can the relationship between Jesus as our Bridegroom and us as His bride not be a sexual one, when the terminology and imagery point in that direction?
Here are some examples I’ve received of this question:
The only thing I’m struggling with is that it is not sexual but spiritual … but my mind due to my past has been extremely tainted, and even for me to think of intimacy it takes a conscious effort for me to not look into it physically …
Another woman I know put it this way:
I struggle with the sex issue too. Does intimacy = sex? … How many of us have husbands we can be truly intimate (non-sexual) with. So, most of us don’t know what intimacy is or how to be intimate.
And one wrote this:
I asked you about the nature of your relationship with Jesus, whether it is sensual etc. I guess in my head I can’t tell the difference between sensual and romantic. … so I think I consider romance to be sensual. Or then I just don’t know the real definition of “sensual”?
First I’ll address how the relationship isn’t sexual even though the words are, as in what a healthy marriage looks like. Then I’ll address how to deal with when your body doesn’t follow logical reasoning.
Physically, the most intimate, closest relationship a man and woman can have is in a healthy marriage. All other relationships, though they can be very close, don’t begin to be what a healthy married couple share. I keep using the word “healthy” because many marriages aren’t. For one, trust and respect between man and wife are required in a healthy marriage. The Bible calls it right—two become one. You can’t become “one” if one or both spouses are too emotionally broken to be able to give and receive or if their spouse can’t trust or respect them.
No friend or parent and child can have such an intimate relationship as a couple in a healthy marriage. And Jesus, who loves us more than we can even imagine, wants the closest relationship possible with us, and that is a marriage one, hence we are His bride. He wants that two-become-one relationship. In this context I refer to marriage as between a man and a woman and to sex as a gift reserved for marriage.
We were created body, soul, and spirit. Our “body” refers to our physical flesh and our “soul” is who we are—our character and personality that make us unique. When we become a believer in Jesus our “spirit” is rejoined to God, returning us to the relationship Adam had before the fall. So our spirit walks hand-in-hand with Holy Spirit.
We get confused when we take spiritual terminology that is related to marriage and apply it to dating. When the New Testament refers to us as the bride of Christ it is translated from two different Hebrew words. One means “a woman, specially a wife” and in the KJV, New KJV, and American Standard Version the word is translated as “wife.” For example, Revelation 19:7 says, Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. (KJV)
The other word translated as bride in the New Testament means “a young married woman, by implication a son’s wife.” The KJV translates it as “bride” or “daughter-in-law.” For example, Revelation 21:9 says, One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride (daughter-in-law), the wife of the Lamb.” (NIV)
In other words, we are the “wife” of Christ, not His fiancée or His current date. The marriage relationship with Jesus isn’t like dating. When you’re dating you’re in the process of looking for a mate and you try out different people looking for the one you connect with emotionally and physically. And even as a fiancée you’re still in that trial period where you can back out. Yes, dating has a definite sexual undertone to it, it’s a part of our body’s created system to find a mate. But dating is also so much more than that, or should be if you want a true marriage. You’re looking to emotionally connect with someone, to find that spark telling you that they’re the one in a million for you, that you can be best friends besides sexual partners. While in the dating phase of life your sexual antenna are definitely looking for a signal, marriage is different. Sure, the sexual is there, but again, so much more is involved as you also learn to spiritually and emotionally become one. You’re learning to trust, to respect, to honor, to get-inside-their-head and know them. You’re learning to physically adjust to living in the same space. You’re blending two very different family cultures together and compromising. A good example of family cultures blending is to look at a couple’s first Christmas as they try to merge two styles and traditions into one.
The Bible tells us we are Jesus’ bride and uses marriage terminology (not dating terminology) to denote spiritual intimacy and relationship. The proverbial marriage bed represents intimacy, but more than just the sexual. What goes on in the marriage bed stays there, unless one of the two choose to share. It is the one place that is utterly private—no cameras, guests, newspaper reporters—no one. In a healthy marriage it is the ultimate intimacy, whether sexually, pillow-talk, or just physically and emotionally holding each other. It’s baring yourself body, soul, and spirit. In a healthy marriage it’s not just about getting physically naked with each other, you also get emotionally and spiritually naked.
While there is marriage terminology that can humanly have sexual connotations, we take those and apply a spiritual aspect. Even humanly, many of the words we would tem “sexual” aren’t always. In dating, holding hands is much more sexual than in marriage, because dating builds up the desire without the release. Biblically the sexual consummation of two people is reserved for marriage. A married couple holding hands is a way to touch and emotionally connect, a gesture of intimacy because they can have sex anytime they want. And in many countries holding hands isn’t sexual, friends of the same sex hold hands as they walk down the street. Even kissing, while generally equated with being sexual, is often not. A kiss on the forehead, cheek, even a peck on the lips is often not sexual. Leaving on a road trip I hugged my husband Terry and gave him a goodbye peck on the lips. It was an expression of love, not communicating a desire for sex. Instead it said “I hope you have a wonderful time enjoying your own little vacation and I’m going to miss you.” Of course, had I known he would come home from work that night, lay down on the couch, fall asleep, and wake with Jesus, my kiss would have spoken a lot more!
Again, while dancing with a date or someone who is not your spouse is sexual, dancing with a spouse, while it has a sexual aspect, also holds an emotional intimacy, a closeness, the melding of two hearts and bodies into one.
For example, when dating Terry if I caught his eye across the room I would blush, feel self-conscious, and feel attracted to him. After being married, while there were times when I admired him physically, a glance more often told us what the other was thinking. Someone could say something and Terry and I would look at each other and laugh because of a private joke. I knew Terry’s heart and he knew mine. We understood each other. I knew his feelings and emotions just by the expressions on his face or his body language. I could look at him and know if he was in a good mood or a bad one, if his arthritis was hurting him, or if he was tired. I knew when we were talking to someone if he was taking them seriously or if he was annoyed by what they were saying. If he believed their story or if he didn’t. I could hear something and know how Terry was going to react when he heard it. We were attuned to each other. We knew each other. That knowing was because we were intimate, married, and lived our lives together. We trusted and respected the other and we were attracted sexually to each other. In that way the two of us became one: body (physically), soul (emotionally), and spirit. “Body” means a lot more than sex. Again, sex is important and wonderful in a marriage, but it’s such a small part of the whole package. I was complete before I married Terry, but then I was no longer complete without him. (And now, since his death, I’m learning to change from being half a person back to a whole person.) Because we had a healthy marriage our completeness changed to encompass both of us together. There were many aspects of our relationship that wasn’t sexual, or that had sexual overtones but didn’t make me want sex. When Terry and I were dating we would hold hands and it gave me butterflies in my stomach, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was always sexually aroused by it. I could have been, all a person has to do is think about sexual things and our body reacts, but I didn’t choose to go there with my mind. There would be nothing wrong with having butterflies in my stomach over holding hands with Jesus. But I’m careful to not do things with Jesus that will cause a physical, sexual reaction or if that becomes an issue I will change what I am doing and also work on changing my mindset. For example, if you’re dancing with Jesus and you start to physically feel it then just move on to something else that doesn’t feel sexual to you. Use your imagination to go for a walk with Him or have a picnic.
The thing about physical words representing the spiritual is like God giving you a dream where you are pregnant, which means that He is about to birth something in you, like a ministry. It takes the sexual out of it. As my niece Jenn says, “We talk about God birthing things in our lives but we’re not imagining details of labor and delivery.” When I’m with Jesus we’ll laugh and talk, we walk and occasionally hold hands, when I’m tired I’ll lay with my head on His lap, and I might lean against Him with my head on His shoulder. We mostly just hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes we’ll dance. We’ll sit on the beach and watch the waves and talk. There are personal jokes I have with Jesus and we can just look at each other and laugh. To know someone you must create a history together, to share memories.
There is a huge difference between romance and the sensual/sexual. Again, while in a healthy marriage sex is involved with romance, romance is so much more than that. In true love, intercourse is a part of the love story while romance IS the love story. Intercourse is two physical bodies becoming one. Marriage is getting to know who that person is inside their head, their heart, their dreams, personality, and what makes them unique. Romance is the emotional side—warm-fuzzies, butterflies-in-your-stomach, feeling special, being treated with respect, and wooing and pursuing the other. It is each one making the other feel special and loved. It’s doing things together just because we enjoy being with each other, that “specialness” that makes us a couple. Typically it’s the woman who wants and needs to be romanced by the man who loves her, which is why, while women love the romancing of Jesus, men may find it uncomfortable until Holy Spirit awakens their heart to this relationship. And while men find it easy to be romantic while dating, they often stop bothering after marriage, leaving a woman emotionally craving that intimacy and caring. A woman’s heart must be romanced, not her body.
Jesus romances our heart. And our body doesn’t always react the way we want it to so we need to guard against getting too physically involved. The old saying is that you can’t stop a bird from flying over your head but you don’t have to let it build a nest in your hair. If Jesus romancing your heart gets your body involved then just stop what you’re doing and do something else that your physical body won’t react to sexually. Don’t let it keep you from ever doing that again with Jesus, just go with a different mindset next time. Choose to switch your mind from “this is sexual” to the romance of Him wooing your heart.
For example, you can read this that I wrote to Jesus through a lens that perceives it as sexual or you can read it through my romance-in-marriage and spiritual lens:
Your eyes dance and sparkle
and Your voice is music to my ears.
Your arms are strong and powerful
while Your kisses fall delightfully sweet.
I drink Your presence like nectar.
The very mention of Your name makes me drunk.
Your love is as strong as the ocean waves but Your touch is as soft as a feather.
I feast my eyes on Your beauty.
Your fragrance is intoxication.
Your fingers drip honey as they feed me.
Only You can sustain me day by day.
Clear, sparkling Water; fresh, fragrant Bread
Spiced wine and honeycomb, choice fruits and nuts,
olive oil and cedar and pomegranates.
Everything beautiful, everything delicious, everything to be desired – that’s You.
I personally don’t imagine kissing Jesus unless it’s a peck on His cheek in a non-sexual way. The romance is Jesus holding my hand, sitting by me, walking and talking and eating, having fun, sitting in front of a fire in a cabin, telling jokes, even holding me. It is Jesus telling me how much He loves me and can’t wait for us to be together, the way He looks at me, His eyes, His laugh, the feeling He gives me when we’re together of how special I am. It’s giving me gifts and showing me in a million ways how much He loves me, and me showing my love for Him.
The fact is that there may be times where your physical body responds against your will and if that happens don’t worry, you have done nothing wrong. Satan will, of course, delightedly use it to beat you up, and by condemning yourself you’ve put the stick in his hand.
The physical is foremost in our world and we eat, drink, and breathe physical. Hence, the physical signs of intimacy get all mixed up occasionally with spiritual intimacy. If you let worrying about feeling sexually involved stop you from being with Jesus than satan has won. If you let condemnation or fear stop you from the beauty of your relationship with Jesus, than satan has won. If you let your physical feelings make you draw back from Jesus, than satan has won. The only way that satan doesn’t win is for you to go to Jesus and tell Him that you don’t want your relationship to bring sexual feelings and you’re not purposely going there, so would He and Holy Spirit help you deal with it the right way, and that you are not giving up your relationship with Him. You are still choosing to pursue Him with everything you have and trust Him not to deceive you, even if your body turns traitor. One of satan’s biggest tools (a close kin of fear, which is the biggest), is shame. To allow yourself shamed is to hand the victory to satan. Don’t do it, take it to Holy Spirit, He’s your tutor, He’s the one to tell you how to handle it. It may not even happen anymore. Again, we are so quick to run to satan when something goes wrong (as in condemning and pulling away from God), why not instead, when things go awry, let them send us running into God’s arms?
Jesus loves you so much and He’s not worried about your physical reactions. He can handle it. He’s not judging you, He’s so proud of you and that you love Him so much. He knows your heart.
While we should hold back from doing specific things that lead to sexual feelings we should never hold back on our intimacy and pursuit of Jesus. It is merely our flesh reacting to something that is real from God. Look at the fruit that comes from your relationship with God, how your heart is crying out for more.
I have been asked, referring to my bedchamber story in my book The Wild Romancer, what part the bed played in the bedchamber. It symbolizes the spiritual intimacy we are to have with Jesus. Again, here’s where we each have to draw the line in how far this metaphor goes without sexually getting us in trouble. It’s easier for me to not feel it sexually because I’ve been sheltered. I grew up as a missionary kid in Thailand and wasn’t interested in boys until my senior year of high school. I’ve never danced with anyone except Jesus, so I’ve never physically felt two bodies together. I have no context of how sexual that would be. My husband Terry is the only one I’ve ever kissed. So I’ve not experienced a lot of things that bring out the sexual in me except within the context of marriage. But that doesn’t mean the feelings can’t come, I just work to guard against them, and if I feel like those feelings are close I change what I’m doing to emotionally pull away from them.
So in my vision of the bedchamber the bed merely pointed out how I was in a place of intimacy with Jesus, “intimacy” meaning that we could get to know each other emotionally and spiritually. I have a friend who has also been in Jesus’ bedchamber. There was a huge four-poster bed but all she did was walk around the room looking at things and eat off a little table of food and fruit. Jesus is so good and sweet but not sissy, He’s strong and noble and kind. His sense of humor is so big we laugh a lot. He teases and pushes my boundaries, letting me know that He’s not satisfied with how much He has of me and He wants more. But He’s so loving and so much fun and so overwhelming that I WANT to become more and more who He wants me to be. Here’s another good example of the physical representing the spiritual and it not being sexual. I know someone who had an experience with Jesus in His bedchamber and they were on the bed. My friend had on layers and layers of petticoats and Jesus was tugging on them teasing her to take them off. While that sounds terribly sexual she didn’t feel it was, instead it spiritually represents how Jesus is saying to us that He wants to see us for who we are, not with our masks on. It’s as if He is saying “Drop everything that hides your vulnerability and let me see the REAL you. Just be you with me, not who you think I want to see.” Most things are metaphors of the spiritual.
Here is something I wrote that gives a picture of what our relationship with Jesus is to be:
What does a husband do?
He serves me.
He loves, treasures, and cherishes me above all else.
He protects me, whether from mice, bad weather, or danger.
He confides in me and trusts me to keep his secrets.
He provides for me a place of security, safety, and rest.
He protects me from other people, their prying eyes and invasiveness.
He provides me with privacy.
He supports me as my provider.
He shares his heart, his dreams, his hopes, his vulnerable places.
He provides me with pleasure and expects pleasure from me.
He wants to be with me and enjoys my company.
He expects me to bring him good, to represent him with dignity.
He expects me to understand his heart, to cry with him and laugh with him.
He wants me to see and love him first as my Beloved.
He wants me to go leaping and skipping with him over the mountains ministering with him to the world.
We should be able to communicate as only lovers can, heart to heart and eye to eye, understanding each glance and expression.
He wants to get to know me more intimately and for me to get to know him intimately, for the two of us to become one.
He shields me and protects me without smothering.
He serves without making me feel helpless.
He protects me without keeping me prisoner.
He provides for me without strings.
He supports me without being controlling.
He is vulnerable without being weak.
He wants companionship and love without demanding all my time and attention.
He wants my undivided attention and waits patiently for it.
He wants me to trust him with everything, to give him my life so He can love and take care of me, yet doesn’t demand my freedom.
As you can see, while this encompasses sex it is a small part of the relationship. You want to focus on the whole relationship with Jesus, which takes the focus off the sexual.
Being with Jesus brings about normal physical feelings that are a healthy part of getting to know someone of the opposite sex, for example, when I was dating Terry holding his hand gave me butterflies in my stomach, and I’ve felt those butterflies with Jesus. A lot of times when I’m with Jesus I feel a quickening of my heartbeat out of love and excitement over being with Him. It’s only when you begin to feel sexual feelings that you need to step back. But never, ever, EVER let anything come between you and your pursuit of Jesus and you’ll find that life is never the same!