This excerpt is taken from Dr. Sean McDowell’s book Chasing Love: Sex, Love, and Relationships in a Confused CultureWe hope it blesses you and informs your conversations with your children.

A friend of mine has sex with a lot of women. I asked him if the act of sex means anything to him or the girls he’s sleeping with, and he nonchalantly said, “No, it’s just for fun.” In fact, he bragged about the number of women he was pursuing. No matter what I said, he refused to concede that sex had any meaning beyond the physical act itself.

The next time we talked I decided to broach the subject another way. I asked him if he believes a pat on the back means anything. He said it communicates support. Then I asked him if a kiss on the cheek has any meaning, and he said it shows care and affection. Finally, I asked him whether a slap on the face has intrinsic meaning, and he said it’s an insult. He agreed these physical acts have transcultural meaning—even when they’re expressed without any words.

For whatever reason, my next question caught him off guard: “If a kiss on the cheek, slap on the face, and pat on the back have intrinsic meaning, how can the act of sex— which involves the deepest physical intimacy between two people— not mean anything beyond itself?” He simply stared at me, and then chuckled, realizing I had a point.

We can’t separate the body and the soul

One of the lies of our culture is that we can separate the physical part of being human (the body) from the non-physical part (the soul). The world says the body carries no inherent meaning and can be manipulated to whatever we want or think. But life doesn’t work this way. We all know that bodily actions carry intrinsic meaning. We can tell the truth with our bodies, and we can lie with them.

Suppose a used-car salesman sells you a car while withholding a problem with the transmission, and then shakes your hand. Did he lie with his body? Of course. Imagine smiling and hugging someone you deeply dislike. Are you communicating something you don’t really feel? What about a wink at someone you are not attracted to? Is that a lie? It certainly can be. 

So, if bodily actions communicate something, then what about sex? If small physical expressions like shaking someone’s hand or winking can be used the wrong way and end up hurting or misleading people, then certainly having sex can communicate all sorts of wrong things, and hurt a lot of people, when it’s used out of its intended design. It can’t really be “just for fun,” as my friend suggested. I think we all know better than that.

The power of human touch

Jesus understood the power of human touch. He understood how to use the body to love people. When Jesus healed a paralytic, he simply commanded him, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (Mark 2:11). Immediately he was healed. That’s all he needed, because the paralytic was brought to Jesus by four friends who cared for him. 

But when Jesus healed a leper, he touched him. Why? 

As a leper, the man was considered an outcast from society. According to Jewish law, he had to shout “unclean” and cover his face whenever anyone was near. Thus, he had probably not touched anyone for years. Jesus could have healed him through words alone, as he did the paralytic, but Jesus knew what the affection-starved leper needed most— touch. And he touched him in the most appropriate, life-giving way.

God has made us both body and soul

We communicate with our bodies and our words because God has made us both body and soul. God formed the man from “the dust in the ground,” breathed into him “the breath of life,” and then he became a “living being” (Gen. 2:7). Hence, a human being has both a physical dimension (body) and a spiritual dimension (soul). We are bodily beings animated by a soul.

It is therefore a mistake to downplay the value of either the body or the soul. One of the first heresies in the early church, Gnosticism, viewed the body and all material things as inherently evil. Gnostics believed that salvation occurs when the soul escapes the “prison house” of the body. 

But this is profoundly unbiblical! Genesis 1 tells us that creation—including the human body—is good. Jesus took on human flesh to identify with us (Heb 4:15), show us how to love (John 15:13), and ultimately redeem us (John 3:16). 

We communicate with our bodies and our words because God has made us both body and soul.

We are called to honor God with body and soul

This is why Scripture calls us to love God and others with our bodies and our souls. One way we love God with our souls is learning to think Christianly. Paul said to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). In other words, we are transformed in part by learning to see the world through a biblical perspective. This is one of my goals of writing—to help you think Christianly about sex, love, and relationships.

Yet we are also called to responsibly steward our bodies. After calling the Corinthian church to avoid sexual immorality, Paul writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Again, Paul writes, “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13). In other words, as believers, we have died to sin and been born as new creations in Christ. Our “old selves” were crucified with Christ, and we have been set free, by grace, to honor God with our bodies.

How do we best use our bodies to love God and love other people?

Interestingly, the motivation to avoid sexual immorality is not primarily because it benefits you and me. Paul does not tell the Corinthian church, “Avoid sexual immorality because God’s plan is the road to the best sex.” As we saw earlier, God’s commands are for our good. We flourish when we live as God has designed us to live, and there is a strong correlation between following God’s plan and experiencing satisfying sex in marriage. But this is not the motivation for being sexually pure. Rather, the motivation should be to honor God with our bodies. The question should be, “How do we best use our bodies to love God and love other people?”

In the United States, abstinence campaigns have often fixated on motivating students to be pure through an inward focus on the personal benefits of abstinence (e.g., no disease, better marriage, clear conscience, etc.). Yet in some African-based purity campaigns, the emphasis is more outward focused on pleasing God and loving others. Some young people in Africa who aim to keep themselves sexually pure see their bodies as “God’s temple” and as a “new creation.” Since their bodies are not their own, they aim to engage in a lifestyle that honors God with their bodies. Scripturally speaking, these African young men and young women are on to something important.

Called to love one another

If we are called to honor God with our bodies, then for example, shouldn’t this influence how we dress? Out of respect for our brothers and sisters in Christ, who aim to love God in both thought and deed, shouldn’t we dress with modesty? This is true for both males and females.  

We are all responsible for our own lustful thoughts. But does this mean we have no responsibility to one another about how we present our bodies? Is it morally neutral to dress in an outfit that invites a lustful gaze? The virtue of modesty invites us to consider that how we dress contributes to broader cultural understanding of morality. Specifically, how can we dress in a way that brings honor to God and helps create a loving environment for others? And this is also true for what we post on social media. Do we post things that honor God with our bodies, or things that potentially cause others to stumble?

Here’s the bottom line: Sex means something. Physical touch means something. Humans are body and soul. 

Excerpted with permission from Chasing Love by Sean McDowell. Copyright 2020, B&H Publishing.