Following Jesus demands both celebration and self-restraint

Written by Bonnie Pue

“I plead with you, brothers and sisters, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. For this is your reasonable act of worship.” Paul wrote these words to the collective church that met in first-century Rome. This was a community of faith who was attempting to follow Jesus, living in a culture with extreme philosophies regarding the value and purpose of the body. 

One philosophy, known as Gnosticism, claimed that the body was less valuable. After all, bodies are messy, frail, and unreliable. Gnostics glorified the mind: human intellect and perception. In this view, bodily functions were demeaning. Sexual union and desires were considered base, childbearing was dirty work, and even being a woman was considered “less than” because of menstruation—a cyclical attachment to the body.

The other philosophy came from the hedonistic Cretans who declared, “Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow you die.” Because life was short and fragile, this gave all the more reason to give themselves over to the appetites of the body. Denying one’s desires would have been considered ridiculous.

Amid these philosophies, Christianity was finding its feet and leading people to a third option. It was a firm path to walk upon. I find so much comfort when I remember that the moral upheaval we’re facing in the twenty-first century is not new to the historical landscape. Jesus followers have existed and thrived in sex-saturated cultures like ours.

Early church mothers and fathers instructed about a lifestyle where human bodies and desires were cherished and treated with dignity, yet the body’s appetites were not to be considered masters of all. 

Sexual union was celebrated, but within the holy, God-given boundaries of a marriage covenant between husband and wife. Food and drink were to be enjoyed, but with gratitude and temperance. Through the physical suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our bodies are now redeemed. 

This is why in 1 Corinthians 6:20, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.” This was specifically related to the conversation about sexual expressions and encounters.

What does this have to do with us today? Well, it seems the philosophies of Gnosticism and hedonism are once more calling out to us as we attempt to walk the narrow path of Christ. 

Gnosticism proclaims, “Your biology is insignificant. How you perceive yourself is what is most critical.” Simultaneously, hedonism calls out, “If you’re not chasing after and acting out your sexual desires, you’re suppressing your true self. Anyone who opposes you is getting in the way of your fulfillment.”

How then should we live? Here in Canada? Now in this post-modern, cancel-culture era?

We can still live like Jesus—full of personal conviction as well as hospitable grace? 

One thing that will set us apart as different is a new level of modesty. I don’t mean the kind of modest that pulls out a ruler to measure the distance from the fabric to the knee cap. “Modest” is not primarily a clothing issue, but a character issue, equally applicable to men and women. It is about humility and a willingness to serve others. 

The one who seeks to serve others with their bodies and who is increasingly satisfied by the love of God will discover that their strivings cease. Their attention-grabbing antics fade away. In a generation that prides itself on self-expression and self-promotion, true modesty will be the thing that stands out and turns heads.

To live authentically as followers of Jesus in our culture, we’ll also need to be courageous. We will likely be misunderstood and labelled. We may be mocked and will lose out on opportunities. 

Our friends and family members may one day reject us for believing the Bible or participating in a Christian community of faith. Jesus Himself counselled His disciples to count the cost of following Him. As a child growing up in North America, my eyes usually skimmed over many of those verses about opposition or persecution. I suspect that in the coming years, we may find a new appreciation for those passages.

Remember that “courage” is not one of the fruits of the Spirit, nor is it one of the gifts that is imparted to us. It is a choice. You’ll have to decide. Is Jesus worth laying everything else down for?

Finally, if we are going to walk the narrow way of Jesus, we’ll need to embrace the concept of sexual purity. This is not about the history of your body; it is about the desires of your heart. Psalms 24 is a convicting passage for us all: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” 

What an impossibly high standard! We can never achieve this level of perfection on our own. The good news of Jesus is that as we believe in the righteous life and sacrificial death of Jesus, God is willing to credit His purity to us.

Following Jesus will undeniably impact our behaviour and relationships. It will also affect what happens in the dark when no one else is around. As we walk in complete surrender to Jesus, we will discover that even our desires will begin to change. We’ll no longer cling to our sin, but will long to walk in freedom.

As we lean into modesty, courage, and purity, the people in our lives will watch with great curiosity. The early church navigated the philosophies of its time and chose a third way—and it transformed the Roman Empire. If we do the same, it will transform our nation too. 

Bonnie Pue is a mother of six and co-founder of The Union Movement along with her husband, Bryan. The Union Movement exists to help people find wholeness in the areas of identity, sexuality, and relationships with a gospel-centred approach. You can find more from her on Instagram at @theunionmovement and @bonniepue.

Read more from the “Making love matter(s)” column.