Dear friend, you may sometimes wonder if enjoying sensual pleasures is sinful in God’s eyes. This is an important question for Christians who want to live holy lives.
Let’s explore what the Bible teaches about sensuality, lust, and living an abundant life of joy.
What is Sensuality?
First, what do we mean by “sensuality”? Sensuality is enjoying pleasures of the senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Things like admiring beauty, listening to music, eating delicious food, feeling a cool breeze on your skin, or smelling flowers can be sensual experiences.
God created our senses and gave us these capacities to enjoy His creation. In the right context, sensual pleasures can be received gratefully as gifts from our gracious Creator. As King David said, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:16)
Potential Dangers of Sensuality
However, dangers can also lurk in sensual pleasures. Our hearts tend to misuse God’s gifts through gluttony, greed, lust, or idolatry. When uncontrolled, our physical desires go astray.
For example, viewing pornography hijacks God’s gift of sight for selfish gain. Gluttony misuses the gift of taste. Sloth or laziness can dampen our capacity for all sensual joys. Unrestrained sensual desires often displace our hunger for God.
The book of Proverbs warns about the dangers of sensual excess:
- “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” (Proverbs 23:20-21)
- “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.” (Proverbs 6:25)
Yet Proverbs also shows the beauty and joy of sensuality in its proper place:
- “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:13-14)
The key is keeping physical pleasure in balance – neither repressing our senses through avoidance or denial, nor indulging them in excess. God means for us to receive sensual joys as delightful gifts within healthy boundaries.
Jesus’ Example of Enjoying Life
Jesus modeled fullness of life during His earthly ministry. He enjoyed fellowship meals with “sinners and tax collectors” which were scandalous to some religious leaders (Matthew 9:11). Jesus ate and drank in moderation, without asceticism or gluttony.
Jesus praised Mary’s beautiful act of pouring precious perfume over His feet, which His disciple Judas called wasteful (Matthew 26:7-13). Jesus felt compassion which literally means “to suffer with.” He wept with mourners and rejoiced at weddings. Christ lived sensually – seeing beauty, tasting wine, feeling emotion – without sin.
Lust vs. Natural Desires
What about sexual desire? Many Christians have wrongly equated all sensuality with lust. But the Bible distinguishes between lust and natural desire.
Lust wants to exploit others as objects for greedy personal gain, while natural desire admires the beauty of the opposite sex within the covenant of marriage. Lust is self-centered; natural desire gives itself in service to another.
The New Testament tells husbands and wives not to deprive each other of sexual intimacy which is their due (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Song of Songs exalts the physical intimacy of marriage, without shame. God created sexual desire for marriage, calling it very good (Genesis 1:31).
Yes, because of sin, natural desires sometimes go astray into lust. But the desires themselves are God-given and holy in their proper context.
Holiness is Not Repression
Sometimes Christians wrongly think holiness means repressing all sensual pleasures. But this ascetic approach misses the point and can breed frustration, shame, and burnout.
God’s holiness is positive, beautiful, and life-giving, not dreary repression. Jesus promised abundant life to His sheep (John 10:10). Repressing our senses can inadvertently suffocate our capacity for praise, worship, and intimacy with God and others.
As C.S. Lewis wrote: “All those expressions of unworthiness which Christian practice puts into the believer’s mouth…must be balanced against the truth that we are accepted and loved by God as His sons. Christ often speaks of joy – joy inseparable from the life of sonship.”
Principles for Godly Sensuality
Rather than repression or indulgence, Scripture guides us to engage our senses in line with God’s loving purposes. Here are some biblical principles for living sensually with holiness:
- Receive sensual joys thankfully as God’s gifts. “God has given them to us richly for us to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Taste each bite, glance, and melody as a treasure from your Father’s hand.
- Be content in Christ above all pleasures. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11). If God withdraws a pleasure, will you still praise Him?
- Hold pleasures loosely. Don’t cling to God’s gifts. “Those who use the things of the world [should live] as if not engrossed in them.” (1 Corinthians 7:31)
- Use self-control. God’s Spirit strengthens us to steer clear of harmful excess. “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control.” (2 Peter 1:5-6)
- Enjoy pleasures in line with God’s design. For example, delight in sexual intimacy only within marriage between husband and wife. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.” (Hebrews 13:4)
- Focus on serving others more than gratifying yourself. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
- Let holy pleasures replace sinful indulgences. For example, joyfully celebrate Communion, which engages several senses, as a substitute for drunkenness.
- Give thanks! Before and after each God-given pleasure, express heartfelt gratitude. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.” (Psalm 136:1)
Living Abundantly in God’s Pleasures
Friend, hopefully this overview will help you navigate sensual pleasures and pitfalls on your journey toward holiness. With the Spirit’s help, you can thrive in God’s lavish gifts without straying into selfish indulgence.
Rather than denying your senses, consecrate them to Christ for His glory. Then you will walk in joyful freedom, neither enslaved by asceticism nor licentiousness. Thanks be to God who gives us victory in Christ!
Now go enjoy a sunset, laugh with friends, dance at a wedding, and receive all God’s sensual pleasures within biblical boundaries. For “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1) Our senses belong to Him. Receive each gift from your Father’s hand with gratitude and wonder!