A Different Approach to Sex and Sexuality

I was next quite satisfied with the teaching I receive about purity in youth group as a teenager. It seemed to be rely on an assorted collection of verses from Paul’s writings. Total human depravity was emphasized while God’s regenerating work, giving us a new heart and desires at salvation, was ignored. In practice this meant that touching a member of the opposite sex, alone on a couch in the dark, would lead to an inevitable result. Perhaps this is an exaggeration for some, but I believed it to be true. Furthermore, most of the teaching was negative. We learned a lot about how not to have sex before marriage, and little about what a healthy physical and emotional relationship should look. However, a new perspective has been emerging in my own generation that I am equally dissatisfied with.

Some sincere Christians who believe that the Bible’s position of premarital sex should be reinterpreting in light of cultural changes. When the Old and New Testaments were written people often married before the age of twenty. Today the median age for a first marriage among males in the United States is 28 and 26 for females. The argument is that the writers of Scripture, such as Paul, were urging abstinence within their context. They weren’t expecting people to repress sexual desires during their physical prime. Just as woman no longer need to wear head-coverings, so waiting to have sex before marriage is no longer culturally relevant. Once someone is married they should remain faithful, but until that time nothing is wrong with satisfying sexual desires. Of course this is almost identical to the understanding of the larger secular culture. What we need is a thoughtful re-framing of how Christians understand sex, so here it goes.

God created humans as sexual beings from the beginning. By creating ‘adam (literally man or humankind) as male and female he made sexuality a core part of our individual identity. If we let Genesis 1:27 inform are understand then being male or female is an essential part of what it means to be fully human. When I interact with others I can never cease to relate to them as a male. This means creates different dynamics whether the other(s) is male, female, or a mixed company. Many married men have gotten in trouble sexually when they though they could remove sexuality in a friendship with a woman. In the account of Genesis, God did not create any expressions of sexuality other than male and female. Confusion in this area is the result of the fall and can only lead to hurt.

Genesis 2 ends by stating that a man will hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh. While explicitly physical, this verse implies the joining of two whole human beings (spirit, emotion, and will) into one unity. Paul is not inventing a new interpretation but merely recognizing this truth in 1 Corinthians 16:15-17. As I stated in another post, this diversity in unity reflects the nature of the Triune God. While the union is not called marriage here, Jesus equates it with marriage in Matthew 19.

The prophetic books of the Old Testament add a lot to our understanding of sex and marriage. Again and again God presents Himself as the jilted husband of His wife Israel. Their idolatry, usually a syncretistic worshiping of Yahweh alongside other gods, is described as adultery. Marriage as He intended is a picture of faithfulness to God and vise versa. This is especially true in the book of Hosea where God commands Hosea to take back his adulterous wife, just as God is going to take back adulterous Israel. When we reach the New Testament the church becomes the bride of Christ. The marriage with the wedding feast is yet to come. Here again faithfulness in marriage is an icon, pointing to the faithfulness of Christ and the Church.

How we understand sex and marriage is important because they are physical pictures of spiritual realities. They are an incarnation or in-fleshing of divine relationships. Reserving sex for one person in a life-time commitment is not a form of cultural relevance; it is an picture of something eternal. Of course things don’t always happen this way in our broken world of sin. Jesus does allows divorce, thought it is not the ideal. What we must remember is that anything short of the standard is part of the brokenness, yet God is in the habit of making beauty out of what is broken.

Our sexuality is something to be celebrated and expressed within the framework that God has given us, like supports helping a flourishing young tree grow straight. What that looks like for each gender in the various positions of life is something that I have enough trouble understanding for myself, let alone for others. (How does a single person express their sexuality? I am still working on that one.) We also can’t ignore that sin has fractured what God has created good. Good teaching on sexuality will point out where sex has been perverted and work to restore the beauty it had as God originally designed it. The task is akin to taking an old masterpiece which has been eaten by mold and covered with dust and reviving its original glory.

One could end the discussion there, but I want to take it one step farther. Lauren Winner makes an interesting observation about the way our culture’s views sex in her book Real Sex. While sex in general has become increasingly visible the public square, sex as something two people do in a bedroom has become increasingly private. Fill TV shows and checkout aisle with sex, but don’t tell me what to do in my own home.

Viewed through the lens of a relationship, we see that Christians are members of one body; a truth communion powerfully declares. What one person does with their own body, affects the whole body. The body of the Church is itself an image of the one-flesh relationship. What happens to one spouse, affects the other. If one commits adultery (physically, emotionally, or spiritually), it hurts the other. Because we are made in the image of a triune God, one that took two different persons to image, we are relational beings instead of individualistic ones.

It becomes part of the Church not only to protect against unhealthy expressions of sexuality, while strongly encouraging healthy expressions. This of course means subverting the culture’s understanding of sex as well as the ways it has infiltrated the church. For as obsessed as our culture is with sex this is an oddly uncomfortable idea.

I have made a small start here in re-framing how we understand sex and sexuality. It is a start, but there is much more to do. As we look at the issue though, it becomes clear that if the church doesn’t define this for us and future generations then the culture will.

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2 comments

  1. Sophia · April 9, 2012
    • roadgeon · April 9, 2012

      No, I will have to take a look at it.

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