It’s greatly ironic that our sex-obsessed culture likes to proclaim sex as an inalienable right while at the same time denying sex its meaning and power. When Christians talk about sex, it’s not that we want to control people or restore the patriarchy. Rather, it’s that we need to remind ourselves that sex is a God-given gift endowed by the Creator with purpose and meaning. Our Christian sexual ethic must be grounded in an understanding of biblical theology.
1. Sex reminds us that we were meant to be known.
When Adam lay with Eve and she gave birth to a son, the Bible says that he yada her. In Hebrew, yada means “to know.” Sex is meant to be an expression of knowing. As Dannah Gresh writers, “Yada is a word of intimacy that transcends the physical. It describes the whole knowing of a person. It portrays an uncovering and an embrace of the nakedness of another. There are no secrets and nothing is held back” (What Are You Waiting For?, 24).
God designed sex to be a meeting of souls, not a meeting of parts. We’ve lost some of that today. Men talk about how their roommates remember their sexual partners better than they do. Only half of the portrayals of sexual intimacy on television depict sex between partners in an existing relationship. Ten percent of those portrayals depict sex between people who have just met. God intended us for more.
God intended us to know and to be known. That same yada word that describes God’s good gift of sex also describes God’s intimate and wonderful knowledge of his people. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “I know you by name” (Exodus 33:17). We are designed by God to know him and to be known by him. Our intimate, emotional, and personal relationship with our spouses is meant to be a portrait of God’s intimate, personal, and emotional knowledge of us.
2. Sex is meant for a covenant context.
When God made Eve and brought her to Adam, Adam recognized her as the God-designed companion of his heart:
This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)
Jesus and Paul both refer to Genesis 2:24 when they talk about the one-flesh union of marriage. In marriage, husband and wife covenant together to form a new unit. They are no longer two separate individuals; they are one. They mutually give themselves to one another to become a new family. Sex is the covenant renewal ceremony for marriage. As Francie Winslow has written:
Our bodies speak. As Christopher West, a well-known Catholic teacher on The Theology of the Body, so beautifully articulates, regular sex is like a regular renewing of wedding vows. When a married couple has sex, they are communicating with the language of their bodies the promise to fully give themselves to one another in all seasons of life. To regularly engage in sex is to regularly recommit yourselves to one another.
Covenant creates an environment where true intimacy can flourish. Sex is not just about individual pleasure; it is an act of giving yourself fully to one who has covenanted to love you completely and without condition. What do we say in our wedding vows? “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, I give you my life.” Marriage is a joining of lives. We share our names, homes, lives, families, schedules, and bank accounts. We are no longer two separate individuals; we are one. Sex is both a reminder of and a celebration of the oneness of husband and wife in marriage.
3. Marriage, and sex within marriage, are a symbol of the church’s relationship with Christ.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)
Marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Our exclusive, intimate communion between husband and wife is a portrait of the communion between our souls and Christ. The joy, intimacy, and ecstasy we find in our marriage relationship is meant to point us to the spiritual reality we were intended for from the beginning–to be one with God, fully knowing and fully known, given to God in love for ever.by