SEX AND THE CITY OF GOD (Part 1)
Written by Doug Ponder on January 18, 2015
Another Conversation about Sex?
The number of Christian books, blog articles, and sermon series on sex has nearly reached flood state. Sex sells, as they say. Even in the church. Maybe especially in the church.
Yet there is more than one reason why this is so. The obvious reason sex sells is the ubiquity of sexual desire and the alluring nature of lust. Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a bestseller by accident.
But another reason sex sells is that a tragically high number of people are sexually confused and hurting and broken. And when people find themselves in that state, they are willing to do anything for help. Even read.
The second reason is why I’m writing this article.
God Created Sex on Purpose
God is not shocked by what a husband and wife do between the sheets. He created sex, after all. The question is, Why? Why did God make sex? What is its purpose? There’s more than one, actually:
1. God made sex for procreation.
A great deal of cultural confusion about sex begins here. God connected sex with bearing children for a reason, and by separating sex from parenthood we have become people who want the privileges of sexual release without the responsibilities that God wisely attached to these pleasures. The end result is not happiness for everyone, but a culture pierced by abortion and pornography. These are the epitome of fruitlessness, promising sex without children while bringing only decay and death. That we cannot see how separating sex from bearing children leads to such things is just further evidence of our confusion. Children are not an “accidental side effect” of sex; they are one of its purposes by God’s design.
2. God made sex for pleasure.
The biological point of food is fuel for our bodies, but God didn’t create a world in which all foods taste the same. This is because God delights to give us good gifts, none of which we deserve. The point of all these gifts is gratitude for the undeserved kindness of God (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17). This is absolutely true of sex. Indeed, God designed sex, and he made it to feel good on purpose. It’s worth pointing out that God didn’t have to make sex pleasurable. He chose to do this. Why? Because like every gift from God, sex is designed to be an occasion for honoring him with gratitude and joy. The world is full of undeserved delights, and we have God to thank for them all.
3. God made sex for intimacy.
Although “intimacy” is sometimes used as a euphemism for sex, they are not same. Intimacy refers to the high degree of closeness, familiarity, and oneness that is experienced uniquely between a husband and a wife. Their relationship is so close that God calls them “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5-6). When pursued rightly in marriage, sex is a wonderful tool for developing intimacy between a husband and wife. Perhaps nothing is as uniting for a couple as being “naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25), coming together as two people who have promised to love and serve each other forever. Sex also provides an exclusive degree of knowledge between a husband and wife. This is why the biblical authors commonly referred to sex by saying that the husband “knew” his wife. Sex provides each married couple with an avenue to know each other in a way that they are not known by anyone else.
Even our biological design serves to reinforce the intimate nature of sex. God created our bodies to release concentrations of chemicals during sex that belong to the same family as heroin, the most addictive of all drugs. Why would God do this? Because he intends the physical aspects of sex to reinforce the “one flesh” bond between a husband and wife.
4. God made sex to be a picture.
Ultimately the fruitfulness, joy, and closeness experienced by a husband and wife in marriage is meant to be a picture of God’s relationship with his people. This analogy finds its greatest expression in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, where Paul explains that a marriage between a husband and wife is built on the pattern of Jesus’ relationship to his bride, the church (Eph. 5:31-32). Husbands are called to lead in love and through sacrifice, and wives are called to receive and support their husband’s leadership. Because God is not an idiot, the sexual aspects of marriage are a picture of these distinctions as well. To put it bluntly, the shape of our sexual anatomies mirrors the shape of our souls. The husband is the initiator, biologically and spiritually, and the wife is the receiver, biologically and spiritually. In this way sex is a double picture, depicting the roles of the husband wife which, in turn, depict Jesus’ own relationship with his bride, the church.
The Tragic Reality of Sexual Experience
When sex is pursued with the understanding outlined above, under God’s blessing and in accordance with his design, the result is glorious—the way sex is meant to be.
Sadly, that is very often not our experience. Our sin causes us to misunderstand and misuse sex, experiencing shame and emptiness instead of the joy and lasting satisfaction that God intends.
Our sexual brokenness takes various forms: pornography, erotic literature, casual sex, hookup culture, open relationships, prostitution, swinging, orgies, gay sex, sadomasochism, sexual abuse, rape, sexual slavery, pedophilia, necrophilia, and bestiality—to name a few.
Most of those practices are growing in popularity and public acceptance. Like the Stones, our lust can’t get no satisfaction. But instead of recognizing our sexual brokenness for what it is (a symptom of our sin), we throw ourselves even further into the sexual free-for-all, seeking sex in increasing frequency and intensity, even turning to bizarre and criminal forms of sexual expression.
None of this is the way it’s supposed to be. And whenever we rebel against God’s design, things will not go well for us. And that is true, of course, because God’s commands are given in love, like a parent who warns their child not to play in the street. By ignoring God’s design for sex, we will only experience hardship and heartache.
False Diagnoses, False Remedies
When people do not know what is ailing them, they cannot know how it will be cured either. Here are the three most commonly advanced.
1. We are starved for sex, so we need more of it.
Perhaps the reason we want sex so often is that we are not getting enough of it. This makes sense when we talk about food. Starving people think about food all the time, after all. So is that problem? Are we sexually starved?
Hardly. Advances in contraception and the rising popularity of abortion make sex within marriage far less costly and sex outside of marriage safer than ever before. Technology has also made it popular to watch sex for free or to meet up with strangers for sex through special sections of Craigslist. What’s more, sex is the main subject of most TV shows, music, movies, and commercials. By every standard, we live in hyper-sexualized culture. Our problem is not that we are starving for sex. Our problem is that our sex is unfulfilling.
2. We have been made to feel guilty for what is “natural,” and we need to be liberated.
A laughable diagnosis of the rot that is eating away at our souls is that we have been enslaved to prudes and their morals. “If only we could shake off all those religious rules,” they say, “then we would finally feel as free as we really are.”
But that isn’t true, and we ought to know it because we’ve been “liberated” before. What we think of as “progressive” today was widely practiced by ancient civilizations. The culture of Rome, for example, with its mistress sex, multiple partner sex, orgy sex, gay sex, man-boy sex, didn’t produce lasting fulfillment. That’s why even though they mocked Christians, they were intrigued by them. “How could a man and a woman possibly be happy and sexually fulfilled if they only sleep with their spouse?”And yet they truly were more joyful. “We share our table with all, but not our bed with all,” Diognetus the early Christian writer explained. They shared their possessions with everyone but their bed with only one.
This approach dumbfounded the Romans, and it still dumbfounds people today. “Certainly they can’t work,” the cynics say. “And besides, we have progressed beyond that.” But we are not advancing into a state of greater sexual liberation; we are regressing into an already expired view of sexuality. We have tried the sexual free-for-all approach and found it lacking. It enslaves us to what only produces shame and emptiness, and never joy and lasting satisfaction.
Where Hope Is Found
None of this is as it should be, and by God’s grace, it won’t stay that way either. For the God who created sex is redeeming the world through his Son, Jesus. And the power that raised him from the dead is at work in his sons and daughters to build a great city of all those who are forgiven and set free from what enslaves. He mends our broken cisterns that cannot hold water, and he fills with the water of life so that we will never be thirsty again.
Click to continue reading: Sex and the City of God – Part 2
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.