A Theology of Sex, Part 1
As Christians, we often have a stigma attached to us: we’re too uptight about sex. The world has moved on to a place where the old constraints no longer matter, with few exceptions (people generally are still against bestiality, incest, and pedophilia).Yet Christians, or at least the conservative, old school ones, still argue against sex before/outside of marriage. But why? What’s the big deal about sex? Why all the rules?
Very rarely do we actually go into much detail on the answer to this question. Maybe that’s because the easiest answer seems rather unsatisfying: because God said so. And he did. He’s very consistent between the Old Testament and the New.
Sex in the OT: Not Much of a Why
In the Old Testament, there are awkward chapters that very explicitly spell out who one can and cannot have sex with and/or marry. Leviticus chapter 18 is one such chapter. It gets into the nitty gritty of all the family members one is not supposed to have sex with, plus prohibitions against homosexuality and bestiality. At the end of the list, God gives this reason for these regulations in verse 24: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled.” This is kind of just another way of God saying, “Because I said so.” There is no logic given behind why these practices are detestable. God just says they aren’t acceptable for his holy and set apart people, the Israelites.
Sex in the NT: Sex as an Enslaving Force
Moving to the New Testament, Jesus tells us that thinking about committing an act of sexual immorality is morally the same as actually doing it. In Acts 15, sexual immorality is one of four things that the apostles carry over from the Jewish law into Christianity. Obviously God is still serious about our sex lives, but why?
Paul’s letters provide a few additional pieces of information that can help us answer that question. One such passage is 1 Corinthians 6, verses 12 and following. Based on the context of this passage, one reason for all the rules around sex seems to be that sex is powerful. It can easily become something that rules over us. Because it’s such a powerful experience, it can take the place of God as the Lord of our life. Additionally, verse 18-20 reminds us that “All other sins a man commits are outside his body but he who sins sexually sins against his own body… You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” When we act in accordance with our “desires of the flesh” rather than with God’s desires for us, we are letting ourselves be ruled by something other than God. God wants to free us from slavery to everything besides our love for him. That includes our own bodily desires which often get us into trouble.
Galatians 5 confirms this idea. The chapter is all about how Christ has freed us from both the law (legalism) and our own desires (license). If we let ourselves be ruled by the desires of our sinful nature (which, according to verses 19-20 include several forms of sexual sin) we are no longer living in freedom. We have become slaves to ourselves.
Sex in the NT: Sex as an Essential Part of the Sign of Marriage
There’s one other biblical passage/concept that I think is important to this discussion. Ephesians 5 paints the picture of Christ as the groom and the Church (big C, universal church) as his bride. Marriages, in their love and respect and submission for one another, are supposed to be a sign. Marriage shows us what Christ’s love for us looks like in the flesh. This isn’t a new concept. God uses this analogy in the book of Hosea as well. He compares the nation of Israel to an unfaithful wife and himself to the ever faithful husband who will always take back his bride because of his great love for her.
Why then the prohibitions against sex outside of marriage? Because sex is part of what makes marriage marriage. Sex is the physical act that brings two spouses back to that original naked and unashamedness that Adam and Eve experienced in the garden. It’s the most intimate human relationship that one can have. God has made it a sign and a symbol of the relationship He wants to have with us. God, like our spouse, sees us and all our flaws but accepts us and even desires us despite all of that. Marriage is supposed to be a sign and symbol of his love. Sex is one of the things that sets the marriage relationship apart. Therefore he wants it to be safeguarded. That is the biblical basis for the Christian view of sex.
Those are some of the main biblical passages that are brought up when we’re thinking about God’s view of sex. Next week we’ll continue on the subject with looking at some other biblical and observational things that we can learn about why God sees sex as important. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions or observations you have on this. I’d love to answer/think through any questions you might have.