"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous" (Heb. 13:4).
It's no secret that God condemns sexual impurity. "God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous" (Heb. 13:4). "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, ... nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality ... will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:910). "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity" (Eph. 5:3 NIV).
God's unyielding hostility toward immorality is well known, yet immorality threatens to overwhelm us. Pollsters say that in the United States more people watch pornography than sports. And they're not even counting as pornography the TV shows, advertisements, and R- and PG13-rated movies that probably belong in that category! Only recently, the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. installed a practicing homosexual as a bishop. Shortly thereafter, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled that "same-sex marriages" are to be treated as lawful.
The Goodness of Sex
Because we face a rising tide of immorality, and because we ourselves are tainted, we generally begin our discussions of sex by condemning immorality and lust. We should, however, begin at the beginning. Where did sex come from? Did sinners invent it? Did the devil design it? The way some people talk, you'd surely think so.
But in Genesis 1, God tells us: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (vs. 27).
And in Genesis 2, he says: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (vs. 24).
Because this is so, God commands: "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled" (Heb. 13:4). Believers are to esteem marriage and marital sex. Why? Because the holy God himself created sex and ordained marriage. But why?
For one thing, Genesis 1:28 tells us, God created sex and ordained marriage for procreation. Before the beginning, God determined to have a people for his own possession. He foreordained that his Son would have "many brothers" (Rom. 8:29). He predetermined to have communion with "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" (Rev. 7:9). Toward that end, God is seeking "godly offspring" (Mal. 2:15). He keeps his covenant from generation to generation. A fundamental purpose of sex is to propagate the human race and to perpetuate God's covenant.
But that's not its sole purpose. When he revealed his intention to create Eve, "the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him' " (Gen. 2:18). God saw man as incomplete, and so he created woman. God insists that "the wife of your youth ... is your companion and your wife by covenant" (Mal. 2:14). God didn't design men, women, and sex just for bearing children. More than that, he created sex and ordained marriage for companionship for partnership.
Sex, then, is more than four bare feet in one bed, and it is for more than producing babies. God gave it to seal and reseal the commitment between one man and one woman who have covenanted to be lifelong companions. "A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
Another godly purpose for sex in marriage is pleasure. This purpose is godly because it's God's design. He personally invented and installed all the wiring and plumbing that generates sexual pleasure. Moreover, he commands married people to enjoy this pleasure: "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love" (Prov. 5:1819; see also the Song of Songs).
Many Christians speak or act as if sexual pleasure is base and dirty, but clearly God disagrees. In fact, it's sinful to hold such an outlook. And it's doubly sinful to communicate such an attitude to the Lord's covenant children. It dishonors God by insinuating that he created something evil. And it makes our youth all the more susceptible to the temptations of the world. God warns against this error and its diabolical source:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:15).
C. S. Lewis displayed profound biblical insight when he had his fictional demon Screwtape say of God, spitting out the words with contempt,
He's a hedonist at heart. All those facts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like the foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in his sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at his right hand are 'pleasures forevermore.'
Lewis realized that the living God enjoys infinite and eternal pleasure, that he created pleasures of all sorts, and that he promises eternal pleasures in his own presence for his redeemed children (Ps. 16:11). The devils, on the other hand, can neither create nor give pleasure. Nor can sinners. They can only take God-given pleasures and pervert them and they do. This is why there is pleasure in sexual sin ... for a season. But ultimately sin destroys pleasure; ultimately sin produces misery because it twists, abuses, and ruins the God-given gift and severs it from the true source of all pleasure God himself.
To Portray the Covenant
We begin to see why God created the pleasures of sexual intimacy when we realize that God designed the marriage bond primarily to portray his covenant. Indeed, the other purposes procreation, partnership, and pleasure actually serve to express this principal purpose. Ephesians 5 quotes and then applies Genesis 2:24: " 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:3132).
This is God's interpretation of Genesis 2:24. Marriage including sexual intimacy in marriage is a mystery that refers to Christ and the church. Think about it. Did God create mankind male and female and then as an afterthought say, "Hey, that gives me a great idea! I can use the husband-wife relationship to illustrate the Christ-church relationship"? How can that be, when God knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10)?
John Piper comments,
There was more going on in the creation of woman than meets the eye. God doesn't do things willy-nilly. Everything has purpose and meaning. When God engaged to create man and woman and to ordain the union of marriage, he didn't roll dice or draw straws or flip a coin as to how they might be related to each other. He patterned marriage very purposefully after the relationship between his Son and the church, which he had planned from all eternity. Therefore marriage is a mystery it contains and conceals a meaning far greater than what we see on the outside. God created man male and female, and ordained marriage so that the eternal covenant relationship between Christ and his church would be imaged forth in the marriage union. (Desiring God, p. 186)
This explains why sexual attraction is so powerful. God created us male and female and ordained marriage, including marital intimacy, precisely in order to picture the relationship that should exist between mankind and God. Our sexual drive is a signpost that points to the deep fellowship with God for which we are created. It points to our cardinal raison d'κtre to glorify and enjoy God forever.
Sex, then, is a good gift of our Creator. God designed it to be expressed in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage in order to produce godly seed, in order to bond the two together in committed partnership, in order to give them pleasure to his glory, and, above all, in order to portray his covenant.
The Gravity of Sexual Sin
God's Hostility to Immorality
If sex is so good, then why is God so hostile to all sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage? Let me suggest two reasons.
First, God is hostile to sexual sin because he knows that his creatures literally harm themselves when they do what they're not designed to do. My automobile engine is designed to be lubricated by motor oil. The owner's manual tells me how to care for my car's engine. Suppose I say, "I don't feel like buying oil. I don't care what the owner's manual says, I'm going to use molasses instead." No matter what I want, my engine will be ruined. Is that because the manufacturers are spoilsports who have a grudge against molasses? No, it's because they understand the car's design and tell me what the car really needs, and I ignore them and do the opposite. In the same way, when God forbids sexual relations outside of marriage, it's not because he's a spoilsport who has a grudge against sex. It's because he designed us, he designed sex, he knows what is really best for our health and happiness, and he tells us so. "Keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good" (Deut. 10:13). When we break God's laws concerning sex, we go against our own design, and we damage ourselves and others. God forbids sexual sin in order to protect us.
Second, God is hostile to sexual sin because sex is such a marvelous privilege with such sublime purposes. This makes it all the more wicked to pervert its purposes. If someone gives you an inexpensive milk pitcher, and you use it as a potty, that's a slap in the face. But if the gift is a priceless family heirloom and you treat it that way, it's worse than an affront. Because sex is a good gift of God, and because its overarching purpose is to portray God's covenant, to misuse it is to maliciously vandalize something that is very dear to the heart of God.
Sexual sin vandalizes something very dear to the heart of God. It does so precisely because it garbles God's message about the relationship that should exist between God and man. Sexual sin misrepresents Christ's passionate, exclusive commitment to his one and only bride, the church; it misrepresents the passionate, exclusive commitment that the church should have to her one and only husband, Christ. This vandalism is malicious even if we're not conscious that it is, because apart from God's sheer grace in Christ each of our hearts is "hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" (Rom. 8:7).
Idolatry and Immorality
Perhaps this is most apparent in the case of overt homosexual sin (although it certainly applies to every form of sexual impurity). Remember, the root purpose of sex is to portray the relationship that should exist between God and man, the Creator and his image-bearing creature. With that in mind, consider Romans 1:2127. Verses 2125 describe the religious sin of fallen mankind.
What is the relationship that should exist between God and us? We are designed to "honor him as God" and "give thanks to him" (vs. 21). We should worship and serve our Creator, who is blessed forever (vs. 25). But what did mankind created to be God's image and glory do instead? We "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (vs. 23); we exchanged the truth about God for a lie (vs. 25). In a nutshell, we "worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (vs. 25). God designed us to worship and serve. As creatures, we have an inescapable drive to worship and serve. We cannot help but worship and serve. We're supposed to worship and serve our Creator. If we won't worship and serve him, that doesn't mean that we stop worshiping and serving. It means that we worship and serve something else instead, something that God has created (because nothing else exists except the Creator and his creation). This is idolatry. It is the heart of all sin to worship and serve creatures in the place of our Creator.
Verses 2627 reveal that this religious sin has sexual consequences:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
"For this reason" in other words, because of the religious sin they were given over to the sexual consequences. Because they worshiped and served fellow creatures rather than their Creator, therefore "God gave them up to dishonorable passions." These "dishonorable passions" express themselves as male and female homosexuality. This sexual sin is somehow a consequence of the religious sin. How? Well, the religious sin consists in focusing your religious passion on those who are like you in being. The sexual sin consists in focusing your sexual passion on those who are like you in gender. Do you see the correlation? Sinful mankind religiously cherishes fellow creatures, which are the same (homo) in being, rather than their Creator, who is wholly other (hetero) in being. "For this reason," in judgment, God lets sinners act out their idolatry and suffer the consequences. He allows sinners to sexually cherish men or women who are the same (homo) in gender, rather than men or women who are other (hetero) in gender.
This is the upside-down, backwards, negative, reverse image of what should be. God designed marriage sexual differences, sexual attraction, sexual intimacy, and sexual pleasure to picture the covenant relationship that should exist between himself and mankind (Eph. 5:3132). But men are covenant-breakers. Therefore, rather than portraying the covenant, sin twists God's good gift; sex instead comes to portray the covenant-breaking relationship that actually does exist between fallen sinners and their idols.
The fact that every human being (except Jesus) is an idolatrous covenant-breaker means that the seeds of homosexual sin exist in each fallen human heart. It should grieve us, but it shouldn't surprise us, when homosexuality openly erupts in a covenant-breaking, idolatrous culture. It should grieve us, but it shouldn't surprise us, when brothers and sisters in Christ have to struggle against this sinful bent, just as every believer has to struggle against many sinful bents. Our sexuality is at the core of who we are as God's image-bearers, and the scriptural doctrine of total depravity means that sin corrupts every part of our being, including our sexuality. The cold hard fact, then, is that to some degree each of us is sexually perverted; each distorts God's good gift. How desperately each of us needs the sheer grace of God in Christ! How desperately each of us needs the doing and dying of a perfect, covenant-keeping Savior! How desperately each of us needs the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit! How desperately each of us needs the prayers, exhortations, and encouragements of our fellow believers in the church!
"Your Maker Is Your Husband"
If space permitted, we could similarly reflect on how other sexual sins such as fornication and adultery pervert God's design for marriage to portray his covenant. We can begin to grasp why God forbids not only overt, outward sexual acts, but also words and even lustful thoughts (Matt. 5:28). We can begin to understand why he commands modesty in dress for women (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:34). Anything that adulterates the husband-wife bond the mystery of Christ and his church is wicked and rightly falls under God's wrath and curse, both in this life and in the life to come.
It may be even more important for us to ponder some positive implications. The husband-wife bond indicates how we ought to relate to our God. Scripture contends, "Your Maker is your husband" (Isa. 54:5). We ought to relate to him as a devoted, loving, faithful bride.
The Grace of God in Christ
God's standard of pure sex is a condition for true happiness happiness for men, happiness for women, happiness for children, and happiness for society. Many social scientists confirm this. Many people recognize it.
But many are also disheartened by it. Many are painfully aware that they've already failed. Many are very conscious that we find it very hard to live as God intends. That's why we need not just God's standard, but also God's gospel.
We need to hear that in Christ, God forgives sin including sexual sin and the failures that we make of our lives. Amazingly, God the Son took on himself a true human nature, performed all our duty, and paid all our debt. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). "For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). This is why our Lord Jesus came "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), "to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). He is still seeking and saving sinners.
Second, we need to hear that in Christ, God transforms sinners. He gives the Holy Spirit of Christ; he gives new hearts; he gives new strength to begin to overcome temptation and sin; he progressively "Christianizes" Christians. This side of heaven, we keep falling short of his glory. We keep needing to be forgiven. But, by God's grace, we also keep being made more and more like Jesus.
Our Lord is so passionately committed to his bride that one day he will "present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27). Since we have this hope, let us purify ourselves, as he is pure.
With this issue of New Horizons, the author lays down his responsibility as editor and as general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education, and takes up his task as an OP church planter in Indianapolis, Ind. He quotes the ESV. Reprinted from New Horizons, March 2004.