Is Sexual Intimacy A “Sacrament”?

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A lot of married couples consider their sexual relationship as an optional addition to the true substance of marriage, doing life together. In the hectic pace of managing careers, raising children, and helping others, getting naked together can seem like a nice perk on those rare occasions when you have extra time and energy. A marriage cannot thrive without good communication, but a great sex life isn’t necessary, is it?

How interesting that Paul wrote something quite different in his letter to the Corinthian church. He taught married couples that sexual intimacy should be frequent and mutually pleasing. In fact, the only reason to abstain from sex as a married couple is for a time of prayer (See I Corinthians 7:1-1-5). Clearly from the passage, Paul taught the importance of sexual intimacy in marriage as a primary way of combating temptation. However, Paul’s teaching in other passages indicates a deeper significance of regular sexual intimacy.

Our sexuality was created to be an external expression of our volitional relational and spiritual choices. Every sexual choice is also a spiritual choice. Paul taught this most clearly in I Corinthians 6:15-20:

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never!  And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

We usually apply this passage related to what we shouldn’t be doing. As Paul wrote, “run from sexual sin.” But we should also apply it to what married couples should be running to, as Paul wrote about a few verses later in chapter 7.

Here’s the takeaway. God calls us to sexual integrity. Sexual integrity means that I do with my body what I have committed to doing with the rest of my being. On July 16, 1994, I made a vow before God to love, honor and cherish my husband, forsaking all others. Every day, I am challenged to live according to that promise. My sexual choices (what I say “yes” to and what I say “no” to) should be an outward testimony of my promise.

In some ways, you can think of sexual intimacy as a spiritual sacrament. I use the word “sacrament” cautiously because some Christian traditions would take offense at the suggestion. However, here is the definition of a sacrament: “a Christian rite (as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.” As cited here in the definition, the two most familiar sacraments are baptism and communion. In baptism, we are physically washed with water as an outward indication of our spiritual cleansing through the blood of Jesus. In communion, we physically eat and drink to remember the body of Jesus broken and His blood spilled for us. In a similar vein, when I physically give my body to my husband and he gives his to me, we do so as a celebration and reminder of what we are doing with the rest of our lives. Sexual intimacy is an outward symbol of the mind and heart commitment of our vows.

Sexual intimacy in marriage is not only important to ward off temptation, but is a dynamic expression of the mystery of the marriage covenant. This is why God is so adamant that the “marriage honored by all and the marriage bed be kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4).

So let me ask you a personal question. Is the sexual relationship in your marriage a consistent expression of the promises you made on your wedding day? Although there may be barriers and difficulties to overcome, a fulfilling sex life within marriage is worth fighting for.

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  • Hugh McIntosh

    Hugh McIntosh

    Thanks Juli. You have clearly shown us the Biblical lens through which we should view lovemaking in marriage. If only the world could experience these marriage-transforming truths from God...the divorce rate would plummet!

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