If someone asks you, “What are your thoughts on cohabitation?” or “Do you believe God is ok with gay marriage?” how would you respond?
To answer those questions, you will (without even realizing it) tap into your underlying beliefs about the purpose of sexuality. Every opinion you have about sexual issues is rooted in a larger narrative of what you believe about sex—and ultimately, God. Your sexual narrative is the background that helps you make sense of sexuality. It’s the backstory on why our sexual experiences and choices should matter.
Our culture’s changing views on issues like living together or gender fluidity come from an evolution in our sexual narrative. The larger culture now predominantly tells a humanistic narrative that honors human sexuality as a primary form of self-expression and identity. In a recent study, the Barna group concluded, “Sex has become less a function of procreation or an expression of intimacy and more of a personal experience. To have sex is increasingly seen as a pleasurable and important element in the journey toward self-fulfillment.” If sex is an important part of self-fulfillment, experimentation and sexual “freedom” become very important avenues to maturity.
In contrast to this narrative, the traditional church narrative presents sexuality as a “pass or fail” test of moral character and religious commitment. In my last blog post, I wrote about the limitations of the traditional “purity narrative” of sexuality. If you read that post, you might have been left wondering. If “saving yourself for marriage” isn’t the complete Christian narrative about sex, then what is?
To understand the fuller picture of Christianity and sex, we need to start with the premise that sexuality isn’t just about what happens here on earth. It was created by God as something sacred. Sexuality is fundamentally linked to intimacy. As much as our culture tries to push the concept of “casual sex,” there is nothing casual about it. Sexuality, as created by God, taps into our deepest longings and vulnerabilities.
Sexuality must first and foremost be understood as an earthly aspect of humanity that points to a heavenly truth. That truth is that we were made for intimacy. We were created with deep longings to be known, embraced, and loved eternally by a God who will never leave us nor forsake us.
We cannot understand marriage and sexuality until we understand what they were designed to point to. Our sexual longings symbolize the experience of being incomplete. A sexual encounter at best provides a momentary taste of what we were created to experience for eternity. Even within marriage, we continue to have these longings because marriage was never meant to fully satisfy them. C.S. Lewis eloquently states the angst of desire and disappointment: “The longing for a union which only flesh can mediate while the flesh, our mutually excluding bodies, renders it forever unattainable.” Marriage is the metaphor for the answer—not the answer itself!
God created the covenant of marriage to be an earthly experience that points to the eternal reality that Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom of His Church. He pursued her, sacrificed to make her holy, and was united with her through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are most fulfilled when we abide deeply with God. We get glimpses of that intimacy here on earth, but we are still left wanting! As Paul says, all creation groans for Christ to come and claim His people.
While the cultural narrative worships sex as a source of our personal fulfillment, the biblical narrative presents sex as a sacred picture of longing, unity, and covenant. Its power is not in attaining sexual satisfaction but in recognizing the deeper longing it represents. This narrative gives a greater context to all things sexual. It explains the why behind the what.
It also helps us understand why sexual intimacy is celebrated within marriage but wrong when it happens apart from a covenant. It fleshes out why sexual betrayal is so difficult to recover from. Within this narrative, male and female are not interchangeable, because they represent Christ and the church. The Christian “rules” around our sexuality are there because they frame the picture of the true purpose of our sexuality.
We were not created for sexual expression. We were not even created for marriage. We were created for intimacy. The greatest sex in marriage is a wonderful thing, but still a temporal pleasure meant to point to deeper longings. This is why the New Testament holds singleness in such high esteem. The ultimate good for a Christian is not a happy marriage but surrender to and unity with Christ Himself. Marriage and sexuality are holy metaphors to be honored but should never become idols that overshadow our longing to know God Himself.
Over the past several years, I’ve been studying and “unpacking” this biblical metaphor. The deeper I press into this mystery (and it is a mystery!), the more I’m understanding God’s heart for our sexuality. It helps me put into context my struggles as a wife, the disappointments I see and experience, and also why everything sexual is such a massive spiritual battlefield.
My heart for you is that as you engage with Authentic Intimacy materials, you are not simply learning the Christian “rules” about sex, but are encountering God’s heart for you. Sex is not just about sex. It is a physical way that you experience what you were created for… eternal intimacy with a faithful God.
You may also find these follow-up resources helpful: