Today in western culture people tend to have a rather “recreational” view of sex. It’s just a pleasurable physical activity we engage in. Even people who don’t consciously believe this are influenced by it , since we’re bombarded with this message every day through movies, television shows, radio, magazines, etc. Because we’re influence by this recreational view, we have trouble understanding why the Bible makes such as big deal about this.
I want to help us see what the “big deal” is. I’ll make four points.
1) Jesus and the rest of the Bible teach that when two people engage in sexual intercourse, they become “one flesh.” Jesus says, “they are no longer two, but one” and “what God has joined together, no one should separate” (Mt 19:5-6). Intercourse clearly involves much more than two people getting physically intimate with each other. God himself is involved in creating a new “one” out of the two. This new oneness reflects the love and ecstasy of the Trinity and is the foundational covenant between humans in the Bible. The welfare of couples and of society hangs on honoring and protecting this new “one flesh” reality that God creates.
2) Paul indicates that this “one flesh” reality is created whenever two people have sexual intercourse. “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh’” (1Cor. 6:16). Even when the partners intend sex to be purely recreational – as when one has sex with a prostitute – it still creates this “one flesh” reality! Something profoundly spiritual, metaphysical and foundational is going on, even when the parties are “just having fun.”
3) Intercourse is the sacred sign and seal of the marriage covenant, for it symbolizes the “one flesh” reality God has created with the two covenant partners. This is why in Scripture and in the Jewish tradition, a couple wasn’t considered married until they’d had intercourse. In traditional Jewish weddings, the couple would go off to have sex after exchanging vows and the post-wedding celebration couldn’t begin until they returned – until the covenant was sealed with the sign. This is also why in the Old Testament, if a man had forced sex with a virgin outside of wedlock, he was commanded to marry her (Deut. 22:28-29). Since he’d already sealed the marriage covenant, it was believed he had an obligation to live up to the covenant.
This means that sex is anything but recreational. There is no such thing as “casual sex” from God’s perspective. Whenever two people engage in sexual intercourse, they are, in effect, creating a “one flesh” reality and sealing a sacred covenant that was meant to never be broken. Even when the sex is with a prostitute, as we saw earlier, the “one flesh” marriage principle of Genesis still applies (1 Cor. 6:15-16). And this is the same “one flesh” principle that Jesus says makes “the two, one” and that should never be broken (Mt 19:6).
4) Finally, we need to know that throughout the Bible, the sign of a covenant was considered part of the covenant. To violate or desecrate the sign was to break the covenant itself. And God took such violations very seriously.
Anyone who violated the Abrahamic covenant sign of circumcision, for example, was banished from the Israelite community. Anyone who violated the Sinai covenant sign of keeping the Sabbath was put to death.
When we violate or desecrate the sacred sign of the marriage covenant, we are violating the marriage covenant itself. We are inviting pain and misery on ourselves, those we have sex with, and on society as a whole. This is perhaps why Paul treats sexual sin more severely than other types of sin (I Cor. 6:13-20). Unlike other sorts of sin, sexual sin involves violating the most sacred and foundational covenant God gave for humans to enter into with one another. When we casually tear apart what God joins together, it has negative effects on us and on others that we can hardly begin to calculate.
Here’s a few of the more obvious consequences. One out of five Americans has an STI (sexually transmitted infection). Almost 40% of children in America are born out of wedlock, which contributes to poverty, crime and violence, especially among young people. Over 40% of all marriages end in divorce. There were 1.2 million abortions last year (2006). Ironically enough, sexual dysfunction is on the rise in America (thank you sexual revolution!). Millions have emotional and psychological scars from their promiscuous activity.
I would also argue there’s a connection between the massive promiscuity of our culture and the fact that Americans are more depressed, suffer more psychological disorders and see therapists more than any other country on the planet.
I’d go even further and suggest that our moral decadence is partly responsible for the wrath we’ve incurred from Muslim extremists. Without in any way condoning their violence, one of the main reasons they see America as “the great Satan” is because of how we’re influencing the rest of the world with our debauchery. It’s undeniable that wherever American influence is evidenced, sexual morals rapidly loosen. Conservative Muslims (not just extremists) disdain our “freedom” because to them it’s inseparably wrapped up with the freedom to have sex outside of marriage. When they hear George Bush announce that we’re going to expand “freedom” around the globe, what many hear is Satan announcing he’s going to spread debauchery around the globe. The extremist are willing to do whatever it takes to keep this from happening.
Out of his passionate love for us, God is calling Kingdom people back to honor the sign of the marriage covenant. He’s calling on us to revolt against the pervasive debauchery of our culture and manifest the beauty of God’s original design for sexuality.
This involves sacrifice and, for some, a certain amount of suffering. But that is what the Kingdom is all about, for the Kingdom always looks like Jesus, manifesting the character of God by his willingness to suffer out of love for others and to honor the will of his Father.
But it’s also the way to true wholeness, abundant life and profound joy.