In the eighth part of this series, we are thinking about marriage and the wider question of sexual purity. Why do we need to look at this here? Because the standards that God has are radically different from what our society says. Sexual purity is something which is very important to God. And yet, most people have very little idea what God says about sex and marriage. Following Jesus, as we thought about in part one, means we need to submit our lives to Christ in every area – even when it’s very different to the message we hear from society.
So, what does God have to say about marriage and sex?
God created marriage and sex
The first two chapters in the Bible, Genesis 1-2, tell the story of how God created the world and human beings. It tells of how Adam was lonely, then God created the woman for him to be his companion. Adam rejoices, and we are told: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Although Adam and Eve had no wedding ceremony, this passage has given the definition of marriage through the ages: a man and a woman come together to become one. Two become one. The Spice Girls might have been onto something after all…! Joking aside, there is something unique about the way that man and woman come together in marriage. God created man and woman to complement one another, and the highest expression of this is marriage.
So, ever since that time, Christians have defined marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others. Sex is something which is to be enjoyed within marriage, but not outside of it.
Why focus on sexual sin?
Marriage is the only specific sin this course mentions. Why is that? Why don’t they talk about other sins such as lying or greed? The New Testament often treats sexual sin as something which is particularly notable. For example, Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” That doesn’t mean that sexual sin is an unforgivable sin – Jesus’ blood is enough to cleanse anyone of sexual sin (see below).
However, I think we all realise that sex is a powerful thing and can be deeply destructive when it goes wrong.
This is what the apostle Paul said about sexual sin:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.1 Corinthians 6:18-20
Paul says that sexual sin is a sin against our own bodies. I think most people recognise this – that there is no such thing as ‘just sex’, it goes deeper than that. Sex connects the spiritual and the physical. It brings two people together in unity. Sex was designed to bring us together with a spouse – if we sleep with someone else, it dishonours both our bodies. And Paul argues that, since our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we should honour God with our bodies.
The point of including marriage and sex here in this list is this: we are to honour God even with our deepest, most intimate desires. Even when it’s hard to do because our culture is saying something very different. We need to listen to him in everything about our lives.
Common ways we go wrong about marriage and sex
Let’s look briefly at a few ways where we can go wrong when it comes to this teaching.
Sex outside of marriage
Although it sounds ridiculously old-fashioned to say it now, according to the Bible it is wrong to have sex with someone you’re not married to. In every single TV show I watch, it’s commonplace for a couple to have sex after the first or second date. Of course TV is not the same as real life! But the reality is in the 21st century that most people see absolutely no problem with sleeping with someone before marriage.
Something else which is sadly common in society is pornography. It should go without saying, but pornography is a violation of God’s good design for sex. It cheapens and demeans it. And, sadly, too many people are addicted to it. Pornography is not compatible with God’s plan for marriage and sex.
Gay people and couples are now commonly accepted in 21st century Britain. And, I should add, I am glad they do not suffer the abuse and discrimination they used to! However, same-sex sexual relationships are also forbidden by God. Obviously there’s a lot more we need to say! If you want to see a helpful Christian website about being Christian and gay, check out Living Out.
It’s become almost normal to hear of someone having an affair. As I write this, just in the past few months I can think of several high-profile public figures who were caught having an affair. But God designed marriage to be exclusive, and to remain that way.
Divorce is another difficult issue. It’s not absolutely forbidden in the Bible, but it is always seen as less than ideal. Unfortunately, our society seems to see divorce as a ‘quick fix’ solution if things aren’t working out. The pastor John Stott once said that he would never to any couple about divorce before he talked about reconciliation. Divorce should never be anything other than a last resort for Christians. Again, there’s much more that would need to be said about this!
All of us have sinned sexually. No-one has ever lived a sinless life in this area, or any area! It’s important to say that, however we may have lived in the past, we can find forgiveness. This is another part of the chapter we looked at from 1 Corinthians:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Paul says that the sexually immoral will not enter the kingdom of God. Those are hard words – but look at what he goes on to say. “You were washed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”. The Lord Jesus can wash us clean of any sin if we come to him. There is no sin we can commit that he cannot forgive. And, when we are forgiven, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the power to live changed lives. We have the power to begin living in the ways God wants us to. That doesn’t mean we’ll be free of sin completely, but we can step away from the sinful ways in which we used to live.
Doing marriage right as Christians
So what does it mean to uphold the standard of Christian marriage? There are a few things.
Don’t sleep with anyone you’re not married to. This is the same rule for everyone, whether you’re married or single. This is the command that everyone is called to. And this includes what happens in our minds – in particular, avoid pornography!
Work on your marriage. If you’re married, don’t take your spouse for granted. Marriage is something that needs investment – spend time together. Have fun. Pray for your spouse. Read the Bible and pray together. Marriage and sex a are good gifts from God – but, like any good gifts, they take work. Don’t assume that a good marriage will just happen. And don’t be afraid to pray for God’s help.
The key point is, we don’t just uphold God’s standards of marriage by avoiding what God wants us to avoid. That’s all well and good, but we also need to do what God wants us to do. If we are married, we need to put the work in and ask God to help our marriages to be as good as they can be.
Pray for other marriages. Pray for other couples in your church – marriage is difficult, especially in our culture. Ask God to strengthen the marriages of other couples you know. Supporting married couples is a very important thing, and it’s something we can do whether we are married or single.
I realise that I’ve had to skim over things which I’d really like to talk about in more detail. I am planning to create a whole new series about sex and marriage. If you’re interested, please sign up for the mailing list and I’ll email with updates.