I have a lot of people write to me because of my book on contraception. They look for all sorts of help with counseling questions, or just want to be affirmed in certain decisions, some of which have to do with contraception, but many of which have to do with other sexual issues. I imagine that this is the case because the book is more about discussing a Christian sexual ethic as applied to contraception than it is about contraception itself. In fact, whenever I've seen it on syllabi for sexual ethics courses, it appears in the general section of sexual ethics within the bibliography, rather than under "contraception," even when there was a separate section for that. Hence, I get a lot of "other" inquiries that stray further from the specifications of that issue. This doesn't really phase me, as I was a pastor for a long time and have gotten a lot these questions from an early age.
One of the most important conversations I had was with a man who informed me that he had had sex with his three former girlfriends before marriage, and even his present wife, before marriage, but now that he matured as a godly man, he no longer had the desire to have sex with his wife. He now found sex to be dirty and something degrading.
The following is the gist of what I said to him in conversational form. We'll call him "Jim" for purposes of this conversation.
Jim: I try to accommodate my wife, but I feel so dirty when we are having sex now. I just see it as that I have really grown a lot and have matured from what I was before marriage. I was quite sexually immoral then and saw sex as something that I constantly wanted, but now I just see it as something unbecoming of a Christian, as a base activity that makes me feel like I've done something wrong before God.
Me: I wonder if you'll indulge me for a moment by looking at a few verses with me.
Jim: Sure, I'd love to.
Me: Great. What I want to do is go back for a moment and ask you a question before we do that.
Me: Do you think that God likes you having sex with your wife? In other words, is it something He wants you to do and has delight in your doing it?
Jim: I cringe to even think about that question. It seems so disrespectful of God to suggest that He delights in my having sex with my wife.
Me: OK, well, that basically answers the question for me. You think that sex is something unholy, dirty, and something that is frowned upon, or at the most, reluctantly allowed, by God; and that holiness is bound up with not having sex.
Jim: When you put that way, Yes, I think I do think that way.
Me: OK, well, let's look at some verses.
Me: First, if you want to know what God's pleasure is for mankind, then you need to go back to when He made mankind and see what He commanded them to do. So if you look at the very first command given to the human couple that He makes, God explicitly tells them to have sex with one another for the purpose of co-creating more human beings. It is a creative act that counters chaos that works toward a humanless world. Because of that, sex is seen as a godly activity. In fact, it is seen as a primary means of being the image of God. It is through the sexual activity with your wife that you are the image of God, and therefore, represent God by having sex with her for the purpose of family. What is more godly than being the image of God?
Jim: I see.
Me: Now, don't you think that God wants us to have pleasure in obeying Him? Don't you think God wants us to enjoy our task of co-creating? And don't you think that God sees this as a holy activity, not something dirty?
Jim. Well, maybe, but that was before we had sin natures and ruined everything. Now everything just seems corrupted.
Me: I agree, but this command is written down for us to obey after man had fallen. And what we see in the rest of Scripture illumines that, even if we are fallen, God wants us to see this activity as holy, enjoyable, and desirable.
That's why we have the witness of the rest of the Bible to tell us that it is still God's delight for us to have delight in this activity with one another, and it is still holy and good to have pleasure in it.
Jim: Are there other verses that tell us this?
Me: Yes. In Proverbs, we are told that, rather than have pleasure in an evil and dirty form of sex, i.e., adultery, the husband should enjoy the breasts of his wife. She is painted as a fountain of life-giving water from which he should drink, as opposed to another woman who is not his wife who will bring him death. That's God, the Holy Spirit, instructing His people that He wants them to have pleasure in their sexual activity with their wives.
In fact, God sees it as so holy to have such pleasure with one's wife that He inspires the Song of Songs (i.e., "The Greatest Song"), a text that symbolically describes what our relationship with Him should look like, in terms of a couple desiring to have, and having, sex with one another.
Jim: That's hard for me to get my head around. It's seem wrong.
Me: Do you know why you think that way, Jim?
Me: Because you're just as sexually immoral today as you were when you weren't married.
Jim: How so?
Me: Because you saw what is considered by the Bible as dirty sex, in a time that you should have abstained from it and saved yourself for your wife, as desirable and something to pursue. You saw it as fun and enjoyed it. But now, when sex is considered by the Bible to be holy activity that God has pleasure in, you want nothing to do with it.
Your view of sex then was twisted into self worship when you weren't married, and your view of sex now is twisted into self worship now that you're married. Either way, you twisted sex into something that it wasn't when you were not married and you twist sex into something it is not now that you are. You haven't matured one bit. You're just as sexually immoral today as you were then. It just expresses itself differently in marriage.
Jim: Wow, I've never thought of that.
Me: You may not realize this, but the New Testament addresses people like yourself, and it considers them nothing close to holy and mature. In fact, when Paul talks to the immature Corinthians, he has to tell them that they are to stop depriving one another of sex and to continually engage in it, making time only for the Lord in prayer. That sounds like quite a bit of sex going on there.
But do you know why the New Testament addresses this?
Jim: No, why?
Me: Because there were groups of people who were teaching that God thinks about sex the way you do. They were proto-gnostics and various types of ascetics who saw sex as something dirty. The proto-gnostics saw it that way because they did not want more children brought into the world that they viewed as evil and corrupt. The ascetics thought of it as dirty, precisely, for the same reasons you do. They thought it was unbecoming of a mature man of God, as God is sexless, therefore, we ought also to be.
This completely ignored that we are not God, and that God has pleasure in our partaking of the things He created for us, as well as partaking in His creative work in the world that is of both a physical and spiritual nature. These ascetics, therefore, were also a type of gnostic in that they split the physical from the spiritual and viewed pleasures as animalistic and unbecoming of a people claiming to be made in the image of God. Of course, as we already saw, the image of God, ironically, is bound up with our obeying God's blessing-command to have sex with our spouses for the purpose of family, and enjoy doing so.
Jim: Wow, I've never thought about that before.
Me: In fact, Jim, the Bible views our sanctification, i.e., our being made holy, not by abstaining from sex, but by not committing sexual immorality. Paul, who says this under the inspiration of God, is the one who said that we avoid sexual immorality by getting married and having sex with our spouses. What that means is that sanctification, i.e., your becoming a mature man of God who reflects God's holiness in marriage, is bound up with your having sex with your wife and viewing it correctly as a vehicle through which you please God and worship Him as His image.
The New Testament considers your view, not holy and from God, but a teaching of demons. In other words, the irony is that your view is a demonic view, one that is unholy and dirty. To not have sex with your spouse because you have a distorted view of sex is dirty, not the other way around.
That's why I've said, Jim, that you are as sexually immoral today as you were when you were not married. It is not that you have matured, but rather that your rebellion against God has expressed itself differently once you got married. You did not have pleasure in doing God's will then, and you do not have pleasure in doing His will now. His will outside of marriage was for you to abstain. His will within marriage was for you to indulge and have pleasure in having sex with your spouse, describing it as drinking up water daily and frequently from a fountain and desiring it like fresh fruit from a tree (which is the equivalent in the ancient Near East to desiring a chocolate cake if chocolate cake was actually healthy for you). You and God have never seen eye to eye about sex. Not then, and not now.
Jim thanked me and said that I'd given him a lot of think about. To be sure, Jim had not only robbed God in indulging in sexual activity with people other than his wife, but he had also robbed her and continues to rob her of a healthy marriage and the very vehicle through which her sanctification comes about within marriage. His disobedience is as much a betrayal of her well-being before God today as it was before he got married. The excitement of the activity, as seen within a context where Jim was obeying God within marriage, was killed by his excitement in seeing the activity within a context where he was disobedient. In essence, he had ruined his marriage before it got started and didn't even know it. The question is whether he will continue to ruin it by allowing those premarital sins to continue being his marital sins. Sex in God's will isn't something that is dirty that needs to be purified. It is something pure that needs to be kept from being seen as dirty. Until we see that, we will continue to be immature and our marriages remain unholy.