Sacred Sexuality

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 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.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 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; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6 (NIV)

Your Body is Sacred

I grew up in an age of dedicated efforts to keep Christian kids pure.[1]  Every youth retreat or conference I went to had a pointed emphasis on committing us to our own purity.  Purity was the emphasis of bible studies, Sunday school, youth group, and Sunday sermons.  I remember one youth pastor who spray-painted "SEX" on a cinder block, railed for an hour about how horrible sex was for us, and then smashed the thing with a sledge hammer.  My church-world was saturated with the message: YOU MUST STAY PURE!!!![2]

As I’ve grown older I’ve grown more frustrated with those lessons.  What I remember feels so empty now.  It’s as if they were telling us to grow into a full, vibrant, mature tree and then held up a wimpy stick as our example of a good tree.  What I mean is, for these well-meaning Christian educators abstinence was the whole story.  Just don’t have sex and you’ll be fine, was what we all heard.  I think for the New Testament purity is only part of the story.  The other part is sacredness.  And not just the sacredness of sex, but the sacredness of our own bodies.  

As Paul wrote here in 1 Corinthians, when we sin sexually we actually hurt ourselves.  We give our body less than it deserves or at least less than it needs.  Here’s my basic conviction: sex is symbolic; symbolic of the best of marriage.  It’s a husband and wife giving themselves wholly to one another.  The physical wholeness represents the wholeness of body, mind, soul, and strength in the rest of life.  For most of us, we deeply need this kind of whole love.[3]  Our bodies are so sacred that they deserve a lifetime of love and support.  Sex at its best reinforces, therefore, how sacred we each are.  Sex that relies on anything less than this full commitment does the exact opposite—it serves to cause us to feel very unsacred.  

In case you don’t believe me, how did you feel the last time someone broke up with you?  Used?  Unworthy?  Devalued?  Even if you didn’t have sex, the breakup strikes at your deeply seated need to know that you are sacred.  It wounds you.  My assumption is that repeated sexual encounters not propped up by commitment may make us think our body is a commodity, to be bartered for with drinks and gifts or witty remarks, something far from the sacred reality of how we were created. [4]
Part of Paul’s point is that we were each bought by Christ’s precious sacrifice and so we must treat our bodies as if they are indeed worth such a high cost.  We are not to be given away easily, not for anything less than lifelong commitment. Jesus has received us into His Kingdom with a promise to never leave us.  He has given himself entirely, to the point of death, to us.  So too, our sexuality is a gift to be given entirely, to the point of death, to our spouse.  And when lived out in good faith, that’s really, really good for us. 

Who would say, “Having the same person give me their total commitment for a life time, yeah, that sounds lackluster?” Unfortunately, I think many people in our world do have serious doubts about the benefits of monogamy.  I wonder if part of that is because they, like us, have seen lots and lots of marriages not live up to such ideals. Many have seen selfishness as the model for marriage.  And selfish sex within marriage is as bad or worse than any other kind of sexual immorality.  Sex that centers on propping up a sense of self-entitlement is the antithesis of what I would call biblical sexuality.  

But how many Christians have been taught this?  How many Christian teens venture into sexual encounters with little or no sense of God’s design except to know that they’re probably sinning?
How many Christians really believe that our bodies are sacred, so sacred that nothing will do except lifelong mutually gifted commitment? My guess is that many Christians think about sex as either that pleasurable thing they do with their spouse or that thing the bible says they are obligated to do with their spouse. I think the beautiful symbolism is often lost.  

But when we lose the symbolism, I think we also lose our sacredness.

[1] I’m not sure that age is over just yet.
[2] It always felt like an all-out assault on sex.  Not just pre-marital sex, but on sex.  In fact, I have heard of more than a handful of Christian couples who couldn’t bring themselves to be intimate for several days after their wedding night, because they were too afraid that they might be sinning.
[3] I say most, because I do believe in the gift of celibacy.  Sometimes I wonder if our hypersexual world causes people who have this gift to not have room to recognize it.
[4] A significant percentage of our teens, Christian and otherwise, are sexually active.  A significant portion of them also struggle with self-doubt.  I’m convinced that this is no coincidence.  If you don’t believe that you are worth a lifetime, you won’t wait around. 


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