In conjunction with Tenth Presbyterian Church's 2010 Urban Ministry Conference, Sex in the City (3/5-7), the members of Tenth's pastoral staff and HarvestUSA will discuss issues of sex and sexuality in our culture. A list of the topics we will be discussing is available here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sex Gone Wrong, Dave White

God designed sexuality with a deeply theological context and a heart-shaping purpose. When sex goes wrong it loses the power and poignancy of God’s created intent, becoming instead a futile pursuit for satisfaction that constantly eludes and can become enslaving. To understand it’s brokenness we need to examine the design.

First, heterosexual marriage is the context for sexuality in order to compellingly point us to our Creator and his love for us. Genesis 1 gives us the “wide angle” view, describing humanity as created in God’s image male and female. Scripture teaches God’s eternal existence in three Persons – Father, Son and Spirit. Fittingly, God created two genders to reflect his relational existence. Then Genesis 2 “zooms in” to examine in greater detail – we learn that Eve was taken out of Adam. God created separate genders by splitting apart the one creature who, up to that point, solely reflected his image. This means marriage is a “reunion,” bringing together again as “one flesh” the image of God that was torn asunder in the creation of the genders. Sex is an explicit illustration of this reality as their bodies are physically reunited in the very act of creating. So the pleasure of sex, on one level, is intended to give us a tiny, momentary glimpse into the wonder and ecstasy of the Godhead. Sex is deeply relational, minutely reflecting the utter joy and delight God experiences within his Trinitarian existence.

But the theological implications go deeper still. Beginning in the OT, marriage is used to depict God’s relationship to his people. So Paul, in articulating spousal roles, reaches the startling conclusion, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). Now, the apostle was not thoughtfully sucking the end of his pen trying to come up with a helpful metaphor. This passage poignantly describes God’s created intent for marriage – that we might understand his relationship to us! It reveals the depth of his love and delight, the wonder of his covenantal commitment to us. However, it also reveals the darkness of our rebellion as throughout the Prophets, God describes his people’s idolatry as spiritual adultery. So marriage, as the context for sexuality, points us to our relationship with Jesus. Just as in marriage we pledge fidelity and adultery is the most excruciating experience a spouse can suffer, so we are to give our hearts to Christ in utter spiritual fidelity casting aside all other idols clamoring for allegiance. Sex points us to right worship in our relationship with Jesus.

Secondly, sex is intended to shape our hearts in conformity to Christ. The only clear “how to” Biblical passage for sex is 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” This passage tells us two important things: within marriage sex is non-negotiable. It is commanded. But, I must quickly add, sex can’t be demanded. In God’s design, spouses are commanded to satisfy the other person, not themselves. (Thus, if you read the passage with joy saying, “Aha, my spouse’s body belongs to me…” you didn’t get the point! Your message is “your body belongs to your spouse.”) So the focus of sex is no different than anything else in the Christian life. We are commanded to lay aside our desires – our very life – in order to selflessly serve others. Here again, God gives a sweet, tender illustration to his people: a wonderfully pleasurable opportunity to learn the joys of selflessly serving another. (A lesson that is crucial as couples prepare for the extreme selfless service of parenting!) Sex teaches the soul-satisfying delight of service.

In stark contrast, sex gone wrong is radically focused on self. Personal pleasure is paramount. Self worship is central. Torn away from covenantal relationship, broken sexuality doesn’t bring about reunion, but continually forges new bonds only to perpetually re-sever. It is a heartrending example of how the Curse spreads. Sex is supposed to be special. Spreading our sexuality among the masses fragments us as individuals, diminishes its value and even the pleasure of the experience. In sin’s tragic irony, the pursuit of sexual pleasure as an end in itself results in utter discontent. Listen to the chilling description in Ephesians 4:19, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” We become “callous,” hardening our hearts to him, and turn to sex in the hope of finding life. Broken sexuality makes sexual pleasure an idol, the pinnacle of human experience. And so our culture exalts sex to a primary, essential aspect of our existence that no one should be deprived of. But it doesn’t work. The Greek word translated “greedy” literally means a “desire to have more.” It refers to the experience of being insatiable, incapable of finding contentment, so in desperation people sink to deeper levels of depravity. Consider pornography use: what began with looking at swimsuit calendars descends into increasingly graphic images. Broken sexuality means diminishing returns – what once satisfied does no longer and greater depravity is required to reach the same thrill. Sexual pleasure as an end becomes enslaving. Seeking to be served rather than to serve, we become slaves to our desires.

The hope for broken sexuality is Immanuel. The Creator God, the one who established the covenantal relationship with his people, has moved toward us in Christ. Jesus is the healer whose mission is to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). He delivers those enslaved to their desires and makes a “new creation” those fragmented by sexuality gone wrong. He offers genuine, abundant life to those willing to risk walking into the light, confessing to him and seeking the support of his Body, the church.


  1. Perhaps I am totally out of line, but I want to ask: "Is an affirmation of sexuality ever right, we being between the fall and glory, as we are?" There is a side of me that likes ballet dancing, girls in bikinis, etc. I remember talking to a badly handicapped man in Germany who told me that social liberals afforded him a better quality of life than social Conservatives -- or even God Himself!

    These essays about sex seem to be Biblical and eloquent, but for most of us who read this blog it's the second (or third) look which brings us into sin and condemnation.

    When Steve Garber, who wrote the book THE FABRIC OF FAITHFULNESS, and I were students at Geneva College, Steve used the phrase "stewardship of our sexuality," which I liked because it implied that sexuality is not bad, but that God wants us to control it.