There is an enormous gulf between the way the world thinks of sex and the way the church teaches on sex. It is easy for us to identify how the world degrades sex, in fact the very term itself has come to be cold and distant. I may be showing my age but I think there is something beautiful about the way the older translations describe it as "knowing" a husband or a wife. It is part of the intimacy and joy of marriage. The world makes sex cheap - it is used as an advertising gimmick, as a means of release, as a selfish right, as a power thing!
However, I think we also have to recognise that for too long the church has not helped us think rightly about sex and relationships. I wonder if we went too far the other way and just didn't talk about it - apart from the annual relationships talk in youth group. This I think has made us shy in talking about sex and in turn has meant we do not have a biblical view of intimacy. I want to try to correct that as well as call out some of the lies the world tells us about sex.
In Genesis as God makes man and woman and gives them to each other part of that good gift is sex. Sex is part of the creation that is very good, but it is very good because it is within God's given context. Lifelong monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is given for relationship and having children. It is also the only God given context for sexual intimacy. The world reads a sentence like that and concludes it is restrictive, but actually it is liberating, God wants us to enjoy sexual intimacy as he designed it to be.
Unlike us the Bible isn't shy about sex and intimacy, in fact it often speaks about it (Gen 2, Gen 26:8, Psalm 45:11, Ecclesiastes 9:9, Proverbs 5:18-19, 1 Corinthians 7 and so on). Perhaps the most glorious exploration of it is in the book Song of Songs. The Bible exhorts us that in order to build a godly marriage sex needs to be thought of in its God given way and enjoyed in its God given context.
The problem is that as with every part of the good creation sex is subject to the fall. That means what was a good gift pointing us to a glorious creator God can now become something tainted and which can even enslaves us unless we rediscover its original context in relationship to God.
There are three ways sin affects sex. 1. When it becomes what we worship, a rival to God, this happens when it becomes an ultimate thing rather than a good gift from our creator. 2. It becomes selfish rather than the act of intimacy it was intended to be. This can be for a number of reasons, though chief among them is the selfish need to feel attractive or valued. 3. It becomes damaging.
I think this is particularly seen in 3 areas in our culture.
A recent study concluded that 90% of men have viewed pornography, 9 in 10, that is a staggering statistic. Pornography is innately selfish and goes against everything God designed sex to be, it tears apart God's design in pairing sex and love together. It is also addictive, it leads you to want more and more. It is also damaging in its consequences, it damages future marriages as you enter marriage with unrealistic images and unhealthy appetites, it can even make enjoying your future partner difficult for both of you. Furthermore it does not view others as made in the image of God, in fact lusting after another is part and parcel of viewing pornography, and so goes against the disciples mandate Jesus gives in Matt 5:27-30. It is a denial of who you are in Christ.
The Bible does not explicitly say masturbation is wrong but its teaching about the joy and wonder of marital intimacy shows how far short it falls and takes what God has designed and twists it. Masturbation is self-centred sex and that is far short of what God desires and designed for us to enjoy. Furthermore masturbation is usually accompanied by a lusting after someone, again Matt 5:27-30 tells us that this is a denial of who we are in Christ.
3. Asking the wrong questions
The most commonly asked question is this; 'How far can we go?' This question is striking in its Pharisee like nature. It is essentially asking how much can we get away with, where does holiness stop and sin begin. The bibles call is to radical holiness, read Ephesians 5 and Paul's exhortation to strive to present your wife holy and blameless that is what we are to aspire to in our relationships. Suddenly in that context that question is seen to miss the point.
We do not need rules we need to recognise our identity in Christ. In Christ we are justified and liberated from the hold sin has on us. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 lists all sorts of sexual sins among others but concludes "...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." We can take out the your and substitute our names there as we feel our guilt and shame at our failure. That is not who I am I am washed, sanctified and justified. We are liberated sons not slaves to sin.
This means practically we need to be living out our identity in Christ. We are not slaves to these things anymore and when we feel the temptation to engage in them we must look at our identity in Christ. As Jesus teaches about radical righteousness it is to disciples he speaks because they have shown they are hungry for such things having trusted him. Practically we don't need rules we need to have our hearts captivated by the cross, we need to listen and respond to the Spirit's promptings within us and we need to utilise the God given gift of a church family around us to pray for us, hold us accountable and point us to the cross.