Sex and Marriage – Article Series
1. The Bride and the Bridegroom
2. Sexual sin and purity
3. Purpose of marriage
4. Shape of marriage
5. Futility of marriage
6. Marriage or undivided devotion?
7. Dating for marriage
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 6:18-20
Before we look at the purpose and shape of marriage, we must pause to reflect on our own failures before God, and areas where we have been victims, with regard to our beliefs and practices towards sex. When coming to the topic of sex and marriage, everyone comes with their own experiences. For many, those experiences have been negative. Abusive relationships, divorce, sex addiction, porn consumption, physical injuries, bullying, rape, and other feelings of violation. The list could continue on. If you are someone who has done, or been the victim of, these things then you may have very little interest in what God has to say about sex and marriage.
The purpose of this post will not be to comprehensively go through the different kinds effects of these negative aspects. Instead, my goal is simple yet not simplistic: I want to comfort you with the words of Christ and point you to the saviour who loves you with an incorruptible and inexhaustible love. I write as one who has been both a victim and a perpetrator of sexual sin and has had to wrestle with my own guilt and shame in the past and the present. As with most things that I write, I am both attempting to encourage others while also preach to myself. That is the same with this.
Firstly, what is sexual sin? Sexual sin, or sexual immorality, is defined as any sexual practice that does not obey God’s pattern for sexual activity. It could also be extended (in some senses) to any beliefs that don’t obey God’s pattern for sexual activity. What pattern is this? It is the gift of loving, mutual self-giving and sacrificial service between a man and a woman as an expression of their marital oneness. So, transgressions of this pattern include anything from sex outside of marriage, coercing someone to have sex, masturbation to pornography, permanently abstaining from sex with your spouse, and committing adultery. Sexual sin is both something that we can commit and something that we can be a victim of.
It may be difficult to conceive of why certain sexual activities count as ‘immoral’ in the sight of God. Some of them are obvious e.g. rape. However, others may not be seen as obvious. Part of this is because of our tendency to have entrenched views of what is acceptable or not based upon the immediate harm that we see. Certain sexual acts are ‘obviously’ immoral due to the harm that they pose to others or to ourselves. But morality is not defined by the Christian in a primarily horizontal direction. That is, we don’t define what is right or wrong purely on the basis of our ability to discern the immediate benefits or harms that something can have on others. The Christian is called to see the world in light of what it means to follow Jesus, and following Jesus reveals to us the fact that we have been dignified by God and live in a Creation with a maker’s guide. God’s way is the best way, and is the right way, even when I can’t see it.
Sexual sin is not any more worthy of judgement than any other sin, but it is different from any other sin. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 we see Paul writing about this difference. If we lie, then we sin against others. If we steal, we have wronged others. But sexual sin is a wrong against our own bodies. When I sin against others, I must apologise to the offended party. When I sin against myself, it is unusual to think of apologising to ourselves. We can become stuck in a cycle of guilt and shame that perpetuates itself in greater guilt and shame, especially when our sin also does affect others. The darkness that a person can feel in their struggle with sexual sin can be crushing, leading to feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Coupled with our pride, we can tear ourselves down and feel worthless. The pit of shame is a place that few can pull themselves out from, and often it can seem easier to wallow and indulge in the blackness out of despair.
This is especially the case for Christians who recognise that their bodies are to be set apart for God who has made them temples of the Holy Spirit. Instead of going to a temple to worship God we are temples and our whole lives are meant to be an act of worship. Sinning against our own bodies is perverted worship. And even though we know it to be wrong, sometimes we don’t care. And when there are more people involved, our guilt feelings can be intensified. We can seek to run away, to push others away, go deeper and deeper into our sin, and tell ourselves that this is the life we have and there’s no turning back. Surely God can’t forgive me? And even if He could, I could never forgive myself for what I’ve seen and done. And those people I’ve hurt will surely never forgive me either. Meanwhile, if I’m a victim of sexual sin, surely I’m damaged in some way. Surely, no one could ever want me.
Christians, past, present, and future, will all struggle with sexual sin at some time and in some way. And to those who have baggage, those who have hurts, and those who have shame, let me point you to God’s eternal word.
1) There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. ~ 1 John 1:8-10
All those in Christ Jesus are forgiven, and nothing they ever can do or will do can give God a reason to turn away (Romans 8:1). Christians, though saved by grace, still sin. As 1 John says, if we claim to have no sin then we’re kidding ourselves. There are no limits to God’s grace for His people; if you are a Christian, you will always be forgiven. But more than that, we see in 1 John that if we confess our sins then God does forgive us and will purify us from all unrighteousness. What does this mean? It means that not only are we cleared from the judgement of our sin, but we are cleansed from the staining presence of our sin. In other words, God will remove the sin from our lives. This is a promise that we cling to, knowing that while we may stumble and fall in this life, ultimately, we will be set free from this sin during our life or when Jesus returns. We will come back to this idea in point 3. But let us also say that if you have been hurt and the victim of the sin of others, you are not condemned for that. You are not dirty in God’s sight. Jesus’ death for us on the cross removes both the penalty of sin and the shame of sin’s presence in our lives.
Beloved Christian, you are forgiven. You are loved even when you don’t deserve it.
Beloved Christian, in Christ you will never be condemned for what you do.
Beloved Christian, your sin doesn’t surprise God – it is proof of exactly why we need Jesus. So turn to Him. He is faithful, and will purify you completely.
Beloved Christian who has been wronged by another, you are clean and beautiful in God’s sight.
2) You are given a new identity in Christ Jesus that is perfectly loved while you are completely known.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-19a
God is seeking to reconcile the world to Himself, and for Christians this means drawing them close to Him and not counting their sins against them. God completely knows everything that you have done or will do – and He still sent His Son to save us. In Christ, Christians are new. That ‘newness’ isn’t something that can continue being worn out. It’s new and given by God. This identity cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39), and is seen as clean and righteous (1 Corinthians 6:11).
We live in a world that wants to define people by their sexual preference, but Christianity says that you are more than what you choose to do with your body. The Christian God says that you are more than your past. The Christian God says that you can have a glorious future. And despite your failures in the here and now, you are not worthless or damaged beyond repair. You may see yourself as wretched, broken, shameful, guilty, worthless, and beyond saving. But in Jesus, God sees you as righteous, renewed, and set apart for Himself. This is the case for those who commit sexual sin and those who have been victimised by the sin of others.
Beloved Christian, God doesn’t want to push you away; He wants to draw you near.
Beloved Christian, in Christ you are a new creation. You are perfectly known and yet completely loved.
Beloved Christian, you are not defined by your past or your present. You are defined by who you are in Jesus.
Beloved Christian who has been wronged by another, you are pure and whole before God.
3) God gives us His Spirit to help us in the struggle against sin.
13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ~ Romans 8:13-15
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. ~ Titus 2:11-14
What marks the Christian life is repentance and faith from start to finish. We repent of our sins continuously, choosing to turn away from them and turn to God, and we believe and trust in the God who has saved us. But it is hard. We continue to sin. We continue to fall. We continue to fail.
But God has given us His Spirit to help us put to death our sins. Not only can we fight sin; we must fight sin. Part of our repentance is seen in the war we wage against our sin. In fact, as Paul writes in Romans 13-14, being led by God’s Spirit to fight sin is the sign we are truly children of God. And because we are children of God we can cry out to Him in prayer, seeking His help and guidance.
So, fight. Declare war on your sin. Sin will win skirmishes along the way but we know the outcome of the war. We will win because sin will not defeat those who are in Christ. Pray that God would give you the grace to obey Him. Pray that God would give you a godly grief that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). Pray that God would give you a hatred of sin and a love for purity. Indeed, purity is not something that we should strive for ‘until marriage’. Purity, though it will take different forms in and out of marriage, is always our goal. And you know what? We have each other to help us get there.
Confess your sins to trusted brothers and/or sisters. Seek prayerful support. Bring the darkness into the light and drown it out with the fountains of grace that flow from forgiven sinners. And know that when you are tempted, when you are enticed, and when your desire to sin is aroused, you are not alone. You can fight. And be it in this life or when Jesus returns, you will win.
Beloved Christian, you are not alone in your struggle. You are empowered by God’s Spirit.
Beloved Christian, you can pray to your Father in heaven for help and strength.
Whether you’re a divorcee, a married spouse, or a struggling boyfriend or girlfriend (or anything in-between), the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for you. We can speak and consider the place and role of sex and marriage despite our experiences and hurts. God doesn’t promise that it will be easy. God doesn’t promise that it will always make sense. What He does promise is that you are loved, there is no condemnation, and that in His kindness you can be renewed. Wherever you are, if you’re reading this post then it is not too late to seek God. Purity is always worth striving for because godliness is always eternally important.
This post hasn’t tried to give specific strategies to fight individual struggles. Nor has it sought to provide comprehensive pastoral counselling and care for those who have been hurt. My prayer is that you will be encouraged by what is written here, comforted wherever you are at, and that you would seek to live godly and upright lives for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. I implore you to take sexual sin seriously and fight it in all its forms, as any other sin.
Our next post will turn to the purpose of marriage as God intends it. May God bless us as we continue to explore these crucial issues.