To begin with, it’s probably worth laying out a brief defense of a sermon on sex. First, Christian ministers need to preach on the topic of sex because God has spoken about it in His word – to fail to cover this topic is to fail to deliver His message. Second, human sexuality is a significant part of what it means to be human – it’s a significant part human experience that needs biblical guidance. Third, if the Church does not speak, we have no business objecting to the non-stop evangelism of the world on this topic. Fourth, sex has been and continues to be one of the great idols of the world, an idol that needs toppling.
A Sledgehammer to Aphrodite’s Head
So first off we do not want to talk about this topic in a way that walks right into the grip of the idolatrous worship we are facing down. On the one hand, idolatry is the misuse of the good gifts of God (Rom. 1:21-23), but sometimes in the process of delineating the goodness of creation we allow the demons free passage like Odysseus and his men clinging to the undersides of the goats in the cave of Polyphemus. Lots of cultural sins are parasitic and therefore hard to catch, and when you point them out, people object because there’s nothing wrong with art or ink or skin, so how can you judge me for my tattoo? American Indians really did have fifteen piercings in each ear. Great, but you’re not an American Indian. You’re an insecure white girl. We fight parasitic sin by cutting off the source, and we do that first and foremost by worshiping the only true God revealed to us in Jesus Christ and trusting Him to such an extent that losing everything would still pale in comparison with His goodness and grace and glory (Rom. 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:17, 2 Tim. 4:8). Jesus said that if anyone would come after Him, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Him (Mk. 8:34). If we do not love Him more than father and mother, more than the best gifts, then we are not worthy of Him (Mt. 10:37-38).
This means that if following Jesus meant no one in this room ever had sex (again), we would do it gladly. In other words, it’s not enough to simply get married and bring your idol with you. Some Christians who are truly leaving sinful circumstances behind are nevertheless like Rachel, carrying various household idols in their saddlebags. Men who idolize sex do not stop bowing to the shrine simply by virtue of having a wedding ring on. Women who idolize masculine security or motherhood do not stop bowing at the shrine simply because they walked down the aisle.
One of the most important ways we acknowledge the supremacy of Christ and take a sledgehammer to false gods is by insisting that Jesus is all we need. Therefore, we insist that sexual intimacy is not necessary for a fully human existence. A child who dies in youth is not less human than a married man. A single woman who is never married, who never knows a man is not less of a human being. Jesus never had sex, and He never will. Jesus was not a eunuch. He was not less of a man. He was more fully human than any of us even understand. It’s not an accident that when Paul exhorts the Colossians to kill the remaining sexual sin in their lives, He concludes the list with idolatry (Col. 3:5). Sex will not save you. Having babies is not your justification. When people turn from idols to serve Jesus, we agree to lose everything so that all that God intends to give us may be received as blessing. This is not a rejection of His gifts but rather an insistence that every gift be gospel grace.
When God created the woman and brought her to Adam, he spoke the first wedding blessing on his new bride as well as the first love poem (Gen. 2:23). Not only was Adam talking about his responsibility for his wife, not only was he expressing his great delight in the beauty of his wife, he was also expressing a God-given desire to enact that responsibility and delight (Gen. 2:24). In this sense, sexual union is the “sacrament” of the covenant of marriage. It does not magically make a marriage or miraculously fix a broken one. This is because sacraments do not convey automatic blessing. The sacraments are events where God has promised to meet His people, much like God met His people in the tabernacle and temple of old (cf. Song of Songs) – but there are always warnings attached (e.g. 1 Cor. 10-11, 1 Pet. 3:20-22). Proud and hardened sinners invite the judgment of God. The same thing goes for sexual intimacy: you are either asking for blessing or cursing. Our modern sex-worshipping culture preaches another gospel. The gospel of “free sex” is that it doesn’t matter how you climax as long as you do, and the blessings will flow ex opere operato. But in the morning, there is either peace or shame. When the gift of sexual intimacy is received under the blessing of God it becomes a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus, but when it is grasped, it becomes an idol and proclaims a false gospel.
In that first one-flesh union, there was no shame (Gen. 2:25). God invented sex. It is part of the good creation. It was part of the original command given to man and woman: to bear God’s image, to rule the world, and to eat (Gen. 1:27-29). Shame came after sin entered the world (Gen. 3:7-10). Shame is the experience of covenant breaking. But in the aftermath of that first sin, we see that through the seed of the woman will come a great Dragon Slayer who will break the curse of sin which in the meantime will be experienced by women in conception and child-bearing (Gen. 3:16). Nevertheless, as a great act of faith and repentance, Adam names his wife Eve – Mother of all the living, in the face of the death-curse (Gen. 3:19-20). After they leave the garden, Adam “knows” his wife and she conceives and bears a son (Gen. 4:1). Putting everything together, this is likely what Paul is referring to when he tells Timothy that the woman will be saved through childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15). Paul doesn’t mean that women earn their salvation by having kids, and if God thinks it hurts enough, He’ll let them into heaven. Rather, God has chosen to overcome the curse of sin and death through the seed of the woman. All godly childbearing is a constant reminder of that promise fulfilled in Jesus.
Because people are made in the image of God, we wield great power in our sexual lives. We noted weeks ago that food is “beginner dominion,” and sex is a good test case because there we are either being self-serving demigods or we are being glorious image bearers reflecting the love and fidelity of the God who made us. We are either making a sacrifice of praise to Jesus or a sacrifice of selfishness to Satan. Covenantal living and thinking means recognizing that there is no neutrality. There is no middle ground. Either you are serving the true God with your body or not (1 Cor. 6:18-20). But the good news of Jesus is that even repentance and forgiveness is an opportunity for the grace of God to shine. No one in this room is innocent of sexual sin, but if you are in Christ, you have been washed and sanctified by Jesus and His Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11).
[Note: You can listen to the audio recording of this sermon here.]