The biblical view of sex is vastly different from culture, but it is one of the most attractive things about Christianity.
Jesus starts by saying, “You have heard it said, no adultery,” and He is accepting the Old Testament ethic.
What Jesus is saying is, “No sex outside of a covenant.”
The word covenant is archaic. It is a category of thought. A covenant creates a relationship, a relationship far more loving and intimate than a merely legal relationship, but it’s also far more binding and enduring.
Covenant versus consumer relationship:
A consumer relationship is where you’re relating to a vendor and you have a relationship as long as the vendor is giving you a product at a good price. But you’re always looking for an upgrade. And so what you say to your vendor is “We have a relationship but you’d better keep adjusting to me, because if you don’t meet my needs I’m out of here because my needs are more important than the relationship. We have a relationship but if I can get my needs met better somewhere else, that’s where I will go.”
But a covenant relationship is exactly the opposite. The consumer relationship says, “You adjust to me or I’m out of here”, but a covenant relationship says, “I will adjust to you because I’ve made a promise”. And the relationship is more important than my needs. My needs are less important than the sustenance of the relationship.
Now if two people get into a relationship and one is a consumer and one is a covenanter, that will be bad for the covenanter because he will be exploited. If you get into a relationship and you’re not both covenanting, it will be exploitative. But if both of you get into a relationship and say we’re done with the consumer relationship, and you get into a covenant relationship, which is what it means to get married…three things will result…
(Three results of living in a covenanted sexual relationship, i.e. Marriage)…
1. You will finally have a zone of security and safety where you can finally be yourself.
You see, in a consumer relationship, you’re always marketing, you’re always selling yourself. You’ve got to perform. You’ve got to meet the other persons needs or you’re out, but in a covenant relationship, a marriage, you finally have a zone of safety where you can get rid of the facades. You can finally let him or her know about your insecurities. You can finally be yourself where you can finally stop spinning and selling.
2. In a covenant relationship, where you are committed to a person in spite of your feelings, deeper feelings grow.
So for example, the other covenant relationship aside from husband and wife is the relationship between parents and children. And all of you know that in parenting you get very little back, for a long time, and they never catch up. You give and you give and you give, and it’s not a consumer relationship at all. You adjust to them, and you give and you give, and what’s weird is, you do it and so you’re so invested in your children, that even when they in no way act in a lovable way, you love them. There’s a deeper, richer feeling because you’re invested in them. And in the same way, if you treat your relationship, your marriage as a covenant relationship, if you’re committed in spite of feelings, deeper feelings grow.
So you have a place to develop the deeper richer when you commit in spite of your feelings.
3. There’s a freedom. Covenantal relationships bring freedom.
Kierkegaard put it like this, if you’re in a relationship where you have to feel it, if you’re not meeting my needs, if I don’t feel the love, then I’m out of here. If you’re in a relationship like that, then you are a slave. You’re a slave to your feelings. You’re a puppet on a string of your feelings. And where do your feelings come from? They come from your physiology to some degree, your body chemistry, they come from your past (“She reminds me of my mother.”) And everyone else says, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody else has a problem, but you do. But Kierkegaard says, if you don’t want to be a puppet on a string, make a promise, where your partner does not have to adjust to you but you adjust to them.
And what’s this got to do with sex? Everything. Because the Bible says that sex is not a consumer good but a covenant good.
A consumer good is a way you keep someone in a relationship because they have a need….I need sex every so often. Sex is a way for me to feel good about myself. It makes me feel adored and loved. So I go out and find somebody who will meet my need. And sex becomes a consumer good.
But the Bible says that sex was not designed to be a consumer good.
In a covenant, when you have made a promise, sex becomes like a sacrament, an external visible sign or a symbol of a visible reality. That’s why it’s so meaningful. When you use sex inside a covenant, it becomes a vehicle for engaging the whole person in an act of self giving and self commitment.
When I, in marriage, make myself physically naked and vulnerable, it’s a sign of what I’ve done with my whole life.
Because by giving up my independence and making this promise, sex is supposed to be a sign of what you have done with your whole life.
And that’s the reason why sex outside of marriage, according to the Bible, lacks integrity. You’re asking someone to do with their body what they are not doing with their life. You’re saying, let’s be physically vulnerable, let’s do physical disclosure, but not whole life vulnerability.
That’s the reason why C.S. Lewis puts it perfectly, a perfect description of the biblical sex ethic: “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside of marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union, the sexual, from all other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.”
To have physical union without whole life union is a lack of integrity. And if you have sex inside a covenant, then the sex becomes a covenant renewal ceremony. It becomes a commitment apparatus. You’re getting married all over again. You’re giving yourself all over again. It’s incredibly deepening and solidifying and nurturing. What you’re saying when you have sex is I belong exclusively to you and I’m acting it out. That’s what sex is. I’m giving you my body as a token for how I’m giving you my life. I’m opening to you physically as a token for how I’ve opened to you in every other way. That’s how it’s supposed to work. And then sex becomes a deepening thing, a nurturing thing. It’s like covenant cement…like covenant glue. It’s a covenant renewal ceremony.
But when you use sex outside of marriage, what are you saying? You’re saying, I love the feeling I get when I’m with you. You’re taking, not giving. You’re receiving and yet holding on to your life. You’re holding on to your independence, so you’re receiving and you’re not giving. It’s a consumer good. And when you use sex like that, you damage its ability to be a commitment apparatus.
The Christian psychiatrist John White years ago wrote this…”the bodily exposure that aroused and accompanies sex can be profoundly symbolic and powerfully healing if it’s a concrete sign of what’s happening in the whole relationship.” So it only makes sense that sexual relations be confined to marriage, for mutual disclosure and tender acceptance is not the activity of a moment but the fabric of a lifetime’s weaving. And each time sex is physical disclosure without being complete personal disclosure and commitment, some of its life-giving and healing nature is destroyed. In other words, you damage your ability to use it inside a covenant. And this is one of the reasons why there are all these books and articles coming out which very carefully point out that (even in the NY times) cohabitation seems to be counterproductive.
The April 14 issue of the New York Times had an article by a clinical psychologist entitled “the downside of cohabitation”…pointing out that there are more and more studies showing that people who cohabit are more likely to divorce than people who don’t. This is totally counterintuitive to the average young adult in NY city. Because two thirds to three quarters of all young adults say that if you live together before marriage, you’ll figure out if you’re compatible. But this clinical psychologist points out that this is impossible and here’s why…one thing that men and women agree on is that their standards for a live in partner are lower than they are for a spouse, so, as one woman said, “I felt like I was on this multi year, never ending multi audition to be his wife.”
Now here’s what she is saying, if you’re living together, here’s what you’re always thinking, “Can I do better than this?” So you’re trying to find out if you’re compatible which is a nice way of saying that you’re trying to find out if this person is good enough to marry. Whether I can do better, so you’re looking for an upgrade, so what is sex in a situation like that? It’s marketing. It trying to attract, or entice.