Everyone knows that sex sells, but not everyone is equally well informed that sex also tells. Indeed, for covenant-keeping married couples, sex tells the story of the Triune God who, though different from us, desires to be united with us. Amazingly, God has ordained that within the matrix of marriage, covenant partners are privy to the delicacies of God’s unconditional, everlasting, and all-consuming love. By divine design, marital love is analogous to God’s love for his people, so that all those who participate in this blessed union of souls (i.e. monogamous, heterosexual marriage) find a flesh and blood illustation of God’s lovingkindness and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The result is that within marriage, sex uniquely discloses an epic of God’s sacrificial love and covenantal faithfulness. For instance, as a man honors his wife by delighting in her frailities and imperfections, he expresses the love of Christ; just as when a respectful wife gladly receives the off-balanced advances of her repentant husband, she reflects the obedient enthusiam of the Spirit-filled church. In this is the mystery of Christ and the church, because after all, the passionate death of God’s son was enacted for the express purpose of purchasing of his beloved bride (John 3:16; Ephesians 5:33). Consequently, Christian marriages that endeavor to show the love of God to one another in sexual intimacy, beam forth with radiance and bear witness to the cosmic reality of Christ and his church. Though this is probably not the first thing young couples think about on their honeymoon, perhaps it should be.
Mark Dever makes this bold connection between human sexuality and divine glory in his essay on the Puritan’s view on sex. Rather than subscribing to a dour, disenchanted view of sexuality and marriage, the biblically-saturated Puritans, delighted in sexuality for the purpose of glorifying God’s goodness and extolling his Good News. We can learn much from the example of these heavenly-minded saints. Dever writes:
We need to re-couple sex and the glory of God as part of our evangelism. When we use another person for money or for a one-night stand, when we use pornography, we de-couple sex from its intended purpose. Whenever we use other people to achieve our own gratification and ends, we idolize ourselves and out appetites. However, God set up good sex as part of evangelism. That does not mean we practice evangelistic dating, let alone evangelistic mating. It means that the sexual intimacy of marriage helps our spouse to love God, it helps us understand how Christ loves the church, and it builds a marriage that is distinct from unfaithful and non-Christian marriages.
[Richard] Baxter writes, “When Husband and Wife take pleasure in each other, it uniteth them in duty, it helpeth them with ease to do the work, and bear their burdens; and is not the least part of the comfort of the married state” (The Christian Directory, 522). In short, sex within marriage helps display the Christian gospel by teaching us how to love and how we are loved by One who is different than Ourselves–by God himself (Mark Dever, “Christian Hedonists or Religious Prudes? The Puritans on Sex” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ [Crossway: 2005], 264).
“Sex as part of evangelism.” When was the last time you heard that as a church growth strategy? Certainly, all things that God created good have the potential to elicit praise and to point people to Christ. Sex should no different. Upheld in its dignified and holy place, sex ought to be a means by which Christ and his church are made known. This is certainly true within marriage, and as Christians hold out a model of pure and lovely sexuality in a world that trashes the beauty of this creation, they offer to those who have ears to hear a message that points people to Christ.
It seems then that we can learn much from pure, holy, and protected sex within marriage. Amazingly, we can even learn about the gospel! And unlike the vulgar knowledge of sex gained in a high school locker room or the backseat of a car, this knowledge opens the eyes of our heart to see the lovingkindness of the creator of this marvelous gift. Moreover, it demonstrates his love to us and charges us to make his grace and glory known by keeping our covenant commitments of marriage and to keep his precious gift of sexuality pure. In this way the gospel is advanced and the love of the kingdom is made manifest. May we learn from our Puritan heritage, and learn to delight in our spouses for the sake of our marriages and for the sake of the gospel.
Sola Deo Gloria, dss