A Letter to My Church: A Sexual Manifesto on Biblical Holiness

Pastors have a responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God and to help the people of God form a biblical worldview. With this conviction in mind, I will be leading a series on what the Bible says about marriage and sexuality. In preparation for that series, I wrote this letter to our church: ‘A Sexual Manifesto: Embracing the Church’s New Mission.’ Let me know what you think.

If you haven’t noticed, things aren’t the way they used to be.

It wasn’t long ago that the boys’ bathroom was for . . . well, boys. Homecoming queens had to use a razor on their legs (not their face). Marriage was legally defined as the union of a man and woman. And Christians had a place at the table in regards to influencing public policy.

In what seems like the blink of an eye, all of these givens are gone. With more people in Georgia supporting same-sex marriage than opposing it, the once influential Bible Belt is nor more. Christendom as we know it—or should we say, as we knew it—has collapsed. Welcome to the new America.  Continue reading

Otto Piper on Marriage

Today’s Christian supermarkets (a.k.a. bookstores) are filled with books on marriage, relationships, and sexuality.  The plethora of writings is indicative of a culture and a church trying desperately to find solid ground on which to build its marriages.  Unfortunately, a cursory overview of these books reveal the shallowness, the pragmatism, and the wordly accomodation that inculcates the Christian market for marital help.  Yet, on rare occasions, biblically-grounded and theologically-faithful works arise.  Books like God, Marriage, and Family (Kostenberger), Marriage:Sex in the Service of God (Ash) and God and Marriage (Bromiley) eschew pragmatism and embrace instead a rich biblical theology.  Another book of this kind is Otto Piper’s The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage (New York: Scribners, 1960).  Published nearly a half-century ago, its nomenclature is antiquated and its situational applications are out of date, but aside from its mid-twentieth century context, its biblical material is helpful.  In a sea of marriage manuals, it provides a sturdy raft on which to rest.

In addressing the topic of sexuality and marriage, Dr. Piper, a former professor of New Testament at Princeton, surprised me with his generally positive assessment of Scripture.  Though, I would disagree with him on the finer points of doctrine, he upholds the functional authority and veracity of the Scripture.  He calls his view of Scripture, “Biblical Realism,” and he says in his intro, “With the older Biblicism it [i.e. Biblical Realism] agrees that the Bible is God’s Revelation and that we may therefore confidently turn toward the Scriptures in search for the ultimate truth concering man’s predicament (vi).”  Such a foundation puts him at odds with modern philosophy and psychology, but this is not a problem for Piper as is evident in his clear assetion, “I confess that… more light has come to me from the wisdom of ancient times than from modern speculations” (vii).  Finally, concerning his approach to the Bible and his topic, he observes that the Biblical Realist “learns from the attitude God takes toward sex that it has its metaphysical dignity and is no mere shortcut to pleasure, and also that far from being unessential for the constitution of true life it is used by God as the means for execution of his redemptive plans” (vii).  In short order, Piper affirms the centrality of Scripture and the biblical role of human sexuality and marriage to bring about the redemptive purposes of God.  The rest of his book fleshes out this reality, and it does so with cogent exposition of the Scriptures and with helpful ethical synthesis. 

Consider some of his thoughts that unite marriage with the purposes of God in redemption:

Concerning the Divine Marriage: The consummation of the Divine Marriage has been the God-intended goal for makind from the very beginning.  Therefore, the History of Salvation proves to be the gradual realization of this purpose.  The relationship between God and His people grows more intimate as time goes on, and a steadily deepeend understanding of the nature and goal of the mutual realtisonship of the sexes is thereby attained.  On the other hand, the history of sexual relationship in mankind is evidence the Divine Marriage operates everywhere as the basic pattern of sexual life (78).

Relationships That Foster Maturity Serve God: Those who believe that sex is meant to serve the purposes of God and not those of individual men and women will also be ready to notice the darker side of the relationship…Therefore, the misanthropist’s absolute withdrawal into isolation, as well as the exclusive association with members of one’s own sex, finally poisons the spirits of personality.  In many instances the spinster, the bachelor, and the habitues of bachelor clubs are types of atrophied humanity.  They are unlikable and humanly unproductive not because they have not married but because they have cut off their manhood and womanhood from the other sex.  This is confirmed by the fact that there are unmarried persons of both sexes who are highly enjoyable because they have retained their ability infromally to mix with people of both sexes far into old age (79-80).

The Role of Sex in Redemptive History: Sex has therefore not only made possible the subsequent history of mankind but also provided the opportunity both for the Incarnation and also for that body which the Saviour forms for Himself in the Church (81).

God’s Affirmation of Sex in Submission to God’s Sovereign Plan: The many serious warnings sounded against sex in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament, are only limiting qualifications of a fundamentally affirmative attitude towards sex.  They are intended to remind the believer that there are situations and times where the boundaries of sexual life must be drawn in bold lines, because with all the marrying and giving in marriage people are prone to forget that this earthly life is not an end in itself.  Man is called upon to be God’s servant in the execution of His plans of history.  There are instances in which in the service of God celibacy is the right thing to choose for a person.  However, any unequivocal negation of sex is in opposition to God’s redemptive work and celibacy as a general demand for all people is therefore branded as a doctrine of the devil [1Tim. 4:1-3] (84).

In creating mankind male and female (Gen. 1:26) and in designing a repeating pattern of marriage in this world  (Gen. 2:24), God was from the start establishing millions of raindrops that would one day reflect the multivarigated glory of Jesus Christ cosmic marriage to his redeemed people.  In this, God’s plan of redemption was not secondary, nor were his purposes for marriage auxiliary.  Marriage was created with Jesus Christ in mind, and you, if you are a part of his church body.  Meditating on the Scriptural relationship between marriage and redemption is edifying for the individual marriage and exhilirating as the cosmos moves forward towards the final marriage feast.  May we who know Christ continue to ponder our eschatological union with him, and may those who do not yet call Jesus “Lord” be turned to the savior over and again as you see broken and beautiful marriages all around you–the former pointing you to something more and the latter enticing you to come to Christ and adore.  Until he comes may our marriages make us pant for his presence.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Sex tells…the Gospel !?

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

Sex in the Service of God

When was the last time that you read a book or a chapter and had your worldview rocked?  Where as soon as you finished the chapter, you wanted to start it again?  When the result of extended meditation on the book actually changed your thinking and your view of life?  For me this has come from John Piper’s Desiring God, Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism, A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God,  and only a handful of others.

This morning I would have to add Christopher Ash’s Marriage: Sex in the Service of Godto the list.    Like an unexpected earthquake, Ash set off a series of tectonic shifts in my thinking about marriage, sex, and the glory of God.  His premise is that the primary purpose of marriage is not human companionship to overcome loneliness or personal satisfaction derived from a heterogeneous coupling.  No, instead, the divine design of marriage is more cosmic, more missional, and larger than just two people in bed together. 

Going back to the Garden, God’s intention in creating mankind male and female has always been to perform a work that could not be done alone.  God’s command to mankind to till and cultivate the earth, to serve God and guard the garden has cosmic significance.  And today, after the Fall, it has a missions imperative.  This changes everything about marriage, because the blessed union is far more than simply two becoming one. 

The force of Ash’s chapter, “Sex in the Service of God,” comes from the fact that his argument is clear, intensely biblical, and incredibly relevant–not to mention inspiring in a Great Commission sort of way.  Marriage and sex as an act of proclaiming the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ has been something I have thought about before, but never with such clarity and potency as I had this morning.  I pray it will have a lasting effect.

So I commend you to pick up the book and read the chapter yourself and ponder its significance.  I know that I will, again and again. Here is a sampling to consider your marriage in the light of God’s glory:

Marriage is to be a visible and lived-out image of the love of the Lord for his people, and this relationship is so central to reality that the project of imaging it is seen as the primary purpose of marriage.  The paradox is that when we begin to think of the marriage relationship as an end in itself, or even as an end that serves the public signification of the love of God, we slip very easily into a privatization of love taht contradicts the open, outward-looking and gracious character of covenant love.  By this I mean that the covenant of the Creator for his people is a love that has the world, the whole created order, as its proper object; in loving his people with a jealous love he has in mind that this people should be a light to the nations and that through them blessing should spread more and more widely.  The moment we begin unquestioningly to treat marital intimacy as the primary goal of marriage, however, we contradict the outward-looking focus and the project becomes self-defeating (Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, 127).