A few weeks ago I started posting some thoughts on sex (More Sex, pt. 1, More Sex, pt. 2). In particular, I set out to start forming an answer to the question, Why does sex have to occur within marriage in order to be ethically good from a Christian perspective?
Here is the summary answer I gave in part 2:
Because at its best, sex is a physical expression of an enduring social, emotional, economic, familial oneness, all of which express the love, faithfulness, hope, and self-control that are the fruit of the Spirit, the embodiment of Christ’s cruciform love for us, and God’s gift as the lavishly faithful God of His/Her people.
I’m starting here as a way of approaching how sex is to be an embodiment of the story of God, especially as the story of God is epitomized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I do not want to turn the relationship of God with the church, or Christ with the church, into an allegory. However, given that we are working consciously within a Christian framework, the givenenss of how God has, in fact, related to his people in Christ establishes a way things are that could, in theory, be attained in other ways.
Why demand sex within marriage, given the ideal of sex as expressing such oneness, manifesting the selfless love of Jesus and fruit of the Spirit? Because marriage creates the relationship in which these things can be said truthfully.
Part of the problem with our sense of marriage is that we have lost a sense that anything actually happens there. In our society, it’s more of a binging of family and friends into the celebration of a relationship that already exists.
But marriage is a covenant-making ceremony that actually changes the way we are related to each other. “I now pronounce you husband and wife” is a performative word that actually accomplishes what it says, so that it is true after though not before.
Why is such a tranformation of relationship, into man-wife oneness, important for a Christian view of marriage? I’ll keep working this out in future posts, but here want to draw attention to the connection Paul draws between sexual oneness and our oneness with Christ.
What it means to be “saved” is to be united to Christ by faith, Spirit, and baptism. We are members of Christ’s body, we are “in Christ.”
This is the reason that Paul tells Christians that what they do sexually matters for their faith. Sex with someone outside of Christ amputates a member of Christ in favor of this other illicit union; sex outside of Christ brings the Holy Spirit into that union as well.
When Paul says that marriage is ok, but only “in the Lord,” the reason is that “the Lord” is the space we all occupy together as Christians, we are in Christ’s body, and to marry outside of that is to hold together two incompatible unions.
So why doesn’t this just mean that Christians can have sex with whomever they please , so long as the other person is also in Christ?
Because the seriousness of the covenantal oneness, a relationship established by the covenant-making ceremony and confirmed and recreated by the sacraments and worship, pertains not only to the way believers should be exclusively Christ’s but also how they should be exclusively one another’s in sex.
That is to say, the story is not merely about how we relate to God or are “in Christ” as individuals. The story is also about how we renarrative the story of Christ and salvation in him in our relationships with one another. Marriage is analogous to the covenant by which God creates relationship with his people, and sex like the sacrament that simultaneously affirms and recreates that relational oneness.
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, because we all partake of the one bread. Sacrament creates and recreates oneness: with both Christ and one another.
Sex performs this same function–and is intended, in this narrative, to reaffirm and recreate the relational oneness declared when the covenant is formed.