When it comes to Christianity and sex, the assumption is often that Christians don’t want to have any fun at all. Christians have rules, restrictions and regulations ad nauseam, apparently designed to ensure that sexual gratification is repressed at all costs. I want to challenge this perception with an alternative perspective — a biblical one — that gives sex and marriage great dignity. Far from being arbitrarily repressive, the Christian view of sex is beautiful, indispensable for true sexual satisfaction and extremely relevant to how we view sex during our college years. Whether you are Christian or not, this biblical vision for sex should be of great interest. Why? Because if our sexual engines are designed to run on unleaded gasoline and we’re putting in diesel, then the engine will eventually fail. And even if you determine that the Christian vision for sex is wrong, I still think it is worth respecting and understanding for its inherent loveliness.
The Bible claims that sex and marriage were created and blessed by God from the very beginning of humanity. In Genesis 1 and 2, God creates sex and affirms that it is unequivocally good, a gift intended for pleasure and enjoyment. Adam and Eve unite as one flesh in the Garden of Eden, in God’s full presence and with his blessing. Just as God orders the physical laws of the universe, so too he orders sex with specific intent for a specific context. That context, the Bible teaches, is the uniting of two halves — male and female — in the sacred covenant of marriage, for God’s people to be blessed by the designs that were written into human sexuality from the beginning.
The crucial characteristic of that design, I think, is that sex does not actually stand alone as a single act — rather, it is the centerpiece of a much grander “package deal” that encompasses far more than the sexual act itself. In addition to the symbolic significance of two bodies becoming one physically, God chose to intertwine sex with lifelong permanence, total commitment and self-giving sacrifice to another person. Meaning that when a husband and a wife unite sexually, they are uniting not just their bodies but also their emotions, finances, lifestyles, futures, spirituality and very souls. A husband becomes the number-one earthly priority to his wife, as does the wife to her husband. The “package deal” is also crafted to include the blessing of procreation; sex is tied up with producing children and providing a loving context in which they can be raised and nurtured. Finally, a Christian couple is also called to lifelong mission, to serve together in the particular way that God has called them to be image-bearers of him in the world. In the prioritization of another, the healthy ushering in of new life and the side-by-side mission that a husband and wife experience along with their sexual intimacy, they are blessed by the full grandeur that sex has to offer them.
God’s design mandates that the covenantal promises of marriage be the strong foundation that upholds very good, very pleasurable sex. Let’s consider steak to be a metaphor for sex. Picture a student rushing out the door to a 10 a.m. class and grabbing a leftover Hoagie Haven cheesesteak out of his dorm room mini-fridge. The steak hoagie would temporarily sate the student’s appetite and might even taste ok, but it probably wouldn’t provide the ideal gastronomic experience. Contrast this approach with eating a tender, perfectly cooked filet mignon at a fine restaurant in Princeton, such as Mediterra or Agricola. There’s a pleasant ambience, genteel crowd, good conversation, smooth wine, scrumptious appetizers and maybe some tasteful background music. Eaten in this context, the steak becomes the natural centerpiece it was always meant to be and provides far more pleasure than a leftover. However, making a reservation at the restaurant, paying for the meal and carving out a couple hours of time required sacrifice. In the same way that there are no shortcuts in fine dining, within Christianity there is no shortcut to the deep pleasure and all-around satisfaction that the best sex — married sex — provides. Sexual union outside of marriage tears apart the beauty of sex by carrying with it a physical promise that isn’t backed up by a public, verbal, life-long commitment to all the other elements of the “package deal.”
God’s design for sex is also beautiful because it does more than provide delight and contentment — sex also reveals the very nature of God. The Bible teaches that the sacrificial character of God is expressed perfectly in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of humanity. This comprehensive, divine love is meant to be reflected in human relationships, within which marriage is the ultimate. Christian marriage is intended to mirror the self-denying love of God; in mutually submitting to and serving one another, both in the bedroom and out, a husband and wife image forth God’s character.
The intensity, passion and commitment that human sexuality was originally designed to overflow with is a reflection of the intensity, passion and commitment with which God pursues us. He has crafted sex as a powerful gift filled with great beauty, wonder and many strings attached. By aligning ourselves with the way God has created sex rather than trying to conform sex to our own desires, I think we both do justice to the beauty of sex and maximize our own joy.
Dave Kurz is a 2012 graduate from Maryland and current intern at Princeton Faith and Action. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.