Sex reveals our citizenship
This letter is for my lawyer, work-out buddy, and chess partner Ryan Philips. (I still keep the handwritten note you sent me over my workbench.)
You’ve been my friend for a long time. We’ve been through some ups and downs. You’ve helped me, given me perspective, challenged me both intellectually and spiritually, and—most importantly—you’ve never written me off.
Some of our most intense conversations have been about sex—not in the tawdry locker-room manner of our culture (though we have taken to referring to sex, inexplicably, as “kung fu”)—but about sex as the expression and fulfillment of mad love, eternal commitment, and the insatiable desire to be with someone inside and out.
One of the primary ways in which our lives differ from those outside the church is our attitude toward sex. Sex is the consummation of the physical and the spiritual. It can unify or destroy us more than anything else. Nowhere are societies’ idols (selfishness, preference, flaunted limitation) more confronted than with sex. Sex can never be casual. It is either sacramental or destructive. It’s good, but it can cause deep and lasting damage.
I’ve grown fond of comparing sex to fire. If you keep your fire in the fireplace, the whole house is warmed and your company is comforted; but if the fire gets loose, though exciting for a moment, ultimately you will lose everything you hold dear.
The biblical prescription for sex and marriage is one man and one woman, with fidelity in marriage and abstinence outside it.
That’s quite simple, isn’t it? But simple doesn’t mean easy. To most, it’s not appealing, either. But if the scriptures teach us anything, they teach us that every time humanity decides God is dumber than we are, our lives descend into chaos, misery, isolation, and blame. Like I tell my children, if God is the inventor of life, doesn’t it stand to reason that he knows how life can best be enjoyed? Or, more simply, what God wants from us inevitably results in what God wants for us. In this case, God wants us to have what he has: unity, creativity, and relationship with an equal.
Gregory Beale is one of the preeminent theologians of our day, and his writing has often challenged me to think beyond the normal purview of biblical study. Perhaps his most important work is The Temple and the Church’s Mission, in which he connects the idea of the Edenic temple to the Christian church, claiming both were meant to cover the earth with the glory of God. He’s right, of course, and The Garden-City Epistles comes at many of the same themes, though from a different angle.
Beale reminds us that “our continual priestly tasks are what the first Adam’s were to be: to keep the order and peace of the spiritual sanctuary by learning and teaching God’s word, by praying always, and by being vigilant in keeping out unclean moral and spiritual things.” Sounds fairly innocuous, right? But Beale extrapolates to make sure we understand what this entails: holy living.
We’re meant to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, to offer our prayers as incense to God, to flee from even the appearance of evil, and to guard our speech, our actions, and even our thoughts in order to ensure we are wholly God’s.
And how does this relate to sex?
Christian people ought to live differently than the world. We ought to conduct ourselves sexually in a way distinctive from the world.
I once attended a seminar with one of the writers for 30 Rock. He spoke about his frustration with the writing staff’s inability to believably portray Christians on screen. “Christians have pre-marital sex,” he said, “but the difference is that they feel bad about it. That doesn’t play well with audiences.”
We do feel bad about it, and we should. Healthy sexuality is the most powerful vehicle leading to healthy self-esteem; unhealthy sexuality, however, cultivates selfishness and unhappiness. I don’t want more people to feel bad about the sex they’re having; I want more people to feel the freedom and the pleasure God intended when we give ourselves wholly to one another.
To some that might sound restrictive, but you and I both know the best part about sparring with the same partner for decades is the harmony, pleasure, and complexity of the world’s best kung fu.
 Genesis 2.24
 Hebrews 13.4.
 1 Corinthians 6.18.
 Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 398.
 Romans 12.1.
 Psalm 141.2.
 1 Thessalonians 5.22.
 1 Peter 3.10.
 1 Corinthians 10.31.
 Philippians 4.8.