To have a truly Christian view of our own sexuality, we must understand the four great acts in Gods drama, the epic poem of Gods saving work. We destroy our understanding of the script if we mix up the order of the acts.
Act 1 is Creation. If we do not understand ourselves first as divine handiwork, created in Gods image, everything else will be distorted.
Act 2 is the Fall, the reality of which much contemporary liberal scholarship denies. The Fall twists and ruins everything but does not destroy the imprint of Creation.
Act 3 is Redemption in and through Christ. Christ is at work in those who love him, redeeming them and the world.
The final act is Glorification, the expected final consummation, the blessed hope.
The Christian view of sexuality must be understood within this biblical drama. For instance, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5 Paul deals with the sexual views of a protognostic group whose teachings denied Creation, exaggerated the Fall, and distorted the proper view of Redemption. In particular, they despised marriage because they saw sex as evil.
To this, Paul said: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain food, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
From this we can get Pauls understanding of marriage and sex. Pauls grounding is that God created marriage and sex. Everything God created is good (Act 1). But notice that what God created to be good has to be cleaned off; it has been dropped in the mudthat is, the Fall (Act 2). Through Christ, sex can be redeemed (that is what consecration means) by being received with thanksgiving through “the word of God and prayer” (Act 3). We must start with Creation, recognize the Fall, and participate in Redemption.
The heart of Christian sexual morality is this: God made sexual union for a purposethe uniting of Husband and wife into one flesh in marriage. God uses sexual intercourse, full sexual intimacy, to weld two people together (1 Cor. 6:16). God has a big purpose in mind for sex because he has a big purpose for marriagesomething bigger than simply a means for us to get our sexual needs met, have fun, have kids, and not have to be lonely.
In Ephesians 5 we learn more of what this bigger purpose is According to Paul, marriage is to model concretely here on earth what God wants in the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. Jesus is one with the Father, and he tells us that we can be one with him. We are utterly different from God, but he wants to unite with us (1 Cor. 6:17). This reality can be uniquely modeled on earth through the union of two different kinds of human beings, male and female. Marriage is a living parable, a concrete symbol, that models for the world the mystical union of Christ and his people. According to Gods original design, marriages have grand, even cosmic, meaning. And this meaning remains regardless of how pathetically short we fall of that grand design.
Interestingly, the scientific evidence supports this. If it is Gods intent that sexual intercourse is to bond two people together for life in marriage, what would we expect the of premarital sex and cohabitation to be? Those actions should make marriage less likely to work. And that is what the facts show (especially in a recent study reported by Andrew Greeley in his book, Faithful Attraction). The more premarital sex people have, the more likely they are to have affairs in marriage; the less likely they are to have optimal sexual relationships in marriage; and the less likely they are to be satisfied with their marriages. Numerous studies over the decades have shown that people who cohabit before marriage are more likely to divorce. All of the ways we humans foul up Gods design have long-term negative consequences.
If marriage occupies this place in Gods plan, and if sex is so important to Gods plan for marriage, we can see the vital importance of obedience to Gods standards for sexuality. Sex is a gift, but it is a gift we can abuse. Gods intent is that sex be used rightly inside and outside of marriage. Inside of marriage, its proper use is for pleasure, procreation, and as something to be shared lovingly and with gratitude to build up the unity of the couple. Outside of the marriage of a man and woman, the proper use of sex is to honor God by costly obedience in living a chaste life. Through this difficult commitment, we learn to value obedience over gratification and to serve God instead of serving our own lusts. Heterosexual or homosexual, the call of Christ is the same: if you find yourself unmarried, God wants you to live a chaste life.