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Inasmuch as husband and wife live, move, and act toward others—including their children—they do so as one. But from within the relationship, husband and wife remain two. The joy of sexual delight is that the union preserves rather than destroys all the differences that make love possible in the first place.

Our inner lives—our souls—are still distinct from the other, providing the necessary backdrop for our interaction and our self-giving in love that constitutes the marriage.

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Yet from within the church, the gap is infinite. There is only one Savior, one Lord Jesus Christ and the church is not him, but is formed in response to his death and resurrection. The church is constituted in its inner life by the worship of God and in its external dimension by the ministry of reconciliation, through which God is drawing all people to himself. But the church and her Savior remain distinct from each other. First, because we are temporal creatures, the union of our bodies in sex involves our personal histories.

Our lives are inextricable from time—and when we have sex, we enter into it in ways shaped by our past and that will reshape our future. The visible union ratified by sex is stretched out through time, just like our bodies are; the sexual act cannot be separated from the covenant that the marriage vows express. And because we live in a fallen world, we need to be attentive to the ways in which our histories and biographies are shaping the nature of our union—for good and for bad.

Second, because the union of our external dimensions is real, it gives the other authority over us. Sexual immorality goes against the order God established for sexuality, and the authority the Spirit should have over our bodies does not fit with the authority a prostitute gains over us through sexual union.

For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. As in all things, it is a courtesy to ask for sex as much as it is a courtesy to give it.


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And relationships shaped by the love of God are constituted by asking and receiving, rather than demanding or domineering. In 1 Corinthians —18, Paul points out that while he has the right to receive money from the Corinthians, he refuses to claim it so he might be free to proclaim the gospel. The assertion of sexual rights within marriage, then, represents the failure of love and undermines the true meaning of sexuality.

Because sex is a mutual self-giving in freedom and love, it requires the sort of holy attentiveness that is in short supply in our world. But our attentiveness is not simply to help the other gain sexual pleasure. Most evangelical churches are wary of single male pastors especially young ones. The belief is that single men are incapable either of controlling themselves sexually, or of counseling married couples on the dynamics of human sexuality. This basic inhospitality toward single people in church leadership suggests, I suspect, a tacit commitment to standards of sexuality that are taken less from Scripture and more from the world around us.

Celibacy has a crucial role in Christian sexuality.

This idea of a vocation—or a calling—to lifelong celibacy for the kingdom of God does not minimize the importance of marriage. Each calling bears witness to different aspects of our world. The one declared that God had vindicated the order of creation, the other pointed beyond it to its eschatological transformation. The possibility of finding full human flourishing without sex stands in stark contrast to one of the most prevalent notions of sexuality both inside and outside the church: Thanks in part to Sigmund Freud and Abraham Maslow, sex has been transformed from an expression of our humanity to a physiological or psychological need that is essential to our human flourishing.

The teaching that our wholeness depends upon sexual fulfillment lies behind many of the problems in evangelical teaching about sex. We implicitly convey to young people that sex is a need by marginalizing those who are single or cordoning them off in singles groups so that they hopefully will get married. Then we expect them to live some of the most sexually charged years of their lives without yielding to temptation. And if everyone who is married thinks it is, then young people will too—regardless of whatever else we tell them. I realize there are deep difficulties here, not the least of which are discerning the call of singleness and establishing structures and systems of support within the church for those called to it.

But the absence of visible, lifetime singleness within our communities suggests that our affirmation of marriage and the goodness of sexual pleasure have overstepped their boundaries. We cannot affirm the goodness of the created order as Christians without also seeing how it has been caught up and renewed in Christ—which those who are called to celibacy bear witness to by their lives and their love.

A church without singles has lost one of its main ways of warning against a sexual idolatry that has driven the whole world mad. Researchers at the University of Montreal had been planning to conduct a study on the effects of pornography by comparing young men who watched porn regularly to those who had never seen it. While things may be somewhat better within evangelical circles, the problem is still rampant among most young men—and a growing problem for young women as well.

At the heart of the pornography problem is the commodification of sexuality, which turns other people—and the images of them—into objects for our own sexual pleasure. The pornography culture has taken our sexuality and industrialized, packaged, and sold it. This objectification of women in a pornified world reduces them to instruments or tools for self-gratification—which means that even if they did choose to enter the pornography world voluntarily and many do not , it would still be fundamentally wrong to treat them as subpersonal creatures.

Yet the objectification of women—or men—in pornography depends upon a prior objectification of our own bodies. When we turn people into sexual objects so we can have an artificial sense of connection with them, we treat our bodies as machines meant to maximize our experience of pleasure.

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It is fundamentally depersonalizing for everyone involved—for the viewer and the viewed. This is the fundamental problem of lust, one form of what the ancients would have called concupiscence. Disordered desires undermine our own personal integrity—that is, our own proper functioning as children made to love God and those around us. When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he not only gave us a commandment, he also described a basic feature of human existence.

One way or another, we will ultimately treat others the way we treat ourselves, which is why lust and sexual promiscuity are so often entangled with self-loathing. The Lord has come to his temple! The reality that lust destroys the viewer as much as the viewed must be kept at the forefront of our evangelical teaching on sexuality.

One of the more successful recent arguments against pornography is its link to sex trafficking—a horribly dehumanizing practice that depends on pornography for its existence. Pornography fosters a climate that encourages sex trafficking and child prostitution because men primarily are shaping their hearts and their minds to treat human bodies as objects.

Evangelicals need to be prepared for the day when pornography can be entirely computer generated. What will be created is a type of pornography that does not require actual women, taking away one of the most forceful arguments against the practice, a practice that destroys the lives and families of those who engage in it as well as those who create it. It is important, perhaps, to also say something about masturbation. While I remain skeptical that masturbation as a regular practice can be separated from looking at pornography or creating mental fantasies based on real women or men the equivalent of lusting , the practice treats the body as an instrument for personal pleasure and gratification.

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Human sexuality is inherently social, and masturbation is not. In that sense, it represents a failure to fulfill the nature of Christian sexuality as God designed it. We were married according to an old form of the Book of Common Prayer, and that line was part of the vows. My wife, worried that people would misunderstand it, wanted to take it out. I love the line and thought we should keep it in and add an explanatory footnote in the wedding folder. She won. Though she is practically a saint in every way, not even she is worthy of what is owed to God alone.

But it does mean that I give her all the reverence, honor, and adoration due her because of her beauty and loveliness. And I do this with my body, giving myself up for her and seeking as much as possible, by the grace of God, to place her interests above my own. This is the fundamental problem of lust, one form of what the ancients would have called concupiscence. Disordered desires undermine our own personal integrity—that is, our own proper functioning as children made to love God and those around us.

When Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he not only gave us a commandment, he also described a basic feature of human existence. One way or another, we will ultimately treat others the way we treat ourselves, which is why lust and sexual promiscuity are so often entangled with self-loathing. The Lord has come to his temple!

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The reality that lust destroys the viewer as much as the viewed must be kept at the forefront of our evangelical teaching on sexuality. One of the more successful recent arguments against pornography is its link to sex trafficking—a horribly dehumanizing practice that depends on pornography for its existence. Pornography fosters a climate that encourages sex trafficking and child prostitution because men primarily are shaping their hearts and their minds to treat human bodies as objects.

Evangelicals need to be prepared for the day when pornography can be entirely computer generated. What will be created is a type of pornography that does not require actual women, taking away one of the most forceful arguments against the practice, a practice that destroys the lives and families of those who engage in it as well as those who create it. It is important, perhaps, to also say something about masturbation.

While I remain skeptical that masturbation as a regular practice can be separated from looking at pornography or creating mental fantasies based on real women or men the equivalent of lusting , the practice treats the body as an instrument for personal pleasure and gratification. Human sexuality is inherently social, and masturbation is not. In that sense, it represents a failure to fulfill the nature of Christian sexuality as God designed it. We were married according to an old form of the Book of Common Prayer, and that line was part of the vows.

My wife, worried that people would misunderstand it, wanted to take it out. I love the line and thought we should keep it in and add an explanatory footnote in the wedding folder. She won. Though she is practically a saint in every way, not even she is worthy of what is owed to God alone.

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But it does mean that I give her all the reverence, honor, and adoration due her because of her beauty and loveliness. And I do this with my body, giving myself up for her and seeking as much as possible, by the grace of God, to place her interests above my own. Our confusion, though, over God and creation is at the heart of our sexual dysfunctions and brokenness.

Lewis wrote in his famous passage: We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. We have broken sexual lives. We have objectified our own bodies and the bodies of others. Yet the God who died for us, who revealed the pattern for our true humanity in Jesus Christ, has forgiven our sins and washed away our iniquities. And the Holy Spirit, his empowering presence, lives in the very sinews and bones of our mortal bodies, reshaping them and reforming our members into instruments of righteousness.

It is through this—the good news of the gospel—that we are set free from the shame of rejection and pain and empowered to respond in love to the one who gave himself for us—and then in turn to give ourselves to others. The gospel sets us free from the frustration of impotence and the fears caused by abuse, allowing us to enter into a journey of discovery filled with joy and freedom.

It gives us the hope of a fulfilled, joyous, and abundantly flourishing life, even if we never taste the goods of marriage at all.