For many Christians, the extent of their biblical sex education was the encouragement to “save sex for marriage.” While valid that advice has proven to be at best insufficient in light of real-life sexual questions and tensions (read my other article about why the purity narrative isn’t enough). What’s the purpose of sexuality if I’m single? What if I never get married? In other words, why did God create us as sexual people and why does He care so much about how we steward our sexuality?
Sexuality is confusing to many of us because we do not understand its underlying purpose. By responding to practically every sexual question with some version of “save sex for marriage,” we have missed the larger explanation that helps us make sense of biblical sexuality. And that’s why this next statement might shock you:
God did not create sexuality primarily for marriage.
As a single, the stewardship of your sexuality is not simply to keep yourself pure until God gives you a spouse. Your sexuality has spiritual and relational significance that far surpasses saving sex for marriage.
His Covenant Love
God designed us as sexual people to teach us about something — and marriage is only an echo of it. He intentionally created our sexuality to be a metaphor that teaches us of His covenant love. Every one of us, single or married, male or female, sexually active or celibate, has something to learn about God’s love through the experience of our sexuality.
If this is a strange thought to you, consider what John Piper wrote: “The ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable.”
Think of it this way: Everything God created on earth was intentionally designed to express something about His character and nature. The Bible refers to physical things like trees, water, wind and animals to communicate spiritual truths to us. Likewise, our experiences of hunger, thirst, fatigue and illness are metaphors demonstrating our spiritual needs and condition. This is not a random coincidence, but purposeful. Consider the lion and the lamb — God created them deliberately, knowing they’d one day teach us about Jesus.
God was just as deliberate when He crafted your sexuality.
You were not created with sexual organs and desires just so you could get married and have babies. The whole drama of your sexuality, including singleness, marriage and procreation, are pieces of the larger picture.
Made for Intimacy
The Christian tradition that sex was made for marriage explains sexuality in a such a narrow manner that it leave singles confused. If sex is for marriage, why do you as a single man or woman have such strong sexual desires? Why doesn’t God take these longings away until He brings a spouse? And why would He care if you have sex with someone to whom you’re not married?
How do we answer these questions? By realizing that God created sexuality to help us understand covenant love. Covenant love goes beyond romantic feelings or even the joy of close friendship. This love is based on a promise that cannot be broken, and this is God’s love for His people. The overarching message of the Bible is God’s covenant love — that a holy God pursues us with sacrificial, passionate love to bring us into fellowship with himself. Your sexuality is a profound tangible reminder of this truth. Here’s how:
- Sexual desire invites you to pursue covenant.
- Sexual intimacy within marriage is the celebration of covenant.
- Sexual faithfulness is the promise of covenant.
For singles, that first point is the most important: Sexual desire invites you to pursue covenant.
Sexual Desire’s Invitation
I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a lot of young adults. For most of these men and women, sexual desire represents a major struggle. They want to stop looking at porn and stop masturbating. They wonder if it’s a big deal to sleep with someone they’re dating. They want to know how to push “pause” on sexual feelings. Because their sexual drive seems to create so much drama, temptation and shame, it’s often viewed as a bad thing. Matt Chandler said it this way:
Sometimes I meet young men who despair of their sexual appetite and say things like, “I just want God to take this away from me!” And I always say, “You really don’t.”
What they should want God to do is empower their discipline and strength to be obedient, because sexual desire is a gift. We shouldn’t ask God to take one of his gifts away from us.
We have to remember that sexual desire is not only a good thing, but a God thing. The Creator intentionally gave you the longings you have to share your life and body with another person.
In every one of us, Satan has twisted and tainted these desires so that they either represent selfish pursuit or shameful restraint. But this was not God’s design from the beginning. Our sexual desire was created to remind us that we were made for intimacy. Not for a hookup or for sexual release looking at a computer screen, but for the sacrificial, life-giving intimacy represented by the marriage covenant.
For most Christians, sexual desire will eventually lead us to the covenant vows of marriage. Largely because of sexual and romantic longings, we will sacrifice time, money and our vocational goals to pursue love. This is a good thing! In one respect, sexual longings “trick” us into making a lifelong promise that will ask far more from us than we anticipate. But in working out this covenant promise over a lifetime, we relationally and physical live out the metaphor of how God loves His people and how Jesus loves His bride.
But the marriage relationship is only a picture of true intimacy for which we were created. Marriage is not the answer for your loneliness; it is a metaphor of the answer. This is why marriage, as great as it may be, will ultimately fail to satisfy your deepest longings to be known and loved.
Why do you think there will be no marriage in heaven? Because in the reality of true intimacy with God, we will no longer need the metaphor.
Think of a time when you were describing to a friend what a foreign food tasted like. How would you describe a kiwi to someone who has never tasted it? You might explain that it tastes like a mixture between a melon and a strawberry with the texture of a peach. Once your friend has actually tasted a kiwi, your description will seem vaguely true, but lacking. You wouldn’t continue with endless explanations of how kiwi tastes because now your friend knows in much greater detail than you could ever describe. This is how we need to view marriage (and sex within marriage). It is an approximation of something infinitely greater. Whether or not we are married, the metaphor isn’t the point. We are called to strive for the real thing — intimate knowledge and fellowship with God.
The apostle Paul, a single man, wrote about the spiritual significance of marriage. I wonder if his relationship with Jesus was so intimate that he didn’t need the “picture.” Perhaps because he had tasted the real thing, he understood both the holiness of marriage as a metaphor but also how it paled in comparison to living with and for Christ Jesus. He kept reminding the early church that life would be found in intimately knowing Jesus.
Trading the Lesser for the Greater
Many Christians have bought into a cheap version of sex, even within marriage. Sex is not just about personal fulfillment and the satisfaction of your sexual desire. It’s a call to something infinitely greater. It is a physical reminder that we were never meant to live in isolation and selfish pleasure. We were created for promise, for vulnerability, and for the pursuit and exchange of love that compels us to give ourselves away.
As a single person, you are invited to give yourself away through self-denial and service to the family of God. Your unmet sexual longings and needs are a physical reminder that you were meant for intimacy — ultimately intimacy with God. But please don’t think that finding the right person will be the end of unmet longings or self-denial for the sake of Christ. Marriage, as Paul wrote, carries its own demands, distractions and disappointments. Even within the Garden of Eden before the Fall, Adam did not complete Eve. She wanted more and needed more.
Your sexuality was created to teach you about a faithful God … about longing for Him, the pursuit of Him, the joy of Him and the promise of Him. Don’t get so distracted by the metaphor that you miss the real thing for which your heart longs.
Copyright 2018 Juli Slattery. All rights reserved.