Role of Sex
It has been previously alluded to before that sex has a unitive function for the husband and wife. There are those who say that this aspect of bonding and unifying is only a secondary consequence of sex, and that it is below in rank of importance under its purpose of procreation, or for the creation of children. I do agree that procreation is a prominent biological function for sex, a natural outworking of it, a necessary result, and that all marriages, who are to engage in such activities, ought to be open for children. We are commanded to be fruitful and multiply and children are one of God’s beautiful purposes for sex. This brings into mind Genesis 4:1 again, right after Adam “knew” Eve his wife, she conceived. For those who are created in God’s image, sexual relationships serve to multiply that image and fill the earth with that image. God has joined the thought of intercourse in marriage with the idea of having children- this is a good and necessary consequence of it. Though childbirth has become painful and there are difficult aspects of raising children, having them is not meant to be a burden. The real burden, especially for those who desire to fulfil God’s purpose for them in their lives, is not having children. There are many instances in scripture that portray barrenness as a sorrowful lot in life, and other instances where children are a joy to have and a sign of God’s blessing upon them.
To a large degree the procreative aspect of sex is its function, but I believe that the primary role for sex is not procreative, but it is communitive and unitive. Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31 all say, in the context and purpose for marriage and sexual union, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The leaving, cleaving, and oneness are designed to accentuate the one union and bond between the husband and wife. The cleaving has strong sexual overtones, especially in the context of the Ephesians text, and there is no mention of children being made in these verses. Sex is certainly not just for reproduction, but it is relational as well, and the covenant of companionship is God’s ordained context for sexual activity. Man and woman are to pledge covenantal commitment which is expressed and consummated in sexual union.
If the role of sex is only for the creation of children, then those couples who are infertile ought to not engage in sexual intercourse, nor should those who are past child-bearing age. If they are infertile, then it could possibly turn into grounds for divorce because they are not being faithful in exercising their duties toward their spouse, but infertility is no grounds for divorce. So, the role of sex is unitive, and therefore we can see that there is an appropriateness that sex should be pursued within a marriage even when conception is not possible. The husband and wife should maintain sexual relations for the sake of their marriage and it is treacherous for a marriage to abstain from sex. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 attests to the fact that husbands and wives should abstain from intercourse only if it is agreed upon by both, only for a short period of time, and only to devote themselves to prayer. Abstinence opens many doors of temptation, and celibacy is not more spiritual than marital sex, it is given to people as a provision for the flesh, for married couples to enjoy, just as Proverbs 5:19 says, “Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.” Enjoy each other passionately, joyfully, and pleasurably. But at the same time it is not a casual encounter, not an exploratory exercise to see how compatible one another would be, but it is an expression of companionship which is guarded by the lifelong commitment. Sex is not dirty or condemned in the Bible, the rebukes for sexual immorality are for those who practice sex outside of marriage and outside of its covenantal prescriptions.
Just because the place for sex is within the covenantal bond of marriage, and the act is strongly encouraged within it, doesn’t mean that anything goes within it. John Calvin said:
“If married people recognize that their intercourse is blessed by God, they should also be warned not to pollute it by shameless intemperance. For although the propriety of marriage covers the shame of incontinence, that is not to say that it should be an incitement to it. They should not, then, think that everything is allowed them, but every man must behave soberly with his wife, and the wife in turn with her husband, acting in such a way that they do nothing contrary to the sanctity of marriage. For this is the way God’s ordinance must be applied and must be made a matter of balance, without spilling over into licentiousness.” (emphasis mine).
In other words, there should be no sex that is undignified, nothing that violates its purpose and its parameters. Any sort of sex that is merely self-gratifying or is demeaning is not fulfilling the purpose of marriage. And marriage is not a tool for one to pursue sex as an end in and of itself. In order for sex to be satisfying, it must be used as a means to cultivate something beyond itself. It is a means to something better- to foster the bond and love between husband and wife and to have children.
Roman Catholics tend to argue that taking away the centrality of the procreative view of sex paves the way for it to be merely recreative. In order for it to be truly for recreation, then the biological check of the possibility of having children needs to be taken out of the equation. In order for that to happen, then contraceptives need to be added to the mix. Since there is now the possibility of “consequence-less” sex, and it is merely one’s recreative activity, it leads to more reckless, or inventive, and immoral behavior, and if you trace it down to its logical and moral conclusion, you get all the sexual confusion, perversion, and licentiousness that we have today in society with all its utter disregard and despising of the Biblical view of marriage and with all its implications upon the degradation society. This line of thought is not some sort of conservative scare tactic, or some illogical, slippery-slope ruse to force a sexual ethic upon someone. No, this trajectory is well documented in history, so the Roman Catholic’s wariness on the issue is not without warrant. Since the advent of The Pill, sex has, with increasing intensity and approval, been redefined as something comparable to someone’s hobby or sport- merely a pleasurable activity that one engages in, in whatever form they like, for their own satisfaction. An example that summarizes this notion well is a Seinfeld episode when Jerry and Elaine compare sexual orientation to playing for a certain baseball team. Sex has become the same as one’s favorite sport’s team. But the same thing happens to the institution of marriage itself, it becomes a mere social contract or activity that one engages in, a simple life choice one makes for themselves and whose end is in themselves.
The call to be married is the call to grow up and have kids, and we ought to be open to the possibility of children right away. But this does not mean that all and every occasion for contraception should be shut down for a married couple. Since we have demonstrated that there is more to sexuality than just kids, there can be some instances where contraception is justified, but these instances must have a compelling reason. What is the end, or goal, that is justifying the use of contraception? If it is for the health of the mother to keep her from being exposed to a dangerous pregnancy, then choose a method that is not reckless to the conceived child. Or is it simply for your own convenience? Know that birth control pills have a terrible potential to them. There are those that flush the womb and make it a hostile environment to a conceived egg, so that they act as an abortifacient. If you have no qualms about ending human life with a pill when it is only 2 cells big, then what is to stop you from ending it when the human life is 1,000 cells with a different pill, or 1,000,000 but with forceps? If your pursuit of contraception is not careful, then it is reckless to human life (for further reading on this, see my post on the 6th commandment). It is also reckless to your marriage, because the idea of contraception involves a barrier between the husband and wife, and therefore it undermines the unitive function of sex. Contraception should not be the default position that marriages start at, but it should be a temporary means for a temporary situation- and that must be determined case by case, and motive by motive.
There is a lot of debate within Christian circles concerning this aspect. There are those who say that no divorce is ever permitted no matter the circumstance because scripture urges reconciliation between two hostile parties. There are those who say that divorce is permitted, but under strict circumstances, like adultery or abandonment. And there are those who are more relaxed on when a couple can get divorced and fall closer to the “no-fault” divorce camp. The Bible is quite clear that there is room made for divorce (Matthew 5:31-31; 19:8-9; 1 Corinthians 7) and the grounds that are given are adultery and abandonment.
It is certainly true that the Bible strongly implores married couples to seek reconciliation before all else. There have been many stories where, by the grace of God, two seemingly irreconcilable spouses, after some time of bitter and hostile separation due to either infidelity or abandonment or both, have come together to happily reunite once again as a married couple. Given these instances, what constitutes abandonment and what levels of adultery are legitimate grounds for divorce if there is always a possibility of God’s grace working reconciliation? It all depends on the response to the persistent, Matthew 18 discipline that the church is to exercise against the offending party. If it sadly comes to the point to where the guilty party is blatantly unrepentant for a time and is excommunicated, then they can find a legitimate reason for abandonment. The guilty party is to be viewed as an unbeliever at this point, and it is clear that the marriage is unequally yoked, so per 1 Corinthians 7, it is grounds for divorce. This allows for things like spousal abuse to constitute abandonment if it comes to this point. Many are too quick to say that since a husband who batters his wife around has not committed adultery with another woman, she is forever bound in that abusive marriage until he commits adultery. But it is sinful to treat his wife this way, even with verbal abuse, and it is not creating a safe and nurturing home which is the husband’s duty of love to his wife. It is demeaning and insulting, murder with words, and is certainly grounds for church discipline. And if no repentance is made, then he is to be treated as an unbeliever, and we have come full circle back to 1 Corinthians 7.
Jesus said that if a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has committed adultery with her in his heart, so is the viewing of pornography the same as adultery? By Christ’s words, yes, but does one instance of a husband viewing porn constitute grounds for divorce? Perhaps not one instance, but a struggle with it does constitute grounds for discipline and a need for guidance. If they grow more obstinate and entrenched in their pursuit of pornography after much admonition, then it can be viewed as an eventual ground for divorce since the husband is finding pleasure and gratifying his sexuality in something other than his wife. However, we need to be careful to discern whether or not this is a person who is fighting the good fight with a real desire for help. If it is a real desire, then it shows repentance and we are to give them the support they need, and that includes support from the help that is meet for him: his wife. The struggle in this is often a ruthless, knock-out, drag-out fight over a long period of time, and much patience, prayer, and forgiveness is needed for ongoing counsel.
But for those who are quick to think that since it is not wise to immediately terminate one’s marriage upon one simple viewing of porn that it gives them license to go ahead and indulge just once: know that you cannot keep your sin a pet. You cannot indulge this temptation and then think you can turn it off whenever you want. It is more powerful than you and apart from the grace of God, you cannot fend it off. The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and you are not stronger than this lion. It will overpower you and ruin your life. God may keep the ruin from crushing you by his mercy for a time, but God can remove His hand merely one angle and it can lead you down other paths you do not want to go. You may be able to hide it for a while, know all the tricks to keep your pastor or mentor in the dark, and your wife off your trail, but God is fully present at the commission of every one of your sins and sees it in full view. All sin is eventually made manifest, and God sometimes exposes people’s scandalous sins to the public in this life to remind us of the final day when all things will be revealed and exposed to the light of His Glory, so who’s to say that your shame will not be exposed for all to see?
I will not go into explaining how and why homosexuality is a sin by drawing out the biblical details that prove the case. This has exhaustively been done elsewhere and I will let those materials speak for themselves. So, this is not the place for debate or argument, and if you wish to understand the side that I am coming from, see and be convinced these materials: One Man and One Woman: Marriage and Same Sex Relations by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley; The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert A.J. Gagnon; Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth by Adam T. Barr and Ron Citlau; The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield; Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says About Sexual Orientation and Change by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert; and there are many more. I’m going forward assuming the historical and biblical position that homosexuality is a sin, but it is a forgivable sin, and one that is able to be healed by the blood of the cross. There is no sin too large for Christ to forgive.
Despite the rising and common belief, homosexuality is an activity and a conduct, not an identity. It is an act in which people are engaged that is inherently against God’s design for humankind and is therefore immoral – and it is thereby not a fundamental aspect by which you to construct yourself around. What is clear is that any sort of sexual activity outside of a monogamous marriage and outside of heterosexuality are impermissible and sinful. We are not to embrace sin or temptation as our fundamental identity, but we are to confess that we are sinners and sinners by nature, and this may look like admitting struggling with same sex-attraction. The attraction itself is to be viewed as temptation and it is to be resisted, disowned, and ruthlessly so- much like a pornography addict would attack his temptation, or an alcoholic would for his addiction. This, too, is a vicious and brutal fight and Christ calls us to hack off and cast our sin away from us.
If morality begins with the will, what about simple attractions that seem to be unwilled? We are to know that it is inherently disordered, just like heterosexual lust for someone not their spouse is also disordered. So, it is good to recognize this and to fight it, and know that only the grace of God restrains us from this and that we are all capable of being given over to our sin.
So, what do you do with this temptation? We are morally accountable for our culpability, not for the temptation itself always. So this means aiming to not put yourself in situations where you know you are weak. For example, if a married man has a weakness with porn and regularly puts himself in a position where he indulges in his lust, he will be in a weak position when another woman who is not his wife flirts with him. He has consistently put himself in a weak area and has eroded his resistance to temptation. So, those who struggle with homosexuality may have been set up by any number of factors, social environment, past sins, perhaps even genetics. Many people testify that they found this aspect out about themselves, like they discovered it, and if this is true for you, what are you doing about it? Genetics nor culture determine what is right or wrong, and none of this removes your moral responsibility and accountability to fight temptation – you are to know your own culpability and weaknesses and pray for the grace and strength to fight it. Do you see the destructiveness of resigning yourself to this as a part of your identity, as a defining term of who you are? You cannot embrace it as an integral part of who you are and claim it as yourself because that is a blatant disregard of how God identifies us in His Word: He identifies us as image bearers of Himself first and foremost. That is your identity, not your sin. It is only when we start from there that we can have a true understanding of our identity, our roles, and our functions within this world.
What is the difference between this sin and others? Yes, it is true that all us Christians are sinful and never cease to sin until the day we die, and yes, we view this to be sinful, too. Homosexuality is one of many sins that are listed as condemnable. But the substantial difference is that I, as a sincere, repentant Christian, do not identify the necessary part of my being and of who I am upon a sin, nor do I push an agenda that wants other people to affirm me in my sin. I want other people to hold me accountable and call me out of my sin. But what is going on, by claiming this and staking in the ground that we have to accept all who claim to be gay Christians is actually taking that sin, which we are dead to and which has been nailed to the cross, and what we are to denounce and to deny, is actually who you are. It is not who you are in Christ, if you’re in Christ. Nor is it the identity that you should be claiming. If you’re in Christ, you are a new creation, the old has gone, and the new has come. You are being redeemed and sanctified unto someone that better reflects Christ. It is not something that should be brought into the church as: “Here I am, you have to accept this with me.” No, we don’t. We accept you, and acknowledge that you are a sinner like the rest of us, but you’re being redeemed out of your sinfulness. You cannot come into the church and say, “I’m an adulterous Christian. Now you need to accept my adultery.” We do not play that game. God created us and knows what is in our best interest and what is right for us. He has the right and the authority to tell us this, and He calls all men everywhere to repentance.
Continual, daily repentance and conversion is the life a Christian is called to have. You need to repent, and keeping this identity is only a hindrance from bearing fruits of repentance. And this is true for all forms of adultery- sneaking a peek at a woman who passes by and dismissing it as a man’s natural reaction to a beautiful woman is no excuse for indulging in it. Flying to the computer to watch porn after a fight with your wife, because you’re not going to “get anything anyway after that” and you naturally need some stress release, is no excuse, either. Sin is a life-long struggle, and often times people are not completely released from their specific thorn in their flesh. There are true born-again Christians, happily married in a heterosexual relationship, kids and all, who still struggle with homosexual attraction. But it is the same for many kinds of sin, and all of it is designed for us to see our need and find our strength in Christ.
Disclaimer: The content of this series is drawn from much of my notes of Dr. Bruce Baugus’ lectures. The language and arguments are adjusted to fit an easier reading flow, the content is catered to my writing style, and may not always accurately reflect Dr. Baugus’ sentiments or statements. Other sources are also used to draw in information.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans by. Robert White (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 153.
 For more information about this, see: R. Albert Mohler, We Cannot Be Silent (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2015), 17–32.