Sacred Sex: A Spiritual Celebration of Oneness in Marriageby Tim Alan Gardner, Scott M. Stanley (Foreword by)
For years, Christians have been told that sex is God's creation, designed by him as a gift to husbands and wives. Yet few couples actually experience sex as a spiritual, God-ordained experience. Rather than admit their lack of fulfillment, many couples hide their disappointment and confusion, while others attempt to solve the problem through better sexual technique.
Unfortunately, all the advice on improved technique fails to explain the one thing that makes sense of it all. Despite the proliferation of resources to enhance sexual satisfaction, couples continue to struggle in their sexual relationship. In fact, author and licensed counselor Tim Gardner estimates that as few as 2 percent of married couples ever experience a truly exciting, energizing, and soul-touching physical bond. But now, that can change.
A couple's sexual relationship has a far higher purpose than pleasure or procreation. Scripture makes it clear that sex is the one thing on earth that joins two people into one. Now readers can learn how to approach marital sex in a way that brings the fulfillment of true oneness. Sacred Sex shows how they can experience a beautiful, God-ordained life of intimacy that blesses them far beyond the bedroom walls, serves as an act of worship to God, and touches their hearts and souls in ways they never could have imagined.
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SACRED sexa spiritual celebration of oneness in marriage
By TIM ALAN GARDNER
WaterBrook PRESSCopyright © 2002 Tim Alan Gardner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHoly Sex
What Makes This Human Act So Sacred?
There may be some things better than sex, and there may be some things worse. But there's nothing exactly like it.
-W. C. Fields
Sex is holy. It was created by God and given to His children to cherish and protect.
Sex is holy. This is why our world is so fascinated, so obsessed, and even so messed up about the subject of sex.
Sex is holy. That is why in my adolescent, premarital world of sexual musings and passions there were periods when I felt that everything about sex was created either to torment me or to leave me feeling guilty. And that is why, in the sanctity of my marriage, I've known times of sexual intimacy with my wife to be the very presence of God Himself.
Sex is holy. It can be, for those who are willing to enter this sacred space, a place of worship.
I realize that it might seem ludicrous to equate sex with holiness and to describe it as an experience of truly worshiping God. How can something that has been so desecrated, so abused and polluted, and that has caused so much pain be considered a holy experience? And how, if we're talking about the adoration of the one true God, can the sexual act ever be considered an act ofworship? How, with all its unseemly baggage, can sex be any of these things?
The full truth about sex is this: It is both sacred and polluted, holy and desecrated. The sacredness of sex is not based on how we treat it or mistreat it. Its sacredness is based on its essence, which comes from God. Sex is holy because God created it to be holy.
Standing on Holy Ground
The concept of holiness is at the heart of who God is, of what He calls His people to, and of what we encounter when we encounter Him. As Moses timidly approached a burning bush that wasn't consumed by the fire, he heard the One who had called him say, "Do not come any closer.... Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). The Bible doesn't describe exactly what Moses did just then, but my bet is that he was barefoot before he could stammer "lowly sheepherder."
What made this scrap of desert especially holy? Two things. It was holy because the Holy One Himself was present there. But it was holy also because God had set that little piece of Mount Horeb apart for His use. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the same God who created the universe, had come to this desolate place to call His servant Moses and to set him apart to free God's people from slavery in Egypt. It was holy ground because of who was there and because of what He was doing there. God's presence and His purposes combined to transform an ordinary patch of desert into sacred space.
So what is it that makes sex, a desertlike patch of human experience for so many couples, a holy act? Two things. First, sex is holy because God Himself is present whenever a wife and husband partake of His gift of sex. And second, sex is holy because the Creator of the universe designated the gift of sexual intimacy to be the way that a husband and a wife both create and re-create the God-designed oneness of marriage. Sex makes two people one because God declared it to be so. He has set apart sex for His use. It is holy ground.
The Meanings of Holiness
In the Scriptures, the word holy has several distinct meanings. First is the idea of something that is perfect, transcendent, and spiritually pure. The prophet Isaiah refers to God no less than twenty-five times as "the Holy One of Israel." It is Peter's description of Jesus when he proclaims: "We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:69).
Holiness also applies to things that God has designated as holy. In the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant was such an object. This fact is graphically illustrated in the story of Uzzah, a man who mistakenly believed his hand was somehow purer than the dirt and was struck down by God for grabbing hold of the ark to keep it from touching the ground (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
The word holy is used to describe something that has been set apart by God and for God. Scholars refer to Leviticus 17-25 as the Holiness Code. This passage contains a myriad of commands, which the Hebrews were to obey so that they might be holy "because I, the Lord, am holy" (Leviticus 20:26). Places, priestly garments, items for worship, sacrificial animals, and the nation of Israel itself were all to be set apart for a special purpose-the purpose of honoring and glorifying the Most Holy God.
Finally, the word holy means to evoke adoration, worship, and even fear and trembling. It was our friend Peter's response when Jesus miraculously filled the boat with fish. Peter fell down at Jesus' knees, begging Him to depart because His holiness evoked Peter's sense of unworthiness (see Luke 5:8). This is no doubt how Moses felt when he lay prostrate and shoeless before God on the burning sand at Mount Horeb (see Exodus 3:5). The presence of the truly holy causes us to see our humanness and our own failures, and to pay humble homage to the only One who is sovereign and sacred.
Each of these four definitions of holiness applies to sex between a wife and a husband. First, sex is holy because it was created by the Holy One of Israel before sin ever entered the human race. In the beginning, sex was perfect and spiritually pure.
Sex is also holy because God designated it to be so, as we will understand more completely when we study the familiar story of the Garden of Eden. Like the ark of the covenant, which much later was regarded with awe and respect, the mystery of oneness that occurs between man and woman in the act of sex is to be accorded a similar holy and high regard. Although the ark is an object and sex is a relationship, both were designed by God; both are meant to be treated with the honor due that which is holy; and both are meant to be reminders of the One who is holy.
Further, sex is holy because God has set it apart from the dawn of time for His special purpose-the magnificent purpose of representing Christ and the church (see Ephesians 5:31-32). This was a mystery; hidden from humankind for ages, and revealed only after Christ ascended to the Father.
Finally, sex is holy because it can usher us into a genuine experience of worship. Just as the appearance of the burning bush filled Moses with awe, the true experience of oneness that God designed marital sex to be can bring us to a place of heartfelt praise and adoration of Him. It can leave us trembling at the wonder and beauty and love of almighty God, who gave us this incredible gift.
To explore the holiness of sex, we'll go back to the beginning in the Garden of Eden. There we will embark on the journey of discovering what was on the mind of the Holy One as He gave the gift of sex to the first couple. But first it's important to understand where we've been in our own lives and where we are now. We need to sort through all that we've learned about sex, both true and false, so that we can return to the garden and learn the complete truth about sex.
And the foundation of that truth is that sex is holy.
The Lies That Hold Us Back
I don't know anyone who, when first learning about sex, was taught that it is holy. I certainly was never taught that. Like any teenage boy, I wanted to learn a lot-and I mean a lot-about sex. It seemed that junior high health class would be the ticket. However, in typical Texas fashion, my football coach was also my health teacher. In full crimson-faced embarrassment, Coach Smith gave us a hurried "how Sammy Sperm meets Elizabeth Egg" lecture. And that was it.
Convinced there was more, I turned to my "well-educated" peers. These teenaged experts shared a great deal of "adolescent sexual wisdom," the most important being that girls want to be ogled and grabbed. This made sense, considering our assumption that girls existed primarily for the enjoyment of boys. I was amazed at how much I was learning.
Imagine my surprise a couple of years later when, after I had become a believer in Christ, my new girlfriend handed me a copy of I Loved a Girl, a book on Christian dating and sexual relationships. The author, Walter Trobisch, had obviously not spoken with my football buddies. Suddenly, my previous education was being challenged by ideas such as women should be respected as God's creation, Christians should save sex (and petting) for marriage, and-a really new idea-God designed, created, and gave the gift of sex to husbands and wives to be enjoyed. Really? God was the One who made sex fun? Orgasm was His idea? I must have been absent the day Coach Smith taught that part.
And yet, even in my burgeoning Bible-based sex education, the idea of sex being something more than a uniquely special way for a husband and wife to share their love was still absent. The only time I heard the terms holy and sex used together was in a spoof when Robin the Boy Wonder cried, "Holy sex, Batman!"
The Culture of Sex
We've all heard much on the subject of sex. In fact, we hear way too much. It's rare that we watch a movie that doesn't have its steamy scenes or at least thinly disguised sexual innuendo. We are surrounded by books that deal with every aspect of sexual dysfunction, technique, fantasy, and exploitation. Even a quick trip to the grocery store brings a deluge of magazine covers that taunt us about sex and our assumed incompetence in this area.
Our sex-saturated culture worships bodies, focuses on individual pleasure, and glorifies sex outside of marriage. Comedians and radio shock jocks rise to fame and fortune by pandering to our basest impulses. Women learn from the industry of "female appearance" that the key to getting a man is a perfect body-and the willingness to show a lot of it. Advice columnists remind us that by the "third date you should be ready and willing to have sex." Cartoon heroines for kids are drawn with twenty-inch waists and forty-four-inch busts, and according to U.S. News & World Report, pornography recently took in more than $8 billion in one year. Sadly, television has become "the leading sex educator in America today," showing sex between unmarried partners twenty-four times more frequently than between spouses.
As a culture, we've decided that when it comes to sexuality, knowledge leads to fulfillment. In the popular 1970s book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, author David Reuben stated: "The more you know about sex, the more you can enjoy it." From the likes of Drs. Masters and Johnson to the Kinsey Institute, the phases and causes of orgasm for both men and women have been studied, documented, filmed, and analyzed. We know of the G-spot, multiple orgasms, and dozens of erogenous zones. (I know. Men think they have only one.) Sex therapy and medical science can cure impotence, premature ejaculation, and an assortment of vaginal muscle disorders. We know how it all works, and we think we know how to make it all work even better. And yet studies show overall sexual satisfaction is continuing to decline.
In short, we are more sexually informed than ever. We can take advantage of therapy and medical treatments not available to previous generations. And we have free access to more sexually stimulating material than at any time in history. But despite all of this knowledge, people are more sexually empty, more sexually frustrated, and more sexually lost than ever before. We must ask why.
Sex and Church History
Let's look at how we got here. Theologian R. C. Sproul observes that "throughout the history of the Church, some have expounded on the notion that sex within marriage is merely tolerated by God for the sake of procreation," and some have even concluded "that God regards sex as intrinsically evil." That view is a long way from sex as a beautiful, holy act that invites the presence of God.
Additionally, some in the history of the church have regarded sexual pleasure itself as a consequence of sin. According to this view, before Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God had forbidden, sex wasn't part of the scenario. Instead, the knowledge of good and evil gave them sexual awareness. If this view is true, then any expression of sex, even within marriage, becomes sinful. Life in a monastery would be the only God-honoring alternative for any of us. Along these lines, Saint Augustine believed that sex was the vehicle for the transmission of original sin. Borne out of his own confession that he couldn't find happiness, no matter how great his "indulgence in sensual pleasure," Augustine concluded that all sexual pleasure must be evil.
Christian belief in the sinfulness of sexual pleasure went on for centuries. Only relatively recently did believers arrive at the idea that the pleasure associated with sex is a good thing. However, Jewish believers came to this conclusion much earlier. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach points out that the rabbis have always made female orgasm a moral obligation of the Jewish husband. In the Jewish tradition, "No man was allowed to use a woman merely for his own gratification." Christendom has struggled a lot more with the "pleasure" side of the sexual equation. Thirteenth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas and church leaders John Calvin and Martin Luther all agreed that God had created sex for reasons besides procreation. However, they also viewed sex as "disorderly" and never seemed to tread very long or dive very deeply into the controversial waters that sexual pleasure might actually be a gift from God.
Boy, have things changed.
Look through any directory of Christian resources and you'll find a book on sex or at least a book on marriage that includes a chapter on sex. (That chapter is easy to find. It's always the last one.) Even for believers, sex is a hot commodity. Still, the Christian world changes slowly.
In the late 1970s, Dr. Ed Wheat's book Intended for Pleasure gave Christians a great technical guide to sexual intimacy, and it did much to break the assumption that Christians shouldn't enjoy sex. However, by the time this book came out, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask had been on people's bedside tables for almost ten years, and the movie version, a Woody Allen comedy, was a major Hollywood hit. And when the Christian world finally published Wheat's candid book on Christ-honoring sexuality, it was wrapped in cellophane and stocked on the top shelf in Christian bookstores. The unavoidable message was that we may have a personal relationship with the Creator of sex and marriage, but we're still awfully embarrassed about what He created.
Today, many have heeded the advice of Dr. Howard Hendricks, author and Christian educator: "We should not be ashamed to discuss what God was not ashamed to create." Since Wheat's groundbreaking work, a tidal wave of information on Christian sexuality has expounded on the premise that sex is for pleasure. We've come a long way from the days when sex was simply a wife's marital duty. But there's still more.
Understanding the Holiness of Sex
I enthusiastically agree that God wants us to enjoy sex, but godly sex is so much more than just fun. And many followers of Christ are once again poised to be left behind while nonbelievers dabble in this truth. Many people outside the church are discovering that sex is much more than merely a physical act; it has a spiritual component. They are realizing that the deeper connection of sex goes far beyond simply understanding how to overcome sexual dysfunction. It goes way beyond technique and physique. This deeper dimension is experienced when we move past pleasure as a goal and instead seek intimate connection-not just with our bodies but also with our souls. Some are finding that when sex has a clear spiritual and emotional component, the sexual union holds a deeper meaning and therefore offers deeper pleasure. But without a relationship with the Creator through Christ and a full understanding of His purposes for sex, these people fall short of the encounter of oneness that God intended for us. They miss the core truth from which all other sexual truths flow. And that truth is that sex is holy.
Sex was created, inaugurated, and blessed by the source of holiness, God Himself. Before sin entered the world, God gave sex as a divinely unique and extraordinary gift to the original couple to share and enjoy with each other, to celebrate their oneness. Sex is holy as well because it is in sex, in the full unity of both male and female, that the full image of God is represented.
Excerpted from SACRED sex by TIM ALAN GARDNER Copyright © 2002 by Tim Alan Gardner
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Dr. Tim A. Gardner is a licensed counselor, ordained minister, and director of The Cabin counseling center. He also serves as Director of Family Ministries at Zionsville Presbyterian Church. Tim and his wife, Amy, are the founders and primary speakers for Marriage Makers, a weekend enrichment retreat. They are the parents of three children and live in the Indianapolis area.
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This book is a celebration of holy sex. It shows how married couples can partake in the Creator's gift. A must read for anyone who is married or hopes to be someday.
Wow! What an awesome book about the true meaning of becoming "One" in marriage. It's all about total acceptance of one another to be able to love your spouse as Christ loves us and died for us....