Sex, Sacraments, and Signs of the Covenant

First of all, God is a covenantal God. He relates to his own people through covenants. So what is a covenant? Basically, a covenant is a mutual agreement between two parties. However, it’s very different from a contract.

In a contract, if one party doesn’t come through with their end of the deal, then the other party can withdraw. Covenants, though, mean that no matter what the actions of the other party are, you remain faithful to your end of the agreement. We see this with God so beautifully. He promised to redeem humanity and restore this fallen world. Therefore, he entered into a covenant with his people to do so. In spite of all of our disobedience, God has remained faithful to this covenant and will continue to remain faithful.

To remind us of his faithfulness and our call to be faithful, God does something special. It’s interesting because it seems as if God always accompanies a sign with each covenant that he makes. Think back to Sunday School and the story of Noah and the flood. God made a covenant with Noah that he would never destroy the world again through flood and then he called for Noah to be fruitful and fill the earth. It was two parties entering into a mutual agreement. 

What does God do as a result? He gives them a sign of that covenant. Specifically, he gives them the rainbow. The rainbow was a sign to point to the fact that God was faithful and would keep his end of the deal. It also was a reminder of the fact that we’re called to be faithful to God and keep our end of the deal as well. God does this with other covenants as well.

Now that we’re in the New Testament period, we’re part of a renewed covenant with God. There are two major signs with this covenant. The first is baptism and it’s an act that occurs once at the beginning of the covenant. What does it signify? It signifies passing from death to life,from sin to holiness, and represents a fundamental change of lifestyle. You enter the water one person and then are raised from it as a different person. Baptism basically acts as a symbol for entry into this covenant with God. 

The second sign is the Lord’s Supper (or communion, the Eucharist, etc.). It provides nourishment, both spiritually and physically, since it actually consists of bread and wine. Unlike baptism, this sign is an ongoing thing that is celebrated often, occurring every week in some traditions. The Church celebrates the Lord’s Supper often in order to signify unity with Jesus. We are eating his flesh and drinking his blood. We’re, in a sense, becoming one with him. Through the Lord’s Supper we become one with him. Every time we take it, we are reminded that we are the ones with whom he chose to enter into covenant. In response, we are to live as such.

So, I began to think about these signs of this covenant and I thought about another great covenant mentioned in the Bible: marriage. Though it’s on a different level (being between two humans, not God and humans), it’s still a covenant. It’s a promise to fulfill your part of an agreement whether or not your partner fulfill his or hers. If you notice, the Bible often uses the covenant of marriage as a symbol of God’s covenant with his people.

Then, I remembered something Jesus said when speaking to the Pharisees and speaking of marriage: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

 This verse is found both in Genesis and one of Paul’s epistles, so obviously it’s important. In that verse, I see two signs of this covenant that correlate with the ones found in our covenant with God.

The first sign is “leaving one’s father and mother”. This, like baptism, is a one time event. It happens at the beginning of the covenant. What does it represent? It signifies a complete life change. Before, you are walking through life as a single person. You depend on your parents and you’re responsible for no one but yourself. Then, you are transitioning into the life of a covenantal marriage. In that, you rely on your spouse and you’re responsible for him or her. It’s symbolic for entry into this new covenant, the covenant of marriage. You’re “baptized” into your marriage, so to speak.

The second sign is sex, or “uniting and becoming one flesh.” Like the Lord’s Supper, this is a sign that is ongoing. It continues to occur well after the two have entered into the marriage covenant with one another. What does it represent? Like the Lord’s Supper, it represent unity with one another. The two are becoming one. Just as we take in Jesus through the bread and become one with him, the spouses become one with each other. It provides nourishment, both spiritually and physically, just like the Lord’s Supper. Sex is a reminder the couple has decided to enter into covenant with one another. They each have chosen to commit and love the other.

When you look at sex like that, it becomes a lot more serious. It’s not just something casual. It’s like a sacrament, something that only takes place within a covenant. That’s why I think there’s so much sorrow that occurs when people try to have sex before truly committing and marrying one another. It’s like taking the Lord’s supper without becoming a Christian or being baptized. Sex gets stripped of its meaning and its beauty.

No, I’ve never had sex, and for a long time that was motivated by a number of other things. However, now, I realize that sex is a precious thing. It isn’t something to flippantly participate in. It isn’t meant to be done within a one night stand. It’s supposed to be an ongoing sign of a covenant that has already made. In a very real way, sex is marriage. Every time you have sex with someone, it’s like you’re marrying them. You’re rushing into a covenant, one that you’ll be bound to break if you haven’t fully committed to them. As Dr. James Brownson says, “They must not say, at one point with their bodies and their words, what they are not willing to say with the rest of their lives.”

That’s why casual sex takes a toll on so many people. It’s not just a physical thing. Sex is a spiritual thing. You become connected to another person’s soul. It’s profoundly sacred and holy. Unless we treat it that way, we’ll be in for a lot hurt and a lot of heartbreak. Let us preserve the sacredness of marriage and the beauty of the signs of the covenants that God has made with us and we have made among each other! Amen.

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

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