Recently I ran across a blog article entitled, Sex Should be Spiritual, to which I posted a blunt reply, one I think I should have softened but due to my immediate frustration and exacerbation with seeing this errant idea repeatedly proposed and embraced by Evangelicals, I suppose I just instinctively responded. I did offer a second and more moderated comment that acknowledged the good intentions of the post while still making clear that I believe the Scriptures are evident on this matter and that here, the author is in error, at least in part but a rather consequentially, if only in part.
The woman who wrote the article, Melissa Edgington, surprisingly (at least it should be) can take comfort that she is not alone within Evangelicalism in this faulty concept. Focus on the Family has this article, Sex is a Spiritual Need and of course as I have written about in my, Must Infidelity be Confessed, series, Russell Moore states that with respect to infidelity, when a spouse is sexually joined with someone else, it has a, "spiritual, mysterious effect". And these two anecdotal examples are but a tip of what appears to be a concerning theological iceberg.
Edgington begins with an assumption which she does not ever prove in her article, namely, that sex is a spiritual act, in part, at least. Her presupposition, with regard to sex, is repeated in various formulae in her blog post as she contends that there often are, “two people, naked and vulnerable in the quiet of their own bedroom, struggling to figure out how to connect spiritually while they make love.” Additionally she asserts, “So, we come to the sacred place where we should be experiencing a spiritual union with our spouse” and further, calls it a “divine moment” and a “spiritual experience”.
Following this are defenders of this theological indiscretion (which you will find in the comments responding to me) with ideas or texts as follows:
- Everything that is good and from the Father glorifies Him. Our spirituality glorifies Him and in all things we are to glorify Him. How can a husband’s tender love for his bride not bring glory to the Father? How can it then not be spiritual.
- “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”—1 Corinthians 10:31
- [P]resent your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1)
Firstly, to Mrs. Edgington’s presupposition, I believe it will be covered in my response to the comments and my own arguments. But let me say this, it appears that she is practicing what is quite common with Evangelicals and that is imposing onto Scripture, favored ideas or philosophies because they seem right or reasonable. In other words (in this case), because sex is so rapturous, at times I suppose, and/or deeply personal and intimate, then it must be spiritual. This seems to be the line she somewhat follows.
(Warning, leftist false sexism trigger alert) Unfortunately, because of poor Evangelical leadership and instruction, with many women this is a tolerable method of theological conclusion on this subject. Of course that is not to say men do not follow the same pattern on other things as they do, but on this topic and in this manner, I find women far more susceptible to this kind of idealism and theological error.
- Now to the first comment that, “Everything that is good and from the Father glorifies Him. Our spirituality glorifies Him and in all things we are to glorify Him. How can a husband’s tender love for his bride not bring glory to the Father? How can it then not be spiritual.”
Also, if the postulate above is true, then everything we do is spiritual and so why not a long blog article about the sacredness and spirituality of putting on your shoes or shaving? You get the point, I hope.
- The second complaint to my comment posted at the blog states that, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”—1 Corinthians 10:31.
- Finally, the last reply to my comment comes from Romans where Scott Croydon reminds us (as Paul wrote under the inspiration of God’s Spirit), “[P]resent your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1)."
But to the main point, where, again, does it say that sex is spiritual? It doesn’t. This is an elementary failure in the use of the Bible to make an argument. I am not surprised, however. Many Evangelicals are not taught by their Pastors and other Bible teachers to be disciplined enough to learn proper context, interpretation and application of Scripture. I realize they are sincere but they are also in error.
The Theological Panorama
Spirituality is a state of being in which a believer is filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit which is emphatically stated in Ephesians 5:18., “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Further, in Galatians 5:16 Paul says we are to, “walk by the Spirit” which effectively means to live our lives this way, through the Spirit’s desires and enlightenment. Thus, "things" are not spiritual nor are "actions", in and of themselves, it is the person that is spiritual.
Now some might ask again, about Romans where it says that sacrificing our bodies is our spiritual worship, and it is, but why is it spiritual? In response I point you to what might be a helpful and clarifying passage in Galatians 5:24 which instructs us that the Spirit is to reign and the flesh mortified, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Here we have the identical concept expressed in a different way. The sacrifice of our bodies is the mortification of the flesh, not the spiritualization of the flesh.
Sexual Union vs. Spiritual Union
In my series on infidelity which I mentioned earlier, I brought to light Russell Moore’s error regarding his concept that sexual union equals spiritual union, which is what Edgington does in her post. It is not.
Here is the passage from the series which Moore, rather ironically, claimed that sexual union was equal to spiritual union in 1 Corinthians 6:
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.Did you notice what was considered spiritual and what was not? Did you read the plain distinction between the physical nature of a sexual union and the true nature of a spiritual union?
What is physical is physical and what is spiritual is spiritual and the text is quite plain. To have a sexual union is to join someone alright, but only physically - as the text says, "the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her", but to the person joined to Christ it says, "But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him."
And in this context, and am I glad it is here, it states that our bodies, "are a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you", and that in respect to this we are to, "glorify God in your body."
This does not make our bodies, themselves, spiritual rather, as the vehicle which is to be subject to the control of the Spirit which then, is to act in a manner which glorifies God.
If, in that respect, one wants to talk about sex that glorifies God, fine. But that is not the fundamental premise of Melissa Edgington, which is that sex is a spiritual act. It is not. We, the Christian, are to be spiritual. Our actions are to be reflections of that but the actions, themselves, are not what is spiritual, they are the product of being Spirit-filled.
What about the Unsaved and Sex if Sex is Spiritual?
One of the most common misconceptions about marriage is that it is mistakenly referred to as a sacred and/or spiritual institution. It is not. Marriage is a divine institution but it is not a sacred and/or spiritual institution.
If you cannot or do not recognize the distinction between the two, you do so to not only your own injury but to others, as well, if you pass it on. Why? Because something that exists as a divine institution may not necessarily be spiritual.
The best example of this is civil government. God has divinely instituted civil government to be the mechanism for civil order. Civil government, however, is clearly not spiritual in nature though it is true, it may have some members who are quite spiritual.
In Genesis 2:24 and repeated in Matthew 19:5 we are given the divine revelation about marriage which states that, as God ordained and instituted:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.The text is rather explicit, both in what is present and absent. Marriage is not the establishment of a spiritual house nor is it a spiritual union. It is the uniting of a male and female as an established household of husband and wife. They are an earthly unit.
The emphasis on one flesh is deliberate in that it institutes new boundaries for both parties which alienates them from any previous domestic authority, particularly the wife but not exclusively just the wife. And further, it provides the legitimate context for child-bearing and child-rearing along with the amplification of this household’s policies and practices via the authority of the parents and their investment in their children.
This is precisely why, when a spouse dies, one is free to marry someone else (1 Corinthians 7:39). The marriage is dissolved upon death. It is a terminal contract intended only for human history for the civil regulation, protection, prosperity and perpetuity of humans. More broadly, it can be terminated either through divorce or death (depending on your theology but certainly death, in the least).
Which leads me to…
If marriage is a spiritual institution (it is not) and sex between spouses, a spiritual thing in part or whole (none of which is biblically true) then what about the unsaved? I guess they are neither married nor having legitimate sex?
You see where this awful theology ends, I hope. And this is what you are to do with a theological proposition, take it to its ends. That is called vetting its veracity and here, we come to a dead end or maybe even a cliff.
Our Union with Christ
As mentioned earlier in the passage from 1 Corinthians, a spiritual union is just that, spiritual. And with respect to what is and is not spiritual, our union with Christ is just that, which gives us significant insight into the true nature and construct of what is spiritual.
It is true that as we live in these bodies, we will live out our spirituality. This, however, does not make our bodies, spiritual. That is to say, our bodies remain the source of our sin nature It is the resurrected spirit of man, which enables his spiritual life and during this church age, the Christian is given the unique privilege of being the residence of God the Holy Spirit where by the believer is commanded to "be filled with the Spirit".
In fact, our bodies must never be seen as spiritual, though they are to be used to God’s glory. Why? Because the Bible teaches rather conclusively and unimpeachably, that Christ will “change our vile body” (Philippians 3:21) into those like his after his resurrection which is a spiritual and eternal body (Matthew 17:2). And rather simply put, Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:44:
it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.Conclusion
Essentially, many believers suffer from bad theology which sounds good at first glance. This is why we are implored by God to yield ourselves to sound doctrine which only comes through the careful examination of propositions and their value in light of Scripture.
Now, some might finally raise the question about Christian couples and whether or not their spiritual activities together make their marriage spiritual. The answer is, no. It only makes those activities spiritual expressions if they are both doing so while controlled by God’s Spirit.
I do not doubt that the author of the blog intends well and I only wish her well but as to good intentions, they are the beginning, not the end and if they are the end, they will be the end, indeed.