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Redeeming Sex in Marriage

Redeeming Sex in Marriage

Surely few things in this world are more mysterious than sex. Surely few things give such clear evidence that there must be more to them than the sum of their parts. On one level, sex is a simple biological function that exists to populate the earth with human beings. On the other level, it is so much more than a biological function, for how else can we explain the longing for it and the pleasure of it, the shame of its misuse and the agony of its abuse? How else can we explain the righteous jealousy with which we guard it or humanity’s obsession with expressing it in anything other than the way God explicitly commands?

If you have ever had this sense that there must be more to sex than what you see or feel or experience, that there must be more to it than can be understood through pure biology, then I have a book for you to read: Scott Mehl’s Redeeming Sex in Marriage: How the Gospel Rescues Sex, Transforms Marriage, and Reveals the Glory of God.

I’ll admit that Christian books about sex can sometimes get weird. They can focus too heavily on diagrams or illustrations. They can focus too much on great sex or mind-blowing sex without establishing what sex is in the first place. Or they can go far beyond what God makes clear and get into territory that is not only uncomfortable but borderline blasphemous. But thankfully Redeeming Sex in Marriage is not like this. Rather, it attempts to answer big questions while remaining dignified and within Scriptural bounds. It is a book that is decidedly not weird.

Mehl begins with this question. “If your spouse, your friend, or even your child asked you, ‘Why did God create us as sexual beings?’ how would you answer? Where would you even start? Reproduction? Marital protection? Is it some kind of cosmic wedding present? Why did God create us like this?” His book provides an answer to the question, “because the way we answer this most fundamental question about sex will determine whether we’re able to find truly satisfying answers to the myriad of other questions that arise.”

He begins by providing a kind of theology of sex and focuses on five purposes we find in the Bible: sex is a means of covenantal union; sex is a means of mutual pleasure; sex is an expression of marital love; sex can bring new life; sex is a shadow of our relationship with Christ, as his church.” Each of these is part of God’s design but crucially, “there are differences in how each one functions. The first three purposes are what I call essential purposes. Purpose number four is the blessed purpose. And purpose number five is the transcendent purpose of sex.”

The first four are treated together in one chapter for, while essential, they are also familiar. It is the fifth purpose that fewer people understand. “With God, there are always deeper and eternal purposes at work. Everything he has created is imbued with profound meaning, symbolism, and purpose. Everything he does demonstrates his wisdom and declares his glory. He doesn’t just give gifts ‘for fun.’ There’s always more going on.”

We somehow know that there must be more to this aspect of our humanity. And it is here that Mehl ties the ultimate meaning of sex into the ultimate meaning of marriage—to serve as a picture of a greater reality. Tracking with John Piper, he says “God created Adam and Eve as sexual beings so that they might understand his love more completely. Their sexual desire for each other—the thrill they experienced as they beheld and explored each other’s bodies, the way their bodies were designed to restore the ‘one flesh’ union from which they were created—was all part of God’s plan to reveal the nature and the power of his love for us. In short, sex is about God.” Which makes sense, because ultimately everything God created is about God. Here’s the connection:

If marriage was designed to be a picture of Christ and the church, sex was designed to be one key aspect of that analogy. As we’ve discussed, God created sex to be a means of covenantal marital union, a means of mutual marital pleasure, and an expression of the multifaceted dynamics of marital love. If sex essentially manifests and expresses the marital relationship, then we must conclude that sex was also created to reflect Christ and the church. Sex reveals something powerful about the nature of our relationship with God, and in light of the New Testament, we are able to see it even more clearly than those who came before Jesus.

So in its own way, sex is a shadow of a greater truth and is meant to point beyond the act itself to the Creator of the act and beyond even the significance of the act to the transcendent truth behind it—the truth that we are loved by God and united to him through Christ. Marriage is a picture and sex is a picture within the picture.

With all of these building blocks in place, Mehl discusses sex in a fallen world and the many ways in which it is used to harm instead of to bless as well as the many ways in which it no longer functions as it was designed.

If marriage was designed to be a picture of Christ and the church, sex was designed to be one key aspect of that analogy.

Scott Mehl

The second half of the book is more practical in nature and is shaped by 12 principles meant to guide you into a deeper understanding of sex, especially as you practice it with your spouse. Mehl says rightly that too many books on sex are essentially voyeuristic, inviting you to imitate another husband and wife. So rather than being exhibitionistic and crass, his principles remain dignified and appropriate. “You can’t grow in your sexual relationship with your spouse by studying the specifics of someone else’s sex life or the suggestions developed by experts. You can’t find the way forward by studying other people’s relationships. To find the way forward in your sexual relationship, you need to become a student of your spouse.” Indeed.

Redeeming Sex in Marriage is a book that really does answer many big and important questions and it does so well. I am thankful I read it and thankful that I can now recommend it as a resource for others to read, enjoy, and learn from.

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