The Sacred Nature of Sex
by Father Thomas Gallaway
“Sex” is a word belonging to the sacred, not the theater marquee. Yet “sex” is an exhilarating word used to sell everything from cars and beer, to tooth paste and every appliance on “The Price is Right.”
Sex is also an explosive sermon topic and any priest who selects it is bound to touch off a controversy. Many parishioners prefer to ignore the topic, as if children were indeed found in a cabbage patch, while others just throw up their hands about our culture’s contemporary conduct, insisting that nothing can be done about it. Still others pretend to be shocked that the clergy talk about a topic they consider just too “dirty for Church,” as if it has nothing to do with spirituality. All of these good intentions have contributed to the general moral decline, and specifically, to the sacred nature of sex. The result has been an imbalance in the proper role of sexual relations. In discussions with American youth, sociologists have discovered an inconsistency, with teens saying sex is “no big thing,” while youth culture and its musical tradition stress that it should be something special. Even adults often profess that sex has nothing to do with right or wrong but only what is best for the individual. The truth demands some scriptural clarification.
The sexual character of the human person has a positive role to play in human spirituality. God must sanction sexuality, like all things truly human, as both inspired by and filled with the Holy Spirit. Also, like other aspects of life, through misuse and abuse, sexuality can be perverted and corrupted. This is how sex can become an instrument of sin rather than the means for glorifying God and fulfilling oneself as made in His image and according to His likeness.
“The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body … Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … Do you not know that he who joins himself with a prostitute becomes one body with her? For as it is written, the two shall become one. But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. Shun immorality. Every other sin, which a man commits, is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:13-19).
The teaching of St. Paul about sexuality is the same as his teaching about eating and drinking and all bodily functions. That is, God gives them for spiritual reasons to be used for His glory. In themselves they are holy and pure. But we as Christians must remember when we make moral decisions that, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). When we misuse or see pleasures of the body as ends in themselves, they become instruments of sin and death. The apostle Paul again affirms that all sexual perversions have as their direct cause man’s sinful rebellion against God. Man has, “boast[ed] of his wisdom but they have made fools of themselves, so God gave them the freedom they desired … giving them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Romans 1:22-24). It is “for this reason that God gave them up to dishonorable and unnatural passions … since they did not see fit to acknowledge God” (Romans 1:25). Under the old law of Moses, adulterers, homosexuals and incestuous people were ordered to be “put to death for to do such things they deserve to die” (Leviticus 20:10-16). While defending the moral righteousness of Moses’ law, the words of Christ are full of hope, love and mercy for any sinner who repents and asks for forgiveness. In short, he or she needs to experience metanoia (change of heart) and redirect his or her life. Today, sinful behavior is rationalized as alternative lifestyles, yet the only alternative they offer “is spiritual death, not life.” The call of Christ is to adopt a pure attitude as well as behavior (Matthew 5:27-32; 19:3-9; Romans 7:3).
It is important to note that the Church does not have a double standard on sexual morality. As a priest for more than twenty-three years, I have heard over and over again that we don’t care what our boys do as long as we don’t know and don’t meet the girls they do whatever with! Our girls, however, well, that’s a different story … they must remain pure! The same Christian moral standard is expected for both men and women. The Orthodox Church continues to hold the view of the apostle Paul that unrepentant adulterers, fornicators and homosexuals will not enter the Kingdom of God (cf. I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19). According to the revelation of God’s Word, the only two lifestyles sanctioned are the community of marriage and celibacy.
It is in the community of marriage that sexual relations are holy, pure and natural, with the ideal relationship being that between one man and one woman forever. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and the adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4).
The single person who lives his or her whole life without husband or wife is called to virginity or celibacy as a witness in this world of the Kingdom of God, where “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). It is for this reason that those who enter monastic life are said to have taken the “angelic habit.” This does not mean there will be no sexual character to the unmarried person’s spiritual life, for the unmarried man or woman still will express his or her humanity in masculine and feminine spiritual forms. The goal of such a lifestyle is to “promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:38-40).
Sexuality in and of itself is not sinful in the eyes of God. The impurity comes from human beings profaning what was given as a sacred gift to express love. “Sex” is a word that belongs to the sacred, not to the theater marquee or the peddlers of pornography. It is high time that the Church raises the moral bar and demands that Christians be faithful, pure, and aspiring to the holiness of the Lord.
Courtesy of the
May 2006 issue of The Word magazine.