Purity has long been a prominent subject of discussion among Christians. Over the course of Church history, much of this discussion has centred upon the idea of virginity. One of the things that a focus on virginity has definitely produced is a negative and suspicious attitude towards sex (despite the celebration of sex in such Biblical books as the Song of Solomon).
For many Christians, sex has come to be associated with feelings of guilt and shame, sin and defilement, as sexual histories serve as painful records of moral failure. Caught between cultural messages that idolise sex and sexual indulgence, and Christian messages that overwhelmingly focus on the sinful dimensions of sexual practice and its avoidance, one can easily become disoriented, finding it difficult to hold one’s nerve against the pressures of the wider society.
We might wonder whether this negative attitude towards sex is found in some of the very central truths of the Christian faith. Doesn’t the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and that he lived a celibate life suggest that the Christian faith regards sex as defiling?
While some have understood these biblical truths in such a manner, a far more straightforward explanation is open to us. The central reason for Mary’s virginity and Christ’s celibacy lies in the fact that God is forming a new humanity in Christ. Christ isn’t just the natural child of two human parents, but the Son of God himself, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary. In one person, God and humanity are united.
Before the coming of Christ, the history of the human race was of one generation after another, each continuing and spreading the flaws of the first man, Adam. It is a history of the reign of sin and death in a world shaped by the curse. Jesus’ birth, however, was different. Jesus was not merely born as a natural continuation of the old fallen life of man in Adam. Rather, by the activity of the Holy Spirit, God started the work of new creation in Mary’s womb, a work beyond human will, power, virility, and fertility. Where man was powerless to break the cycle of sin and death started by the first man, God broke the cycle by forming a new man, the Son of God.
Why didn’t Jesus marry and have children during his earthly ministry? Because his calling was not to spread the life of Adamic humanity, but to form a new one. Christ has a bride: we call her the Church. Christ’s calling was to save the children of Adam from death, by overcoming that death himself and making people new as they are united to him by the Spirit and raised in him on the last day.
What, if anything, does all of this have to do with our understanding of the place of sex in our lives?
What it reveals is the true source of purity. True purity comes to us, not merely from preserving the death-destined, weak, and sin-filled bodies we inherited from our father Adam, but from living according to the promise of resurrected bodies in Christ, as we become part of his new humanity. The source of true purity is found, not in our sexual histories, but in our resurrection destiny.
God is so committed to the ‘damaged goods’ of our death-ridden and sin-defiled human flesh in Adam that he gave his Son to redeem us and our bodies, so that our bodies might be raised up on the last day (1 Corinthians 6:13-14). If we are looking for purity, we won’t find it in ourselves, but only in this promise. Through this promise even those with the most sordid of sexual pasts can be welcomed into a glorious and holy future. As we live according to this promise we will know, not only forgiveness and redemption from our sins, but also power and purpose to treat our bodies with the honour and holiness fitting for temples devoted to God’s praise and delight.
Image by Karolina K. via stock.xchng images.