The Mystery of the Gospel:
The mystery of the Gospel was made clear through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the person of Christ who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV). The Apostle Paul articulates the mysterious reality of God found within the function and flow of the created order and how that mystery is realized through Christ’s fulfillment in the Gospel. The institution of marriage between one male and one female is the lens into that mystery. This covenantal union points “to a greater reality: the unique relationship that will exist forever between Christ and the church.”1 The Apostle Paul alludes to this in the imperative of a Gospel centered marriage by stating: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32 ESV).
Marriage as a Covenantal Relationship:
Marriage, consummated by sex, is not an institution onto itself, but rather is a vehicle to communicate a more glorious, wondrous, and dazzling reality — an eternal relationship with God the Father. The trinitarian God “created and confirms and purchases with [Jesus’] blood the new covenant and the everlasting joy of our relationship with God. The Bible calls this relationship marriage, and pictures the great day of our final union as ‘the marriage supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19:9).”2
Therefore, when a wife engages into a covenantal relationship with her husband she is called to mirror the character of Christ. By the power of grace through the Holy Spirit “the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:24 ESV). Husbands are also called to image forth the character of Christ in that they are called to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV). The union of marriage, though it is not limited to sex but involves sex, “is a reflection of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the very life of the triune God.”3
“The deepest meaning of marriage is that it is an enacted parable of another marriage — the marriage of Christ to His bride.”4 The depiction of marriage, via sex, mirrors the relationship God has with His people through the person of Christ in the establishment of the covenantal relationship, the joys of fellowship, and the partnership of creation.
Ephesians 5:32 ESV, “32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
The covenantal union between a male and a female spans beyond mere contractional duties but encompasses a total surrender of body, emotions, resources, support, and more. The institution of marriage from the beginning of time was based upon the precepts that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 ESV). The one flesh is a union embodying deep intimacy, affinity, and affection toward one another. Timothy Keller articulates the one flesh extremely well by saying:
When first reading this phrase in English, it appears to be talking only about physical, sexual union . . . [but] . . . while the words do not mean less than that, they mean much more. . . This covenant brings every aspect of two persons’ lives together, they essentially merge into a single legal, social, economic unit. . . In love they donate themselves, wholly to the other.5
The union of the male and female was not that they would loose their identity within one another, for both parties would still be distinct entities, but that both individuals would share and adjust their beings toward one goal, purpose, direction, and meaning. The two “distinct people do not cease to be male and female, but enter a communion of true ‘oneness’ that produces a multiplying, fruitful dominion.”6 Therefore, Adam and Eve’s existence as one flesh is founded upon the aim and ambition of the glory of God.
The sexual union of husband and wife is to mirror and exemplify the union of God’s Trinitarian nature as well as His union with humanity through the sacrificial offering of Christ. The enjoyment experienced through sexual relations in the confines of marriage is the intimacy saints are to embody with their Savior. In God’s grand design the “reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable.”7 To this end “sex is primarily a way to know God and build community, and, if you use it for those things rather than for your own personal satisfaction, it will lead to greater fulfillment than you can imagine.”8
If sex is an instrument used to showcase the glory of Christ and to experience the intimacy granted onto the saints through the blood of the Savior, then to pervert its design would be to devalue its aim and, henceforth, mock the significance of the cross. Therefore to honor sex and the institution of marriage, where sex is to function, is to hold to the highest esteem our created purpose — the Glory of God.
“The divine power that leads to godliness comes ‘through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence.’ And we become partakers of His divine nature — that is, we share in His righteous character — through His precious and very great promise. In other words, knowing the glorious treasure that God promises to be for us frees us from the corruption of lust and shapes us after the image of God.”9 This knowledge, apportioned to us through His divine revelation, has given us an authentic view of God’s created order. Therefore marriage is not meant to terminate upon itself but rather extend “to tell the story of Jesus’s marriage to the church.”10
1 C. J. Mahaney. Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway: Wheaton, 2005), 152.
2 John Piper. Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway: Wheaton, 2005), 29.
3 Tim Keller and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Dutton: New York, 2011), 235.
4 Denny Burk. What is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway: Wheaton, 2013), 52.
5 Keller, 222 – 223.
6 Peter Jones. One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Main Entry Editions: Escondido, 2010), 194.
7 Piper, 26.
8 Keller, 222.
9 Piper, 34.
10 Burk, 105.