How many times have you told a group of students, “All you need is Jesus?” I know I have as many times as Michael Jackson did the moonwalk or as often as my junior high kids reference Lady Gaga. Thousands.
The question begs: would Jesus Himself agree with that statement? I think the answer is both yes and no.
In studying ecclesiology and sacraments, one comes to see that indeed our union with Jesus is the very thing that sustains and satisfies us. At the same time, God recognizes that in our weakness and sinfulness and in this fallen world, we need physical reminders and representations of the grace God has given us through Christ. Scripture, the sacraments, the Church, and, to a lesser degree, marital sex, are gifts God has provided to help us enjoy and better grasp the reality of our union with Christ.
I have seen a propensity for youth workers – mainly myself – to hyper-spiritualize conversations about sexual abstinence. Knowing how fervently students yearn for sex in their teenage years, I try to help them understand at the heart level that what they desire for is union with Christ. While this line of thinking is theologically sound, it is somewhat incomplete biblically.
While reminding students that the object of their perceived “hormones” really is Jesus, our message is incomplete without acknowledging that God gives us physical means by which we touch, feel, consume, and process our spiritual union with Christ. Their desire to experience union in a physical, tangible manner is accepted by and accounted for by God. He also knows that we cannot grasp the mystery of this union and has blessed us with signs to help us better understand and experience it.
Too often this statement “all you need is Jesus” takes on a mystical, hyper-spiritual nature which discounts our very real need for physical representations of grace. God gave us sex and marriage – among other things – for that reason. Paul hints at this in Ephesians 5:31: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. The union of a husband and wife, sealed through sex, resembles the union of believers to Christ.
Theological jargon aside, we need to affirm that a student’s desire for union in a physical manner is a reasonable, human thing. We need to acknowledge that God knows that they need physical signs of our union with God and, consequently, has given us His Word, the sacraments, the Church, and marital sex as helps in this struggle. And we need to direct students to Jesus and these gifts, which point to Him, in order to satisfy our deep need to experience union with God.