Beautiful Union Study Guide

A Practical Companion for Deep Reflection, Good Conversation, and Tough Questions You Really Want to Ask (But Haven't Yet)

About the Book

A practical, illuminating companion guide to Beautiful Union, Joshua Ryan Butler’s positive exploration of how God’s design for sex reveals the good, true, and beautiful in Scripture . . . and all of life.

Designed as a companion to that life-changing book, this dynamic study guide is your road map for diving more deeply into the key concepts of Beautiful Union—whether by yourself or with a group.

Through seven fast-paced sessions, you’ll encounter thought-provoking questions, be prompted to reflect on powerful concepts, discover what God’s design for sex was always meant to reveal, and consider what it all means for living a joyful, faithful life. These sessions include features such as:

Unpack It: questions to illuminate Beautiful Union with space to record your reflections
Use Your Imagination: exercises to creatively help you see God’s larger invitation for human flourishing
Reflect on It: ways to understand our lives in the expansive story of God that sex points to

With this guide, you’ll experience a bigger, more beautiful vision of God, the gospel, and the Christian vision for sex.
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Beautiful Union Study Guide


Sex as Salvation

Based on chapter 1 of Beautiful Union.

Takeaway: Sex is an icon of salvation, a sign of our union with Christ as his church.

Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is. It’s not only the giving of vows at the altar but also what happens in the honeymoon suite after that speaks to the life you were made for with God. A husband and wife’s life of faithful love is designed to point to greater things, but so is their sexual union! Sex is an icon of Christ and the church.

Christ arrives in salvation to be not only with his church but also within his church. Christ gives himself to his beloved with extravagant generosity, showering his love upon us, and imparting his very presence within us. Christ penetrates his church with the generative seed of his Word and the life-­giving presence of his Spirit, which take root within her and grow to bring new life into the world.

Similarly, the church embraces Christ in salvation, celebrating his arrival with joy and delight. She has prepared and made herself ready, awaiting his advent in eager anticipation. She welcomes him into the most vulnerable place of her being, lavishing herself upon him with extravagant hospitality. She receives his generous gift within her—­the seed of his Word and the presence of his Spirit—­partnering with him to bring children of God into the world.

Their union brings forth new creation.

Unpack It

1. Read Ephesians 5:31–­32. Paul says it’s not only the vows of marriage (“leave and cleave”) but also the consummation of marriage (“one flesh”) that speaks to Christ and the church. Sex is an icon of salvation. This elevates the sacred significance of sex.

• How does this iconic view of sex confront those in our churches who might see sex as dirty?

• How does this confront those in our culture who might see sex as simply about personal pleasure?

• Does this differ from your personal view of sex? If so, how?

2. Take a moment to consider how you’ve historically thought about sex, the male and female contributions to sexual union, and sexual desire. Use the space below to write out a few thoughts.

• How is the idea that generosity and hospitality are embodied in the sexual act different from your original stance about male and female contributions to sexual union? How is it the same?

• How does desire as an icon of Christ’s affection for his bride affect your view of male desire?

• How does desire as an icon of the church’s longing to be romanced affect your view of female desire?

3. In what ways does sex as an icon of salvation create a fuller understanding of God for you?

4. The less extreme, tragic inversions of the iconic design are ______________ and ______________. What were your initial reactions to reading about these less extreme inversions?

• How have you experienced these lesser inversions in your own life or seen them played out in the lives of those you are close with?

• How does it feel knowing that these are not part of God’s design?

5. While marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us the sufficiency of the gospel. How does an iconic vision support, rather than detract from, the sacred significance of singleness?

• What are ways the church has fallen short of this vision?

• Why is it crucial that the church uphold a sacred vision for singleness?

6. List at least one thing from this chapter that stood out to you or surprised you.

Use Your Imagination

Take a moment to review the phrasing “one flesh” from the book (pages 6–7). Let’s contrast the one-­flesh union with some other (unbiblical) metaphors for salvation. To be clear, the following are not accurate visions of salvation. They are false, yet they represent approaches people often take to God. The point is to contrast the beauty of sexual union against the backdrop of these false images God has not chosen to use. Consider what each of these false metaphors would communicate about the nature of the gospel.

1. Climbing the Sacred Mountain. God sits atop a treacherous mountain. Athletes train their whole lives in preparation for the ascent. Only those who develop muscular strength, physical agility, and cardiovascular endurance can master the climb. On the appointed day, climbers race to the top. Those with injuries or disabilities are prevented from participating in the race. Many climbers die on the trek. Only those who make it to the top see the face of God and are awarded a new mansion to live in.

• What does this metaphor imply about the nature of salvation?

• In what ways does this metaphor contradict what God tells us about the one-­flesh nature of salvation (see the discussion of Jesus as the pursuing God on page 14)?

• How does such grace change how you approach God?

2. The Work Crew. God sets prisoners free, breaking them out of captivity from their dark cells of solitary confinement. Once out in the light of day, however, they’re immediately clothed in orange jumpsuits and put to work. They pick up trash, mow lawns, build playgrounds, construct homes, and help old ladies cross the street. Everyone is given a walkie-­talkie so God can give them their new assignments every hour, on the hour. They never see God again but are given just enough food to have the energy to complete their assignments.

• What does this metaphor imply about the nature of salvation?

• In what ways does this metaphor contradict what God tells us about the one-­flesh nature of salvation (see “In Defense of Romantic Worship Music” on page 19)?

• How does such love change how you live with God?

About the Author

Joshua Ryan Butler
Joshua Ryan Butler is a pastor and the author of Beautiful Union, The Skeletons in God’s Closet, and The Pursuing God. He and his wife, Holly, along with their three children, live in Portland, Oregon. More by Joshua Ryan Butler
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