What the Bible teaches about sexuality: A threefold vision

December 1, 2017

In order to renew anything, we must have a vision for what it is intended to be, for what’s gone wrong, and for how to bring about transformation. The following will establish that threefold vision for sexuality:

1. Christian faith revels in sexual fidelity

The Bible is frank about sexual joy within the circle of faithfulness. Fidelity first orients you as a child of God in relationship to your Father. You come under his care and oversight. Fidelity then orients you as a steward of your own body. We all enter adult life with the gift of singleness; many of us continue with the gift of singleness for many years, even a lifetime; and a majority of us will end life with the gift of singleness. We must be stewards of ourselves.

Fidelity then orients you in relationship to your husband or wife, if God subsequently gives the gift of marriage. God made sex, defines sex, evaluates sex— just as he made communication, food, family, work, money, health, and every other good thing. In his design, the man and the woman went unclothed and celebrated a unity that was frankly physical. The blessing “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:22, 28) would be realized by knowing one another “in the biblical sense,” as sex used to be whimsically described.

The Song of Solomon sings with rhythms and images of sensual pleasure in the union of husband and wife. The Word of God chooses to spend whole chapters gazing in delight at male and female anatomy. Felicity and fidelity become one flesh.

The “one flesh” of marriage is such a good thing that it serves as a central metaphor for the relationship between Jesus Christ and his people. To see sexual immoralities as wrong is not to be nervous about sexuality. Christian faith envisions sexual joy before the eyes of the holy God. Neither immorality nor prudishness understands that.

2. Christian faith Is candid about sexual wrongs

The Bible discusses many forms of sexual immorality and sexual victimization. A vision for fidelity does not drive honesty about infidelity and betrayal underground. Prudish? Not Scripture. Squeamish about the sordid details of human life? The biblical authors frequently (though not always) eschew photographic description and details when they speak of sex. They often model a certain delicacy of generic description. Nonetheless, they speak openly, sometimes even graphically, of rape, adultery, voyeurism, seduction, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality, gender bending, bestiality, incest, and the like.

To complain about the “sex and violence” in popular culture is to complain about the glorification, mislabeling, and voyeuristic detailing of such evils. It is not the fact that these dark human realities are on the table. The Word of God does not stint in describing sex, violence, and sexual violence. Genesis, Judges, 2 Samuel, and Proverbs capture sordid moments. But God labels sin and suffering accurately. He freely speaks of the sordid—as sordid. He does not titillate us with alluring lies and excessive pictorial detail. And God freely speaks of how alluring the sordid can be.

For example, Proverbs 7 tells a seduction story in vivid detail. But Scripture tells such a story to warn us of the allure. And whether the wrong is one-sided (e.g., rape) or two-sided (e.g., consensual immorality), sexual sin always proves suicidal. Genesis 19, Judges 19–20, and Proverbs 5–7 unpack that not just in principle but also through stories. Scripture teaches constructive candor— the opposite of euphemism and evasiveness. It teaches accuracy— the opposite of titillation and brazen exhibitionism.

Jesus comes forgiving and changing the immoral. He bridges the chasm between sordid and glorious.

3. Christian faith brings genuine transformation

Jesus comes forgiving and changing the immoral. He bridges the chasm between sordid and glorious. He invites us to cross over from death to life. What was perverted can be converted. To disagree with immorality is not simply to condemn the immoral. It is to identify particular forms of lostness that need finding. We worship a seeking and finding God. We have been sought out and found by a Savior. He reproves the unruly in order to invite us to come seek help.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow. (Isa. 1:18)

This same Jesus comes rescuing and protecting the victimized. He is a refuge for the afflicted. We worship a seeking and finding rescuer, a protector of the innocent. He calls predators, liars, and betrayers to account. He comes to deliver victims from the pain and power of what their oppressors have done.

O Lord , you hear the desire of the afflicted;

you will strengthen their heart; you will incline

your ear

to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,

so that man who is of the earth may strike terror

no more. (Ps. 10:17–18)

This Christ encourages the fainthearted and holds on to the weak.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,

all you who wait for the Lord! (Ps. 31:24)

In sum, the Lord has a highly positive view of sex. He has a highly negative view of immorality. And he has a deep concern both for the consensually immoral and for the victims of the criminally immoral. He has more mercy than we can imagine.

Of course, there are not two gospels, one for sinners and one for sufferers! There is the one gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to make saints of all kinds of sinner-sufferers and sufferer-sinners, whatever our particular configuration of defections and distresses. The proactive sins inflamed by immoral desires are significantly different from the reactive sins energized by fear and self-protection. But unbelief and lovelessness characterize all of us, however vast the differences in how we express them. Similarly, the temptations that come by allure are significantly different from the temptations that come by affliction. But this world misleads and bedevils all of us, however vast the differences in what people face. So all of us head astray and all of us are led astray, but the paths we take and the provocations we face vary.

Jesus comes for each and all. So the dynamic by which the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized are transformed has a core similarity, though his work unfolds by many different ministry routes. Grace is not a panacea, a single message prescribed for whatever ails you. Christ comes bringing a myriad of specific remedies that address specific persons, struggles, and troubles. He always embodies steadfast love— and all that Exodus 34:6–7 promises. But like his Proverbs, he admonishes the sexually unruly, calling for a radical U-turn. Like the psalmists, he comforts the fainthearted, offering refuge and strength. Like a prophet, he brings justice, indicting oppressors and defending victims. Like a shepherd, he guides and protects, holding on to the weak. He is patient with all whom he befriends. In other words, he meets you right where you are. And he’s always thinking about what you need to know and the next step you need to take.

Content taken from Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by David Powlison, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

David Powlison

David Powlison (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is a teacher, a counselor, and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He is also the senior editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling and the author of Seeing with New Eyes, The Biblical Counseling Movement, and How Does Sanctification Work? Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24