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