When it comes to the topic of sex and Christianity, there exist three viewpoints. Let me know if any of these sound familiar.
The Fundamentalist: “Sex is only for marriage between one man and one woman. The Bible says that whoever sins sexually sins against his or her own body. Premarital sex defiles the marriage bed and carries a lifetime of regret. A person who has been promiscuous has squandered his/her purity and, therefore, has little of value to offer his/her spouse. A defiled marriage is doomed to have serious problems.”
The Average Christian: “Yeah, I know I’m not supposed to have sex outside of marriage. But it’s really hard to adhere to the Bible’s commands. I mean, if I love the person and think we might get married, it should be ok, right? God will forgive me if I ask. After all, He understands what I’m going through. Besides, I know too many people who married before being sexually intimate, and they later discovered they weren’t sexually compatible with their spouse. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
The Agnostic: “I’m so sick of the whole abstinence issue! When are people going to wake up and realize that the Bible is totally irrelevant to the lives of modern people? I’ve slept with a few different people; so what? I used a condom and everything turned out fine–no STIs or unwanted pregnancies. I even enjoyed it. All this guilt-tripping over sex only hurts people. Young people need to know their own bodies and discover what they like in bed before committing to someone permanently. Otherwise, they end up trapped in repressed marriages with no self-confidence.”
Talk about some widely differing views! Yet I have to say, for the record, I don’t wholly agree with any of them.
The fundamentalist has it right on a few points: The Bible strongly suggests that sex should be reserved only for marriage (1 Corinthians 7:8-9; Hebrews 13:4), and outright condemns all lewd and adulterous sexual acts (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19; Colossians 3:5). The average Christian, too, has a point: God is forgiving. And the agnostic isn’t completely wrong, either. Some of the unnecessary condemnation brought on by religious fundamentalists has driven some young people into repressed, guilt-ridden relationships. But what is the truth?
The truth is that our bodies were created not for sex, but for the Lord’s worship (1 Corinthians 6:13). Abstaining from sex outside of marriage is a demonstration of love for both God and neighbor. For God, because He requires it. For neighbor, because by abstaining, we do not take advantage of someone’s sibling, child, spouse, parent, niece, nephew or friend for our own pleasure. It also ensures that we don’t bring a child into a life of fatherlessness or single parenthood. Sex without commitment is ultimately selfish.
Sure, God created sex. It’s how we reproduce. But the desire for sex comes from our flesh, not the Spirit.
For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world (1 John 2:16).
Unfortunately, our modern society has confused sex with love. If you’re not having sex with your significant other, they say, you’re not fully expressing your love for that person. If someone isn’t having sex with you, you are missing out on vital affirmation of your personhood, desirability and relationship. When asked what’s the most important quality in a marriage, many people have “sexual compatibility” scrawled at the top of their list. But great sex doesn’t guarantee a healthy marriage. In my experience, great sex usually results from a healthy marriage, not the other way around.
It’s interesting to note that when we read the Bible’s definition of love, sex and sexual desire don’t even make the list:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
In other words, if you’re having great sex but your partner constantly berates you for your shortcomings, love may be absent from the relationship. (And if that’s the case, why should such a person have access to your body?)
Notice also that love “is not self-seeking.” That’s pretty much the opposite of sexual desire, which is focused entirely on obtaining physical pleasure. However, because God understands our biological desire for sexual intimacy, He allows us to pursue it within the safe, nurturing bonds of marriage, in which a loving commitment has first been established. This is a gift and a privilege Christians should respect and cherish.
At the same time, I appreciate the difficulty involved in exercising abstinence. When I was dating, I used many excuses to rationalize any sexual behavior: “I need this. I can’t help myself. Marriage is a long way off. I’m not really going all the way. Abuse awakened these feelings, and I don’t know how else to deal with them.” But, really, I was fooling myself. I was in it for the pleasure, pure and simple, and it left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. I used people to get what I wanted, and they used me. It’s not something I’m proud of. Several of the men I dated deserve an apology.
I’m not the only one to have felt a twinge of regret in this area. The “party girl” at my high school, who was not a Christian and often bragged about her numerous sexual exploits, once made this statement: “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t slept with so many people. Sometimes I wish I were still a virgin.” That left an impression on me for a long time.
In spite of my mistakes, however, my marriage today is healthy and whole. Memories of past encounters do not overshadow my relationship with my husband. Why? Because I recognized my error and repented. And God forgave me and restored me to purity in His sight. I am not “damaged goods.” And neither is any man or woman who has accepted Christ as savior.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
This is the problem I have with the fundamentalist view of premarital sex: It teaches that once you’ve “given away” your purity, you can’t get it back. You have to live with a lifetime of regret because you know that you erred and don’t deserve to receive someone else’s gift of purity in marriage. Hog. Wash.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2).
Now, that’s not to say Christians can rationalize giving into their desires because God will forgive (see Romans 6). Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). When we violate those commands, we say that fulfilling our fleshly desires is more important than following Christ. That is idolatry, and it puts believers in danger of God’s judgment.
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Aside from this, there is significant value in premarital abstinence. No STIs. No unplanned pregnancies. No shame or regret. Greater intimacy in marriage. To those who say sex builds young people’s self-esteem, I say hogwash. I know plenty of people who engaged in sex before they were emotionally ready, who felt peer-pressured into it, and developed life-long insecurities as a result.
So what should the Christian attitude be toward sex?
We should recognize that God expects Christians to reserve sex for marriage; that is our responsibility as believers. According to the Bible, anything else is immorality–a selfish indulgence of fleshly lust. Adhering to God’s commands in this area demonstrates our love for Him and others. It also reveals the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, because self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. For those who have strayed from God’s commands, forgiveness is available and sufficient to erase any regret and restore physical (and spiritual) purity.
Do you agree? As a believer, what is your view of sex outside of marriage? What will you teach your children?