Let’s be honest, many people in our culture think we are crazy for believing in the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. What we view as good news is often viewed as bad. What we believe to be liberating is often believed to be oppressive.
Against this backdrop, it can feel impossible to explain the biblical sexual ethic in an attractive way. How can we ever help anyone to consider that it might actually be a good thing? Well, I think we can sometimes achieve that. One approach I find helpful is to think about highlighting three strengths of the biblical sexual ethic: it’s beautiful, it’s coherent, and it’s plausible.
There’s something wonderfully beautiful about the Bible’s view on sex. The world around us often believes sex is just about having a bit of fun. It’s a pleasurable bodily experience, something we do to get a bit of satisfaction. And yet many have also experienced the fact that it never quite delivers on the lasting satisfaction we’re looking for. Others do recognise there’s more to sex – it’s a way to express love and commitment.
There’s something wonderfully beautiful about the Bible’s view on sex.
But both views fall short of the Bible’s perspective. In the Bible, sex isn’t just about pleasure or even about love and commitment between a couple. In the Bible, sex is about Christ. Our experience of sexuality is meant to teach us about him. Marriages are designed to be an illustration – however imperfect – of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Our sexual desires teach us about God’s longing for us and his desire to be united with us. They point us towards a time when all God’s people will be united with him in unhindered intimacy as we share eternity together in the new creation. They point us beyond themselves – beyond earthly physical acts that might be pleasurable but can never give lasting satisfaction – to the one relationship that truly can bring us the lasting satisfaction we desire.
In the Bible’s view, sex and sexuality speak to us of God’s passionate love for us and the relationship he wants us to experience with him. That’s beautiful. That can help people to think, ‘I want this to be true.’
The Bible’s view on sexuality is also coherent – it holds together and makes sense as a unified whole. The same can’t be said of a secular view.
Our culture’s view of sex and sexuality is full of inconsistencies. For example, we’re told that what we feel inside – including our sexual desires – is who we are, and anything that seeks to stop us from expressing that true self is oppressive and must be rejected (Christian teaching being a prime example). And yet, most of us wouldn’t believe that a married person who experiences desire for another person is justified in going off and sleeping with them. They might say they’re just being true to the authentic self they find inside, and yet most people wouldn’t think they are right to commit adultery. There’s a lack of coherence here.
In contrast, the biblical view is coherent. Culture tells us we need to find our identity in our desires but can’t explain why some desires aren’t who we are. The Bible gives us a coherent way of handling our desires. We all experience a mixture of desires – some good, some bad. Our job is to evaluate them against what God has revealed and to respond in line with that. That’s true if we’re single or married, gay or straight.
The Bible’s view on sex is coherent. That can help people to think, ‘If this is true, it could actually hold together.’
Many people think the Bible’s view on sexuality is unworkable and our culture’s view is workable. In reality, the reverse is actually true.
A secular ethic views romantic and sexual relationships as necessary for human fulfilment. That’s why the biblical view is often seen as harmful and oppressive – how can God deny some people access to experiences that are vital for human fulfilment? The secular ethic gives everyone access to what we need, the biblical removes that access for gay people, leaving us isolated, unloved and unfulfilled.
But actually, it’s the secular ethic that leaves many people isolated, unloved and unfulfilled. If romantic and sexual relationships are necessary for human fulfilment, what about those who never find anyone who consents to having sex with them? Or what about those who want to marry but never find a suitable partner? Circumstances leave them in a position where it is apparently impossible to experience fulfilment.
The Bible’s view on sex is plausible. It works, for all people.
But in the biblical ethic, both marriage and celibate singleness are good gifts and contexts in which we can find fulfilment. We can receive the love we rightly need in friendship, and church family means singles aren’t left without family. In this ethic, everyone gets to experience life-giving, loving relationships whether single or married, by choice or circumstance, and whether gay or straight.
The Bible’s view on sex is plausible. It works, for all people. That can help people think, ‘If this is true, it could actually work for me.’
None of these three things can prove that the Bible’s teaching on sex is right, but they can get people thinking and they can get people interested. What really matters is Jesus: who is he? Did he really rise from the dead? If he did, we need to listen to what he said, but it turns out that that may not be such a bad thing after all. We may just find that what he says is beautiful, coherent and plausible.