Sex and the Bible: Part 1
- Josh McDowell
- 2003 18 Feb
Everybody seems to be talking about sex. You can hardly turn on the TV, see a movie, or listen to the radio without finding references to it. Not only is our culture talking about sex, it seems that everybody is doing it. The biblical boundaries for sex - God's instruction to reserve physical intimacy for marriage - have been set aside, disregarded as old fashioned and culturally "out of step."
And why not? After all, the Bible is an ancient book written in a completely different culture. Many in today's society - especially youth - reason that times change and truth is what works for the individual. How can we look to an "archaic book" as the definitive standard for truth, especially regarding one's sex life in the 21st century? What is the Bible and what kind of authority does it have? The writer of Hebrews calls it the living and active Word of God (Heb. 4:12). The apostle Paul describes it as the "word of life" (Phil. 2:16, NASB). In a letter to Timothy, Paul explains the purpose of the Bible: "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NLT).
All Scripture, then, is intended to show us the right way, which is in our best interest. As Moses told the nation of Israel, "Obey the Lord's commands and laws that I am giving you today for your own good…. I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse!" (Deut. 10:13; 11:26, NLT, italics added). The Bible is a relational revelation of a loving God who desires to protect us from harm and provide for our good. He has given us precepts so we may live an abundant life by knowing him and experiencing his love to the fullest. His precepts point to universal moral principles, which then point us to the very person of God.
Precept, Principle, Person
We all know that God issued specific commands, such as "You shall not murder" and "You shall not covet." These precepts define right and wrong in explicit terms, but are just the first step in understanding basic morality. They also point to larger moral principles that help explain the "why" behind the command. And if we look beyond the principle, we begin to see that the precept is founded on an even greater moral truth-the person of God. God's ultimate purpose in every precept is to bring people to the knowledge of himself.
With this in mind, let's return to the specific issue of sexuality. What does the Bible have to say about sex, and what difference does it make to our 21st century lives?
Know the Precept
In biblical terms, sexual immorality is all extramarital (including premarital) sex. God has set his standard: sexual involvement outside of marriage is wrong. The precept is clear:
"Abstain from…sexual immorality..." (Acts 15:29, NIV). "Flee from sexual immorality..." (1 Cor. 6:18, NIV). "We should not commit sexual immorality..." (1 Cor. 10:8, NIV). "It is God's will that you... should avoid sexual immorality..." (1 Thess. 4:3, NIV).
Know the Principle
Every "negative" command of the Bible expresses a positive principle. The biblical command to "flee sexual immorality" is based on at least three fundamental principles: love, purity, and faithfulness. The biblical standard of sex is love. The problem is, most people are working from a counterfeit standard of love-one that says love permits sex without boundaries, outside God's definition of love. According to the Bible, love is evident when the happiness, health, and spiritual growth of another person are as important to you as your own. True love is giving and trusting; it is secure and safe, loyal and forever. That kind of love sets clear boundaries for sex.
The biblical standard of sex is purity. "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral" (Heb. 13:4, NIV). God designed sex to be enjoyed in a husband-wife relationship to form a pure union: two virgins entering an exclusive bond.
The biblical standard of sex is faithfulness. "Love and faithfulness meet together" (Ps. 85:10, NIV). The biblical standard of sex requires a commitment of two people to remain faithful to each other, therefore the lifelong commitment of marriage is central to biblical sexuality.
Know the Person
The principles of love, purity, and faithfulness are right because they are from God-they reflect his nature and character.
God is love. "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love..." (1 John 4:8, NASB). Love is not simply what God does; it is who he is. And by his nature, he views the happiness, health, and spiritual growth of others as more important than himself. That is what motivated him to send his own Son to suffer and die for us.
God is pure. God demanded the use of pure gold in the construction of the tabernacle; he prescribed pure incense for use in worship; he required pure animals for sacrifice; he commanded pure hearts (Matt 5:8), pure religion (James 1:27), and pure relationships (1 Tim. 5:2). As the prophet Habakkuk said, God's purity is such that even "[his] eyes are too pure to look on evil" (Hab. 1:13, NIV).
God is faithful. As Paul told Timothy, even "if we are faithless, he [God] remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:13, NASB). In other words, God cannot be unfaithful, because faithfulness is more than something he does; it is something he is. Most Christian teens and singles are well aware of the precepts set forth in the Bible regarding sexuality. But in practical situations, especially in the midst of temptation, they begin to wonder whether those precepts are still relevant today. Later this month, we will delve into how God's commands to stay sexually pure show his intention to protect his children and provide for their good. We will see that the standards of the Bible are just as relevant today as they ever were because they are determined not by our ever-changing customs or cultural mores, but are founded in the very nature and character of God-the God who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8, NLT).