Written by Dan Paterson, Australia
Dan Paterson is the founder of Questioning Christianity and is based in Brisbane, Australia. An ordained pastor, Dan speaks regularly to audiences on how the gospel connects to life’s biggest questions and on the popular objections to the Christian faith, particularly on the question of suffering. Dan is married to Erin, and they have three sons, Josiah, Zachariah, and Seth.
Sociological research in Australia reveals that the Bible’s teaching on sex and sexuality poses the biggest barrier to young people taking the Christian story seriously. The argument goes that if Christianity is true, that is bad news for your sexuality.
A lot of people are convinced that the Bible is not only archaic and prudish when it comes to sex, prescribing restraints on sexual behaviours that our modern culture deems repressive, but that it also espouses views that do real harm to vulnerable people, especially when it promotes hatred towards LGBTQ folks.
Now, a question this close to the heart needs to be handled with care. But as challenging as Jesus’ words may be, I find His intentions faultless, and His manner, gentle. When Jesus weighs into the topic of sex and sexuality (e.g., Matthew 5:27-32, 19:3-12; John 8:2-11), He doesn’t come as an instrument of brute force to beat us into submission. His primary voice is not political, but pastoral.
From the beginning, sex was God’s idea. In the first scene of the Christian story, where everything was created for good by God, we’re told that human beings were made male and female: a sexual complementarity. And we’re told that they were both naked and unashamed as part of God’s design.
So it’s not like God created humanity as sexually complementary, with passionate sexual desires, and then was shocked to see what they got up to when He left them alone for two minutes.
There’s no doubt that the Bible is pro-sex. In fact, there’s an entire book of the Bible—the Song of Songs—where if you knew Hebrew poetry would make you blush. The book spells out in descriptive language the erotic desires and encounters of a young couple through various stages of their relationship.
So God is no prude when it comes to sex; He has designed it as a gift.
However, what the Christian story has to say about our sexual feelings is surprising as it is challenging, because our culture has embedded into our psyche all kinds of beliefs about sex and our sexuality:
- Sexual feelings are an appetite, like thirst or hunger, that simply must be satisfied.
- Sex is no big deal, it’s only temporary and physical, so as long as you consent it doesn’t matter who you sleep with.
- Sexual feelings are your key to who you really are, and their fulfilment is necessary for you to be happy.
And Jesus challenges all these cultural beliefs. First, He spoke openly about how sex is a gift from God—to be celebrated within the boundaries of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6).
Then, He used the Greek term, porneia (Matthew 15:19, 19:9), to say that all sexual activity outside of marriage—from watching porn to fooling around with your girlfriend to sleeping with someone of the same sex—goes against God’s good design.
And before anyone thinks that they are still doing okay on that score, Jesus went further, saying that God doesn’t just care about what you do with your bodies, He cares about what you do with your imagination. That even to lust after someone is akin to adultery (Matthew 5:27-30).
You might be thinking that’s crazy. “How is the Christian story good news if it tells me to discipline my desires?”
But when I survey the consequences of the sacred boundaries of sex being trampled upon—as shown by the heartbreaking #metoo movement, and how the porn culture is destroying younger generations (and is in fact buoying the sex trafficking industry), not to mention a general sexual permissiveness that’s only led to falling sex rates—I see that the world’s promise of sex as the ultimate fulfilment has instead resulted in emptier, more broken hearts.
According to Jesus, we are all sexually broken. None of us exclusively desires the right person to the right degree only at the right time. Whether in thought or deed, all of us have a sexual past.
Yet God loves us so much that He not only accepts us as we are, He also doesn’t want us to stay as we are. What Jesus offers us is something utterly unique: grace, forgiveness, redemption. We may not be able to control our sexual feelings, but Jesus invites us to realign our sexual choices—what we entertain with our minds and do with our bodies—back to God’s good design.
Jesus is inviting us into a bigger story. One where sex has a sacred purpose.
In the Christian story, sex is not about us. The union of a husband and wife, loving and serving each other in all areas of life, is merely a foretaste of the eternal union of God and His people when Jesus returns; the cosmic marriage between heaven and earth.
In the Christian story, marriage and sex are set to be eclipsed by something better in the new creation.
Jesus’s invitation to discipline our sexual feelings and pursue holiness is not about pretending we don’t have these desires; rather, it is being caught up in the bigger story where these desires point beyond themselves to the fullest kind of intimacy, joy, and satisfaction that comes when He returns to usher in eternity.
I don’t know how I can trust the cultural story on sex that’s been sold to us. However, I do trust Jesus. I have found Him to be nothing but good news, instilling sex with a sacred purpose, extending a dignity to the role of our sexual feelings without idolising them, and inviting us to discipline our desires in service to a bigger story.
Jesus has not come to do harm to our sexuality; he has come to help us restore it to God’s good design.
This article was adapted from Questioning Christianity’s video here. This version has been edited by YMI.