As a source of pleasure, sex excels most other physical experiences. In this sense, sex is not just good, it is very good indeed!
Sex is God’s good gift to humanity. He is the one who created the human body. He is the one who made that body capable of giving and receiving sexual pleasure.
Why did God do this? Quite simply, because he is kind. It is his pleasure to give us pleasure. Sex is a gift from our Father, “in whose right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).*
As the giver of the gift, God is entitled to stipulate how it should be used. And he does precisely that in Scripture. Through his holy Word, he declares that there are right and wrong ways to enjoy sex.
God revealed his plan concerning proper sexual practice when he created us (Genesis 2:24) and his Son reiterated that plan when he visited us (Mark 10:6-8). Jesus said: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” This statement defines Christian sexual morality.
According to Christian standards: Firstly, sexual activity should take place between men and women. God made human beings male and female specifically (though not, of course, exclusively) for that purpose. Secondly, sexual activity should take place between a particular man and woman—namely, husband and wife. Sex is the privilege of the man and the woman who have pledged themselves to each other in marriage.
The Christian sexual ethic can be summed up in two words. It is heterosexual (involving the opposite sex) and monogamous (involving a single partner). According to Scripture, sex is morally good when (and only when) it is practised between one man and one woman in a loving marriage relationship.
When we understand how God intends sex to be used, we automatically understand how he does not intend it to be used. He does not intend people to have sex unless they are a man and a woman united in marriage as husband and wife. So even if the Bible never mentioned anything about fornication, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality and bestiality, we would know that these activities are wrong because they fall outside the boundary of what is right.
However, the Bible is not silent about wrongful sexual behaviour. In fact, it vigorously and repeatedly condemns all extra-marital sexual activity as sin. This condemnation includes homosexual behaviour, which is defined as any erotic sexual activity between two or more men or between two or more women.
Sexual intimacy between members of the same sex is expressly outlawed by God in Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (18:22).
Three truths about homosexual behaviour are evident from this passage. Firstly, it is forbidden: it must not be practised (“you shall not”). Secondly, it is controllable: it involves will and choice (otherwise it would make no sense for God to say, “you shall not”). Thirdly, it is offensive: it disgusts God (“it is an abomination”).
Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul condemns same-gender sex in his letter to the Romans. Speaking of people who had perverted the truth and dishonoured the Creator, he states: “Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (1:26-27).
This passage reveals a further four truths about homosexual activity. Firstly, it is universal: it can be practised by women as well as men (“women … and the men likewise”). Secondly, it is unnatural: it contravenes the created order (“women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women”). Thirdly, it is lustful: it arises from perverted and unrestrained desire (“consumed with passion for one another”). Fourthly, it is harmful: it inflicts some form of just injury on those who engage in it (“receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error”).
In 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul groups homosexuals (that is, people who engage in homosexual acts) with other lawless and disobedient people. He claims that homosexual sin, like other sins, is “contrary to sound doctrine”. By this he means that it goes against what is true. People who practice homosexual sex must first convince themselves either that our Creator had no specific purpose when he made us male and female or that he has no right to command obedience to his purpose. They wickedly “suppress the truth” and “do not see fit to acknowledge” God’s integrity and authority, and so they become “futile in their thinking” and impure in their passions (Romans 1:18, 28, 21, 24). In short, they believe falsehood and so they act falsely.
Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals** … will inherit the kingdom of God.” No person who practices homosexual sex will enter God’s presence in eternity. This (in part) is the teaching of Scripture. And it is the teaching of compassion: for those who heed it will turn back from destruction.
And this harsh teaching is the motive for Christian compassion. We Christians dare not deceive ourselves or others about the nature of homosexuality or the destiny of homosexuals. We dare not smooth the homosexual’s path to destruction by our tolerance. Rather, with genuine concern we plead, “For love of your soul, stop! Turn back!”
Repentance is the door to God’s kingdom. This is the homosexual’s hope. For what God condemns he also forgives, provided the offender turns by faith from sin to the Saviour.
Having warned in 1 Corinthians 6 that (like other sinners) no homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God, Paul goes on to say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Some of the people to whom Paul writes once were homosexuals, but no longer. Having repented, they had been cleansed by the blood of Jesus and claimed by the Spirit of God.
Although homosexual behaviour is sinful and damnable, it is also forgivable and conquerable. Such is God’s holiness and grace.
God’s moral guidelines do not limit but liberate sexual pleasure. Indeed, when used as he intended, sex is not only free of guilt, hurt and disease, but also full of love, life and delight. Such is God’s kindness and love.
* Of course, pleasure is just one of God’s purposes for sex: his other purposes are affection, attachment and procreation. By God’s design, sexual intimacy between husband and wife generates bliss, bonding and babies!
** The Greek word variously translated “homosexuals” (RSV, 1952), “sodomites” (NRSV) and “homosexual offenders” (NIV) in 1 Corinthians 6:9 means literally, “a man who lies with a man in the conjugal bed, a homosexual”. It is a word that speaks of action, not orientation. The same word is used in 1 Timothy 1:10.