17 June 2024

Sex outside of marriage – is there a Christian argument for it?

Georgia Nicholas 

21 June 2023

“Curly Questions” is a monthly column written by experts dealing with tricky conversations that touch on faith, in a compassionate, practical and biblical way.  

Where does your mind go when you hear this question? Mine automatically frames it as a question about an individual’s sexuality – that is a question about our gender identity, sexual desire, or sexual experiences. 

But it’s worth thinking about this question in terms of a broader concept. Intimacy.  

Intimacy is about how you relate to others. Every one of us has been created for intimacy. This intimacy includes physical, emotional, and spiritual intimacy. We are designed for relationship and closeness.  

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While sexual intimacy is certainly a part of this expression, it is by no means the sum of this expression. 

We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). God is triune – Father, Son, and Spirit. He lives in close intimacy, He defines it. Because of this, we are designed for relationship too. However, this is first with God, and secondly with His image bearers – other people.  

Using that framework, let’s ask again. Can Christians have sex outside of marriage? 

Young people ask me this question a lot through my work with Big Kids’ Table. It’s often followed by, “But what if we plan to get married?”  

In a society that worships sexual pleasure, and prevalent church culture obsessed with rules, I can’t blame them. Celibacy is increasingly uncommon inside and outside of the church. So is there an argument from the Bible to support sex outside of marriage?  

To answer this question, I’ll ask another in return: do you believe that God is good? 

Think about it. Do you honestly believe God is good, and kind, and just, and worth following with everything you are

I’d like to suggest that lots of Christians think God is a good friend, but fewer trust God as a good Lord and King with everything they are.  

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It’s easy to find what you want in the Bible when you read it with an agenda. You can find a shallow argument for sex outside of marriage, sure. However, if we lessen God’s influence in our lives to that of a well-meaning friend rather than a good Lord and King, we read Scripture as an advice column instead of a pathway to life at its absolute fullest (John 10:10).  

It’s when we make God Lord of our lives, our search to understand sexual boundaries and theology becomes less about finding justification for our feelings and a line in the sand. Instead our search is more pursuing closeness to our Creator and Life-source, as well as becoming who he calls us to be. That is, worthy of love and welcome at His table, always. 

When we are not clear on such worthiness and welcome, it plays out in the way we express our sexuality. As we think about the purpose of sex and relationships, we need to also think about how we value ourselves and God.  

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So as you search for an answer to this question, I encourage you to read the Scriptures that teach on this topic through the lens of God’s kindness and character. When we seek to understand the Author, that is His heart and vision, the Word gains colour, conviction, and clarity. 

Georgia Nicholas is co-director of non-for-profit ministry Big Kids’ Table, which exists to create safe, honest conversations about Kingdom identity, sexual experience, and the expression of sexual desire for youth and young adults of faith. Find out more at bigkidstable.org. 

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