Over the last five years, an increasing number of believers have changed their stance on sexual ethics and slipped from the grounded banks of orthodoxy into the current of the times. Several public figures, in particular, have come out as “affirming” and brought thousands with them. Those of us with a historic, biblical view feel at times defensive or discouraged, and our posture—quite understandably—is one of “holding our ground” against theological erosion.
In the midst of this tumult, we risk losing sight of what the church has to offer: not just a critique of false teaching (although that’s needed) but an alternative model, a bold vision of how orthodoxy enables deep, well-ordered love. As we encourage others to “stay on the bank,” we have the privilege of pointing them toward a picture that reveals God’s purpose for human sexuality.
Although the prohibitions of Scripture look to many like loveless, heartless “don’ts,” these commands grow out of a positive vision of human flourishing. Ask almost any same-sex attracted, abstinent Christian and they’ll tell you this vision requires imagination, sacrifice, and even suffering. But they’ll also tell you that it comes with freedom—not the freedom of libertinism but the freedom of aligning with the divine design for human intimacy. We publish their testimonies year after year because we believe their lives manifest the hardwon goodness of following God’s Word.
Church history offers another witness. For over 2,000 years, the church has been teaching a robust biblical anthropology, and we take seriously the cumulative weight of that teaching. The Holy Spirit, too, adds to the image. Some who’ve recently embraced a progressive view claim to have heard the Spirit’s prompting, but we believe his call never contradicts biblical truth.
The words of Scripture are also corroborated by other forms of extra-biblical evidence. For example, the oft-debated findings of sociology and psychology suggest that transgender and same-sex lifestyles are associated with diminished physical, social, and emotional health. By contrast, when a man and woman marry, their union reflects God’s intended purpose for sexual and relational compatibility. It’s not surprising, then, that conservative Protestant churchgoers show higher rates of marital health and happiness. Marriage at its best mirrors the created order.
While the witness of social science, church history, Scripture, personal testimony, and the Holy Spirit are not all equally weighted, they come together to form a clear and compelling picture. Fully painting this image of Christian sexuality is beyond the scope of this editorial, but for those who already hold a biblical view, the conclusion is the same: We have at our disposal a life-transforming vision that goes all the way back to the early church and is as timeless and true now as it was then.
Carrying this vision into the public square is arguably one of the toughest challenges for Christians today. It’s difficult to openly discuss sexuality, and those who do speak up seem apologetic at times, especially when talking with secular journalists and other dissenters. They inadvertently say in so many words, “I wish I could affirm.”
But we have nothing to apologize for. On the contrary, the orthodox vision of human sexuality is abundantly good, true, and beautiful and points toward health and healing. It’s key to discipleship inside the church. It also applies to evangelism outside the church as we think about how to extend Christ to our unbelieving friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues. God’s love is revealed in sexual ethics as much as it is revealed in any other facet of Christian witness—whether giving to the poor or providing hospitality for the stranger.
With great pride and joy, then, we can hold high an orthodox image of sexuality and champion what it has to offer. It protects the young, who are vulnerable to visions of disordered love. It liberates those caught in disordered relationships. It affirms the body as God made it. And it pictures the Holy Trinity in the union of male and female. We can, in effect, join with Christian history and nearly the entire global church in celebrating sexual ethics in their most enduring form, not to win a publicity battle but to enable the wholeness of everyone around us—ourselves included.
Like all words in Scripture, the commands on human sexuality draw us toward Christ and “lead us in the way everlasting,” as the psalmist says. This path doesn’t preclude loneliness and suffering. But it does promise our deepest wellbeing, maybe not as we see it but as God does. And that’s ground worth standing on.
Andrea Palpant Dilley is an associate editor at Christianity Today.
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