Why does the Bible have so many laws about sexual behavior? Is God trying to limit our sexual expression and pleasure?

When we look at God's instructions, it's clear that he sets boundaries around the gift of sex in order to keep us healthy physically and whole relationally. Sexual sin is powerful and destructive, so it makes sense that a loving God would want to keep us safe.

Paul, in Colossians 3:5-8, recognizes the importance of strong rules about sex for believers, because sexual sins have the power to disrupt and destroy the church. Sins involving sex are not innocent dabblings in forbidden pleasures, as they are so often portrayed. They are powerful destroyers of relationships. They bring confusion and tear down the climate of respect, trust, and integrity so essential for solid marriages and secure children.

God knows sexual sin's power to destroy us physically and spiritually. It has devastated countless lives and destroyed families, churches, communities, and even nations.

“But the man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32 TLB).

Sex outside of marriage always hurts somebody

Some people argue that it is alright to break God’s law against sexual sin if nobody gets hurt, but in truth, somebody always gets hurt. Spouses are devastated. Children are scarred. The partners themselves, even if they escape disease and unwanted pregnancy, may lose their ability to fulfill commitments, to feel sexual desire, to trust, or to be entirely open with one another.

Those who have pre-marital intercourse are giving away what God intends them to give only to their marriage partner. They may end up emotionally scarred and incapable of having an intimate, healthy sexual relationship if or when they do get married.

God’s rules do not forbid good, clean fun; rather, they protect us from destroying ourselves through unwise actions or by running ahead of God’s timetable.

"That is why I say to run from sexual sin. No other sin affects the body as this one does. When you sin this sin it is against your own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18, TLB).

The power of sexual sin must never be underestimated. Sexual immorality is a temptation that is always before us. In movies and on television, sex outside marriage is treated as a normal, even desirable part of life. Marriage is often shown as confining and joyless. Christians who seek to adhere to God’s commandments concerning sexuality are sometimes looked down on for being kill-joys or puritanical.

God wants to protect us from damaging ourselves and others, so he offers to help us when we are feeling lonely or sexually frustrated.

How does sexual sin begin?

“But I say: Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, TLB).

Sexual sin begins in the mind. God considers mental adultery as serious as physical adultery. The Old Testament law says that it is wrong for a person to have sex with someone other than his or her spouse (Exodus 20:14). But Jesus said that even entertaining the desire to have sex with someone other than your spouse is mental adultery and a sin. Jesus emphasized that if the act is wrong, then so is the intention. To be faithful to your spouse with your body but not your mind is to break the trust so vital to a strong marriage.

Regard lust as a warning sign of danger ahead. When you notice that you are attracted to a person of the opposite sex or are preoccupied with thoughts about them, your desires may lead you to sin, and that sin could be tragic to your health and relationships. Ask God to help you change your desires and your thoughts before you are drawn into sinful acts.

Why should we follow God’s laws about sex?

“Be happy, yes, rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18, TLB).

Sex is a gift God gives to married people for their mutual enjoyment. God does not intend faithfulness in marriage to be boring, lifeless, dull, and void of pleasure. Real happiness comes when we decide to find pleasure in the relationship God has given us and commit to making sex pleasurable for our spouse. For those of us who are single and have been waiting and praying for a spouse for a long time, the danger is to doubt that God cares and to become resentful. Fed up with his timing, we may carelessly pursue sexual pleasure without his blessing.

Sexuality is a natural, God-given desire. Sexual temptations are difficult to withstand because they appeal to the normal and natural desires that God has given us. Marriage provides God’s way to satisfy these natural desires and to strengthen partners against temptation. Married couples have the responsibility to care for each other’s sexual needs.

What if you’ve messed up?

Peter’s story in the Bible is awesome news for those of us who feel like screw-ups. He is proof that failure is not the end of the story when it comes to God. You see, after Jesus came back to life, he and Peter had a little seaside meeting (see John 21:15-19). Three times, Peter had denied Jesus. Now, Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?”

“You know that I love you, Lord,” Peter answers each time, his voice likely cracking. And Jesus knows it. He has not only forgiven Peter, but given him a new job: “Feed my sheep.” Jesus asks Peter to lead and care for his people after he is gone. Peter went on to introduce thousands of people to Christ and write two books of the Bible. He was arguably the most respected and influential leader of the early Church. He died a martyr’s death because of his rock-solid faith in Jesus.

Do you feel like you’ve really blown it? Do you feel unacceptable or useless in God’s eyes? Then do what Peter did. Seek forgiveness and restoration. Take Jesus up on his promise: “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).

God offers us his strength to resist the images we see in the media and the thoughts that can assault our minds. He doesn’t just tell us to resist temptation; he offers to fill and empower us with his Spirit. God wants us to trust him to live in and through us so that we feel better about ourselves because we are obeying him by faith. We become more excited about our future, more grateful for those we love, and more enthusiastic about our faith.

Sex is a beautiful and dangerous gift. Please handle with care, in the power of the Spirit, so you can live a healthy and whole life.

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