Sexuality and Gender in Baptist Perspective

by J. Alan Branch July 17, 2023

The restrained vision of gender and sexual ethics embraces limits imposed by Scripture and is readily distinguished from the culture’s unrestrained view in which sexual ethics are released from virtually all limitations. Christian sexual morality assumes God exists and, in the Bible, has made known definite boundaries for appropriate sexual expression. God designed sex, and as its designer He knows its proper use and the correct parameters for sexual expression. Circumventing God’s guidelines ultimately leads to pain, heartache, destruction, and God’s judgment.

Regarding the relationship between human nature, gender, and sexuality, no scriptural teaching is more formative for the Baptist perspective than the image of God. Genesis 1:26 proclaims the inherent value of every human being, and says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”[1] Humans are not mere brutes, nor are they the accidental result of a purposeless process: humans are made by God to reflect his power and glory. Baptist ethicist C. Ben Mitchell adds, “The imago Dei is not a ‘function’ human beings perform so much as it is a ‘status’ they enjoy. The imago Dei is not what humans do but who humans are.”[2] From the perspective of the restrained vision, every human has an inestimable value attached to his or her life prior to and separate from the person’s sexual availability. This is in stark contrast to the culture’s crude and depressing insistence that one’s value is defined by his or her sexual attractiveness and availability or the idea that we find meaning and worth in unrestrained sexual expression and sexual autonomy.

The gift of the biological sexual binary is inseparable from being made in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” Like the broader Christian tradition, this verse shapes Baptists’ restrained vision of sex and gender in two ways. First, both men and women share equally in the image of God and, thus, have an ontological equality—men are not better than women nor are women better than men. Second, one’s biological sex is not an accident nor is one’s gender something to be chosen. The biological sexual binary is normative and constrains the extent of permissible individual expression that surrounds gender. In other words, there may be different enculturated ways of living out biblical manhood and womanhood, but men cannot be women and women cannot be men. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says, “[God] created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation.”[3] This premise is core to Baptist resistance to the idea that sex and gender can ever be completely distinguished into different ontological categories. Instead, one’s anatomical sex determines the manner in which one expresses his or her gender.

Not only is gender directly tied to the image of God, but human sexuality is as well. In Gen 1:28, the goodness of the gender binary is tied to God’s purposes for sex, which are procreation and marital unity: “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” Genesis 2:24b adds, “and they become one flesh,” meaning sex strengthens the relational unity of a marriage by enabling a husband and wife to experience a shameless intimacy and joyful sexual pleasure (Song 4:1–16). These two purposes—procreation and unity—bring to light that sex does not exist for its own sake, but serves a greater purpose for a culture. The Colorado Statement on Biblical Sexual Morality stresses this point and says sex “fosters human nurturing, both through the union of husband and wife and also through the enrichment of society through the building of families and communities.”[4] Sex was never designed by God as something to be indulged in for pleasure in any manner one chooses, in or out of marriage. Sex was intended to strengthen marriage and, by helping to build strong marriages, to build a strong society. Societies that abandon responsibility in sexual matters are doomed to implode from the weight of disintegrated families.

Not only are humans created in the image of God, but also they suffer the effects of the fall recorded in Genesis 3. Because of the fall, humans now inherit a nature and environment inclined toward sin. The entrance of sin means sexual desires are disordered, and humans frequently wish for sexual pleasures God has forbidden. Sexual passions pull heavily on the soul and, when indulged outside of God’s moral parameters, lead to destruction and pain. Understanding both gender and sexuality correctly requires taking both the image of God and the fall into consideration. Emphasizing the image of God while neglecting the fall can lead to unbridled celebration of every sexual desire as if all are inherently good. Emphasizing the fall while neglecting the image of God can lead to a relentlessly severe and gloomy vision of gender and sexuality that contains no positive instruction at all.

Balancing the two concepts of the image of God and the fall is crucial, but the doctrine of human sinfulness differentiates the restrained and unrestrained visions. Many advocates of the unrestrained vision will grant the existence of God and that God has some role in shaping gender or sexuality, but what they reject is man’s fallen nature. Romans 1:18–32 details the sinful nature of humanity, and distorted sexual desires are placed squarely at the center of rebellion and idolatry. Sexual ethics need restraint because humans’ natural desires have been disfigured by sin. Sin so pervades the intellect and emotions that even the most unholy acts are sometimes affirmed as natural and good. But Scripture never denies that sexual temptation can feel natural: what Scripture denies is that all natural, sexual desires are inherently good. When sin prevails, thoughts about both gender and sexuality can be twisted and distorted; as such, moral boundaries are needed to safeguard human behavior.

The good news is God has provided for redemption from sin via the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:1–11). The meaning of life is found in fulfilling God’s purposes through believing in his Son and being conformed to the image of Christ, not in indulging every whim of lustful desire. The difference between the restrained and unrestrained visions of sexual ethics is this: the unrestrained vision believes sexual desires should be indulged while the restrained vision believes they must be redeemed. Grace is necessary to redeem and complete nature.


[1] Carl F. H. Henry defines the image of God as “a cohesive unity of interrelated components that interact and condition each other, [which] includes rational, moral and spiritual aspects of both a formal and material nature. . . . But in contemplating the divine image in man, it should be clear that the rational or cognitive aspect has logical priority.” Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority: God Who Speaks and Shows, vol. 2 (1976; Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 125.

[2] C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley, Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014), 55.

[3] “Man,” The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, art. III,

[4] Council on Biblical Sexual Ethics, “Colorado Statement on Biblical Sexual Morality (Full Statement),” in Daniel Heimbach, True Sexual Morality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 363.


Editor’s Note: This article is taken from Baptist Political Theology and used by permission of B&H Academic. The book is now available everywhere Christian books are sold.