New Horizons

You May Use Birth Control, If ...

Larry E. Wilson

May believers use birth control? In at least two ways, absolutely not! Any use of contraception to abet extramarital sex is wicked. Moreover, any method of birth control which aborts a new life which has been conceived is wicked (and this may include some common methods). But, barring those, may a married Christian couple try to prevent conception? (I say "try," because "man proposes, but God disposes.")

What complicates this question is the fact that the Bible doesn't speak directly about contraception. This means that we need to consider fundamental biblical principles and then draw conclusions "by good and necessary consequence" (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.6). What are some relevant biblical principles?

God Grants Children as Gifts

First, God grants children as gifts. He encourages believers to have children: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28). He expresses a very positive view of believers' having children: "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them" (Ps. 127:3-5).

Moreover, because God keeps his covenant from generation to generation of those who love him (Ex. 20:6), he puts stock in the importance of our having children and training them in his ways. This means that believers ought not to use contraception in order selfishly to escape the responsibilities of having children. Nor should believers buy into the antichild mentality of the surrounding society and frown on their brethren who have large families. The Lord encourages married believers to have children, to love them as blessings, and so to advance his covenant purposes.

By the way, never take for granted that God will give children. Some may struggle even to read articles like this because they want children so much, yet they've been unable to conceive or carry a child to birth. Sometimes God puts believers in this spot, as he did with Abraham and Sarah. God knows that this is acutely painful, and he cares (see 1 Sam. 1:1-20). But he has his higher purposes, and we know that they are good, even when we don't understand them. This reminds us that we utterly depend on him for this and all things.

At the same time, don't overemphasize biology. Biblically, a family is primarily a covenantal, not a biological, unit. Therefore, God can and does grant children to believers through adoption as well as through childbirth. God adopts us in Christ—we who were Satan's bastards! He actually makes us coheirs with his only begotten Son, and Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brethren (Heb. 2:10-11). In this very way and for this very reason, children whom we adopt are just as much God's gifts and just as fully family members as are children born to us.

God Created Sex for More Than Procreation

Second, God designed sex and marriage, and he did so for more than procreation (see Westminster Confession of Faith, 24.2). Genesis 1:28 tells us that God created sex and marriage for procreation. God is "seeking godly offspring" (Mal. 2:15). So a fundamental purpose of sex and marriage is to perpetuate the covenantal line, and believers should delight to do that.

But that's not the sole purpose. Sex and marriage are also for partnership. When he revealed his intention to create Eve, "the Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him' " (Gen. 2:18). God saw man as incomplete, and so he created woman to be a helper corresponding to him. Along these lines, God insists that "the wife of your youth ... is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant" (Mal. 2:14). So God didn't design women only for bearing children. More than that, he made sex and marriage for companionship—for partnership.

Third, God commends sex in marriage for purity. God created sexual attraction and desire, but sin distorts them. Therefore, God commands husbands and wives to fulfill their "marital duty" to avoid immorality and remain pure (1 Cor. 7:2-5).

Another godly purpose for sex and marriage is pleasure. "May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love" (Prov. 5:18-19; also see the Song of Songs). Many Christians speak or act as if sexual pleasure were base and dirty, but clearly God doesn't share that opinion. In fact, it's sinful to have such an outlook. It dishonors God by insinuating that he created something evil (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-5).

Rather, we begin to see why God created pleasures such as sexual intimacy when we realize that God designed the marriage bond primarily to picture his covenant—to symbolize the relationship between Christ and his church. The other four purposes actually serve and express this one. Ephesians 5 quotes and then applies Genesis 2:24, " 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:31-32).

Think about it. Did God create mankind male and female and then—as an afterthought—say: "Hey, that gives me a great idea! I can use the husband-wife relationship to illustrate the Christ-church relationship"? How could that be, when God knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10)? Isn't it rather that God created us male and female in order to depict the covenant relationship between the Lord and Israel, between Christ and his church?

John Piper, in his book Desiring God (p. 186), writes:

There was more going on in the creation of woman than meets the eye. God doesn't do things willy-nilly. Everything has purpose and meaning. When God engaged to create man and woman and to ordain the union of marriage, he didn't roll dice or draw straws or flip a coin as to how they might be related to each other. He patterned marriage very purposefully after the relationship between his Son and the church, which he had planned from all eternity. Therefore marriage is a mystery—it contains and conceals a meaning far greater than what we see on the outside. God created man male and female, and ordained marriage so that the eternal covenant relationship between Christ and his church would be imaged forth in the marriage union. As Geoffrey Bromiley has written, "As God made man in his own image, so he made marriage in the image of his own eternal marriage with his people."

So God's Word teaches that God created sex and marriage for more than procreation. He also made it for partnership, purity, and pleasure. But above all, he designed it to picture his covenant. Since God himself created sex for purposes other than procreation, then it's okay for spouses to enjoy sexual relations for purposes other than procreation. For example, may a couple make love if the wife is pregnant? How about a couple in which the husband is sterile? Or one in which the wife is past menopause? Ought couples like these to abstain from sexual intercourse because it would be for exclusively nonprocreative purposes? Or rather, does not God—in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5—actually command married believers in each of these cases to engage in sexual relations? In this way, God himself says it can be pleasing in his eyes for spouses to have sexual relations even for exclusively nonprocreative purposes.

He thus reveals that he has made these other purposes important even apart from procreation. When you link that with his revelation that the husband-wife relationship is more important than the parent-child relationship (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:32), then it would seem that it can be legitimate for spouses intentionally to have sexual relations for these other purposes even apart from procreation. In other words, it would seem that at least sometimes it can be legitimate for spouses to try to prevent conception as they unite.

Parents Are to Be Responsible

Or can it? We may wonder, "But since God is sovereign over procreation, doesn't that make it wrong to try to prevent conception? Isn't that attempting to take God's control into our own hands?" This evokes a third principle: God calls parents to be responsible. The question reflects confusion about what the Bible teaches on God's sovereignty. The moment we apply it to less emotionally charged topics, we easily see the error of this logic. Is it true that because God is sovereign over hair growth, it's sinful to get a haircut? Would we say that because God is sovereign over rainfall, it's sinful to irrigate fields? According to God's Word, God's sovereignty doesn't cancel out human responsibility; rather, it establishes it (see Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1). God is sovereign over procreation, but that in no way voids our own responsibility for it.

In fact, God insists that we take responsibility. He commands us to rule over nature, not to let nature rule over us (Gen. 1:28). If this was so even before the Fall, it's all the more pertinent now! Now that God has cursed nature (including childbearing, Gen. 3:16), unrestrained procreating can even be harmful in some cases (for example, if a wife's life or health is at unacceptable risk). The Lord calls us not only to multiply, but to be responsible in so doing.

This doesn't mean we should chase a "Yuppie" standard of living or pursue "zero population growth" ideology. I'm thinking of cases such as one in which a woman with a number of small children is told by her doctor, "If you get pregnant again, you are likely to die," to which she responds, "If it's God's will." I'm saying that it's unbiblical and irresponsible to intentionally risk leaving children motherless and to shift the onus to God. I'm also thinking of cases where men sire many children, despite lacking the means to provide basic necessities for them. I'm suggesting that it's unbiblical and irresponsible to intentionally risk failing to provide for our families and to shift the burden to others.

We see this in God's urgings that we be provident. He tells us to plan for the future and to order our lives accordingly. "Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house" (Prov. 24:27). Among the most important plans we can make are plans to provide for our families. "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). We noted that God wants believers to have children. But what kind of children? "He was seeking godly offspring" (Mal. 2:15). Doesn't this imply that in addition to food, clothing, and shelter, we should provide some form of Christian education? It's true that we can trust God to provide, but he ordinarily does so through ordinary means—

means such as our planning, working, and saving. Often he provides through the generosity of the household of faith (Gal. 6:2, 10), but he encourages us to do our best to be on the giving rather than the receiving end of this generosity (Gal. 6:5). Again, this implies that God calls us not to unrestrained, but to responsible, procreating.

Making a Godly Decision

In the end, God doesn't give a pat answer about contraception. But he does provide a framework within which believers are responsible and free to make godly decisions. In fact, this framework does condemn most of the world's approach to contraception—but not because it's contraception. Rather, it condemns its fundamental self-centeredness (Ps. 10:4). Believing couples should soberly examine themselves as to whether they conform to this worldly selfishness and, if so, repent. Still, the biblical principles which we've considered seem to imply that—given right motives—God does permit contraception.

This means that God doesn't give any one "recipe" that fits every marriage, or every phase of any marriage. To make a godly decision, a couple needs to examine the question from three different angles:

  1. Scripture. This article has examined the question from this angle.
  2. Their situation. For example, what is their calling? Their age? Their health? Their ability to provide? Do the available methods prevent conception or do they abort a child that has been conceived?
  3. Themselves. What is their motivation—are they driven by love for God? What is their goal—are they aiming at the glory of God? What is their standard—are they trying to obey the Word of God?

If, after prayerfully pondering these things, a couple decides that they do have God's warrant to use contraception, then they should seek counsel on available methods from a knowledgeable person of like precious faith and make further decisions on medical and practical grounds.

Mr. Wilson is the pastor of Grace OPC in Columbus, Ohio. Reprinted from New Horizons, December 1996.

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