So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every other living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:27-28

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. – Psalm 127:3-5

Except for those who are called by God to a life of singleness (1Cor 7:7-8), God’s ideal is that a monogamous, heterosexual, life-long commitment to marriage would be crowned with the gift of children. Because we life in a fallen world cursed by man’s seduction to sin, God’s ideal has been marred by abortion, infertility and abuse. Contraception, which God’s Word is largely silent on explicitly, yet not in principle, has also complicated our understanding of the command to “be fruitful and multiply”. Other issues such as economics and the surging population of orphans incorporate other complex factors into the equation.

Because of the curse not all married men and women are able to bear children. But this is a different issue than image-bearers who prostitute themselves to sinful desires and longings which quench their desire to even want children though there is no obvious obstacle to conceiving children. The question is then: is it sinful to willfully and permanently close the womb to prevent one from having any children? Furthermore, is it sinful to have no desire to obey God’s explicit command from Genesis 1:27-28?

Physicial fruitfulness is clearly part of God’s desire for humanity. This is part of the divine design for men and women. One of the primary aims of marriage, apart from imaging the Gospel (Ephesians 5), is procreation. As mentioned previously, because of sin and the curse, not all married couples are able to have natural-born children. But the curse has not hijacked God’s design for marriage.

Bringing children into the world (by God’s grace) should be received as the norm for marriage. Contraception has changed the way that Westerners view the gift of children. First and foremost, I am not arguing that contraception is wrong. However, contraception often fosters and unhealthy attitude towards children and God’s explicit commands. Often children are not seen as a blessing and gift from God, but rather an imposition and burden. Rather than seeing children as gifts to be loved and nurtured, people often see children as intrusions to their way of life. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky has said, “We must start with the rejection of the contraceptive mentality that sees pregnancy and children as impositions to be avoided rather than as gifts to be received, loved and nurtured. This contraceptive mentality is an insidious attack upon God’s glory in creation, and the Creator’s gift of procreation to the married couple.”

It is true that God created marriage to meet other ends as well. Companionship (Gen 2:18, 24), sexual pleasure (Prov 15:15-23, Song of Songs), and an image of the Gospel (Eph 5) come to mind. But these are meant to be shared purposes in marriage with procreation. They are not meant to take priority over the command to have children.

So, to answer the question in our title, yes, I do believe it is sinful for a Christian to unilaterally make the decision not to honor an explicit command from Scripture to “be fruitful and multiple”. I believe Scripture is calling married persons to be open to the prospects of having children. Having a “calling” to have children is no more legitimate of an excuse to ignore this command than it is to say that we aren’t “called” to share the gospel with the nations when Jesus makes it clear than we are all called to be ambassadors for Christ in our communities, cities, country and continents (Matt 28:18-20). I would go so far as to say that every married person is called to have children under the authority of Genesis 1:27-28. This is God’s explicit command. Ignore this one and you embrace the slippery slope of picking and choosing which commands of God you are “called” to embrace. Whether or not God chooses to open the womb is up to his divine purposes, not ours.

I would concede that contraception in particular makes this a difficult issue to wrestle with because at some point the man and woman struggling with the desire to have children and obey the Lord while using contraception as a means to prevent pregnancy must, at some point, take their hands of the wheels and subject themselves to God’s sovereign purposes in their lives.  It isn’t sinful to use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy in every particular sexual encounter. However, one must not foster an unbiblical bias against God’s normative design for marriage – which is that men and women would have children to the glory of God. This means that contraception should not likely be used in every sexual encounter either. The marriage bed must remain open to the prospect of children, for this is God’s good gift and the norm for marriage.