Singleness, whether a mere season in one’s life or a permanent calling, is a time ripe with tremendous opportunity but also grave temptation. As others today have pointed out, singleness affords wonderful opportunities for ministry and missions that would be otherwise impossible while in a relationship. It would be a mistake however, if we didn’t also acknowledge the hardships of singleness. In prolonged singleness there is loneliness, sadness and frustration at being unable to find a mate, a sense of social awkwardness when spending time with couples, and the trial of sexual temptation.
In this article, we will briefly discuss the cluster of challenges and temptations involved in maintaining sexual purity while single and how the joy of Jesus Christ can fill those longings.
Pleasure by Design
As we consider sexual purity, we need to look at least three aspects of sex that help us understand our longings: 1) Sex provides us the emotional and physical intimacy we long for, 2) Sex feels good, 3) Sex was God’s design
First, sex is one of the deepest expressions of intimacy possible. In sex we are totally naked and vulnerable (both literally and figuratively), as we offer ourselves wholly to the other person. As we are accepted and brought into the closet union possible, we fulfill both God’s good design and our deepest desires for acceptance and love. This is at least part of why sex is so sweet and so exciting. Sex provides us the intimacy and acceptance we so long for.
Second, as well as providing us intimacy with our spouse, let’s not bypass the obvious fact that sex is pleasurable and fun. While there are many pleasures and thrills in life, none quite compares to the excitement of sexual satisfaction – given and received. Scientists and doctors tell us that during sex our bodies work furiously so that every touch and caress is potent with pleasure, and our brains swim in the euphoria of feel-good chemicals that come with sexual activity. Sex is exciting and fun.
Third, we were created as sexual beings. As an aspect of our being created in the image of God, we naturally long for and enjoy the kind of emotional and physical intimacy that can only be found in sex. This is God’s design and very good. We are meant to grow into adulthood, find a mate, love and be loved, and then make love, again and again, for a lifetime. Therefore, our longings and desires for sex, are not lurid, gross, unnatural, or dishonoring to God, per se. Sex is God’s good design.
These three aspects of sex: intimacy, pleasure, and God’s design for us, show the value of sexual intimacy and explain the depth of our desires.
A Beast Named Sex
Considering the nature of sex also explains why our sexual desires can feel like an awful and untamable beast. This is because for those without the God-given outlet of marriage for their sexual energy, those desires for intimacy and release can become crushing. For single Christians, it is easy to become bogged down in loneliness, anxiety, depression and a host of other negative emotions. During my single days I found myself frequently asking myself questions like these: Am I ever going to find someone? Am I good (hot, smart, wealthy) enough? Will I ever love and be loved? Why is God withholding this blessing from me? WHY IS LIFE SO HARD??!!
To escape these feelings, many Christians (including me) turn to substandard and God-dishonoring substitutes for sexual intimacy and release. The substitutes take numerous forms from backseat frolics to pornography and masturbation. Whatever substitute I chose, what always followed for me was a sense of guilt, failure, worthlessness, and assurance I was totally unlovable (because what godly girl wants a guy who has done X,Y, and Z). I wanted purity. I wanted to live in obedience to such biblical commands as 1 Thessalonians 4:3 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality,” but I felt trapped. Thus beginning the cycle of sexual sin over again. Most likely, if your single and Christian, then you know exactly what I am talking about here.
A Matter of Promises
So how do we break the cycle of sexual failure and maintain the purity that God commands? I think, to state it perhaps too simply, we begin recognizing the lies of sexual sin and the promises of God.
Sexual sin (pre-martial sex to mere lingering gazes) makes many promises. Sexual sin promises intimacy, love, and acceptance. This especially was the allure of sexual sin for me. In my head I could hear a pitchman for the devil saying, “Josh, you too can know the joys of being loved by beautiful women! You too can know what it’s like to be desired in the most intimate way possible!” For a little while, you too can feel loved and wanted. But the intimacy that sexual sin provides through the men and women in those images is depthless. Those people couldn’t care less about you or your desires. The random make-out partner you met at a party is probably just looking for a good time, not a relationship. That’s not intimacy, that’s using and being used
Sexual sin promises excitement and fulfillment of your desires. As we stated before, sex is exciting and fun. Sexual sin is also exciting and fun. Whether it’s staring at some hot guy or girl’s butt, masturbating to a lurid fantasy or image, or grinding your body against someone else’s during dry sex, it’s exciting! This is without mentioning the Big Moment. Because let’s be frank, orgasms are awesome. But sexual sin, for all of its thrills, cannot truly satisfy. The pleasure is short-lived, and you will be forced to sin again and again aiming for that same thrill. This is because these means of sexual thrill are substandard substitutes. They were not intended in God’s design. God’s design was for two believers, united in marriage, to enjoy God and each other. Any other way is illegitimate and will be ultimately unsatisfying. As one wise professor told me, “I can’t tell you Satan won’t give you mind-blowing orgasms. But I can tell you that nothing will ever satisfy you but Jesus.”
When we naively trust these false promises, we will find momentary pleasure but prolonged guilt, sadness, shame, and humiliation. Soon we will discover that the promises of pleasure and intimacy have turned into enslaving chains that keep us from a vital relationship with God and the deepest longings of our heart with other people.
Jesus is Better Than an Orgasm
So we’ve seen that sexual sin is deceptive: it makes promises that it cannot keep and ultimately enslaves us. How do we break away from such deception? Remember two promises from God.
First, God promises joy in Him. While there is not space in this present article. I encourage you to read John Piper’s heart-stirring Loving God for Who He Is: A Pastor’s Perspective or many of his other resources such as Desiring God or God is the Gospel. The Bible teaches us that God is the overflowing fountain of holy joy and delight, and we as Christians are called to be satisfied in who God is and what He does. Jesus Christ can satisfy our desires for intimacy and closeness; He can provide us with the kind of volcanic joy that we can never reach through backseat groping or watching porn.
Second, God promises provision. The Lord is not cruel; He knows your desires for a mate. Trust that in His good time, He will bring that person into your life. This will likely give cold comfort to those who are lonely and struggling right now, but I have seen this lived out in my own life and in the lives of others. Jesus promises us in Matthew 7:11 that if our parents who are wicked by nature know how to give good gifts, how much more does God know how to give good gifts (like a spouse)?
I would also like to share the story of my friend Margaret (not her real name) as a great example of this truth. Margaret is a sweet, godly woman I’ve known for years now. She also got married for the first time this past summer after over 60 years of waiting! Margaret has always desired to marry, but the Lord had never provided the godly man she was looking for. In the meantime, Margaret did not become bitter, gossipy, or chase men in search of a wedding ring. Instead, she devoted herself to serving the Lord and her local church, building a reputation for godliness and a quiet and gentle spirit. Thus, it was our great joy when at over 60 years old, Margaret had met the man God had been saving her for and that they were going to marry.
For most of you, you won’t have to wait as long as Margaret, but in the meantime, I encourage you to pursue God and be faithful as you wait upon Him to meet your most intimate needs. Remind yourself often in the face of temptation that right now God is preparing you for a godly man or woman who will be able to satisfy your desire for intimacy and for pleasure.
Remember that Jesus is better than an orgasm. This is the key to effectively defeating temptation. All the pleasure and intimacy that can be gained through the illegitimate means of Sexual sin are like a thin vapor compared to the waterfall of joy and delight that comes through God’s Holy Spirit as we walk in faithfulness and sexual purity. Then one day soon, God will reveal the one person He’s been preparing for you all this time.
For two practical books that were and still are extremely helpful to me see:
Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation.