Single and Sexual

Sex is for Christians! Biblical Insights for a Lifetime of Purity and Pleasure - Chapter 6

PLEASE NOTE: This e-teaching is not appropriate for children, preadolescents, and many adolescents.

A guide for singles struggling with their sexuality

As I was writing earlier chapters, my heart was going out to single adults who are striving to be sexually pure, as I knew I might be stirring desires they’re struggling to suppress. It’s not always easy to follow Jesus in a sex-saturated society, and it is especially challenging for single Christians. The temptation to compromise sexually on some level is significant.

Consider the email below that I received from a Kenyan teenager while I was writing this chapter. You may be surprised to read how young she was when she was introduced to porn and became sexually active, but her story represents the tragic experience and regular struggles of innumerable Christian singles:

I was relatively young when I started watching porn. A family friend who was a bit older introduced me to it. Then I was young and I enjoyed it as my Christian background wasn’t that strong and I didn’t know it was wrong. I had sex with her young brother then.. several times and it was good for me. Her older brother molested me but I never told anyone as I didn’t see any wrong in it. An older cousin did the same too but I kept mute about it all. I had sex with my small cousins too later and even had sex with a female cousin. I thrived in it and forced my small cousin into it sometimes. Back then I was only ten and it seem so right. When I joined high school, I realized all that I had been doing wasn’t right and I hated that part of myself and having been so naive. I used to masturbate as a child and as a teen recently I have been doing it a lot. I go to church and I believe in God and I know it is a sin. I really want to stop but I don’t know how. I have tried so many times but it doesn’t work that much. Sometimes I blame my past but that is an excuse. I hope you can pray for me. I am afraid to open up to my family in fear of being judged.

Don’t Try This at Home

Renowned third-century theologian Origen struggled with lust as a young man, but he solved his problem by self-castration, like one might neuter a cat. His act, he felt, was in keeping with a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:12: “There are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

I’m certainly not recommending that anyone follow Origen’s example, but I’d like to make two observations about his drastic action.

First, the removal of both his testicles and the subsequent significant reduction in his body’s production of testosterone, which apparently gave him some victory over lust,[1] is a reminder that male sexual desire (like female sexual desire) is biological and God-given. One should not fault oneself for sexual desire any more than one should fault oneself with the desire to sleep, eat, or use the toilet. Sexual desire is natural and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Yet Origen cut off what God put on. He killed what God had made alive. I wonder why he didn’t also cut out his tongue to be delivered from the sin of gossip and the desire to drink alcohol lest he ever get drunk? It would have made just as much sense.

Second, Origen is emblematic of so many good, godly single Christians who struggle with sexual desire. Although they never resort to such extreme measures as Origen, they know the self-loathing that Origen suffered before he mutilated himself. They feel at times that they are fighting a battle they cannot win. So they surrender. They fantasize, view porn, masturbate, or indulge in illicit sexual activity, and they feel miserable with guilt afterwards. They vow to do better but continue stumbling.

When you’ve come to the end of your rope, sometimes it feels like the only solution is to simply let go and fall into the dark abyss. I’m happy to tell you, however, that God has something much better for His children than that. He is all-powerful. He is in the redemption business. He transforms people.

Think of the madman of Gadara, whose story we find in three of the four Gospels. He was living in a graveyard, running around naked, cutting himself with stones and screaming night and day (Mark 5:1-20). The demons who possessed him made it possible for him to break chains that were used to try to restrain him. Those same demons, once out of him, possessed 2,000 pigs and drove them to suicide.

No one dreamed there was any hope for the madman’s deliverance. But within a few minutes of encountering Jesus, he was “clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15).

I’m certainly not implying that Christians, single or married, who struggle with sexual temptation are demon-possessed (although many, in desperation, have attempted to cast demons out of themselves). I’m only mentioning Jesus’ deliverance of the madman of Gadara as an inspiring example of His power to transform people. Nothing is too difficult for the Lord. If He can deliver the madman of Gadara from 2,000 demons, chances are pretty good that He can deliver anyone from temptations and bad habits. Think about that, and let your faith increase.

I’m going to employ the remainder of this chapter, and all of the next, focusing on how single and sexual Christians can enjoy God’s best. If you are single, God has a store of empathy, encouragement, edification, and empowerment just for you. He really loves you. So, prepare for more positivity in what follows.

Although this chapter is written with single Christians in mind, it is very applicable to married believers, as we all know that marriage may make sexual self-control easier, but it does not put an end to sexual temptation.

Let’s start with a list of foundational biblical truths, all of which should make you feel better if you are struggling with sexual temptation.

#1: Your Passion is Predictable and Scriptural

As the creator of sex, God understands sexual desire better than anyone. By programming sexual desire and then prohibiting sex outside of marriage, He generated a huge incentive for men and women to marry. Of course, there are many reasons that both sexes desire marriage, but sex is certainly not the least of them.

Related to this, Paul candidly penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “It is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9). Paul’s phrasing reveals that, for unmarried men or women, there is nothing unusual about “burning with passion.” Don’t think there is anything wrong with you if you’ve found yourself inflamed at times. And please don’t pay any attention to pseudo-spiritual types who try to tell you that true Christians don’t have sexual desires.

There are, of course, some sexual desires that are not God-given, but rather are perversions that the Bible condemns. They are acquired by repeatedly yielding to temptation. I’ll addresses this topic later, but for now, suffice it to say God can deliver anyone who wants to be delivered from any perverse sexual desire, no matter how deviant it is.

It also true that one’s normal, God-given sex drive can be over-stimulated by various means, such as by habitually viewing porn, so that a normal sex drive turns abnormal and wreaks havoc in one’s life. If you are married, a porn-fueled abnormal sex drive can destroy your marriage. If you are unmarried, it can destroy your future marriage. I’ll also address this topic later, but suffice to say for now that avoiding sinful sexual stimuli is a big key to avoiding sexual compromise. If you don’t want to be tempted, avoid temptation.

#2: Your Singleness is Likely Temporary

Remember that God is the one who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Had He created the woman first, He would have surely said, “It is not good for the woman to be alone.” Men and women are created for each other, plain and simple, and sex is the obvious reason there are two sexes. Most men and women eventually marry. Singleness is usually temporary.

If you are single and desire to be married, there is a very good chance that God, who doesn’t think it is good for you to be alone, has someone special in your future. You may have never thought about it, but you can start loving that person right now, even before you meet, by keeping yourself sexually pure. (There are, of course, those who are gifted by God to remain single, something we’ll explore later.)

#3: Your God Was Single

When you think about it, it is amazing that God Himself has experienced the challenge of being single and sexual. If Jesus reached puberty at age 16, He spent half of His earthly life as a single, adult male, so He can certainly empathize with the unmarried.

He did not, by the way, have a special gift of celibacy, as did Paul. Jesus was “tempted in all things as we are,” which is one reason He can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). He possessed sexual desire. As a single, young man, Jesus was tempted to sin sexually. He always exercised self-control, however, demonstrating that God-given sexual desire is not so strong that it can’t be restrained.

By the way, all true Christians have that same victorious Christ living in them. They “can do all things through Christ who strengthens them” (Phil 4:19). Believe it!

#4 God Knows Your World

Although God created sex, He is not the author of sexual temptation, nor did He intend that people would be bombarded with immoral sexual stimuli on a daily basis. Those seductions have increased exponentially in the world since the advent of photography in the 1820s, movies in the 1890s, and the internet in the 1990s—with its advancement to higher speeds up to the present day. Widespread accessibility to Virtual Reality (VR) is on the not-too-distant horizon.

Solomon certainly had his eyes full of women—having 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3)—but he never would have imagined what would one day be available for the majority of the people on the planet to view any time they desired. God knows you are trying to please Him during a unique time in human history when sexual temptation is in the very air we breathe.

The only possible way to entirely avoid the sexual challenges of singleness is to be married prior to puberty. I’m aware of some cultures that practice arranged marriage and where pre-puberty marriages sometimes occur. I was once a guest at such a wedding in rural India. The bride and groom wouldn’t even look at each other during the entire ceremony, and they only reluctantly held hands when told to do so as they were pronounced husband and wife. Directly afterwards, they parted to converse with their friends.

If you don’t live in such a culture, however, you are out of luck! Or, no matter where you live, if you’ve reached puberty and are still single, you’re also out of luck! Take heart, however. God foreknew that you would not be born into a culture that practices arranged marriage, and He also foreknew how long you would be single. He foreknew every struggle you’d face, and you don’t have to wait until marriage for Him to love you. If you are a born-again believer in Jesus, you are His beloved child. He’s for you, not against you. He’s cheering for you. Let that sink in.

#5: God Knows Your Heart

Take comfort knowing that God sees your heart through the sum of all your actions. He knows you want to do what is right, as evidenced by your active resistance to sin and your remorse when you fail. There is a vast difference between diving headfirst into sin because you don’t care what God thinks, and being sorely tempted to sin, resisting it, reluctantly yielding, and then being filled with remorse afterwards. Those are two very different hearts in the eyes of God. For the latter, God has a great love.

Parents are much more merciful towards their children when they are tempted, resist, reluctantly yield, and feel remorse for their acts of disobedience than when their children premeditate their crimes and justify them afterwards, showing no remorse. God is no different. He’s a wonderful Father. Here’s just one of many biblical passages that can help us remember that:

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,

So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:10-14).

In keeping with this theme, many struggling single Christians find a degree of solace in some of Paul’s words found in Romans 7:

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (Rom. 7:15-20).

Although Paul was writing about his experience as a God-fearing Jew before He was born again (and not his experience as a Christian), his words can certainly have application to struggling single Christians. Many of them feel just like Paul, “doing the very thing they hate.” They should note that, because Paul sincerely wanted to do what was pleasing to God—even though he failed—his culpability was mitigated. How else can the words, “If I am doing the very thing I don’t want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me,” be interpreted?

Of course—in light of so many other balancing scriptures, and as Spirit-indwelt children of God who have been set free from slavery to sin (see Romans 6 and 8)—it would be foolish to conclude that we bear no responsibility for any sin we commit, and that our sins are solely the fault of “sin which dwells in me.” Yet we can acknowledge that God is fair, and He takes everything into account when He judges us. It should comfort you to know that your hatred of sin is an indication of your love for God.

#6: God Has Provided a Remedy for Your Sin

If you do stumble into sexual sin, you are blessed to have an advocate who sits at the right hand of God the Father named Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1). When you confess your sin to God, He forgives you. Period. That is His promise, and He cannot lie (Tit. 1:2):

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Note that John didn’t write, “If we confess our sins, God is merciful and gracious to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We generally think of God’s forgiveness as an act of mercy on His part, and it is, of course. John, however, referred to God’s forgiveness as an act of faithfulness and righteousness. When God forgives us, He is doing what is right. The reason it is right is because of Jesus’ death on the cross. If God didn’t forgive us when we confess our sins, it would be an act of unrighteousness, a nullification of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. That is not something God is about to do! If you’ve confessed, you are forgiven.

But will God keep forgiving you if you keep repeating the same sin and confessing it?

Yes. Absolutely yes. God expects us to forgive those who repeatedly sin against us. Jesus said:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him (Luke 17:3-4).

Take note, forgiving the same person seven times is the daily quota. You can be sure God is not holding Himself to a lesser standard than what He requires of us. If you commit the same sin seven times in one day, and if you confess your sin each time, God will forgive you each time. He’s that gracious. He loves you that much.

I suspect some readers will be alarmed by what I’ve just written, and they might want to caution me about giving Christians a license to sin. “Although what you’ve claimed can be supported by the Bible,” they are thinking, “you are in danger of fostering insincere repentance and an endless repetition of sin among your readers.”

I can understand why some might think that. I’m sure I would doubt the sincerity of a person who sins against me seven times in a day, and who, after each offense, comes to me and says, “I repent.” According to Jesus, however, I’m still obligated to forgive him. Just the fact that the offender made the effort to return once more and say, “I repent,” requires that I give him another chance. Again, God is not going to hold Himself to a lesser standard than what He’s given to us.

There are, to be sure, some leaders in the church world to whom this degree of grace is not only foreign, but heretical, and they make sure their sheep know it. But I submit that, not only do those leaders fail to understand the depth of grace that is available to all Christians who repeatedly sin, they fail to understand the work of grace that occurs in all who truly believe.

I mean this: Those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are given new hearts, and they want to please God. There are no true believers who are looking for a license to sin. Those who are looking for a license to sin are unregenerate. They need to be actually born again.

When born-again believers sin, they feel remorseful, and they confess their sin to the Lord either sooner—under conviction—or later—under God’s discipline. Confessing a repeat of a previous sin is particularly shameful to them. But if they believe the promise of 1 John 1:9, such confessions open a new vista of God’s amazing grace. Among true believers, there is no “danger of fostering insincere repentance” by the biblical proclamation of God’s amazing grace. And there is never a possibility that, as you confess a repeated sin, God might say to you, “I’m sorry, but you’ve reached your allotted quota of mercy. From here on, you can’t be forgiven.”

Something Even Better

It is wonderful to experience God’s grace via a new heart that desires to obey and via forgiveness when we fail. But there is even more to God’s grace than that. He also offers grace that transforms. Consider the following words of Paul:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin (Rom. 6:1).

Something amazing has happened to those who believe in Jesus. They have “died to sin,” “been “baptized into Christ,” “baptized into His death,” buried with Him through baptism,” in order to “walk in the newness of life.” They have become “united with Him in the likeness of His death.” Their “old self was crucified with Him” so that they “would no longer be slaves of sin.”

Clearly, spiritually-reborn people are different than they were. Their spirits,[2] formerly in bondage to a sinful nature, are now free, having been regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Christ, by the Holy Spirit, has come to live in them. As Paul wrote in another place, “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. 6:17).

All of this gives Christians the power to live holy, God-pleasing lives.

Obviously, Christians can still sin. God has not made them into holy robots. They all experience the conflict between “the Spirit and the flesh” (Gal. 5:16-23). They don’t, however, have to sin or be enslaved to sinful habits.

Freedom from sin begins by knowing that simple fact, and it is achieved by believing it and acting upon it. The available power is made effectual by faith.

Paul similarly wrote to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Note that Paul described his faith in Jesus, not as a one-time historic act, but as an ongoing reality of his life. We can, and should, have faith in Jesus not just for forgiveness of sins, but for victory over sin as well. So, stop striving in your own strength and start believing. That was Paul’s secret: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). He encouraged us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10).

For single Christians, this is particularly good news. You can be free of sexual sin by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. So, start smiling! Have faith in God! Start acting on your faith!

[1] An interesting related fact: In Denmark, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, sex offenders were given the choice of prison or surgical castration. Research on 900 castrated sex offenders revealed that the rate of repeat offenses was quite low, about 5 percent. Still, 46 percent of the castrated men indicated that they continued to have intercourse, which indicates that castration doesn’t necessarily completely eradicate sexual desire. Some testosterone is produced by the adrenal glands in the brain.

[2] The New Testament teaches that humans are tri-partite in nature: spirit, soul and body (see 1 Thes. 5:23). The spirit is also described as the “inner man” and the “hidden person of the heart,” contrasted with the body, which is the “outer man” (2 Cor. 4:16; 1 Pet. 3:4). When the body dies, the spirit and soul evacuate. Do not imagine your spirit as some nebulous cloud, but as having a form, one that could be seen in the spiritual realm, just as angels, as spirits, can be seen in the spiritual realm (Heb. 1:13-14).