Sexual Purity in Singleness
What if I never marry? Doesn’t that mean I will never experience the pleasure of sex?
What, then, do I do with my sexual desires? How can I possibly remain pure my entire life?
Discontentment in my status as a single person stood side-by-side with the deepest parts of my struggle with sexual desires. In my confusion and hopelessness, I wrote the following to a friend:
I used to see my singleness as preparation for marriage, but I have lost that excitement. I feel like I am stuck, like maybe I will get married, but maybe I won’t. It makes my heart hurt. It seems like sexual temptation will just continue on, regardless of what happens to me in the future. It’s not like I just have to “hang on” and keep myself pure until I’m married. That day may never come, and then what?
When I began asking these questions several years ago, no one was able to give me answers. But God has been faithful to deepen my trust in Him, even when I don’t know what the future will bring and even when I may not receive specific answers. I would like to attempt to answer three major questions that come up regarding the topic of sexual desires with the biblical truths that are helping me live for the Lord in purity.
1. Why is it wrong to indulge in my sexual desires, especially if I will never marry anyway?
Our culture embraces the indulgence of many different types of sexual sin. Masturbation is considered to be normal and even healthy. One friend told me that she thought masturbation was a good practice for someone single because it allows you to experiment with how you would like a partner to please you sexually someday. Pornography is becoming more and more prevalent and easy to access on the Internet, on tv, in movies, and in books. These explicit images cause your mind to fantasize about “perfection” that is not honoring to God. If a couple is in a romantic relationship together, it is not considered unusual or wrong to live together and/or engage in sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Our culture has the belief that you have a right to pursue your own pleasure and “if it feels good, do it.” This is not biblical. The Word of God alone is Truth. We cannot base our actions on what we think or feel is right and good, for “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Only God’s Word defines what is His standard for life and godliness.
We did not create ourselves; therefore, we cannot decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Elohim, the Creator God, spoke life into existence. As humans, we are set apart from all other living creatures because we are made in the image of God Himself. God’s plan for sexuality begins in Genesis chapter 2. He created man and woman as sexual and spiritual counterparts. Genesis 2:24 states, “Therefore [since woman was created for man] a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This is a picture of unity and intimacy that further reflects the image of God and brings Him glory. God’s creation was perfect. Sexuality – in the way it was created – was perfect.1
Then sin entered the world. God’s plan for sexuality was twisted so that it no longer brings Him glory. Now, instead of seeking perfection and holiness, we want to redefine God’s plan according to our own desires.2 Any sexual action that is a means of pleasure and fulfillment outside of what God created it to be is sin. The Greek word porneia is where we get our word pornography. In the New Testament, porneia is sometimes translated fornication. As adultery refers to unfaithfulness within marriage, fornication generally refers to the sexual promiscuity of the unmarried3. Masturbation, pornography, homosexuality, and adultery are examples of a twisted version of what God created for us. These actions are a self-seeking form of pleasure, and they can easily become an addiction. They are either outside of marriage, or they actually work to break apart a marriage instead of strengthen it.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All people are born with sin. This means we are born with tendencies toward sexual sin, along with desires to steal, lie, cheat, gossip, boast, etc. Sin is what is natural for us from birth. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Therefore, if we live by what our conscience approves of or disapproves of, we will naturally choose sin.4
How we are born (sinful) does not change God’s standard for us; in His perfect holiness, He still expects perfection and purity. This seems discouraging – until we turn our eyes to gaze on the One who is our Savior. The way we were born is not how we should stay. Jehovah Jireh has provided a way of salvation and sanctification. “God made Him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Christ became our substitute and took our place. We are washed clean from the sin that held us captive. When we have trusted in Christ, God no longer sees our sin; we are righteous, pure, and holy. We belong to the Lord. Now, the Word of God – not our natural, sinful feelings – determines how we must live.5
John Piper sums up God’s truth on this matter in a way that has stuck with me: “What I do with my body demonstrates who my Lord is.6” Lord is a title that means master or boss, and the way I live proves whether I am truly serving God as my Lord or whether I am a slave to sin. As a Christian, I am obligated to obey what God says is best for me. He must be my Lord. I am not my own; I have been bought with a price, and now my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I must glorify God in my body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Romans 6:16 says, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” My passion in life must be, not to serve myself by indulging in sinful pleasure, but to glorify God in my body, to free myself from all that enslaves me except for my joyful obedience to Christ.
2. Why did God create sexual desires?
As stated above, God created man and woman as sexual counterparts. It is a picture of unity and intimacy that reflects the image of God more deeply. John Piper defines sexual desire as “normal cravings for sexual stimulation and intimacy.7” It is a God-given appetite, it is normal, and it is good. When God first created Adam and Eve, He gave them the command to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:27-28). The means by which a man and woman are able to obey this command is through their sexual desires, which lead to sexual intercourse and reproduction. This brings glory to God.
In 1 Timothy 4:4-5, Paul says, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” God created all varieties of pleasure, each of which should be an occasion to give thanks to God for what He has provided. So for the married person, sex is a gift to be received with thanksgiving.
But what about for the unmarried? As stated in the 1 Timothy 4 passage, nothing is to be rejected. This does not mean that the unmarried person should indulge in sex in order to give thanks to God for the gift of pleasure, for that would be twisting God’s precious gift and distorting His glory. No, instead we should take this verse to help us understand that “it is by the Word of God and prayer that we sanctify sexual desires. Since God has given us our sexual desires as a gift for our good, He will guide us to use them in a way that is most fulfilling.8” In other words, surrender your desires to the Lord and use the passion He has given you for His kingdom, in ways that glorify Him.
If we believe that God is good
and that Christ has forgiven all our sins,
then we must believe that His words of guidance on sexual matters
make for the greatest possible fulfillment,
even if it means total abstinence.9
3. As a single person, what do I do with my sexual desires?
First of all, you must flee sinful temptation. When temptation comes, there is always a way of escape. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Learn to look for the way of escape, and take it. If you try to fight temptation in your own strength, you will fail. Flee to the One who has conquered sin and who will deliver you.
Secondly, be proactive. Sinful actions begin as sinful thoughts. So to keep your actions pure, practice keeping your thoughts pure, “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). In my own fight against impure thoughts, I memorized Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—let your mind dwell on these things.”
Keep in mind where true satisfaction come from. I will not be easily satisfied with __________, but satisfied with a right relationship with Christ. I was given this fill-in-the-blank sentence when I was receiving biblical counseling. It is a quick way for me to refocus my thoughts when my earthly desires rise above the satisfaction I have in Christ. When I am tempted to complain about the fact that I cannot enjoy this form of earthly pleasure right now, I need to remind myself that God is the source of eternal pleasure. Being in a right relationship with Christ is much more valuable than the fleeting pleasures of sin. When I am completely satisfied in Christ, I will not notice the “emptiness” of not receiving sexual pleasure.
Practice replacing sinful desires with godly desires. John Piper gives the advice, “When the stimulation comes and sexual desire rises, perform a very conscious act of transfer onto Christ. Pray that God will give you an ever increasing strength to love and desire Him, to know and obey Him above all else. Prayer is the summoning of divine power and assistance to produce new and pure desires.10” A sinful desire needs to be replaced with a godly desire, as Ephesians 4:22-24 states, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Ultimately, Jesus is your Savior. He is your help and salvation, your refuge and deliverer. Run to Him and ask for His help. He loves you with an unfailing love and He delights in you, His precious child. He is a very present help in any time of need, and His arms are wide open to welcome you.
Keep in mind that even taking practical steps toward healing, such as changing routines and taking preventative measures, does not eliminate the temptation altogether. It seems that the battle with sexual temptation comes and goes, dependent on many factors – some I can control and others that I cannot. Because of my struggle, however, I have experienced the power of the Lord’s deliverance in a way that actually makes me thankful for this trial. I still remember distinctly the first time I was rescued from sexual sin (after having failed in fighting it in my own strength for over 20 years). I had been struggling with temptation and sinful thoughts for several days. I wanted to fight it and end up victorious. I felt, in a way, that I needed to prove that I could overcome this struggle. I wanted to do it in my own strength.
It was a Sunday morning before church when I realized that I cannot fight the powers of Satan. At first, I had decided that I would simply give in to temptation and live sinfully because I can only withstand it for so long. What was the point of holding myself back for days and days if it was just going to result in my giving in eventually? What is the point of fighting when I can’t save myself? I realized, then, that I needed a Deliverer. A friend of mine had told me that I cannot fight temptation; instead, I must flee from it. I didn’t like the idea of fleeing. It seemed weak to have to run away, but I suddenly remembered that the Lord is my refuge and my fortress. If I am fleeing temptation and sin, I need to hide under the shadow of His wings because He will protect me.
Pulling out my phone, I did a Bible concordance search for Deliverer and came to Psalm 18. I have read this Psalm countless times, and even wrote a worship song based on it. But God chose this familiar Psalm to release me from the power of temptation and sin that morning. I started reading: “I love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Immediately, my heart was open. Fortress. Refuge. Deliverer. I kept reading, and phrases kept popping out at me like I could have written this. “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me…In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.” Sexual sin can trap you and lead to death. The way of escape is to call upon the name of the Lord, to hide in the shelter of the Most High and cry out for His help.
I continued reading and came to a section about the Lord’s anger that I had previously ignored. It says things like: The Lord bowed the heavens and came down. He shook the foundations of the earth and caused the mountains to tremble. He came swiftly and shot down hailstones, coals of fire, and lightning. Smoke went up from His nostrils. But why? Why was the Lord angry? I looked back and saw that the verse right before read: “From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.” He was angry because I was in trouble. “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemies, for they were too mighty for me…He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” When I reached that line, I wept. I knew that just like in the Psalm, God had heard my desperate prayer and was in that very moment coming down to answer my cry for help. As soon as I embraced my deliverance, the temptation and sin were gone. Satan was crushed, and I was free. I was filled with such joy that I could not contain. I have a Deliverer who delights in me and who will rescue me in my time of need!
But deliverance is not a one-time experience, which is often frustrating for me. I want a quick fix and then not have to worry about struggling anymore. But every time I struggle is an opportunity for the Lord to display His power. And when God’s glory is displayed, we are filled with joy! I rejoice in what God has done for me, which motivates me to live for Him. As a Christian, my obligation is obedience to my Lord. As a single Christian woman, my full devotion—in my mind, my body, and my spirit—is to the Lord and His glory. I must be able to take the desires which God has given me and use them in a way that brings Him glory. This brings me back to Romans 12:11, “Use your energy to serve the Lord.” As a single woman, this means seeking creative ways to serve those around me. It means being proactive in relationships with other believers, striving to live out my faith as an example to those who are lost, considering how I might keep myself busy for the work of the Lord. Because in bringing God glory through my life, I will be most satisfied – even if it never includes the pleasures of sex.
1“Sexuality God’s Way,” sermon by Rob Crust at Bethel Baptist Church, March 10, 2010
3 “Sex and the Single Person,” sermon by John Piper
4 “Sexuality God’s Way,” sermon by Rob Crust at Bethel Baptist Church, March 10, 2010
6“Sex and the Single Person,” sermon by John Piper
8 “Sex and the Single Person,” sermon by John Piper