There was a time in my life when I would often be called upon to speak on the subject of sexual purity, especially to groups of men—a predictable consequence of writing a book titled Sexual Detox. But over time I grew a little weary of the topic and happily moved on. Recently, though, I was asked to address it before the men of my own church. I decided I wanted to commit the majority of the time to small group discussion, but only after laying a biblical foundation. I provided these biblical building-blocks for sexual purity, which I thought you might find helpful as well.
- Titus 2:6. In this portion of Paul’s letter, he is providing instructions to pastor Titus and telling him how to teach and train his church. Titus receives extensive instructions on what to teach the older women and what to teach the younger women, but when it comes to young men, Paul says just one thing: “Urge them to be self-controlled.” I wouldn’t want to read too much into how little he says to men, but it does seem to emphasize that this area of self-control, which is so often manifested in a lack of sexual self-control, is a crucial issue for men to address. It’s crucial for young men to address and, by extension, all men (the implication being that men should learn and exhibit self-control when they are young so they can carry it into their later years). If Titus alone doesn’t prove the point, the opening chapters of Proverbs certainly does.
- 1 Timothy 4:12. Then we come to 1 Timothy 4:12 which is Paul writing to another young pastor, pastor Timothy. He tells him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” This verse shows us that every man, no matter his age or stage of life, is meant to serve as an example of Christian character manifested in sexual purity. Even more, this verse is meant to assure them that they actually can! There’s nothing about being young that excuses anyone for being anything less than a stellar example of sexual purity. Society and even the church can have very low standards for men, but the Bible calls even the youngest of men to make it their goal to stand as an example of the utmost purity.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:6. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 warns that there are consequences for sexual sin, including consequences generated by God himself. It’s probably necessary to back up and read the verse in its wider context. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–7). There’s a lot to consider here, but at the very least we need to see this: There are serious consequences for sexual sin. When it comes to that kind of sin, God takes on the role of an avenger, one who acts to protect those who have been harmed and who acts to bring judgment or consequences upon those who harm others. There can be very serious consequences for sexual sin, the greatest of which is divine disfavor.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul writes to a church and reminds them of the sins that used to mark them before they put their faith in Christ. He shows that such sins, many of which are related to sexuality, mark those who are in rebellion against God. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Those who are given over to such sins ought to examine themselves to ask whether they are genuinely repentant and, even further, to ask whether they are genuinely saved. After all, just like sexual purity is a mark of a Christian who lives in conformity to God, sexual impurity is a mark of a non-Christian who lives in rebellion against God.
- 1 Corinthians 6:11. Having shown that sexual rebellion is the mark of unbelievers rather than believers, Paul says this: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” We’ve seen the Bible call Christian men to accept sexual self-control as a special challenge, then call them to stand as an example of purity and self-control, and then warn them of the consequences for failing to do so. Now we see how and why it’s actually possible to live in purity and avoid those terrible consequences. It’s possible because Christians have been washed, sanctified, justified, and indwelled by the Spirit. They’ve been forgiven for all their sin and set free to sin no more, which means they don’t have to do this in their own power! Rather, they’ve been given the power they need. When God expects something of Christians, he provides what they need to meet his expectation. There’s an important implication, and it’s this: If you are not exhibiting sexual self-control, it’s only because you haven’t taken hold of what God offers you through the gospel. The power is there; you’ve just refused to exercise it. So now we need to ask: what does it look like to express yourself sexually in an appropriate, self-controlled way?
- Genesis 2:24. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” God provides marriage as the context for sexuality. It is to be expressed only between one man and one woman within the covenant of marriage. That one-flesh union is the union of two people to such a degree that a husband and wife function more like one unit than two individuals. They are bound together before God and man in what is meant to be an indissoluble union. And that union is consummated and represented in the sexual union. The two bodies being joined together represents and celebrates the greater joining, the greater union.
- 1 Timothy 3:2. The Bible makes it clear that men who are called to be elders are men who are exemplary in their character. The Apostle Paul refers to that as being “above reproach.” Yet we learn as well that all men and, indeed, all Christians, are to exhibit these very same traits of character. In two of his letters Paul goes to great lengths to tease out what it means to be above reproach and in both of them the first thing he says is this: He is to be “the husband of one wife.” More literally, he is to be be a “one-woman man.” Living out that one-flesh union means being fully committing to that one woman, to being committed wholly and totally to her and her alone. This is obviously a call not to have sexual relations with any other woman, but it’s more than that—it’s a call to long for no other woman, to pursue no other woman, to flirt with no other woman, to fantasize about no other woman. It’s to be a man who gives no one reason to doubt that he is all about that one woman God has given him.
- 1 Corinthians 7:9. “If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” This passage shows that God has designed sexual desire to include some kind of physical or biological component, and that this desire, whatever it is, is not evil. In fact, this desire is meant to direct or motivate men and women alike to God’s sanctioned means of fulfilling it, which is marriage. God has provided marriage as a good and appropriate context in which to express good and appropriate sexual desires. Sexual desire is a powerful means of motivating us to pursue marriage and then to pursue a spouse within marriage, since the sexual relationship can only really be successful if a husband and wife are pursuing not only each other’s bodies, but also each other’s hearts and minds and affections.
- 1 Corinthians 7:8. We need to see one more thing, and it’s this: sexual fulfillment is not necessary for true joy or happiness or for living a meaningful, satisfied life. We looked at 1 Corinthians 7:9, but also need to look one verse earlier. Paul says, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.” This tells us that even though sexual desire is a physical, human desire, it is not necessary to enjoying a good and fulfilled life. It is not the key to happiness or success. Paul and, of course, Jesus, were unmarried. Both were fully human and lived perfectly good lives. Paul goes on to explain that those who live an unmarried life are free to serve God in some especially significant ways because they are undistracted by the concerns of a spouse and family. So it seems to me the biblical wisdom goes something like this: If you have little sexual desire, you can take that as a possible (though not necessary) indication that God is calling you to a life of special commitment to him through singleness, unencumbered by marriage and family and sexual desire. If you have a lot of sexual desire, it is a possible (though not necessary) indication that God is not calling you to that life of singleness, but that you should pursue a spouse. However, God does not always provide what we desire or what we think we need, and so there are some unmarried Christians who feel great sexual desire but have no spouse. Such people should accept sexual desire as a challenge to rely on God’s grace to help them be content and to flee the temptation to sin. It may just be God’s special means to conform them more and more to his image.
And with these building-blocks in place, it was a blessing to see men, married and single alike, discuss their own struggles and triumphs.