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The Problem with 'Staying Pure'

I accept that celibacy is what God requires of me, but how do I deal with my physical desires?

Editor's Note: In the March/April issue, we featured a special collection of articles on Christian singleness and sexual purity. The topic raised many interesting and sensitive questions from our readers, including the first one below.

The Problem with 'Staying Pure'

Q.As a Christian single, I accept that celibacy is what God requires of me. But how do I deal with my physical needs? I've been told that masturbation— while not specifically forbidden in Scripture —is a sin, because I'm supposed to "keep my thoughts pure." Am I supposed to pretend my sexuality doesn't exist? Try to put it out of my mind a thousand times a day? How can I have a relationship with God if He makes impossible demands of me and threatens me with judgment if I fail?
John, via email

A. John, you're not alone. There are thousands of believers who struggle in this area. Clearly, God created us to be sexual beings. Sex was His idea in the first place, and He calls what He created "good." He gave us marriage so that we would have the freedom to enjoy and celebrate our sexuality in the most healthy and satisfying way.

But what about those of us who are single? Or those who have married, only to lose our spouse to death or divorce? What about married couples who are separated for long periods of time or whose physical intimacy is ended by the illness or incapacity of one partner?

Some Christian leaders feel that since Scripture is silent on the subject of masturbation, we should be too. Since it doesn't seem to be a big deal to God, we shouldn't make a big deal about it. Accept it as a fact of life and move on. But this philosophy seems to ignore the countless scriptures that urge us to discipline our thoughts and exercise control over our bodies. "Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity … because these are improper for God's holy people" (Eph. 5:3), writes Paul. In his book Sex Isn't The Problem, Lust Is, Joshua Harris does a great job of exploring the biblical call to holi- ness as it relates to sexual temptation— on an honest and practical level. Harris points out that there are some pretty compelling reasons to practice self-control in this key area of our lives.

Is it really impossible to control our sexual desires? Yes and no. In one sense, as long as we have a sinful nature, we'll continue to struggle with sin. That's why we need a Savior. "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin" (Heb. 4:15-16).

But forgiveness isn't all that God offers. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Cor. 10:13).

Being single, you have God's grace to help you develop self-control and self-discipline to resist or avoid temptation. Ask Him to help you in this battle. Don't let your frustration turn to bitterness, cutting you off from the one Person who understands you best and can help you the most.

Haunted by My Past

Q.In my past, I was promiscuous. I partied and got married and divorced twice. Now that I'm a Christian, I want to honor God in my dating relationships. But every Christian man I've met is scared off by my past. Help!

A. It's not always easy to make a clean break with the past. Even though you know God forgives and forgets, sometimes it feels like others won't give you a chance.

You might consider taking yourself "off the market" for a while. Take time out from dating to strengthen your relationship with God. Get grounded in the Word. Develop healthy friendships with more mature believers—especially women— who can offer accountability and support. Do everything you can to build a solid foundation for your growing faith—creating new, healthy patterns to replace the old ones.

When you begin dating again, resist the urge to come clean about everything you've ever done right away. (Remember it's a date, not a therapy session!) It's enough to say simply, "I haven't always been a Christian. I made mistakes in my past." And maybe even, "I've been married before." But move on to what God is doing in your life now. Let your date get to know you as a person and see the wonderful woman you are becoming in Christ.

Christin Ditchfield is the host of the syndicated radio program Take It to Heart, and the author of A Family Guide to Narnia: Biblical Truths in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia (Crossway).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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