A few posts ago I wrote about that the fact that holiness is not THE point of marriage. Without rehashing all of that here, the main points were:
- We often act as if there is not joy in marriage and that happiness isn’t even part of it, which is super counter productive to our culture at this time.
- We’ve sort of created a context in which marriage is the answer to our supposed uncontrollable desire for sex. In other words we all desire sex, can’t control that desire, and therefore the only “holy” answer to that is marriage. This is theologically bad and practically creates all kinds of conundrums in our current culture.
But this raises many other questions not least of which is: what then makes you holy? Or maybe in this context a more exact question would be, when it comes to sexual desire, what is the path to holiness?
Let’s start with this truth: There are a lot of different contexts that people trying to follow Jesus find themselves in right now. There are those who are married, divorced, widowed, not yet married, celibate by birth, made celibate by men (or the fall of man) and those who choose celibacy for the Kingdom. (I have a whole series of posts coming on these last three).
Each and everyone of these have different biblical instructions. Each have sub contexts within them. But there is one path that every one of these is called to follow towards holiness. That is each and every one of these is called to chastity. Indeed, all of us, regardless of context, is called to chastity.
Marriage as THE way to holiness is a non starter because:
- Not all of these people are called, or for that matter biblically instructed to, get married.
- It assumes that no one can have holiness in their sexuality outside of marriage – which basically means that you can’t actually be called to chastity to begin with since none of us are born married.
So what is Chastity. Chastity includes, although it is not limited to, the proper ordering of sexual pleasure. It is an understanding that sexual pleasure itself does not bring lasting joy. It it not the goal. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. In other words, regardless of marital status we are called to chastity.
What this means is that chastity is not the same as celibacy or even abstinence. The chaste unmarried person refrains from sexual pleasure while the chaste married person seeks sexual pleasure only within the marriage covenant.
Now within these different contexts, the Lord can use our chastity to help us become more holy – more devoted and set apart for God. This is because in order to be chaste, we have to submit and often surrender our personal sexual desires to God. Doing this consistently changes our focus from fulfilling our own desires selfishly to conforming to God’s. Living a chaste life impacts how we view God, ourselves and others.
As a bonus it also protects us and others. It protects us from the sin and consequences of fornication and adultery. It protects us physically, emotionally and spiritually. It also sets us apart in a fallen world and therefore strengthens our witness to others. In fact I would suggest, and have suggested, that living a chaste life is one of the four ways that we can set ourselves apart so that others will listen to what we have to say about Jesus.**
Now it is important to note something here. Chastity is not the so much the goal as the means to the goal. In other words chastity is more than just avoiding sexual sin, it is avoiding sexual sin in order to walk more closely in obedience to God – which is the goal.
This by the way is true of many things and important to our understanding of how this life works. Chastity, orthodoxy, the sacraments, the bible, etc, are all tools not the end goals. They are things instituted by God to help us on our path of to Him, not the other way around.
So what we can know is that regardless of marital status, we are called to live chaste in that context. It is not impossible with the help of God to live that way. That doesn’t make it easy, but we are not doomed to unholiness without marriage. In fact we are called to holiness regardless. Not only that but God can give us the grace to live that out in each of these contexts if we seek Him and do it with Him. And that seeking of Him and obedience to His calling is what sends us towards holiness.
** – I believe that in our current culture if we do four things in accordance to the teaching of the scriptures we will have a platform to share Jesus. That is, what we do with our money, our time, our sexual desire and how we handle reconciliation. If we do those four things the way the world does them, then we look no different from the world and very few if any will take our witness seriously.