In my last post I posed the thought that sexual attraction and sexual desire are not the same thing. I believe this it true in general by the way. In other words attraction of any kind is not the same as desire of the same kind.
The question that follows though is this: Is sexual desire for someone other than your heterosexual spouse a sin?
Let’s do a couple of things to set the stage.
First, understand that I’m assuming the act of sex with anyone other than your heterosexual spouse is indeed sin. I know not everyone agrees with this but it is the starting point here based on the scriptures and over 2000 years of church doctrine. You as the reader are of course free to disagree but that is the starting point for this conversation. I could write 100 posts on this, but it’s the baseline theologically here.
My intent in writing about this, isn’t to argue that point, but instead to discuss the attraction to others and the desire for sex with someone we are not in a heterosexual marriage with as I know that people regardless of context face this. So let’s dive in.
Attraction as I’ve stated ad nauseam here, is not a choice. It is an in the moment feeling. Desire is deeper. Sexual desire is exactly that – a desire for sexual fulfillment.
Desire itself is a voice of the heart. What I mean is that when I feel a desire, sexual or otherwise, it is my heart** saying that something is going on.
Now different cultures have different avenues to handle desire. In eastern religion the goal is often to get rid of desire. In other words the message is that desire is bad and true holiness would be the lack of desire. The message is kill all desires.
In western culture we have a bit different approach. We have decided that all desires should be fulfilled. Desires have become needs which have become values which have become rights***. In other words, we have the right to fulfill any desire we have. Frankly even in the western church we say this when we view marriage is THE ONLY answer to sexual desire. In other words you have the need and right to have that desire fulfilled in a marriage.
From a theological/biblical view neither of these are right. Simply killing even a bad desire doesn’t work because it’s killing the heart without changing it. On the other hand, assuming that I’m entitled to have my desires fulfilled puts me in charge instead of God. Both of those are wrong. Instead I need to run every desire through the lens of what God wants for me.
So that all begs the original question, is desire for sex with someone who we are not in a heterosexual marriage with a sin?
First, let’s again state that desires come from the heart. Some of those desires are good but many are not. We live in a fallen broken world and that includes us and our hearts. When we are in Christ, our hearts belong to Him. And yet we are not yet perfected. None of us desire all the right things yet. As a friend of mine says, “Our wanters are off.” God wants more for us than we do. We want a lot of sinful things. In that sense desires can be and often are sinful or at the least come from a place of sin. Let me restate that one more time. Desire can, and often does, come from sin in my heart and because of that I can, and often do, desire sinful things.
However it is what we do with our desires that utilmateiy shape us and bring consequence. If we give into the sinful desires then we commit actual sinful acts which we are culpable for. James says as much when he says, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
What I would say then is that a desire can come from sin itself which leads to temptation, but it is when we act on that sinful desire that we actually commit culpable sin. This “acting” includes more than just physically acting on the desire but also what we do with it mentally and emotionally (I’ll say more about this in an upcoming post about handling sinful desire).
The truth is that every desire, including sexual desire, elicits a response from us. The question is will we act to fulfill that desire therefore sinning, or will we submit that desire to God. The more we submit it to Him the more we are able to be shaped by Him.
** Understand that we are looking at the biblical and not the western view of the heart. In the bible the word most used for heart means our very essence. It is the center of us a person. In the western view the heart often means our emotions vs. our mind. That is not what we are talking about here.
*** I first saw this idea in “Without Roots”