We Are All Called To Chastity

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:

  1. Not all of these people are called, or for that matter biblically instructed to, get married.
  2. 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.

You Aren’t Entitled To A Spouse

Recently, while talking about my wedding, a good friend remarked something to the effect of, “It’s a great story.  You’re 40 and you’ve never settled.  And now God has been faithful.”  I kind of just smiled at this.

I get this sort of thing all the time.  This idea that because I’ve “hung in there” or “not settled” that God is finally rewarding me.  Or that from day one God has had this as His plan – that plan apparently being have me wait until 40 to get married.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not sure I buy that exactly.

Here is what I do buy.  God for sure brought me and my soon to be bride together.  I believe that wholeheartedly.  It’s a good fit on so many levels it’s not even really questionable.  Another friend said to me recently about the way our lives fit together, “If you ever tell me there’s no God, I’m gonna hit you in the face!  Because there is no way!  It’s so right!”  He’s right!

But, I would say, it is in spite of my sin, brokenness, and failures that God has done this.  It’s His grace that has brought us together, not my “faithfulness.”

It’s not that I’ve been completely unfaithful or that I’ve thought about “settling” if “settling” means marrying someone who I shouldn’t.  But this idea that somehow I’ve earned God’s favor and He has finally rewarded me just doesn’t wash.

One of the big problems in our culture is this idea of entitlement.  The idea that I’m owed something.  You see it in the sports, business, and yes even in ministry.  But no where does it rear its head in Christian culture more than in the discussion of singleness and marriage.  And it’s a problem.

God does not owe us a spouse.

Entitlement comes from a couple of places.  One is self-righteousness.  We see this in the person who has “saved themselves for marriage” and therefore can’t understand why they are not married.  It’s the idea that if I’m moral enough then God should deliver.  Usually we fall into this by accident – at least I did.  At first I was doing right because of God, but then it kind of turned.  I was being “good” so why wasn’t He holding up His end of the bargain.  But we aren’t moral to get something from God.  We are moral out of gratitude to God, and because we are following Him and He leads us to Godly Righteousness.  We live a Chaste life for Him, not to earn something.

Entitlement also comes from arrogance.  This is where the whole “don’t settle” thing comes into play.  Now I’m not saying marry or date anyone that comes along.  By no means!  But there is the idea that because I’ve passed on so many people that now God has brought me “The One“.  Ummmm.  Yeah, I’m not real comfortable with that.  I think sometimes I chose not to pursue and it was wise, other times it was stupid.  Sometimes it was out of fear or rationalization.  The point is, I can always find something wrong and not commit.  It’s a fine line.  But the biggest issue is that it assumes that no one would have to settle to be with me.  Hahaha.  I mean I’m pretty screwed up.

The thing about all of this entitlement is that it creates bitterness, frustration and resentment in our own hearts.

We end up resenting God.  He becomes the Great Withholder.  He isn’t giving us what we want, or what we feel we’ve earned.  He isn’t coming through.  He’s not bringing me anyone or at least not the perfect one.  It’s all His fault that I’m not married.  Has nothing to do with me or anybody else.  It’s your fault God.

We end up resenting the opposite sex.  This drives me crazy but I used to be there.  Man I spent some time resenting women, or at least certain ones.  They should like me.  They always pick the guy who isn’t really as “Christian” as me.  Man, I want to throw up writing that.  And the female version where there are no mature guys.  There just aren’t any guys who love Jesus and have a job etc.  Really!?  Again, it couldn’t possibly be me.  All of this is bad for us (it also makes us way less attractive).

Finally we can end up resenting our friends that get married.  “I hope they make it” – read – because they sure aren’t as spiritual as me.  They lived a crazy life and now they get “what they want” and I don’t.  How is that fair?

We have to flush this stuff out.  We are not entitled to a spouse.  No one has to choose us. God does not owe us.  But more importantly, it’s not about that anyway.  We can’t let it become our identity.

Do you feel entitled to a spouse?  Who do resent?  What helps you fight those two things?

Are You Prosperous?

A couple of weeks ago someone emailed me and asked if I would write some about singleness in the context of Jeremiah 29:11.  This is of course the verse that says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Basically, what this person was asking about is if God wants to prosper me and I desire a spouse, then why is He not providing one?  They rightly pointed out that you could try your best to follow God and still seem pretty non-prosperous.  Why do people point to that, especially as it relates to singles?

This is a really important thought, not just related to singleness but certainly including that.

First of all, a lot of times this stuff gets served up to singles as spiritual platitudes by often well meaning friends and churches.  It fits under the “Everything Happens For A Reason” group.  Things like, “This is God’s best for you”, “Just wait on God,” and “God has someone for you.”  Now any one of those could be true in a particular situation but they shouldn’t be tossed out as truth for every situation.

This particular verse is one of the most misused verses in the Bible. 

To begin with we can’t just pull sentences out of the Bible and apply them to the question I’m currently asking.  We have to look at what it says in the context that it was written. Mainly it is important to ask who is it written to.  In this case God is speaking through Jeremiah to the Israelites who at the time are in exile in Babylon.  In the sentence before, God says that after 70 years he will bring them back to Israel.  So in a straight up reading of that scripture, in context, God is promising something to the Israelites at that time (which by the way He delivers on).

But I think it’s fair to go beyond that a little.  In other words when you look at the whole of scripture I think it’s fair to say that God does have good plans for his people.  Now granted His people screw it up about 90% of the time, but God’s plans for us are good not bad – always.  I think this scripture (when included in the full context) is a good picture of an example of that.

But even there the example doesn’t stop in verse 11.  A huge part of our problem is we pick what prosperous means, and then we demand God give it to us.  But what does prosperity really look like?  If you read even just the next sentence you get a picture. “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

In other words, God is most interested in us and Him.  Seek ME!  Find ME!  I’m HERE.

I once heard a 20 year old single mom speak on this in front of about 3000 people.  She had been abused, abandoned, and neglected.  She lived in community living, was trying to work and go to school.  She stood up there and read this scripture (all of it, not just verse 11) and then after sharing that God wanted us to seek Him she said, “I AM PROSPEROUS!”  She said it with such authority that Jesus might as well have been standing at the mic. She got it!

We are prosperous if we have Jesus.  We are not if we don’t.

This idea that I can look at my singleness and just assume that God wants to give me a spouse is not a very good approach.  If I were you I sure wouldn’t hang my theology of singleness on a verse about the Israelites.

But here is what I would do.  I’d trust what the whole of scripture says about God’s love for you.  You see God does care.  He is interested in your singleness, dating and everything else.  He promising to lead you if you will seek Him.  And He for sure wants to lead you to life to the full.

And here’s one last thought.  What if your identity was in Christ, not singleness or in whatever you see as prosperity?  What if you saw yourself as prosperous to begin with?  If you really believed that, lived out of it even, how would that change how you view your singleness?  How would it change how you interacted with the opposite sex?  Which do you think is more attractive – someone who views themselves as prosperous or someone who doesn’t? It’s a lot easier to love someone out of prosperity than out of neediness.

So let me ask you, Are you prosperous?  Do you approach your singleness out of need or prosperity?