Holiness Is Not The “Point” Of Marriage

One of the recent trends in that I see in much of Christian culture is the idea that marriage makes you holy or that the point of marriage is holiness.  In fact, as you look back over the last few decades (if not centuries in Protestantism), you see some groups state that it is the path to holiness.

Some of this was a reaction to celibacy for the kingdom previously being seen as more holy than the domestic life.  But I see this idea of marriage as the path to holiness all of the time and frankly it’s not helpful as it views the whole frame in the wrong way.

Here are a couple of ways that this plays out in our culture:

One place that this comes from is the thought that going into marriage we need to understand that the point of marriage is to make us holy, not happy.  A lot of this is an attempted reaction to the divorce culture that started decades ago.  The thought is that if we go into marriage looking for it to give us happiness, or fulfillment in and of itself, then when we don’t feel happy or fulfilled we will be in trouble in the marriage.

To be fair there is obviously a lot of truth to this.  We should’t look to marriage to fulfill us.  Jesus does that.  We shouldn’t enter marriage purely for our own self happiness or only because of romance and attraction because no matter how great the marriage there will be times where we don’t feel any of that.  If one enters marriage thinking they will always feel those things, or that those things (attraction, happiness, etc) are the main barometer of the marriage, then there are going to be problems.  All of that is fair, and a good thing for both singles seeking marriage as well as married folks to realize.

But in a culture where people are delaying or not even seeking marriage (80% of people between the ages of 19-29 are not married) this can become sort of counter productive.  I’ve written a whole post on the Marriage is Hard Movement™ previously.  But suffice it to say, focusing constantly on how hard marriage is probably isn’t going to change that.

But a second less discussed idea that that comes out of the marriage makes you holy line of thinking is that marriage makes sex holy.  This line of thinking goes something like this: we all want sex, we actually driven by sex.  It is an unstoppable animal instinct.  We can’t control it.  Especially men.  We are told that we can’t control any of this.  So what is the answer to this uncontrollable desire?  Marriage.

But this misses some very serious biblical truths about us as humans and about marriage as instituted by God.

First, we are not just animals with uncontrollable desires.  We are created in God’s image.  We have this thing called choice.  I’ll say more about desire soon, but the fact is that if we were just animals we’d have no responsibility whatsoever for sin.

Secondly, God did not institute marriage as a concession because we wanted sex.  It’s not as if we were created, then we desired sex and so God said, “Whoops, didn’t think that through, what am I going to do here. . . . Oh wait. . .  I’ve got it: Marriage!”

Marriage was instituted before sin and before sex.  Marriage was not created for sex.  Sex was instead created for marriage.  

This matters because it changes the entire frame of following God in our unmarried state by not having sex and marriage itself.  By telling people that marriage is the answer to sex and our uncontrollable desires, we put the emphasis on sex instead of the covenant relationship of marriage.

Marriage doesn’t legitimize sex.  Marriage doesn’t redeem sex.  Marriage doesn’t fix our sexual sin.  When we place marriage as created for sex we are opening the door to all of that.  The implications of that are enormous in our current culture.  I’ll spell those out more at a later date, but you can see it everywhere both inside and outside of the church.

What we’ve discussed here doesn’t even get into the fact that if marriage is what makes you holy, then what does that say to the unmarried?  Can they not be holy?  What is that person to do?

The bottom line is that marriage is not what makes you holy.

This of course raises several key questions.  If the marriage doesn’t make you holy what does?  If holiness is not the the point of marriage, then what is the point?  If marriage doesn’t make sex holy then what is the point of the creation of sex?

I’ll explore more of this soon.  But let’s start with this truth:  God wants us to be holy.  He is constantly calling us and pulling us towards holiness.  But assuming we let Him, He is going to do that regardless of marital status.

You Are Not Just An Animal

It’s funny the things that you remember from college classes.  I remember one of my favorite classes was an introduction to philosophy.  I loved this class because the professor was very unbiased and we got to write some really cool papers.  (One of my papers was: Is the judaeo-Christian ethic sufficient for handling environmental issues.  The answer was of course yes – which I proved rather convincingly I might add).

One of the great moments of the class that has always stayed with me was a video in which a female pastor of some kind said, “The thing that separates humans from everyone else is our ability to sin.  Nothing else on earth can sin.”  That, friends will preach.

I bring that idea up today because I want to look at a couple of important things that we have sort of accidentally gotten backwards in the western church when we talk about singleness, marriage and sex.  That is, that you are just an animal instead of a person.

It seems to me that when it comes to sex and to some degree dating, we have taken choice out of the equation.

We’ve made men animals that cannot control their sexual desire.  The message is that sexual desire for men is king.  You can’t possibly contain it.  I remember as a young man hearing a lot about how all men lust.  In fact you can’t help but lust.  Men are “always” thinking about it, acting upon it in one way or another, and of course seducing women who oddly enough according to many church leaders do not have this out of control sexual desire.

Women you see are also not able to control themselves.  The difference we’re taught is that they don’t desire sex as much and only give into sex because they are tricked by the men who are being overcome by their sexual desire.  So men are the perpetuators of out of control sexual desire that they can’t control and women are the victims of sexual desires that men can’t control.

There is a lot wrong with this and a lot of bad results.

We all, men and women, are created sexual beings.  Every.Single.One.Of.Us.  God created us, and He created sex.  But unlike animals, God created us in His image.  And because of that He gave us moral agency.  We can choose what to do with our desires (not just sex).

If we say that men can’t control sexual desire then we are taking away their God given moral agency.  On top of that, while church leaders are trying to not call women out, they are actually taking away their moral agency as well.  They can’t possibly say no to men’s lack of moral agency.

But in reality, sin is a choice.  Attraction is not a choice.  Action is a choice.  Desire is not a choice.  What I do with it absolutely is a choice.  When we take that choice away, in essence we are taking away the responsibility of sin.

This teaching makes sexual desire itself bad.  We also then say essentially that “sexual desire is bad, and the only way to redeem sexual desire is marriage.” That is ridiculous and completely backwards and leads to all sorts of problems.

God gave us marriage pre-fall (before there was sin).  He gave us sexual desire to bond inside of marriage.  This is what God meant when He said the two become one flesh. God did not create marriage to redeem sex.  He created sex to enhance marriage. Feel free to tweet that.

It also completely rules out celibacy as a gift, calling or vocation in the Kingdom.  It says that you can’t be holy or complete without marriage.  If no one can control their sexual desires then they can’t possibly be expected to be celibate, let alone called to it.  And yet both Jesus and Paul say that celibacy is an option, and actually a picture of what the Kingdom will be like.

As a bonus this also cuts us off at the knees when it comes to the same sex marriage debate.  If sexual desire is something that can only be redeemed in marriage then we have no answer.  If marriage makes you holy then we we either have to come down on the side of same sex marriage or tell people that are attracted to the same sex that they can’t really be whole or holy.  We’ve created a false choice and churches are choosing one or the other.  Both are completely wrong.

We are not actually animals though.  We are persons.  We are not victims of our actions, we are responsible for them. We, both men and women, have moral agency.  Not only that but in Christ we have the Holy Spirit. Sexual desire is not king, Jesus is.  That has to be the starting point to the discussion.

Fulfilling Sexual Desire Keeps You Single

I’ve talked here many times about the fact that less and less people are getting married. Right now 50% of adults in the U.S. are unmarried.  Only 20% of those 18-29 have ever been married.  People are waiting longer or just not getting married at all.

There are a whole host of reasons for this and I’ve talked about many of them here before. But one of the biggest reasons is that we as a culture (even in the Church) have separated sex from marriage.  And to go a step further we’ve actually made sex only about physical pleasure.  And because of it, we are really, really jacked up.

Now I get, and have pointed out before, that this is not “new” to the world.  I mean there have always been jacked up cultures and there has certainly always been sexual sin.  But never has the overall impact on marriage been felt the way it is now.

What we have now is a combination of a lot more ways to meet the physical desire for sex, and a culture that is ok with all of it.  It’s killing us – individually and as a culture.

Sex was not created to be just physical.  It is a part of it, but not all of it.  From the very beginning it was to bring two people together to become one flesh but only those two people.  It is an important part of the marriage covenant.  When we take it out of that context or when we make it just about physical desire, we are devaluing everything about it – both within and outside of marriages.

Here’s the reality.  One of the surest ways to stay single is to have your sexual desire met some other way.

This plays out all sorts of ways.  First off, all sorts of people are obviously having sex. Some of it is purely for the physical desire.  Some of it is in “relationships”.  But either way people are not having less sex today than before.  They just aren’t doing it within marriage. People sleep together, live together, and even have children together, without marriage.

But now there are even more ways to meet my physical desire.  I can just go on the internet.  When I was a kid, you at least had to risk hiding the magazine with pictures. Now you can watch it, heck even interact with it, and then just hit delete.  If it’s just physical, why work for it.

No matter how you look at it, it is easier than ever to get your physical desire met.  And everyone is telling us this is what it’s about.  All the media, our leaders, even some of our parents.  And at some level even the Church.  We spend so much time focussing on what not to do.  The basic message is don’t look, don’t touch, sex is bad until you are married then it’s good.  Bury your desire and then flip the switch when you get married.  But the problem is not only is the act of sex bigger than just physical, so are the questions that surround it.

Sure we are told that married sex is better – but what does better mean?  We automatically assume that means more physically pleasurable.  But sexuality isn’t just about that.  It’s about being bonded to the other person.

If we make sex only about pleasure and sexual desire, then I don’t have to get married to have it.  And, even if I get married, I could still be stuck in it only being about the physical. That can lead to less intimacy and ultimately less sex.  If you don’t need it that day, you don’t do it.  Or maybe the computer is still easier.

If we make sex about only the physical then why does it matter how you meet the need. You can meet it at the bar, at the computer, or even with the same sex.

I don’t say all of this to turn it into a lecture on how sex outside of marriage is sinful.  That’s a no brainer.  I say it because I think we as believers have to go way beyond that.  We have to understand that it isn’t just some sort of physical discipline.  There is way more on the line than that.

My pastor has often said that we need the single people in our church to have less sex and our married people to have more. I agree with that, but we need more than that.  We need sex to not be just sex – just physical pleasure.  “Not having sex” is a start, but it isn’t enough.  We need to understand that meeting the physical desire for sex outside of marriage hurts both our chances of getting married and experiencing sex the right way within our marriages.  We need a whole lot of repentance and relearning.

Do you view sex as primarily physical?  What is your view of sex based on?  Do you have your physical desire for sex met already?  What do you do with that desire?

Sexual Immorality Leads Away From Marriage

C.S Lewis once said, “It would seem Our Lord Finds our desires not to strong but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he can not imagine what is meant by a holiday at sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to what we have done with sex and marriage in our culture.  We have created a mess.

The problem is not desire.  The problem is that when we try to fill the desire the wrong way (not just sexual desire), it get’s in the way of the right way of fulfilling it.

Sixty years ago 60% of people aged 18-29 were married.  Today only 20% of that same demographic has ever been married.  That is a dramatic change. We are typically entering puberty earlier (there’s not space here to go into why) and yet waiting longer to get married.  So where as we used to say, “just wait 5 years or so to be married”, now we basically say, “just wait 15 years to have sex”.  Thats crazy!  The problem is cyclical because in one sense it’s harder to wait that long, but in another sense because people are giving up and meeting that desire other ways, it is making people have less desire to get married.

Paul writes in 1st Corinthians that if you want to have sex, get married.  He basically says, “rather than burn with unmet desire, get married and meet it the right way.”  But this is a far cry from where we are at today, even in the Church.

We mess this up a lot of different ways and none of them help us when we are single or even later when we get married.

One plan often offered is to kill the desire.  This is where we just basically tell people sex is bad, don’t have it.  We may not say it but we essentially end up leading people there.  This is a horrible idea because desire for sex isn’t bad  Being controlled by it (or any other desire) is but the desire for sex and intimacy is a huge part of the reason for marriage. Worst of all, if I get married, I won’t be able to just flip a switch that all of a sudden makes sex good.

But more often what we do is go out and meet our desire for sex in some other way. Sometimes this means having sex outside of marriage. This does not lead down a path to marriage.  That’s not to say that people who do this don’t get married but it doesn’t increase the chances.  This is why so many people who live together end up not getting married.  Playing house and being married are not the same thing.  Sex before covenant is never beneficial.

But the biggest problem in the church right now is what I call Lazy Sexual Immorality. This is where I don’t meet my sexual need with another person at all.  Instead I just watch, read or think about someone else doing it and “meet” my need that way.  Tony Campolo once said, “If you are going to sin, at least do it boldly.”  These are the opposite of bold. They are gutless.

If you are under 30 you have seen internet porn.  It’s just the truth.  You have.  The average age a person first sees it right now is 11.  Read that again.  Now this screws us up in all sorts of ways.  But fantasy and habitual masturbation are right behind it.  They are all ways that we can meet our needs without having to “involve” someone else.  And they are killing us.  I have a friend who says that every guy thinks marriage is going to be a porn movie and every girl thinks it’s going to be a romance novel.  It’s not either.  It should be better.  But that is what we are expecting, and when it doesn’t happen we bail.

When we meet our sexual desire outside of marriage it leads us away from marriage.  Either we get our desire met, and therefore don’t want to make the sacrifices to meet them in the right way, or we get wrapped up in our shame and guilt and therefore either can’t engage the real thing or feel like we don’t now “deserve” it.  Usually some sick twisted combination of all of the above.

It’s a nasty cycle and a lot of people are in it.  I’ve been in it many times in one form or another.  Fortunately, you don’t have to stay in it.  I’m going to write more on that soon.  But for today the question really is this: What are you doing with your sexual desire?  How are you meeting it?  Do you see how that affects you from engaging the real thing?

 

Submitting Sexual Desire To The Lord

Last week I wrote about our view of sex.  The main two points were that sex was created by God and therefore desire for sex isn’t bad in and of itself.  Secondly was that this desire was to be fulfilled so to speak, only in the context of marriage.  In the Bible sex is always talked about either in marriage or in sin.   A pretty fair definition of sexual immorality is the fulfillment of sexual desire outside the context of marriage.

But this leaves singles in a very tough spot.  We have a desire that is good but no “good” way to fulfill it.

Now some married friends have wisely pointed out that you can be married and still struggle with sexual immorality.  There is no doubt that this is true. There are all sorts of ways that married people can struggle with this.  Single people need to get a clue that marriage doesn’t instantly solve all of this.  But at the same time, married people need to think about what it would be like to have no fulfillment of that desire . . . ever.

So, what are we as single people supposed to do with this?

Well all of this raises a bunch of questions actually.  What is the point of desires that God gives us?  What are we supposed to do with unfulfilled desires?  What should we do with sexual desire?  When does desire become sin?  What do we do practically to deal with sexual desire in a culture that says, “Just Do It”.  We need more than “Just Say No”.

Let’s tackle a couple of these today and then we’ll tackle some more next week.

At the end of the day I believe the number one thing we desire is to know that we are loved.  Now this desire can get messed up quickly.  It can become the desire for approval from people. It is also one of the main emotional drives for sex.  Sex was created to bond us to the other person so it feels like a lot like love.  But at the truth is our desire to be loved can only be totally fulfilled by God.

What our desires show us is that something is going on in our heart.  They are the voice of our heart.  When I have a strong desire I need to ask what is going on inside.  Where is that coming from?

I don’t believe that desire itself is sin.  Paul is clear that even temptation (which plays on desire) is not sin.  Giving in to it is.  Now we can have desires that come from our sin.  In other words the more I live in (abide in) disobedience, the more I will desire the wrong stuff. This is then compounded when I fulfill that desire in a sinful way.

Psalms 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  This scripture is misapplied all the time.  Often people assume it means that if I delight or abide in the Lord that I will get what I want, as if to say, first I want something, I go delight in God, and He gives it to me.  That would be wrong.

What it means is that first I delight in the Lord.  When I do that He gives me my core value and love and then my desires (remember they are the voice of my heart) start coming from Him.  He literally gives me my desires – my desires become His desires.  The point is that depending on where my heart is at, my desires will follow.

Just because I have a desire doesn’t mean I should fulfill it. I mean I have good and bad desires all the time.  But I can’t be mastered by my desires.  Instead I need to submit them to the Lord.  I need to let my desires (most of which at some level come back to the desire to be loved) drive me to the Lord.  Sexual desire is no different.

Now all this sounds really nice.  But let’s put it in context.  If I’m going to have any chance of handling my sexual desire as a single (or married for that matter) I’m going to have to be walking closely with the Lord.  This is true of every desire but I do think sexual desire is a little different.  Sex is one of the most powerful forces in our world and we shouldn’t discount that fact.  It was made that way on purpose.

Monday I will dive into what we can do practically to deal with it.  But none of that will matter if I’m not going to allow it to drive me towards Jesus.  Without Him it will be like putting bandaids on gaping wounds.