What To Do With Sinful Desire

The last couple of posts we have been talking about the difference between attraction and desire and whether or not sexual desire is a sin.  To sum up the second question we noted that indeed many of our desires come from a sinful heart and therefore we often desire sinful things.  However it what we do with these desires that determine if we sin or not.

So the question is, if I have a sinful desire (as we all do) then what do I do with it?  In other words if acting on a sinful desire coming from a sinful place leads to sin – how do I not act on it, and what do I do with it instead.

The first thing that I want to clarify is: what does acting on desire mean?

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Is Sexual Desire A Sin

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?

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Attraction vs Sexual Desire

One of the problems in our theology of marriage and celibacy, as well as frankly most other topics, is that we often use the certain words interchangeably that don’t mean exactly the same thing.  This of course causes all sorts of confusion and it makes it really hard to have theological conversations of any kind let alone a debate.

Now part of this is due to the English language itself.  Now I’m fan of English, but let’s face it, some of our words cause problems.  Think of the word love.  I love my car, I love my dog, I love Mizzou, I love my wife, I love God.  Obviously I love all these things differently and yet I’m given only one word to use.

But a lot of our problem comes from lazy theology and/or lazy language use.  For example, while they are to varying degrees related, salvation, justification, and election are not theologically the same word, and yet we often treat them as if they were.

This is also true when it comes our theology in the contexts of marriage, celibacy  and sexual sin.  So today, I want to break down a couple of these words we use.  I’m not expecting everyone to agree with me, but we have to at least try to talk about it because if we don’t have any nuance of language then we can’t really have much of a conversation about any of this.

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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?

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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:

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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.

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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?