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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Sexual Sin Myths

Coming into adulthood in evangelical culture one of the constant messages was that sexual sin was different and more important than other sin.  Now of course the official line was that all sin was “equally” bad.  This is sort of true and sort of not true and therefore super confusing.

Let’s clear up a couple of things about sin to sort of set the table for this topic.

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Does The Bible Tell Me So?

Here’s a quick bible quiz.  Tell me where it asks someone to become a Christian.  How about this one – where does Jesus say that I should accept Him into my life/heart?  Find for me the “sinner’s prayer.”  Where does it say to go to church?  When did Peter become a Christian?

Should I go on?  You get the point.

As protestants we love to say that the Bible is ultimate authority.  Whether protestant or not, we all agree that it is authoritative.  The problem is that it is not authoritative in the way that we often want it to be to make our point.

What we want are simple clear rules, answers and one liners. No where is this more clear than in the realm of singleness, dating, and marriage.

I remember when I was in my twenties the big push in much of evangelical dating (just typing that phrase is sort of disturbing) was the idea of courting.  Now I don’t really have a problem with courting per se.  But what these folks tried to do is to say that their version of courting was the biblical way to find a spouse.  What I failed to realize at the time is that they had absolutely no biblical backing for this.  As I’ve written before there is not a biblical dating model.

But we want so bad for it to be simple.  We want a tweet sized answer to sexual ethics. #whatcanIgetawaywith #justifymyactions

What’s funny about this is that many on the evangelical right keep arguing bible verses that aren’t clear and others that don’t even exist while many of our more liberal churches are arguing contextual loopholes against those very same “verses”.

For example, one night I was having dinner with some friends and the topic of homosexuality came up.  One gentlemen said, “Jesus said that it was an abomination.”  Uh which verse was that again?  In a different conversation a friend said, “Jesus never addresses homosexual marriage.”  Sort of, except that He does address marriage.

The problem is that when we try to make verses mean something they don’t or insert our Christianese into the bible we set ourselves up to be discredited or worse set someone else up to fall when they later realize it.

But the problem with the other way of looking at the bible – using the context of a particular verse that we don’t like to say it doesn’t mean that or “the bible doesn’t really say. . . ” – is that we end up all over the map

Here’s what I mean.  Sticking with the “hot” homosexual issue, I’ve heard some pastors and leaders say that the bible really doesn’t say explicitly (as in an exact sentence) that a monogamous homosexual relationship is wrong.  They say that whole point is the one on one relationship for a lifetime.  They point to the couple of verses that deal with the homosexual act and say that it wasn’t talking about one of these types of relationships.

The problem with that – and it’s a big one – is that the same could be said of a lot of other things. So I ask the people who believe this are you then ok with:

  • The bible doesn’t say explicitly say that two unmarried people can’t have sex
  • It doesn’t say that two unmarried people can’t live together, have sex together or even have children together – so why even worry about marriage
  • The bible says nothing about viewing pornography, masturbation or reading shady literature.
  • It says nothing about oral sex.
  • It doesn’t say anything about appropriate dating behavior.

So basically by this argument, until I’m married, short of sex with an animal, I’m good to go. You can say that’s a slippery slope argument, except for the fact that we are already there in our culture.

(Whats ironic of course is that neither side seems to follow the very explicit instructions on divorce and remarriage.  Did anyone picket state capitols as almost every state instituted no fault divorce? Do they stand outside divorce courts?  Do they avoid making wedding cakes for two divorced people getting remarried?)

The key to all of this is obvious of course.  No straight reading of the bible by anyone without an agenda could lead you to believe any of the above was acceptable.  And there in lies the key – the bible as a whole is authoritative and it shows us what is right and wrong.  It’s not rocket science most of the time.

The bible does indeed speak to sex and marriage.  From front to back actually.  It always speaks of them together as a good thing or apart as a bad thing.  There is zero exception to this.  Sex has a purpose higher than orgasm.  It’s apparent that it is from God for marriage and all other uses are out of bounds.

What does this have to do with singleness and the church?  Everything.

We are confronted with a culture that has been and is still in a sexual revolution.  Our answer to that can not be picking one liners from scripture and trying to make them say things they don’t.  When we do that, we end up arguing over stuff that we don’t have to. It also can’t be ignoring the whole of scripture so that we can do what we want.  When we do that we take away any authority whatsoever.

The bible does lay out the answers – it’s just not tweet-able.

Flee Means Get Out Now

If you’ve grown up in the evangelical world at all, then you’ve heard the following advice: “flee from sexual immorality”.  I remember reading this in 1st Corinthians 6 back when I was a teenager and always referring back to it.  It was of course easiest to agree with when I wasn’t dating anyone.  Haha.

This is actually an important idea, even if we can sometimes become legalistic about it or use it to beat up on people.  But at it’s core it is right.  Paul himself writes that sexual immorality is to be fled from because all other sins are outside the body while this has to do with not just the physical and doesn’t just hurt someone else, but against your own body, which should be a temple for God.

But if we are going to understand this idea we need to realize what this really looks like. And to do that we need to define some ideas.

To begin with, we need to define what sexual immorality actually is.  I mean if we are going to flee from something it might be a good idea to know what it is we are fleeing from. There are of course a lot of ways to look at this question.  Some people will point out that in the bible the term usually refers to sex, prostitution, and the like.  In other words, they would say, the bible is silent about oral sex, masturbation etc.

Other people leave the physical all together and jump to what Jesus said about lust in Matthew 5.  They would argue that having feelings of lust in any way or context is sexual immorality.  I’ve already discussed this verse here.

In reality we have to look at the bible as a whole in the contexts of the writers and then ask what would count in our society now as sexually immoral.  But for a simple definition for today let’s say this:  Sexual immorality is the fulfillment of sexual desire outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship.  

Assuming that definition the question becomes how do we flee from that.  This is where I think we mess up.

We need to actually be committed to it.  This is why our definition of sexual immorality is so important.  Am I just committed to not having sex (which is easy if I’m not dating someone) or am I committed to avoiding all sexual immorality?  This is why this is not only a single person question but for everyone.

Secondly we need to get into our heads that flee means just that.  Paul doesn’t say to endure sexual immorality, or work through your sexual immorality, or even to overcome sexual immorality.  He says basically, get the hell away from it.  So what does that look like?

Flee means avoid the situation to begin with.  Now I get how this can be taken to the extreme.  Never be alone with the opposite sex or don’t go dancing are examples.  I’m not suggesting that.  I mean I guess almost anything can lead to immorality if we let it.  But I think there are some common sense things here that we can do.

Fleeing is not, let’s get naked and then not have sex.  It’s not having a secret life online that no one knows about.  It’s not traveling alone and having a girl over to your hotel room.  It’s not drinking a lot and then hoping nothing bad happens.  We could go on and on, and create a nice comfortable list.

These are indeed important to flee from.  We can set ourselves up by having people who know what we are doing when dating someone, setting up online accountability, and generally not having a secret life.  We should live in the light, not in the dark.

But the number one way to flee sexual immorality?  Don’t date the wrong people. Now again that always sounds easy when we aren’t dating anyone.  And yet so many of date the wrong people over and over.

Here’s the kicker you need to flee from it early on.  I think that guys fall into sexual immorality most of the time through their eyes.  Women fall into it through their emotions.  I understand that these are general truths, but I think it’s pretty fair.

Here’s what I mean, guys chase the hot girl, and women give in to the guy that gives them the butterflies so to speak.  This puts us in the position to give in.  Once we are in we start tossing all of our qualifiers out the window.

You need to flee early.  I’ve seen it again and again over the years (and I’ve done it).  It starts out with “She’s hot but not really that deep spiritually.  She’s exploring it though”. “We’re not dating, he’s not a Christian.  We’re just friends” (followed by smile). This soon turns into, “I know I shouldn’t be with him, but I can’t help what I feel.” This is followed by sexual immorality.

The longer you go down the road with someone you “shouldn’t be with”, the harder it is to turn around.  Once you are emotionally invested it gets harder to leave.  Instead we rationalize and justify more.  If we “feel attraction” to someone we know isn’t right, then fleeing sexual immorality means not dating them – not just hoping we don’t sleep with them.

Fleeing is a choice and while we always have the chance to flee, the earlier we make it the better chance we have of following through.  Fleeing means getting out early, not running up to the line and then trying to stop last second.

What does it mean to you to flee from sexual immorality?  Do you flee early or late?

 

 

 

Must You Lust?

Many years ago I was at a men’s weekend golf outing.  It was an incredible time where we spent time golfing, getting to know each other and talking about Jesus.  Every morning and night we would circle up and someone would lead with a thought about Jesus.  But before that at each meeting one or two men would share their story.  They could share whatever they wanted about their life, usually a little of their past and then where they are now.

One night as one man in his late twenties was sharing, he shared a shocking secret with the group.  He said that he had never masturbated.  Now of course I knew from my evangelical training in avoiding all things sex that this was impossible.  After all, 99% of men masturbated, and the other 1% lied about it.

The problem was I believed him.  He wasn’t bragging about it, and no he wasn’t a teen groom and he didn’t even have the call of celibacy.  He just hadn’t done it.  What in the world would we hold him accountable for.  What promise could he keep?  Hahaha.  Man we are messed up.

There is so much that goes into the assumptions we make about men and singleness/marriage/sex that has been perpetuated by both our culture and the church that I can’t even begin to get into it all.

Let me begin with this.  I get that Christians are trying to help.  I respect the heck out of the desire to have men who live virtuous lives.  I agree we need that.  But how we go at that makes a huge difference in whether we actually help men achieve it.

Here’s the basic message to young men.

You WILL want sex.  All the time. While not exactly wrong, you must do everything you can to not think about it.  But you will.  Looking at a woman and wanting to sleep with her is wrong and pretty much the same as doing it.  But you will pretty much walk around doing that exact thing, forever, no matter what.  Victory over this is not really possible.  But you should be held accountable for it.  Women are holy and only give in because men demand it.  If it weren’t for men being controlled by lust, women would basically never sin. Therefore it is your job to be nice, not want sex until you are married and then be “the man sexually“, all the while knowing that you will still lust after every other hot woman that you see.

What kind of plan is this?

First, the desire for sex is not wrong.  In fact it is a huge part of why we get married.  We are created to be sexual beings.  We will desire sex.  We will be attracted.  None of that in and of itself is sin.  Read that again.

The bible does not say, “don’t desire sex”.  It does say, don’t be controlled by that desire. (OR ANY OTHER DESIRE).

Second.  Looking at a woman and thinking about sex is not the same as having sex with her.

People love to point at Matthew 5:28 and say that Jesus is saying that if you desire sex with a woman, that is the same as sleeping with her.  Well not exactly.  I don’t have space here to go into the whole thing although it’s for sure worthy of a post in and of itself.  But we need to stop using this as a way to beat the crap out of Christian men.

To begin with we need to understand that Jesus is giving a whole message (the sermon on the mount) that goes all together.  He has just stated that you need to be more righteous than the Pharisees.  In other words, they were following the letter of the law and Jesus is saying, “let’s get at the heart of it”.  He then basically says, “Here are some examples.” Take out the subtitles – It’s one sermon.  (Notice how we don’t have a bunch of messages about anger, oaths, fasting/religious activities etc. and we don’t suggest cutting body parts off.)

Jesus is also not equating looking at a woman with sleeping with her.  Without going into all of the Greek here, He is saying the sin of adultery starts before sex.  It has more to do with coveting the woman and actually considering how to be with her.  In other words, looking at her with the intent to engage in that activity.

Lust is actually not a sexual term per se.  It is a term of desire – where it becomes more of coveting of something.  I can lust after a lot of things.  James clearly writes that desire is not sin.  Even sexual desire.  Sin can come from evil desire.  But it doesn’t have to. The question is, where is your heart.  If a person’s heart is not right, that is when the desire (lust) grows into sin.

Jesus is saying it starts in the heart, not that every temptation or thought is equal to committing the sin.  This is why Paul writes to take every thought captive.  The battle starts in the heart.

Bottom line is – we don’t have to do it.  We’ve confused the idea that we will always struggle with SIN with the idea that we will always struggle with a particular sin.  But in truth we can grow and have victory over certain sins through Jesus.

So how do we get victory?  I will share more about that.  But the point here today is that we are not destined to give in to the lusts of our flesh.

What have you been taught about men and sexual desire, lust and sexual sin?

The Orgasm Idol

Probably 15-20 years ago I was at a conference of some sort and sharing a room with a couple of guys that I didn’t know (and whose names I don’t remember).  But as is often the case with young guys the conversation one day turned to dating and marriage.  We were talking about the desire for sex etc, when one of the married guys busted one of the best one liners I’ve ever heard.

He said, “One of the most overrated things in the world is sex and one of the most underrated things in the world is taking a quality dump.”

I don’t really think that he was saying we should say forget sex, and just work on taking quality trips to the toilet.  Nor do I think he was unhappy in his marriage.  I think his point was that the physical feeling of an orgasm could be relatively equal to the physical feeling to the old number 2.

How I’d say it is this, the goal of sex is not just orgasm, and if it is, we’re in trouble.

Let me first say clearly that I’m extremely pro-orgasm.  I mean I want to have them and I want my wife to have them.  So orgasms all around = good. Seriously.  Good stuff!  Outstanding stuff!  I’m for it!  Ok you get the picture.

But to this guys point, and the one I want to make today, that’s not “The Point” of sex.

We have come to a place in our culture where sex has been relegated to a physical thing – aka – the orgasm.  When it’s relegated to this, then why not have it, whenever with whoever.  If the orgasm is king then why does it matter how we accomplish it.

This is the result of so many forces in our society.  Hollywood constantly promotes sex with whoever.  Feminism tells young women, wait to get married – but don’t wait for sex.  Porn let’s you watch others’ orgasms and have your own without any effort.  Kids are told, essentially, “Here’s how it works.  Here’s a condom for you boys and a shot for you girls. Good luck out there.”

We live in the world where “science” reigns supreme.  You’re a sexual animal, just a bit more advanced.  It’s natural.  It’s about the physical realm.

There are also the “realists”.  These are the people who say things like, “You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive, why should you marry someone without sleeping with them?”  Yeah it’s like a test drive, except that every time you take a car out, you wreck it.

All of this is a lie.  It doesn’t make sex better.  It just makes it cheaper.

Most Christians would say they know all that I’ve said so far.  And I get that.  But I think the reality is that this notion of orgasm as the goal of sex has totally infiltrated even our church culture.  We don’t wait for marriage – we wait for sex.  The basic message often inadvertently becomes, “Don’t have sex then get married and have lots of sex.”  Sex outside of marriage leads to bad stuff, but sex in marriage will be all pleasure.  If only it was so simple.

The reality is if the point of sex is the orgasm – I can have one of those inside or outside of marriage, and it will still feel good.  I might or might not feel bad about it later.  Heck if the point is orgasm then I don’t even need a partner.

Let’s assume that the bible is true.  That means that sex was created by God for us in the context of marriage.  In the bible there are only two contexts for sex – Marriage and Sin. Now God does have our pleasure in mind.  He created orgasms and the truth is that in study after study people who are married having sex report more orgasms than non-married people having sex.

But that’s not all it is.  God’s view of sex isn’t smaller than the worlds’ view.  It’s bigger. From the very beginning of the bible, as in the second chapter of Genesis, and reconfirmed throughout, sex is the joining together of two people.  It is becoming one flesh. It creates oneness, bonding two people physically, emotionally, and spiritually together.  It grows intimacy both in that moment and over time.  All of this can happen whether or not both people orgasm every time or not. How amazing is that.  This is why if you aren’t ready for marriage, then you aren’t ready for sex.

In a way, we need to demystify the orgasm and re-mystify sex.  Talk about countercultural.

Maybe it’s time for each of us to take stock.  How do we really view sex?  What is it for? Do we want to relegate it to a bodily function? Or do we want it to be holy?

Is He Gay?

About 20 years ago on a random cold night I was hanging out with my brother and sister. We had planned to go to a movie but got snowed out. So we settled for a snack at a nearby McDonald’s and as so often happens when you actually stop and share a meal, a real conversation broke out.

My sister was dating a guy and it was heading to marriage.  As we were talking somehow my sister brought up that they were not going to kiss until they got married.  My brother and I both must have had some sort of astounded look on our faces as she quickly said, “It was his call actually.”  My brother and I both looked at her and one of us jokingly said, “Is he gay?”

Now it’s not my intention today to get into homosexuality per se.  Not because I’m afraid of that conversation (in fact I have a lot of thoughts about that), but because that isn’t the point of this post.  Neither is my point really about the decision my brother-in-law made. I’ve talked about kissing before, but almost oddly I’ve never really done a post on “how far is too far” in the two years I’ve been writing here.  I have a post on fleeing sexual immorality coming soon.

What I want to talk about today though is how we think of single men who are living virtuously.

Our current culture obviously thinks everyone should sleep with anyone.  But our evangelical culture is different, they think everyone is sleeping with anyone and even they find it weird when they aren’t.  The funny thing is, the Church’s answer to singleness is “Don’t Have Sex” but when someone doesn’t, it shocks even them.

We have a totally warped view of Christian men.  It starts with the assumption that we are all (all men including Christians) driven primarily by lust.  In a sense the message is that the truest thing about us is that we, if not held in check, will have sex.

But when a man, actually lives a virtuous life then he’s sort of weird.  And if he does it into his 30’s then he is really different.  Between what our culture says, and how we handle it as evangelicals, it’s no wonder that eventually men become what we tell them they are.

The older you get as a man, if you stay a virgin, the more you are viewed as, well, different.

This plays out in a lot of different ways.

Take for example a man who may be called to celibacy.  Since we have no teaching on celibacy and what it is, (and I mean absolutely none as in nada, as in I’ve never in 23 years of church heard one sermon, attended one seminar, men’s retreat, heard a podcast, or read one book), we view those called to it as “different”.  We think for example that a man called to celibacy is someone who, because he has “the gift”, doesn’t struggle with wanting to be with women.  And wait. . . you know who else doesn’t struggle with that . . . men who are attracted to men. . . hmmmm.

The reality is that men, especially early on in their call to celibacy, might very well be very attracted to women.  It’s just not their call to get married.  But we have no reference point for that.  Because we don’t, we don’t know how to encourage them, and we certainly don’t know how to help a man determine if he is called to it.

Now a lot of this can be in our own heads, but it’s not only there.  I’ve led a ministry that reaches out to high school kids for almost 20 years.  When I was younger and single I never thought about it.  But as I reached my early thirties, it creeped into my head, “I wonder what people think when I as a single 33 year old talk to a group of high school girls, or for that matter guys?”  In our environment I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought it.

The problem is that when we see a thirty plus year old single guy, we want to put them into a neat little category.  Here are a few

First we assume sin

  • He is a player who won’t settle down.
  • He is struggling with secret sin – porn, habitual masturbation and the like

If he is virtuous in actions then

  • He is really nice guy who doesn’t have what it takes with women
  • He is too focussed on work/ministry.
  • He lives with his parents and or plays video games all night
  • He is attracted to men

Now any of those could of course be true.  But should we really assume any of them? Should our only answers to singles be based on that assumption?

I want to say a lot more about this in the coming days.  But we need to change two major assumptions.

  1. Just because a person is celibate does not mean they are not “attracted” to women and
  2. Men are not inherently controlled by lust

If we don’t change these two, at the end of the day we are actually pushing single men towards them.

So church let me ask you this.  When you see a 35 year old single, never married man, what first comes into your head?