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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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?

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 Is Not Just About You

About two weeks ago I was relaxing at a hotel bar where I often go to chat with friends or write this blog.  I was just about to shut it down when a gentleman showed up who was from out of town.  He sat down and started to share about why he was in town etc. Anyway after a while he asked if I had a family and I said no, but I was about to get married.  He of course congratulated me and shared he had been married for 20 years. Then he said this, “Of course you know, that once you get married, you’ll have less sex.”  I laughed.  I sure as heck hope not, because we are not having sex now.

It was the same when I was in college.  I was literally the only person in my suite of 9, that didn’t have sex my freshmen year.  They used to joke about it.  I was also the person they came to when stuff in their life was hard.  They knew I was different.

You see we don’t just flee from sexual immorality for ourselves.  It’s one of God’s ways of separating us out – as a witness.  It’s not just about you and me and our little moral battle.

One of the big misconceptions that people have is that sexual immorality is worse today than at other points in history.  There is the idea that all of a sudden it’s “crazy” out there and that marriage is being devalued etc.

This leads to a couple of problems.  First, there a lot of people who think what the Bible says about sex is “old school” and not relevant for today.  On the other hand the Church ends up running around shouting that the world is ending, making an idol out of the family and longing for the past (which I think is the 1950’s America).

Now it is true that American culture is changing.  But none of this is new.  Neither is our call to live differently than the culture.

When you look at the sexual practices that God lays out in the old testament it needs to be understood that God was giving them these specifics for a reason.  That reason is that all the other societies in the Near East were not practicing them.  When God says, don’t sleep with an animal, He says it because others were.  He’s not making up random stuff.  The Near Eastern cultures were crazy, even by our standards.  People were having sex in every way, with everybody and everything.  They even worshiped to it.

God was saying to the Israelites, “You will not be like them.  You are my people and this will distinguish you.”

The same is true in Paul’s letter to Corinth.  They had written Paul and they asked him what they should do.  How should they practice sexuality and marriage now that they had Jesus?  Paul starts that whole message by saying, “Now for the questions you asked about – here’s how to apply God’s teaching and live the way He would want in your context.”  Which was a completely pagan and dualistic context.  Sound familiar?

If we are going to flee from sexual immorality we have to define what that is. The good news is that currently most folks are not sleeping with animals or temple prostitutes (at least I’ve never been tempted by either).  So in our day, we can’t just take one liners from the Bible and try to make them mean what we want them to.  Instead, we need to take the overall meaning of sex, marriage, and celibacy in the scriptures (which is pretty dang clear) and apply that to our current context.  In legal terms it’s like law and case law.  How does the law apply to our case today?

But beyond that we need to realize that our call to flee from immorality is not just as a set of rules to keep us out of trouble.  God called Israel out.  He made them His people and commanded them to live in a way that demonstrated Him to the world.  One of the ways they were to do this was by how they behaved sexually.  Paul tells the early church the same thing.  You are set apart.  You were bought at a price.  You are NEW and different.  Live like it – in the light!

One of the reasons we fail is that even in our morality or lack there of, it’s all about us.  That wasn’t really the point.  God has bigger plans.  When we are set apart, people are drawn to us.  Want to be counter cultural?  Want to make a difference?  Want to point towards God.  Live this area of your life differently than the world.  It was true 4000 years ago and it’s true now.

Can You Date A Non-Christian?

One thing that almost every Christian organization agrees on when it comes to singles (other than Don’t Have Sex of course) is that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. Now when you tell young singles this they all nod their head, make big commitments to the Lord and dream of the perfect Christian Courtship.  This is all so simple, right up until that doesn’t happen or you meet someone who you really like, who isn’t a Christian.

Then it’s rationalization time.  “I haven’t met any Christians I’m attracted to.” “Well we aren’t really dating – they are just a friend” which is usually followed with, “well if they were a Christian I would date them but they aren’t so. . .I’ll just hang out with them like we’re dating but not call it that until we are dating and then whoops.”  Or, “Well I won’t marry them unless they come to follow Jesus but I’m hoping that will happen.”  “I’m just sharing Jesus with them.  I mean if they got it then yeah maybe but. . . ”  Here’s the problem – we will always want to date who we are attracted to and guess what, we marry who we date.

This is such a hard deal on a lot of levels.  First we really can’t help who we are attracted to.  Attraction isn’t really a choice.  Now what you do with attraction is and we need to get a hold of that.  But still it’s hard.  Also there are a lot of really cool non-christians. Ha!  It’s true right? And there are a lot of Christians that aren’t cool (funny, exciting, adventurous, hot etc).  Not only that, but guess what, everyone is created in God’s image and everyone can love.  That’s right even non-Christians can show love.  Crazy I know.

What makes this even trickier is that the Bible is not as clear here as we might like it to be. The problem is the Bible doesn’t talk about dating at all and when it comes to who to marry, really we’ve got one passage that says it straight up and another that kind of leads to the idea.

Paul in 2nd Corinthians 6 talks about not being unequally yoked.  While this is not about marriage I think it’s obvious that if we aren’t to be partners with unbelievers then it’s not a very big leap to assume that would include the biggest partnership of your life.  And in 1st Corinthians 7 Paul says that widows are free to remarry but they must marry a believer. That’s about as straight up as you can get.  But that’s it.  And before you try to go old Testament Israel marry within the tribe on me, remember Hosea.

But we have to live in reality and reality is this: If you are following Jesus then your life is heading in a direction.  And that direction, regardless of how much you like them or how much you have in common etc, is not the same as that of someone who is not.

There are all sorts of other problems.  It is easy for this other person to become your mission.  In other words you are somehow going to win this person to Jesus.  Here’s the thing, it could happen, but it could not happen and then you spend the rest of your life in different places.  Not to mention that they might end up pulling you in their direction – away from God.  This is a cheesy analogy but one person is standing on a chair and the other is on the ground.  Is it easier for the person on the floor to pulled up or the person on the chair to be pulled off?  As a bonus you are WAY more likely to fall into sexual sin.

Also, how can you have a covenant marriage with you, this other person and God, if this other person doesn’t believe in God.  Biblical marriage is a covenant, not a contract or an agreement.

But most of all, it is harder to follow Jesus and almost impossible to do ministry.  I have been in full time ministry for nearly 17 years.  I have worked with literally hundreds of people serving in our work.  Like anything missional, it’s hard and people leave for all sorts of reasons.  But the number one reason people get taken out – sexual sin.  The number two reason that usually leads to the first – dating someone who is not following Jesus.  This happens directly and indirectly.  The person who is not a Christian is going to have a hard time supporting you giving your life away for the Kingdom, which if you are following Jesus is exactly what you are called to do.

This raises other questions like, What is Christian enough? and How do I know who to marry?, and I plan to address some of that soon.  I also concede that this might not be “law” so to speak.  So tell me what you think?  Is what I’m saying right?  Are you rationalizing a relationship you’re in right now?  If you’re dating a nonbeliever how has that affected your walk with God?

40 Year Old Virgin

This weekend I turn 40.  I have never had sex.  That’s right.  I will be the 40 year old virgin.  Now that stirs something in you. Some might think I’m some sort of hero.  Some might think I’m a wuss or haven’t really lived, or that I can’t get a date.  Some will wonder how the heck I haven’t exploded.  Still others might feel guilty of their own sin.

The truth is, I’m neither proud or ashamed of it.

On the one hand I’m glad that I haven’t had sex outside of marriage.  I know that’s not what God would want.  On the other hand I’ve given into sexual immorality in other ways. At some point in the last 25 years I’ve struggled with having lustful thoughts,  viewing porn,  fantasizing about women, and masturbation.  I’ve gone “too far” with women here and there.

I’ve also messed up dating.  Part of the reason I’m a virgin is I’m not married. Ha!  What I mean is if I’d dated better or learned what the heck I was doing maybe I would have gotten married sooner.  I could have been less selfish or arrogant at times.  Other times I shouldn’t have been passive or afraid.  I’ve helped make myself single many times.

So I’m not here to say “yeah me”.  I’m not here to beat myself up either.  I’m here to say that just because you are single doesn’t mean you have to give in to sexual immorality.

The last couple of blogs I’ve talked a lot about principles we need to hold.  We need to have the right view of sex, we need to have the right view of desire, and we need to desire Jesus most of all. These are all essential.

But today I want to talk about some things that have helped me over the last 20 plus years practically speaking.  These are not THE answers necessarily, but as I look back and think about how I ended up not having sex or being completely dominated by the drive to, these are some keys.

I‘ve read the Bible.  Being in the scriptures makes us love God more – which fills us up. It also shaped my view of sex.  As a new believer at 17 we read in a small group about fleeing from immorality and why.  I had never heard it before and it shaped my view at an early age.  What we take into our minds and hearts helps to shape our desires.  We need to take in scripture and worship etc.

I’ve never seriously dated anyone who didn’t know Jesus.  Its not that I never wanted to.  I just knew I couldn’t.  This is so huge. It means both people might at least try to abstain.  I can’t count the people I know who have had their walk shaken by dating someone who isn’t following Jesus.  If you are the only one who is going to say no, you’re in trouble.

Along those lines, I’ve always predetermined that I would say no.  Sometimes this has meant literally avoiding certain situations.  But this is what Paul means when he says flee. Stay the heck out of the scenario to begin with.

To further that thought, for almost as long as I’ve had a computer, I’ve had Covenant Eyes.  This service sends everything I look at online to a friend.  I think this is by far the best approach.  I would say every guy should have this. Why not?

I’ve chosen to have people in my life who know everything I’m doing.  They have permission to ask me anything.  Here is a trustworthy saying.  If it’s secret it’s wrong. Even if it’s not technically wrong.

All of the above have helped me but as I’ve thought about this the number one helpful thing is that long ago I realized that it’s not just about me.

From early on I’ve been doing ministry.  I don’t mean that I’ve been in full time ministry although for much of it I have been.  What I mean is that when you are trying to show others Jesus and leading people, what you do matters more.  Others are looking at me.  I can’t count the times that this has stopped me.

Times when I would have gone to the strip club, or met someone at a bar and had a one night stand.  There were other’s hearts at stake.  I remember early in my career someone said that is not very good accountability.  I would submit that it’s actually damn good accountability.  If it’s just about me or “saving myself for marriage” then I might be willing to compromise. If it’s about God and His kingdom, that’s a whole other thing.

Jesus said the most important thing is to love God and love others. Sexual immorality gets in the way of that.  I truly believe if our focus is ourselves, or even our own little life with Jesus, we are screwed.  But if we are focused on loving Jesus and loving others, we have a chance.

The Bible Won’t Tell You Who To Marry

I sometimes wonder if I could see the whole picture of my walk with God in the area of dating if He would say, “Well Justin I tried to send you Mary but you were too focussed on Sally to hear it.”  Or maybe another time He would say, “Well I tried to send you Jill but she just didn’t listen to me.  That one wasn’t your bad.”

WIthout a doubt one of the most frustrating things about singleness is trying to listen to God in it.

I know that God speaks to us. There are so many times where He has directed me.  Of course we hear first through the Bible.  At the end of the day it’s the baseline.  Everything can be tested against it. And the great news is that the Bible can tell me a lot about marriage, and even some about singleness. But the Bible won’t tell me who to marry.  It’s not in there.  There’s no Book of Justin.  In fact it won’t even tell me if I should get married at all.  Therefore I’m going to have to actually walk with God.

It is dang hard to hear God clearly in this area of our life.

It’s hard for a variety of reasons.  For one thing, we have a lot of different emotions in all sorts of different situations.  If I’m not dating anyone I can feel desperate, discouraged or angry.  That can cause me to shut down or just choose to date whoever.  I could be dating someone and really like them even though I know in my heart it’s not right – but the more attached I am the harder it is to hear it’s not right.  I can make marriage an idol which can cause me to rush into something or to put so much pressure on everything that nothing has a chance to go anywhere.  With all those emotions floating around it’s hard to hear clearly.

We can also fall into sexual sin.  Unrepentant sin always gets in the way of hearing God clearly.  I can also want to hear Him so bad in this area that I lose focus on God altogether. It can become all that I pray about.  There have been times in my life that almost my whole prayer life centered around this stuff.

Or we can go the complete opposite direction.  To be honest I went through a time where I just flat got tired of talking to God about it.  I literally didn’t talk to Him about it at all. Basically it was like, “what’s really the point?  I’ve prayed it already.  Screw it.”

But we can’t afford to do that.  We have to engage God, we have to keep going there.  But we need to learn how to do it as a grown up.  Here are some things I think can help, or at least have helped me or others around me.

Learn to listen to God in other things that are less emotional.  If I’m not praying and listening to God to begin with hearing Him here will be even more difficult.  It’s pretty hard to hear the big stuff if I’m not listening in general

Start by being willing to hear anything.  

You have to be willing to hear the actual answer no matter what it is.  Half the reason we don’t ask God is we are afraid of the answer.  We don’t trust Him.  It’s akin to the person who says, “I don’t say God send me anywhere because I know He will send me to Africa.” The truth is if you aren’t willing to hear any answer it will be tough to hear the answer He does give.

In that way, I think it is good to start with praying about whether God is calling you to be single or married.  Again hard to hear but be willing to hear either.

Next, obey what you do know.

It’s hard to say, “God should I marry this person” and hear the answer clearly if you are sleeping with said person.  It’s like saying, “God I’m going to ignore what you FOR SURE are telling me but then try to discern what I’m not so sure you are telling me.  It will be hard to hear that I’m called to be single if I’m serial dating or looking at porn etc.  Obviously none of us live perfectly but we have to fight to obey what we do know.

Finally we need to invite others to listen with us.  I talked about this last week, but we need people who can see us and others that we date, and affirm or challenge us as need be.

God wants to lead us in this area of our life.  We have to fight to listen.