Article of the Month
I want to address a rather sensitive topic. I hope you will be respectful and mature about this subject, because it is definitely not a laughing matter. It is a very serious topic and one that the church must address if it will be faithful to Christ, her Lord and Savior.
What I want to talk about today is the very real problem of keeping pure in body and in soul from sexual temptations. I’m going to use the term “marital intimacy” rather than “sex” because so many use “sex” today in a way that is far removed from holy marriage, the only place where God planned that it should happen and be celebrated. They think they can take this rose out of the flowerbed, put it anyplace they wish, and expect it to thrive and always stay beautiful and fragrant. But I can’t talk about this topic in such a sterile, clinical way. The moment you snip marital intimacy and put it somewhere else, its beauty and goodness wither. This is tragic, young people, and you and I shouldn’t want any part of it.
Intimacy is a comprehensive word, one that involves the simplest, initial things such as emotional involvement and public displays of affection, all the way up to what we may call consummation. The ideal of marriage is much more than what happens on the wedding night. If there is no broader intimacy in marriage, you can be sure that mere physical union will not keep that marriage intact.
So what is the problem, friends? The problem is that marital intimacy is abused in our sensual culture, and you and I are in danger of falling prey to that abuse. It is abused when it is done before marriage, outside of marriage, with multiple partners, or with those of the same gender. It is not only abused when we engage in unclean things with others, but also when we do so with images, in print, on the screen, and even in the theater of our very hearts. Surely you feel the pressures, young people? Surely you are not a cold machine? Some of you have strong feelings and desires. You know your dark side, what passes through your mind when no one but you and God are present. Some of you dare not mention anything to anyone else. You would be too ashamed; you would be embarrassed.
But the answer is not to ignore the problem, is it? There is an elephant in the room, as they say, and we cannot pretend it is not there. The Bible addresses this problem directly in many, many places. And why? Because God speaks to our problems.
Nor is the solution to say that intimacy itself is unnatural and something to be despised. No; God made marital intimacy and everything that it involves. He made male and female in the beginning; He made them complementary in every way! He planned that thev should leave their father and mother, be joined to each other, and become one flesh. He designed our bodies to have children. God said, “Rejoice with the wife of thy youth” and “be thou ravished always with her love” (Prov. 5:18, 19). He said, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). So let us not try to be holier than God. The problem is not having feelings, desires, and drives; nor is the problem seeking to fulfill them. The problem is misusing them, fulfilling them in the wrong ways and at the wrong times.
So I want to deal with solutions. Let me start with the most important and make my way from there to the next important, to the next, and so on. If I try to fix problems in the roof when the foundation really needs repair, I am working backwards. So let’s begin where it’s most important.
I want to start with the new birth. You see, your greatest problem is not having desires. God made hormones — and God doesn’t make bad things! But our problem is our spiritual corruption, which twists and distorts these good things. Our core problem is inside. The problem of the heart is the heart of the problem. The human heart is a sewer of filth and dirtiness. Jesus said in Matthew 15:19-20, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.” Young people, you won’t be able to be patient, resist temptation, and follow God’s will concerning purity until you are a new creature. And even if you are able to control yourself outwardly, it will be displeasing to God because it is not done with a true desire for His glory. On the Final Day, He will expose and punish all those who outwardly were clean but inwardly were “full of dead men’s bones.” God knows your heart, doesn’t He?
Perhaps you are young and alive and full of life. You are healthy, you are active in sports. You have trophies and medals to show it. It may seem like you will live forever. But are you new inside? Do you have a heart that is tender to God, like Josiah — that responds when God speaks, like Samuel—that is concerned with what God sees even when nobody else is watching, like Joseph? No? Then you are “dead while you live.” Your heart is old and decayed. It is hardened in sin. Your physical heart beats with vigor, yes—but your spiritual heart is as lifeless as a stone! Is it surprising then that your heart and life should be so full of dirtiness? That you defile God’s plan for marital intimacy? God knows, young person, God knows! He does not look on the outward appearance, but He looks on the heart.
God can give you a new heart. You cannot do it yourself, can you? Perhaps you have tried and failed. You will always fail, if you try. But what can you do? Bring your dead, dirty heart to Jesus and say, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” Be encouraged; Jesus says, “He that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” So if you come today, Jesus says to you and your dirty heart, “I will: be thou clean!” That, my friends, is the core solution.
But let me say something further. The next main solution to the problem of our temptations to misuse our hearts and bodies is a very natural one. It is marriage. If the core solution is a new heart, the “secondary core” is the outward ordinance that God has made in part to relieve people from these pressures. Marriage is the natural release valve for the steam that builds up inside us. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me” — notice that this was an obvious problem in the church at Corinth, or they would not have been asking the apostle’s opinion — “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” That is, it is good to remain unmarried to serve the Lord, as Paul did. “Nevertheless,” he says, “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” If some “cannot contain” their desires, he says in verse 9, “let them marry.” Why? Because “it is better to marry than to burn.” In short, that is Paul’s remedy. Are you burning and cannot remain celibate? Then by all means, marry!
I want you to think about this a bit, young people. God is not a cruel tyrant, taking pleasure in the torture of His creatures. He doesn’t create us with desires and feelings, only to have us deny and repress them. Why would He give us a function that He never intended us to use? It is sort of like saying, “This vehicle was designed with 4-wheel-drive capacity. Oh, but you can’t ever use that!”
Now, some of you He may call to a life of singleness. But that is a gift, and not everyone has it. Some of you will find the ability to manage your desires in such a way that you will not find marriage necessary. You may be able to serve God more directly, as did the apostle. Just remember, though, this is an exception to the rule. The normal pattern is found in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
Marriage is appointed for the relief of our passions, as Paul said, but it is not the miracle drug that makes all heart impurities go away. If it was, there would be no adultery or divorce in this world. So, young person, seek your God first, and then seek your spouse. And let me encourage you: you will be blessed if you put God first. Psalm 37:4 promises you, “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
Maybe this raises more questions for you. How do I go about finding a suitable husband or wife? How do I stay pure before God while I wait for that special someone to come along? Or how do I recover purity after I have sinned? Let me at least attempt to begin to answer these troubling questions. And be assured, you are not the first to ask them.
So first, how do I go about finding a husband or wife? I want to give you a few lines of counsel.
Put first things first. If you are a new creature in Christ, Christ must be first. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
But there is a very practical side to this rule, too. Put first things first in your outward life. Marriage requires maturity. Too many people waltz right into marriage without the maturity that it demands. Too few young men ask themselves, how am I going to provide for a wife and children? What level of education do I need? What kind of employment fits best with my skills to earn a decent living? Can I really handle marriage at this point in my life if I still need financial help from Mom and Dad? Too few young ladies ask themselves, do I really have a plan to pay back all this school debt? Am I going to have a career for twenty years and have more than one child? Few young people really have the maturity to answer much less ask these questions. And, I am sad to say, this is all too common in the church.
I want to ask you, are you responsible enough for marriage? Responsibility for marriage doesn’t mean having all the answers. Marriage is a learning experience. Yet, it does require having a well thought-out plan, based on principles of wisdom and experience, that will enable you to be financially independent from others (both your parents and the state), provide for yourselves and any children that God may give you, and be mature enough to stick together through thick and thin. Are you ready for that responsibility, my young friend? If not, don’t get married — get ready. You need wisdom. And God has it in abundance; He will give it, if you ask.
If what I’m saying makes sense, then I would suggest you shouldn’t engage in casual dating. Casual dating is the handwriting on the wall for so many young people, including young people in conservative Christian circles. Casual dating has no firm commitments, no firm goals, and no firm guidelines. People go in and out of these relationships with multiple people. But there should be nothing casual about seeking a lifelong mate! If you’re not prepared to buy a ring and set a date, why start down the path? And especially, young men, if you aren’t ready to provide for a significant other and have children, you’re not “ready to buy.” So why are you “shopping?” Why not cultivate innocent friendships, friendships that you can revisit with some seriousness once you are in a good position?
So, to recap, put first things first. Second, involve your parents. They are not your enemies, but your friends. They have been there before. If you don’t respect your parents, you won’t involve them in the timing of seeking a partner, the way you seek a partner, or the choice of that partner. You will go it alone and you will probably fall flat on your face. Young men, you’ll be smitten by an attractive girl who is void of true godliness. Young ladies, you will be too impressed by the “tall, dark, and handsome” type, and you’ll overlook his bad temper, his irresponsibility, and his real purpose for wanting to date you. Normally speaking, if you shut your parents out, you will be the loser in the end. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long—and happy.
Last, do set your standards high. Marriage is one of those few major decisions in life that you can’t change once you’ve done it and which has a major impact on everything else. Read the Bible to find out what kind of spouse to seek. And don’t deny the obvious just because you want it to work so badly. You’ll be sorry if you do.
Now, let’s turn to the next great question. How do I stay pure if I have to wait? It is so hard to wait!
Lay hold of the means of grace. Read and study your Bibles regularly. Pray every day, at set times and throughout the day. Pray to the Lord, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Always make it a point to be in church, especially after you leave for college, to be fed by the Bread of life. Your parents may not be around to make sure you get out of bed on Sunday morning. But you must! If you don’t, you will starve your soul and become susceptible to even the smallest temptations.
And there are a few things you should not do if you want to stay pure while you wait for that special someone. Don’t be careless about what you watch, look at, and listen to. “Garbage in, garbage out,” as they say. If you watch unclean things, it worsens the problem you already have. Don’t mess with it, because it will destroy you (Micah 2:10)! One little look will turn into a longer look, and a longer look will turn into a habit — and before you know it, you’re enslaved. Don’t live on the edge or you will fall. Make a vow to God, like David in Psalm 101:3: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” Don’t be careless.
Don’t attract the wrong kind of person — or the wrong kind of responses in the right kind of person—by the way you act and dress. In other words, watch the signals that you’re giving to others, because others are watching.
Don’t be lazy. Idleness is fertile ground for uncleanness (2 Sam. 11:1). God calls you to work with your hands at what is good so that you have something to give anyone who is in need. Be diligent at your studies. If you have some employment, work well at it. Save your money. Develop solid habits of hard work. Don’t stay up late every night. Late nights are lurking with temptations. Go to bed, get up at a decent hour, and get busy!
Don’t insulate yourself. Develop good friendships with serious Christian young people of the same sex. If you have a close friend, ask him or her to pray for you for contentment, patience, and purity while you wait for a spouse.
And please, don’t start down the path of physical intimacy with someone. It has been the sad experience of many that they started something that they couldn’t control. Don’t kid yourself; it is hard to control intimacy. And if you’re not careful, you can be left with scars that will last the rest of your life.
At the same time, I also want to say, don’t unnecessarily delay marriage. Maybe some of you have high and lofty plans for yourself. You want this degree and that career in place, nice and tidy. But you’re also struggling with serious temptations. Maybe there’s a special friend in your life. Maybe you really can provide for her; but it may mean changing gears and pursuing that Master’s degree part-time — or maybe not at all. I don’t pretend to answer all your specific questions—that is why you have parents, pastors, elders, and trustworthy friends. But just don’t be unrealistic with yourself. It is “better to marry than to burn.”
The last question I must answer is, how do I recover my purity after I have sinned? I am especially thinking of those who have fallen into serious sins of the flesh. Maybe you have done what you never dreamed you would. You are so ashamed. You are afraid of who will find out. Maybe there is a pregnancy involved. But while your life has been turned upside down by a moment of weakness, there is still hope. There is hope for you. Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” If God can save the worst of sinners, He can save you. He can forgive, wash away, and cleanse you from that dirtiness, the filthiness that clings to your soul. Jesus didn’t shed His blood for clean people, but for dirty ones. Oh, His blood, His precious blood, can wash it all away! Look, my friend, look to the blood of that innocent Lamb of God.
Behold the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world — and He can remove yours today. There is not only hope for pardon, but also hope for change. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, we read, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” His Spirit renews all. The new birth is a fresh start, and you can start over. Yes, you can start over by the grace of God today.
If any of these things touch your heart, go and sin no more. But if you have received that blood and Spirit, you must make things good. This won’t be easy, but it will be good for you, for your partner, and for others. You must confess your sins. We read of those repentant sinners coming to John the Baptist, that they “were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6). Certainly your parents ought to know. In Proverbs 28:13, we read, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” There is mercy for those who confess and forsake their sins. Oh, there is mercy. And I assure you that the load will fall off your shoulders if you fall on your knees, beg forgiveness of those whom you have offended, and seek to make things good. But even if—God forbid! — they do not, know for sure that He forgives you and will remember these sins no more.
To sum up, this entire subject is a tough one. But God’s grace is greater. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. Look to that grace, and you will be holy and happy for time and for eternity.
Rev. Michael Ives is a pastor serving the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Rhode Island and a graduate of PRTS (2005). He and his wife, Aubrey, have been blessed with a son and three daughters.
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