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Catalyst or Catastrophe

How our sex drive can bring us closer to God or further away.

When I was a kid, I had an electric racetrack. I’d line up my racecars in the little track grooves and zoom them around the track over and over again. After a while, I got bored with just circling the track. I took the track apart and built ramps. At the bottom of the ramp, I would hold a car in place, letting the engine rev a little and watching the tires spin before releasing it and watching it fly over the ramp. Sometimes the car would land safely, but often it would fly off and hit my bed or dresser and get banged up. What ultimately totaled my racecars, however, was the way I was holding them in place while the engine was running. I didn’t realize that was stripping the gears. The car wasn’t meant to be held in place while its engine ran. It was supposed to go somewhere.

I thought about that old racetrack recently in the context of romantic love — a powerful force driven by the twin engines of a desire for companionship and the sex drive.

This force of romantic love, I worry, is too often underestimated and misunderstood in the Christian community. It has been the driving force that has led many into the dangerous course of sex outside of marriage or many others into the destructive course of sex outside of their marital commitment. For this reason, singles are often counseled to just stay focused on growing closer to God and to avoid the temptations that could drive them to the catastrophic ends of sexual sin, childbirth outside of marriage, STDs and affairs.

But the drive is still there. You can follow the wisdom of not prematurely stirring or arousing love (Song of Solomon 2:7) and still struggle with a drive that doesn’t go away. God created us body, mind and spirit. The physical and earthy aspects of our body include hormones that produce emotions and sexual desire.

We cannot underestimate this drive. God designed it for a purpose — to move us beyond ourselves and into other-centered relationships. God doesn’t call us to kill this drive. Instead, He calls us to be transformed by the Gospel in order to kill the evil desires distorting our drive (Colossians 3:1-17). All the cautions about sexual sin in the Bible are in recognition that something so powerful needs guardrails and direction.

In his book Romantic Love, Dr. James Dobson shows how the sexual drive of individuals can be constructive when it’s directed toward God’s design for marriage and destructive when it’s not:

Sexual drives urge a man to work when he would rather play. They cause a woman to save when she would rather spend. In short, the sexual aspect of our nature — when released exclusively within the family — produces stability and responsibility that would not otherwise occur. When a nation is composed of millions of devoted, responsible family units, the entire society is stable, responsible and resilient.

If sexual energy within the family is the key to a healthy society, then its release outside those boundaries is potentially catastrophic. The very force that binds a people together then becomes the agent for its own destruction.

The sexual drive is not neutral; it’s a force that can build or destroy. According Kurt Bruner, a pastor and author who worked with Focus on the Family for 20 years, the same is true of the emotions behind romantic love.

“Our attraction to one another is intended to yank us out of self-focused isolation into the kind of intimacy that reflects God’s communion with His beloved,” writes Bruner in his book The Purpose of Passion. “That’s why the desire for romantic union is imprinted on, programmed into, and seeded within our very souls. It’s the reason we yearn to meet and marry that special someone.” Bruner goes on to describe how this desire can either be a catalyst or lead to catastrophe:

Whether we find true love or ache from its absence, whether we treat sex as a gift or a game, our love life drives us toward or away from God. The forks encountered along love’s path literally lead to heaven’s highest joys or hell’s deepest miseries, a dream come true or a living nightmare.

It turns out that romantic love, dating and relationships are a lot more spiritually significant than Christians often realize. We shouldn’t minimize the power and goodness of the drive God has given us for connection that can lead us upward toward Him. And we also shouldn’t overlook how our spiritual enemy will go after us at this point. Satan understands the link between romantic love and God’s love for His people better than we do.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus told His disciples, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV). Satan can’t create. He can only counterfeit, twist and distort what God has created. And so he seeks to drive our desires in deceitful and sinful directions, like a racecar taken off the track and steered toward a dangerous cliff. What was meant to drive us beyond ourselves and toward others, he seeks to drive toward isolation, selfishness and manipulation.

This is one of the reasons the Apostle Paul so often warns about sexual immorality. His first letter to the Thessalonians is especially instructive in this area:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, ESV).

Paul is saying, “be sanctified — don’t let sexual immorality de-sanctify you.” And notice how the last part of this text goes to the issue of our relationship with God: “whoever disregards this disregards not man but God.” The ESV Study Bible commentary on this verse says, “To reject the giver of the Holy Spirit is to cut oneself off from the sanctifying power that enables the Christian to be blameless in holiness.”

Sex and relationships propel people to the crossroads at which they determine they will trust God’s good plan for them or at which they will disregard God and trust Satan’s distorted offerings. In his book Souls in Transition, researcher Christian Smith shows just how practical this point of decision is for young adults:

[E]merging adults who are serious about their faith and practice have to do one of three things: choose to reject heavy partying and premarital sex; dramatically compartmentalize their lives so that their partying and sexual activities are firmly partitioned off from their religious activities in a way that borders on denial; or be willing to live with the cognitive dissonance of being committed to two things that are incompatible and mutually denying. Not many emerging adults can or will do any of these things, so most of them resolve the cognitive dissonance by simply distancing from religion.

This is a great catastrophe — a turning point of eternal significance. Without guardrails and direction, you are vulnerable to the catastrophic ends Satan intends.

Christian singles who recognize the reality of their drive toward companionship and sexual fulfillment as well as the reality of an enemy seeking to manipulate that drive are left with only one option: to give their bodies as living sacrifices, to hold their desires for companionship and sexual fulfillment up to God, and ask that He use them for His purposes. Doing this will push them outside of themselves and into meaningful relationships with those around them, into fruitful life in the church body and as God leads, into fruitful marriages.

Copyright 2011 Steve Watters. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Steve Watters

Steve Watters is the vice president of communications at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is also a student. Steve and his wife, Candice, were the founders of Boundless, and Steve served as the director of young adults at Focus on the Family for several years before leaving for seminary.


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