Thanks for writing and asking about what’s overly obvious in our culture — sex — where it’s both everything and nothing. It’s everything in the way it’s been held up as an idol to worship and nothing in the way it’s been pulled down to trivial entertainment. And it’s not just singles who struggle to know how to think about sex in that environment. All believers, single and married, face the dilemma. How do you think rightly about sex, and how do you avoid thinking wrongly about it, when it’s both overblown and undervalued?
As ubiquitous as sexual images and themes are in our culture, the most obvious occurrences are distant from what God had in mind when He created us male and female, and told us to be fruitful and multiply. His design for sex, as explained in Genesis and reinforced throughout the Scriptures, is the one-flesh union between husband and wife within the covenant of life-long marriage. That’s rarely reflected on TV and movies, music or books, magazines or websites.
The biggest problem is two-fold: It isn’t just that the sex we see all around us is contrary to and violates God’s design, but also that it can stir us up and tempt us to want to have it in that contrary way. And as you’ve wisely noticed, how we think about it has everything to do with how we end up acting on it; “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
How you think about sex while single will set patterns for how you think about it once married. That’s important because it’s just as sinful to think lustfully before marriage as it is after. The ability to have sex legitimately doesn’t eliminate the temptation to sin sexually. Developing the spiritual muscles of self-control, of guarding your thought-life, will be a tremendous blessing to your spouse and will help guard your marriage.
It’s not that you can’t think sexual thoughts about your spouse – on the contrary. It’s just that thinking sexually about a specific person to whom you’re joined by covenant is starkly different from the sorts of random, generic, hormonal thoughts that assault the mind during racy TV commercials and steamy romance movies and novels (not to mention pornography). The former takes you out of yourself for the benefit of the other. The latter is all about self-gratification.
So what to do about the assault of sex day-to-day: There’s a lot you can avoid by using media discernment, and that’s a powerful and empowering tool. (See www.pluggedin.com for more on this.) But like black birds that plague a farmer’s near-ripe crop, sexual images will swoop down at points unexpected and beyond your control. It’s in these moments that we’re dependent on the Holy Spirit’s promptings to look away, walk away, or in some cases – like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife – to run away. This pattern of flight flows from a heart that desires purity, to “be holy,” as God said, “because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2).
Those are the times we need to pray for help. Jesus didn’t leave us to our own resources — which are wholly inadequate. He sent the Holy Spirit to help us. He, being fully man, knows what temptation is like (Hebrews 4:15) and that we need help to escape it (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is our Great High Priest who makes intercession for us; He sent the Holy Spirit to help us. As believers, we have a mighty Savior and the aid of the Helper. That’s what makes it possible to actually do what Paul advises Timothy, saying:
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).
From puberty onward, we’re aware that we’re sexual beings. It’s not possible to not think about sex. Thankfully, we’re not told to not think about it, but to think about it rightly. It’s a gift to look forward to in marriage (see Song of Solomon), a physical reality that points to spiritual marvel (see Ephesians 5), and the means for receiving the reward and blessing of children (Psalm 127:3 and Malachi 2:15). When we’re tempted to think about it wrongly, that’s when we need to pray for help (see Matthew 26:41, Luke 11:4); to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5); to recognize we’re up against more than hormones, we’re in a battle (1 Peter 5:8); and to war against sin (Ephesians 6:12).
One of the most destructive lies about sex is the notion that we can’t help but sin in our thought life because sex is everywhere. Yes, it’s everywhere, but we’re no less responsible for our thought life, and the actions that flow from it, than was Job (who made a covenant with his eyes) or Paul (who repeatedly warned against sexual sin) or any other believer in Jesus’ day or our own.
Of course, none of this is a surprise to God. He knows how powerful sex is – He made it. And He makes a way for us to hold it in high esteem without making an idol of it. Mercifully, for the believer, He is able to help us rightly use it for our good and His glory.
May He guard you and guide you in all truth.
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.