I’ve been overwhelmed in the last couple of weeks by the response to my both the first and second posts in this series on abstinence. What often happens when you write is God takes an issue you’re passionate about and care deeply for, and inspires you to write something. But what you’re not prepared for is how others will respond. I have to confess a feeling of risk when first posting the initial blog post, and wasn’t too sure how people would react, given the nature of the topic.
However, the response to both was amazing.
I received questions, heard some great points made on either side, from all sorts of sources too. Posted to me on Facebook, via Twitter, as well of course some great comments in direct response to the posts themselves. That’s been brilliant because one thing I love is a good discussion.
I genuinely feel that healthy discussion, showing love, respect and grace, whatever your opinion, is actually a very positive and constructive thing, whether you ultimately agree or disagree.
So thank you to all those who’ve contributed.
This third part of the series is really about drawing it all together and possibly answering some of the questions people who’ve either commented directly or replied to the post on social networking have put forward.
The first thing I want to say is to be totally honest. I am tempted in this area.
There is a part of me that occasionally wishes God had made things differently, and that it was okay to be sexually active before marriage. I have had girlfriends – as I’ve said, the abstinence debate isn’t merely for singletons, its an issue for all unmarried Christians, whether in a relationship or not – and there’s no getting away from the fact that there has been temptation there, a desire to be sexually active.
At the end of the day, I’m a human being, and I am attracted to people sexually – most of us are (though many won’t say it).
In one sense sexual attraction is really healthy, because, like a lot of things, at its best there’s nothing dirty or wicked about sex – though our culture tries to paint it that way.
The issues come – for all of us – when we aren’t pure in our attitude towards those we’re sexually attracted to, and don’t treat them like the created son or daughter of God that they are. It says in scripture, Jesus said Himself, that to even look at someone lustfully is to have committed adultery with them in our heart.
It’s definitely a struggle, and even more so I would imagine if you are in a long-term committed relationship with someone you love deeply, and where the pull isn’t merely physical, but much deeper – more emotional and even spiritual. I have been there myself, with my first girlfriend it was very difficult to keep control.
The temptation there was very real, though I’m pleased to say we did keep control and remained abstinent in the end, because we’d both committed ourselves to pre-marital abstinence.
No one said dealing with this issue was either simple or easy. It’s not at all.
This brings me neatly to my next point. I have heard from some that it’s not very clear in the Bible that we’re not to have sex outside of marriage, and that the point isn’t made in so many words.
Now we’ve already heard the passage where Jesus says we’ve committed adultery by merely looking at someone lustfully (and I do believe that principle applies to men and women) and I want to begin there.
That passage is about the heart. Jesus is wanting us to have a pure heart – of course, we won’t always meet the standard, who actually does? But Jesus wants us to aspire to purity in our hearts, in our attitude to those we’re sexually attracted to.
If someone chooses to have lots of one night stands before they get married, in order to ‘get good’ for the person they eventually commit to, that doesn’t really sound like purity to me.
Now one could say here that in that case sex outside of marriage would be okay, as long as you love the person or you’re engaged to them. But again, you’ve not actually made a solid, binding commitment there. Unless you’re married, the commitment, however strong, just isn’t as binding and strong as the one made through marriage. More on that later.
So what about scripture? Well in scripture, whenever the language of a couple becoming ‘one flesh’, which the physical union is often described as and which we talked about in the first post in this series, it’s always after the couple involved have exchanged vows and become man and wife – and the times that doesn’t happen (like David and Bathsheba for example), it’s called adultery.
That word again.
Adam and Eve is slightly different – for a start off, we’re not 100% certain that’s a completely true story or a metaphor for the creation of the world and fall of man. Second, if it is true, they were the only human beings in existence at that point, so there was no one else to conduct the ‘legal’ ceremony, and third God actually said He made Eve to be a ‘helper’ and partner for Adam, and she was made from part of him.
So in many senses they are essentially man and wife from the moment she is created. To use this as an excuse for sleeping around before marriage, with the mock reason ‘well it’s not exactly in scripture’, to me just doesn’t stand up.
One thing we don’t see, is Adam sleeping with loads of women in one-night stands before. We also don’t see him having sex with Eve lots of times to make sure they are sexually compatible before he settles on her – Eve is his wife and he sleeps with her alone – after they united before God.
No one else before her or after her.
So the Biblical basis for my argument I think is pretty clear for all to see – though I accept it’s not there in so many words, the principle is pretty crystal.
Things brings me neatly to the next point – to really understand why this principle is so important, we need to examine marriage not just as a set of promises you make, not just as a celebration of a relationship, not just as a commitment even – but a covenant – that is a commitment made before God Himself and only breakable by death.
That’s what a covenant is, and that’s what God’s idea of marriage was originally meant to be. It’s how it still should be. Marriage isn’t meant to be just a legal document or ‘piece of paper’, but a covenant before God which is only breakable by death.
Our culture has cheapened marriage so much that we’ve forgotten or ignored the importance of it, what it really means.
I know if and when I get married it’s going to be a covenant before God, a promise before Him to love and be faithful to one woman for a lifetime, forsaking all others – and she will make the same covenant commitment, that’s what most ‘Christian’ marriages often focus on (and I’ve been to my fair share).
On a purely practical level, sex to me is the ultimate, most honest coming together between two people – it’s a physical representation of what a healthy marriage relationship should be – being totally honest, naked, as it were, with each other, being completely vulnerable in a way you aren’t with anyone else.
To me the sexual part of the relationship feels most natural after marriage because in one sense it’s the final frontier – it’s the ultimate coming together of two people, becoming one in every possible way.
I’ve also heard the argument that there is such a thing as sexual compatibility – what if you get married, have sex then find you’re sexually incompatible?
My apologies and total respect to you if you subscribe to this view, and I accept I don’t speak from experience here (more on that later), but to me that really does sound like an excuse.
If you are best friends, if you’re physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and in every possible way attracted to someone and love them as much as its possible for a human being to love, and have a deep connection which goes beyond even chemistry, have that divine spark between you – and that deep trust, friendship, honesty and vulnerability – then surely the sexual connection is going to flow naturally from that.
If people weren’t sexually compatible – really – I don’t think there’d be the sexual chemistry, the sparks, the connection and the relationship wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – get that far.
This concept of sexual compatibility is only an idea that’s reared it’s head since people started having pre-marital sex with lots of partners, which to me is hardly a coincidence. Bottom line, if you go through all this and sex isn’t easy or uncomfortable, then I think the issue is about lot more than sex, I really do. Agree or disagree, it’s completely up to you.
Which brings me to another point.
I know I have no experience of this. Fair enough.
I am aware that in some senses what I’ve written is very idealistic.
I recognise there are some things I simply can’t understand or appreciate without experience, and some lessons I can only learn through gaining that.
But that doesn’t mean my opinion is invalid - and there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to ideals at all I don’t think. Jesus always did, I do in other areas as a Christian, so why not in this area?
I also don’t think that I need to ‘gain experience‘ by having lots of one-night stands so I’m ready for ‘the one‘ when they come along.
Honestly, how dishonouring to women would that be?
Basically I’d feel like I was‘road-testing‘ God’s daughters to practice for the real one I’m really going to love.
That’s simply sick.
Even sex with a girlfriend within a committed relationship of love and respect, to me, would feel dishonouring to both her and to God, like I was basing the whole relationship on sex rather than love, respect, friendship and trust.
One other benefit of keeping sex for marriage, is that you know the relationship isn’t dependent on the sex or the quality of it – so no matter how good, bad or messy it is, the love, trust and respect you have for each other stands up anyway without it.
Say I get married, and one of us gets ill and we can’t have sex. Our relationship can survive better. If one of us has to travel long distances for work – our relationship can survive better.
Sex isn’t the foundation stone.
Sex can’t confuse things like it can if you do it from the beginning.
Love, respect, trust, friendship and above all faith in God is at the heart of it, not sex – though sex, for sure, will and should be an important part of any marriage (and one I am looking forward to, even in its messiness!).
Don’t get me wrong, there is a small part of me that would love to be able to have sex with a committed partner before marriage. Frankly, there are the occasional times where not being able to have sex before marriage sucks, it really does.
But ultimately, at the end of the day, I know that would be to break God’s standard, and that’s the standard I’m aiming for. Sexual abstinence outside of marriage. God is more important to me than having sex, and it should be to all of us. So if God says it’s best – and ultimately, I believe it is best anyhow – then that’s what I’m going to stick to
I have my struggles too. It’s not easy, especially in a sex-obsessed culture, where temptation is all around you all the time. However, I’m convinced it’s the best way to live, an ideal that’s worth aspiring to. I hope in this series I’ve been able to open your eyes a little to appreciate why.
However, as I’ve said in part 2, even when we do pursue pre-marital abstinence, it’s no guarantee of marital success. Things don’t always work out how we plan no matter how good or right our intentions. That’s the broken world we live in – and I don’t for one minute advocate abstinence as a guarantee of either a successful relationship or ultimately marriage.
I do however believe it’s the best way to live, sexually. That it’s the way we were designed – and just because we do things God’s way in one dimension of our relationship doesn’t necessarily equate to happily ever after, and I don’t want to deceive you into thinking it does.
But I do believe it contributes to a healthier relationship, and is the best way to live.
If you’ve chosen to live differently to me, whether Christian or not, I’m not here to either sit in judgement nor to condemn you – and my apologies if I’ve come across that way, or in any way thinking my beliefs somehow make me better. That’s not the case at all and that’s not what I think.
This is a divisive subject, and we all have different opinions – the important thing is, whatever we believe, to love and respect one another and our opinions. I hope that’s the context in which I’ve set my own opinion.
We all make choices about how we live and what we believe is the best way to live, including sexually, and everyone has the right to make those choices and live by them.
All I can do – and have done – is stand for what I believe in and try to live it out, to demonstrate through both my words and actions that it’s the best way to live, and to share that in a loving, gracious way without condemnation.
If you think that simply because I’m unmarried or single that disqualifies from talking about this, you’re welcome to your opinion.
However I think that this is an issue that people ideally should address whilst they are single – because then when a relationship does come along – and you’re still unmarried, so still having to face up to pre-marital abstinence – you’re in a much healthier place to deal with it.
Indeed, you’re also in much better place to deal with any kind of sexual temptation. Obviously it doesn’t always work like that, but certainly I think it’s right that I’ve given serious consideration to this topic now, whilst I am single, so when I get to the situation of having to cope practically, I’m better prepared.
If you’re unmarried and living differently, I merely hope that I’ve given you a glimpse of what I believe, and why I believe it’s the best way to live, and offer you an invitation to choose to live differently, one which you are free to embrace and accept, or reject. It’s completely your choice.
Whatever you decide on this issue, I want to invite you into a deeper discussion on this, on my blog and through social media. I want us to ponder on these issues further and discuss them in more depth, and I hope you are willing to at least accept that invitation, because I believe healthy discussion on the issues that matter is really important and helps us to grow, whatever our opinions.
Given the response to this series so far, I’d say this is an important issue that warrants further discussion. The invitation then, is for you to come and take part.
Come and join the discussion!
What do you think about ‘sexual compatibility’? Is it a valid issue or should it happen naturally if there is love, chemistry and compatibility between couples?
Do you think my inexperience invalidates me from commenting, or does that actually matter?
What side of the debate are you on and why? If you’re a Christian, which way to live most honours Him and His creation – pre-marital sex or pre-marital abstinence?
What are your thoughts on this topic?
Check out the rest of the series here: