By Lore Ferguson
Somewhere in my mid-twenties my virginity became a source of embarrassment for me, and I wasn’t surprised. I was one of few in my community (married or single) who had maintained that single shred of chastity. My married friends were procreating often enough that it was no secret who was having lots of sex. My single friends were confessing across coffee or at my kitchen table that they were sleeping with their significant others. Or rather, there was no sleeping happening, since there is no rest for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22). These girls and guys were eaten up with guilt. I honestly believe it was a combination of God’s grace and fear of guilt that kept my body covered. It’s not dignified, or admirable, but it’s the truth.
I have had plenty of opportunity, and taken it all too often, to compromise my body in other ways though. Paul says of all the sins, it is only sexual sin we commit against our own bodies—even if we are committing it with another. I have never understood his point, after all, isn’t a prolonged bitterness just as poisonous to our souls? Or envy? Or a lack of self-control? I have known people (and marriages) to be far more ruined by any of those than the act of sex outside of marriage.
What if it is true that any sexual act outside of marriage is in some sense the physical embodiment of those other sins? I want what is not mine—envy; I want it now—impatience; I want pleasure—selfishness. I am committing what St. Augustine—the father of sexual ethics and self-professed great wrestler of them—called “disordered love,” placing any desire above God, which is sin.
But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally. (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28)
When we call the act of sex (within or without marriage) sinful in any way, we thwart the beauty of it at all; we mar an act that God has called good. What is sinful about sexual sin outside of marriage is not the intrinsic desires leading to it, it is that it is an act of prostitution—letting out our members for the sake of sinfulness in the most tangible forms of selfishness, envy, greed, and the rest. Sexual activity outside of marriage, or any selfish sexual activity within marriage, holds a hand up to what God has designed as best and says, “I know better here what I need and what I want, and I will do what I can to get it.” We lose what is best in search of what we believe will satisfy.
I have learned the hard way that any list of methods or practices we use to white-knuckle ourselves from sexual sin will fail in some way. They do not increase my joy in Christ, nor do they seem to hold the desires at bay—even if they hold the act at bay. I want my heart to change and Christ is the only source for heart change. In an effort to encourage you, these are three things I remember about Christ when temptation threatens to overcome:
Though it is the living water we remember most Christ giving to the woman at the well in John 4, it is the words before he gives the water that comfort me in moments of sexual temptation. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” That Christ knows my struggle, my sins, my past mistakes, and my future ones, is a great comfort to me. My sin and temptation to sin are not hidden from him in any way. My thirst for water is not a sin, it is a physical need, and my thirst for sex is not a sin either. But it is a thirst that is intended to point me toward a better drink.
Christ offered the woman at the well living water, water that would satisfy her thirst for approval, for comfort, for security, even for a warm body beside her at night. Christ wasn’t offering to come into her home and offer his husbandry. He was meeting her at the well at high noon, in her shame, and giving her the hope of something better for the future. The woman would still go home—and this is conjecture—the assumption is she would go home to an empty house, that those longings might not be fulfilled in this lifetime. Christ’s promise is that she would find provision in him in the midst of the lack.
Christ is the better bridegroom
Married sex does not bring some sort of nirvana we often expect that it will. In fact, I know from nearly all of my married sisters, that married sex brings with it more brokenness than they could have imagined. Why? Because two sinners with the baggage of two sinners equals exponentially more baggage. Though Christ can and does redeem the brokenness in marriage, what I have to remember is that Christ is the better bridegroom—outside of marriage and inside of it. He offers water that lasts for eternity—better than any moment of blissful pleasure we might experience in a sexual act. He is our highest love, the fulfillment of our deepest longing.
Lore Ferguson is a writer and graphic designer living in Dallas, TX. Her life is small, simple, and ever in an ongoing effort to make it more so. She writes at http://sayable.net and you can follow her on twitter @loreferguson
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