AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
It is not a sin to think about sex or to want sex. These are very natural things that God has built into us, and yet when we are very concerned about pleasing God in life, it’s very easy for us to get confused on the subject of sex and go about feeling like dirty animals. In this post, we will clarify where the moral lines are with sex and how to deal with any guilt that you’re struggling with in this area.
You are a spiritual being that is temporarily dwelling in a physical body which you cannot escape from until God releases you at death. You need a physical body to function in a physical realm, but to function properly, that body has certain needs. For one thing, you need food. If you don’t regularly nourish your body with food and water, it will start to malfunction. Now your body is a vocal little thing and when it wants more food, it lets you know. By now you’ve figured out what your personal hunger signals are like: a rumbling stomach, a salivating tongue—whatever it is, you know that when you receive these cues, your body is saying it wants to eat. So then, is it a sin to be hungry? Is it a moral failing to walk by a dessert shop and get excited by the aroma of freshly baked pastries? Of course not. You can’t help it if chocolate cake appeals to you. God chose your favorite foods for you and He didn’t ask for your input when He was programming your tastebuds. Some of us like sweet, others savory. Some of us get excited over a large salad while others of us would rather have a banana split. In the dieting world, we’re taught to label certain food cravings as “sinful”, and yet this is utterly ridiculous. You’re not a slacker if you crave sugary sweets and you’re not morally superior if you don’t. God has wired us all differently. Some people actually dislike chocolate, ice cream, and pastries. For whatever reason, their tongues simply do not find these things appealing. If you desperately crave sweets and you meet someone who doesn’t, it’s a very simple thing for Satan to make you feel like a fat pig who has no self-control whatsoever. Yet in reality, you’re comparing apples to oranges. You’re not a wimp, you’re just the only one who is fighting a battle. If you race a soldier who is worn out with battle fatigue against a man who just got back from two weeks of vacation, the man with fresh energy will easily win. Does this mean the soldier is a wimp? Not hardly. He is probably way more fit than his opponent, he’s simply fried. Satan is always trying to set us up in uneven races so that he can make us feel like jerks when we lose. A single man who is getting bombarded with sexual cravings will easily feel like a lustball compared to a married man who is having satisfying relations with his wife. If these two men go to a movie and find themselves watching a sensuous love scene, one is going to be struggling with his thoughts a lot harder than the other. Yet is it the single man’s fault that everything he sees is making him feel sexually aroused? Of course not. His body is being its usual demanding self—vocalizing what it wants and trying to make him miserable until he satisfies its cravings. Just as it is miserable to go around racked with hunger, it is also miserable to go around feeling desperate for sex. Our bodies decide what they want apart from us and morals don’t even enter into it until we decide how we are going to respond to their demands.
When you are feeling overwhelmed by sexual cravings, the first place Satan wants you to go is the Bible. Talk about a minefield of condemnation.
“…but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:28)
Need we look any further? This is Jesus talking, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all adulterers. Who hasn’t looked at some super attractive example of the opposite sex and wished they could be with them in some intimate way? Who can honestly claim that they’ve never entertained one second of sexual fantasy in their minds? One second is all it takes to fail God’s demands for perfection, and when you read the verse above, you are supposed to feel rotten. Jesus isn’t trying to show you an attainable goal, He’s trying to make you realize that you are utterly incapable of controlling your flesh.
This verse is part of the famous “Sermon on the Mount”—a very long speech in which Jesus effectively reduces us all to spiritual failures who are damned to burn in Hell. This speech was intended to make His audience panic. But what we so often fail to realize is that Jesus is not talking to Christians. If you have submitted to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, it’s because you realize that you need a Savior. You grasp that your own striving efforts are never going to come close to acquiring the spiritual righteousness that Yahweh demands. Well, most of the people living in Jesus’ time were a hundred miles from grasping this point. They thought they were nice moral folks who could tell Yahweh what was acceptable behavior instead of letting Him tell them. One of Jesus’ main goals in the Sermon on the Mount was to crush this arrogant thinking and reawaken people to their desperate need for mercy and grace. But if you have sincerely submitted to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you already understand what He’s talking about. At this point, you’re focusing on the wrong passage and it’s only going to fill you with needless condemnation. We need to move forwards, not backwards.
So as a Christian who is struggling with sexual cravings, where should you go? Not to the Bible, but to God Himself. Talking to the Holy Spirit is going to be a lot more useful than reading about sexual sins in the New Testament. Whatever your struggle is, Satan can easily dig up a verse to make you feel like a total failure. So rather than walking into his line of fire, focus on your Ally in life. Despite what many imply, the Bible is not God, nor does it even come close to saying everything that God wants to say to you. The Holy Spirit has plenty of original thoughts to share with you, and when He sees that you are distressed by your carnal cravings, He is NOT going to say, “Disgusting. Come back later when your mind is less perverse.”
God is on your side. He is for you and He loves you. He also knows all about the flesh He’s saddled you with and how it has a very real need for sexual satisfaction. God is the One who invented sex, He invented orgasms, hormones, and sexual organs. Satan wants to make you feel bad for having these things in your life, but God doesn’t think they are bad. He thinks they are natural, and He also knows that you have no control over what sexually arouses you. Maybe you’re a man who feels aroused when you look at other men instead of other women. Well, there’s a nice minefield of guilt and shame waiting to blow up in your face. But is this really something you chose? No. We don’t lie in our cribs thinking, “Gee, it sounds so boring to go for the opposite sex. I think I’ll crave something different in my life.” We need to stop with the games and realize who it is that’s deciding what turns us on in life. It isn’t us, it’s God, and He can change our cravings anytime He feels like it. Yet at the same time as He’s choosing our cravings, He’s also attaching clear labels of normal and perverse onto the things we’re attracted to. A man is supposed to be attracted to a woman—not children, not animals, and not other men. But maybe you’re a man and God has stuck you with what He calls perverse desires. What then? Is He going to then act like you’re some sicko because you are craving the things He has caused you to crave? No, He’s not. God is fair. He knows what you chose and what you didn’t choose. You aren’t displeasing Him for being attracted to something that He says is wrong, because you can’t help this anymore than a man can help feeling hungry when he smells certain aromas in a restaurant. It’s not our cravings that are the problem, it’s how we respond to them.
Pleasing God is a matter of heart attitude. God controls your hormones. So when you find yourself feeling desperate for sex but there’s no morally acceptable way of satisfying that desire, you need to look to the One who is creating this crisis in your life. Do you think God couldn’t empower your spirit to feel utterly unaffected by the lusts of your flesh? Of course He could. It would be an extremely simple thing for God to endow you with the gift of singleness until you met the person He wants you to marry. And if He doesn’t want you to marry, He could fix it so you simply don’t care about sex. It is critical that we see God’s involvement in all of this, because when we try to cut Him out of the picture and pretend that somehow we’re the ones controlling what we want, we end up getting stuck in needless shame and confession sessions that don’t get us any farther down the road of spiritual maturity. If we’re going to grow closer to God and become less vulnerable to Satan’s lies, then we need to recognize God’s active involvement in every struggle that we have. When we find ourselves pining for sex, we need to turn to the Holy Spirit and be honest about what’s happening.
“I am so frustrated by this. I’m so sick of wanting something that I can’t have. I can’t get these fantasies out of my head. You know I don’t have any hope of staying pure unless You help me. Make me everything that You want me to be.”
If you can honestly say that last line, then you are aligned with God and you are not displeasing Him. Trials are largely about practicing submission. God places some temptation in our path and then tells us to walk away from it. It’s hard. It feels rotten. Sometimes we just don’t think we have it in us. Satan tries to get us focused on behavior: all that matters is whether or not we stumble into sin. And yet what matters to God is our heart attitude: how much do we care about pleasing Him? Are we going to say, “not my will but Yours be done” or are we going to pretend we don’t know Him until we finish satisfying our flesh?
Don’t get stuck on the details of your temptation. Today it’s sex, tomorrow it’s something else. The details are beside the point—this is about submission. You either sincerely want God to have His way or you don’t. You either hate the thought of Him being displeased or you just don’t care so much. Now here’s the really important bit: what happens after you cry out for God to have His way is up to Him. Where does your strength to resist temptation come from? It comes from God, not you. We Christians are often taught to believe that God has set up some large reserve of resources for us which He now expects us to tap into whenever temptation comes our way. And of course those resources never run out, and they’re always enough to resist temptation. Well, this just isn’t true. Since the day He made us, God has wanted us to stay in touch with how dependent we are on Him for every breath. Sure, we say that we need Him, but then we go on to say that it’s up to us to maintain chaste minds and bodies. One minute God runs the universe, but the next minute we have to run ourselves. This isn’t how it works. God has designed us to be completely dependent on Him. We can do nothing without Him and God is NOT consistent in how He guides us through temptation. Sometimes He empowers us to stay on that narrow road of virginity, other times we go down even when we have sincerely tried to give our entire lives into His hands. Does it mean our surrender was rejected when God doesn’t stop us from messing up? Certainly not! Yet when we don’t have a correct understanding of how God works, we end up feeling horrible after we stumble into sin. We wake up in the morning and realize we’ve slept with our boyfriend outside of marriage and then we feel sick with guilt. We stop praying because we think God is disgusted with us. When we turn up pregnant, we panic, we get the abortion, and then we feel ten times worse. Now we’re convinced God will never forgive us and so we try to pretend we never knew Him and go the way of the world. Yet none of this is needed. We have to stay close to God, regardless of how messy things get. We need to remember that He loves us and He is FOR us. God always has a redemptive plan because He’s the One who creates the crises in the first place. When we wake up and realize that we’ve had premarital sex, we need to immediately turn to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to guide our steps. We can do NOTHING apart from God, and yet when we sincerely care about pleasing Him, He promises to lead our lives in the way that He wants them to go. It is guaranteed that God’s ideal plan for you is going to include a lot of things that you think are mistakes and failures. Perfect moral behavior is nowhere on the list of God’s goals for you—He wants your heart. He wants submission, reverence, and dependency. He wants you to learn what it means for Him to live through you—guiding your steps in every moment. In the Church we’re brainwashed into thinking that the God-led life will always look morally chaste. We think the truly sincere Christian will never struggle with sexual lusts because they’ll easily fluff off every temptation that comes their way. Yet this is not how real life works. Read your Bible. Find one example of a soul that was sold out to God and never messed up—there isn’t one. The more information we’re given about the people in the Bible, the more mistakes we read about. God has never empowered His faithful followers to live lives of moral perfection under either Covenant, and yet far too often we teach Christians that this is what He expects from them. No, it isn’t. God is going to trip us up in life on purpose in order to help us develop a deeper awareness of our total dependency on Him. If we’re going to grow, we need to fight the battle in the only area that counts: our core attitudes. Do we sincerely want God to have His way or not? Are we handing every battle over to Him and asking Him to make His will happen? The victorious Christian is the one who surrenders everything to God and then accepts whatever He decides as the best course. God is not always going to do what we think He should do—or even what we thought He said He would do. There are going to be a lot of good and bad surprises, so we have to stay anchored on truth. God cares about our hearts, and our soul response to Him is the ONLY THING that determines whether or not we are righteous in His sight. The finest example of this was King David. Let’s review the whole Bathsheba package: David lusted, committed adultery, lied, betrayed, and murdered in one long string of intentional, premeditated rebellious acts. But then he sincerely repented with his desperate cry of:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Ps 51:10)
There were plenty of other wrong things that David did, and yet he always ended up returning to a sincere desire for God to be pleased with his life. How did God sum up David’s life after he was dead and gone? Speaking angrily to David’s idolatrous son Solomon, God says:
“Yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight.” (1 Ki. 14:8)
Does God have memory loss problems? How can He possibly say that David did only what was right in His sight when David messed up all over the place and did his share of willful rebelling? God does not have memory problems. He remembers all of David’s sins with perfect clarity, but He has completely forgiven David’s sins because David’s heart sincerely sought after Him. This is all God wants from us—it’s all He’s ever wanted from us. Why will we get to Heaven and have God accept us as children who are blameless in His sight? Because we will have submitted to His Authority by reverentially submitting to Christ. The atonement of the cross does nothing for us until we sincerely seek God in our hearts and submit to His Authority. Yet once we do this, God rewards us with total forgiveness and says He will no longer hold our sins against us. As we continue in life reverentially seeking God and wanting His way in all things, God promises us even greater rewards than entrance into Heaven. God is so easy to please—all He wants from us is a sincere desire for Him to have His way in every area of our lives. If that is your heart attitude today, then God is very pleased. It doesn’t matter if your body is demanding sex or if a bunch of lewd images are rolling around in your mind. If some sexy body walks by and you have a physical reaction, you have not disappointed God. He is watching your heart, and your heart can be sincerely wanting to please Him no matter what your body is doing. Satan’s ability to suck you down into condemnation and despair becomes massively crippled when you learn how to align your focus with God’s: it is all about heart attitude. When temptation comes, turn your mind to the Holy Spirit and review what your spiritual priorities are: you want God to have His total way in your life. Then trust that He is having His way, regardless of what happens. Sometimes He’ll give you the ability to shrug off temptation. Other times it’s going to be a battle. Other times you’ll fall flat on your face. But these are not the things that matter: what matters is your soul’s attitude towards God. He already wants you. If you want Him as well, then you are in an excellent place.