Celibacy or purity for the single Christian?

mxgrp4In just a generation, we’ve witnessed a stunning devolution of perspective on sexuality in the church. While some can only discern a faint whisper of the fallout, everyone with working spiritual ears can hear a scream. We’ve been forced to look at something that few wanted to acknowledge, but out of the ashes of sexual immorality, a phoenix cry for purity has arisen.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Practical, balanced teaching on sexual purity and living it out with integrity has an anemic history in the contemporary church. In contrast, a nonstop, toxic mix of eroticism coupled with the flesh’s rebellious nature has commandeered the attention of youth and singles with little to no intervention. This includes subtle undercurrent of sensuality in the church.  The yearning is deep and passionate, however deep and passionate yearning simply isn’t enough to resolve the need.

A needful caveat is that sexual purity isn’t synonymous with celibacy. I was having a conversation with a friend about celibacy among Christian singles. My friend seemed to think that abstaining from sex as a Christian was a badge of honor. While celibacy is indeed a laudable accomplishment, celibacy isn’t necessarily Godly. Anyone can be celibate with the right amount of will power. Atheists, buddhists monks, muslims and Catholic priests can all live a celibate life, but is just being celibate mean one is in right relationship with God? Certainly not. God requires something more. Something which involves much more than physical abstention from sexual activity. He requires purity of heart, mind and body.

Do you recall Jesus saying “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God?” (Matt 5:8) John reminded believers that “He that has this hope purifieth himself, even as he (Christ) is pure. (1 John 3:3)

Clearly, purity, not celibacy is God’s standard and his requirement as followers of Christ.

Over the last fourteen years that I’ve ministered sexual wholeness to mostly young adults, I’ve become familiar with that cry to be pure. Its anxious —oftimes anguished– its urgent and its deeply personal. And it wasn’t just confined to young, single Christians. Against the urgency, I’ve counseled a radically peaceful path to reaching one’s goal and God’s standard. If the goal is indeed sexual purity which pleases Christ, then the progressive path out of sexual impurity should be marked by:

1. Rediscovering the foundations and fundamentals of our faith and what they are intended to accomplish in your life. Embracing the whys and hows help to stabilize your life and prepare it for sustained progression.

2. Rebuilding the breaches in your life using spiritual and relational processes. Seeking to rebuild relational wholeness apart from healthy relationships with others is counterproductive. And be sure these relationships will require time, effort and commitment.

3. Recreating your desires through strategy. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Its one thing to know God’s standard, its quite another to consistently apply it. You must have more than just a desire to live sexually pure, desire must conjugate into a holy pragmatism.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned and continue to teach is an old one: prevention is much better than a cure. If God says don’t touch and don’t participate, let that be a cornerstone principle of your life going forward.

Its from this point, we must allow our personal and corporate perspective on sexual purity to be formed.

When we understand that celibacy isn’t an end unto itself, just a component of a pure life, we can get rid of much of the sexual frustration and tension in the lives of many Christians who are unmarried.

Question for discussion: do you believe God “calls” people to celibacy? What biblical support is there for such a calling? If one is “called to celibacy”, what is the purpose?

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23 thoughts on “Celibacy or purity for the single Christian?

  1. Pastor, please stop. Please stop writing articles in which 1) I find it difficult not to comment, and 2) in which I become convicted.

    You wrote: “Clearly, purity, not celibacy is God’s standard and his requirement as followers of Christ…When we understand that celibacy isn’t an end unto itself, just a component of a pure life, we can get rid of much of the sexual frustration and tension in the lives of many Christians who are unmarried.”

    Never before have I looked at it that way. Never. Like the person with whom you were speaking with who thought that abstaining from sex was “a badge of honor”, so did I.
    I’ve been celibate for a very long time. Though being celibate comes with the package of salvation, so to speak, I still made a vow to the Lord that I would abstain from sex until I got married – if ever I got married. And I thought that this vow and my abstinence was good enough.
    Wow.

    I plead guilty of not being pure in heart, though physically I have abstained.

    Seriously, what a revelation for me.

  2. To answer your question as far as God calling people to celibacy, in all honesty, I’m not sure if He does or not.
    I’m sure that some will bring up 1 Cor. 7 and go either way from there.

    As far as Him calling me to celibacy, if He does, I don’t want to hear that call.
    Please God.

    🙂

  3. Interesting discussion,

    God does say we should abstain from sexual sin.

    Acts 15:20
    20But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

    1 Peter 2:11
    Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

    This shows a level of one willfully not sinning though the temptation may be present.

    What I see in scripture is that while we abstain from sin we are to persue righteousness. When we persue righteousness our minds will be transformed more and more to be like Christ and the flesh will have less and less influence in our lives.

    2 Timothy 2:22 (New American Standard Bible)
    22Now (A)flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, (B)faith, love and peace, with those who (C)call on the Lord (D)from a pure heart.

    Does fleeing and abstaining constitute celibacy? it seems so to a point but this is not the end, we are to purify our minds through Gods Word.

    Just a though!

    Blessings!!!

  4. Thanks Paul and Angela for your comments.

    I wanted to make it clear that I wasnt disdaining or minimizing celibate conduct. If youre someone who is celibate, hold your ground! But also know that you can get rid of much of that sexual frustration by pursuing purity of heart and mind along with celibacy. I was only saying that it isnt “abundant living” per John 10:10, thats all. For some, perhaps celibacy may be the best they think they can do. But there really is more.

    Some people wonder why God would give them sexual desires (which he does) and then restrict them from enjoying such desires. Actually he doesnt. He gives complete freedom for sexual pleasure within the marriage covenant. Everything outside it has a negative consequence some of them severe unto death. But like we were discussing in the planned parenthood post, sin has complicated everything. The adjustments we have to make are to protect us from the consequences of sin. And that’s not to say marriage is a panacea, its more like a vehicle. The answer of course begins with a right relationship with God.

  5. Pastor, I realize you weren’t minimizing celibacy.

    I understood the point. And it’s a point well taken.

  6. Likewise i am in 100% agreement with all this article has to offer.

    Christ say even if we think to do it we have sinned. May we take each thought that is not of God captive in Christs name.

  7. 1 Thessaloniani 4 is a good passage to refer to also on our call to live pure and holy lives. And Phil. 4:8 on our thoughts. The call to be pure holds greater depths than just living a celibate life as you explained Pastor. Also requiring a greater trust in God and in His strength. I always like to refer to In Genesis when Potiphars wife tried to pursue Joseph.. “How can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God!”- Resist the devil and he will flee” We Christians aint no punks! 😀

  8. “Question for discussion: do you believe God “calls” people to celibacy? What biblical support is there for such a calling? If one is “called to celibacy”, what is the purpose?”

    Jesus addresses this in Matthew 19:

    … 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

    10The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

    The LORD could indeed be literally saying that those “eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” … castrated themselves? But it appears that HE is speaking spiritually — those who want to live as if they had been castrated… what would be akin to celibacy.

    And how does “for the sake of the kingdom” fit into that? I believe Paul addresses that in 1 Corinthians 7:

    6Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

    … 32I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

    Does the LORD “call” some of HIS children to live a life of celibacy? The Holy Scriptures only seems to indicate that those who have a “calling” to do particular work for the LORD (i.e., Kingdom of Heaven) may desire to refrain from marriage, which for the Christian, would be synonymous with celibacy. Living such a way, would mean what Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 7 — that such brothers and sisters could be more focused on being “anxious about the things of the Lord (and) how to please the Lord”

    I haven’t come across anything in the Holy Bible that indicates GOD “calls” people to a life of celibacy… but that some who are called prefer to be celibate for the sake of the work of the Kingdom of GOD.

  9. Lavrai, the eunuch situation is problematic for most singles if not nearly impossible for most. Jesus acknowledged that what he was saying would not be accepted or perhaps even understood only by those who had been so named. I mean he is talking castration here. And I dont think it is referring to women.
    “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” vs 11

    So when we are talking about celibacy, singleness and the contemporary saint, this simply would apply to only a select few. The question becomes then why do so many singles settle for (a) celibacy (b) fornication when neither seems to be in the plan of God for their lives?

    I do agree with those who said I will not have sex until I am married. That is honorable (I even did that myself once I matured somewhat), but if marriage is not in the plan why self impose celibacy?

    The other part you mentioned is significant because it is only a suggestion, not a commandment. Im sure its a good one, but Paul did not tell singles THE LORD wanted them to stay single and celibate, just that he thought it a good course of action. Likewise there is no command to get married from him just that in his view marriage seems to complicate one’s work for the Lord. Since he is acknowledging that it is not from the Lord, then I would disagree with him on that in certain instances. Being single certainly allows complete dedication to God, but with singles outnumbering married, why arent more of them doing like Paul and out on the mission field full time?

  10. Gcmwatch: “I do agree with those who said I will not have sex until I am married. That is honorable (I even did that myself once I matured somewhat), but if marriage is not in the plan why self impose celibacy?”

    So if I don’t plan to marry, why should I self-impose celibacy?
    Is that the question? ( rephrased it to make sure that I read it correctly.)

    Gcmwatch: ” Being single certainly allows complete dedication to God, but with singles outnumbering married, why arent more of them doing like Paul and out on the mission field full time?”

    There’s that conviction bug again.

    I’m single – not married nor in a relationship. I have no children. I don’t even have a pet, for pete’s sake. I have no responsibilities except for myself.
    I would be a seemingly perfect candidate for being on the mission field.
    So why am I not?

    I don’t think I’m called to. (When I say that, the conviction goes away. At least temporarily.)
    And that raises another question: are we called to be on the mission field?
    Of course all Christians are “called” to share the Gospel, but are all Christians called to being a missionary? I don’t think so. Now maybe I’m wrong here, and if so, someone can correct me.
    But that’s the reason I’m not on the mission fields.
    Besides that, I have maturing to do.

  11. Hi Angela, you know something I found out God begins speaking to us long before the call comes. He is preparing our minds and helping rid ourselves of all the fears of saying “yes” when he pops the question.

    And conviction is a good thing. Without it, we would all be comfortable. And thats NOT a good thing.

    QQ: “So if I don’t plan to marry, why should I self-impose celibacy?”

    Yes, that’s it in a nutshell. I will say “I dont plan to marry” and I dont want to marry” are two different things. The latter says I will consider it should the factors be favorable. Having said that…

    To me from what I read in the bible, (sinful past aside), celibacy wasnt intended to be a lifelong engagement, rather part of a purity component one adheres to while waiting for the joys of marital copulation. Kind of like welfare wasnt meant to be lived on for life, just to help through hard times while you sought a job and better standard of living.

    So its a self imposed quandry. God invented sex, gave it to us, said it was good, told us to enjoy it and embedded within it numerous benefits. The only restriction was that we had to keep it in the bonds of male-female marriage.

    In other words (and this may sound controversial) celibacy shortchanges single Christians. I mean God didn’t leave options, the options may be like what Jesus described about divorce in Mark 10.

  12. Hi Pastor,

    Your first little paragraph there convicted me again. Lol.
    Thanks.

    I’m interested in this topic because I’m single and want to be married, but be that as it may nothing in my life is indicating that it’ll happen anytime soon…or even at all.

    Sometimes I do wonder if I’m “meant” to be single in order for God to do a work through me that He would find it challenging to otherwise do if I was married. I only say it would be challenging not because anything is challenging for Him, because nothing is, but because of the responsibilities of marriage and how it would be a possible distraction for me in relation to the work that He’s called me to do.
    But, if God indeed has called me to do something of which marriage would be a distraction, then why do I desire it?
    Why would I desire something that God has already purposed that I won’t have?
    I’m pretty sure I speak for a lot of single Christians in saying that.

    A few years ago one of my old mentors told me that she could see me on the mission field. (I bring that up, pastor, because you raised the question why, if there are so many single Christians, aren’t they on the mission field.) Now she wasn’t speaking for the Lord, it wasn’t a prophecy, just something she said on her own accord. And what she said comes back to me time to time, like it has right now, because this whole discussion about marriage, celibacy and God calling people to singleness has me thinking about why I am where I am in my life, in regards to being single.

    Regarding the comment about celibacy: if celibacy isn’t meant to be a lifelong engagement, how long should one remain celibate? If one hasn’t yet married (for example, me) because the right man hasn’t found her, should she continue to be celibate until the right man comes?
    How long does she wait?

    Now that I think about it, actually waiting for marriage can be a distraction to something that God is waiting for you to do.
    After all, waiting is an action. And that action can be a hindrance to God’s purpose if you allow it to be.

  13. Dearest Angela,

    I must tell you, your spirit is so open and honest, its a very refreshing character trait, for a believer in this day and time and I thank you for submitting and yielding to the Holy Spirit to bring this forth. Both marriage and celibacy are “GIFTS” of the Spirit not always talked about, for they fall into the category of “motivational” gifts. Were all called to sexual purity, but not all of us have the gift of celibacy and marriage, is not for all of us, you’ll find this in both Paul’s ltr(s) to Romans and 1st Corinthians. Yes sometimes marriage is forbidden us, you find this in God’s dealing w/the Prophet Jeremiah, because of the minstry he had given him and the calamity that was about to befall the nation, and he didn’t want his chosen servant to be a part of the coming tragedy.

    And Paul tells us concerning marriage, “its better to marry then to burn” and that “burning” he’s speaking of not just talks about burning in hell if your committing fornication, but burning w/passion, and if thats whats going on he’s saying to us, “you better get married.” Remember be not “anxious” for anything, and “He that finds a wife finds a good thing.” Right now you are hidden in Christ and when he is ready and it is his will, the “MAN” he has for you will find you. Remain “steadfast and immovable” and “if you faint not” you will retain the promise, once again remember if it is his will. Remember the wonderful love story between Ruth and Boaz, perhaps God has a Boaz for you, just be patient my beloved sister. Your friend…Tony

  14. Angela,

    I can relate to your posts. I have been single for a while and I am celibate as well. The desire for children and marriage often become so strong that it overwhelms me at times. I feel like I am “missing” out because I don’t have a husband or kids. The thing that makes it worse is when your single friends are matched up with someone and you are left single. Oh God Why?!!!

    I keep hearing different ministers tell me to seek God and I am thinking to myself I have been seeking Him ever since I surrendered my life to Him. I have had people prophesy on more than one occassion that I will get married and have children. I pray often that God will send me a Godly man.

  15. Psalm100,

    Hey there. 🙂 I don’t know if you’ll come back to this page and read this…hopefully you will.
    Let me try and encourage you.

    I believe when single Christians are greatly desirous of marriage, their energy is too concentrated on it: their thoughts are consumed by it, their conversations are dominated by it and their prayers bombard God with the request for it. And if we aren’t careful, all of this will lead to an unhealthy obsession.
    Now, thankfully, I haven’t gotten to that point, and hopefully you haven’t either.
    There’s nothing wrong with our desire, and I think you know that. It’s natural, and it’s good. I think it’s safe to even assume that, until marriage does happen, or until God reveals to us that marriage is indeed not for us, we’ll continue to desire it.
    What I’m realizing now, though, especially after reading this article and reading the comments of others (and especially after posting my own), is that to actively wait for marriage can be a distraction all its own.

    When I was first born-again, marriage was my greatest desire.
    At this point in my life, my strongest desire is for God to clean me up and use me how He sees fit. Marriage has taken a back seat so to speak, but honestly, every now and then, because I’m human, I desire it.
    And that’s ok.
    But I think our responsibility as single Christians is to keep the desire from consuming us and instead allow God to do the consuming. Once we allow God to be the one that totally engrosses us – not our desires – there’s little room for anything else to absorb us.
    Easier said than done, I know, but believe me, lately I’ve been doing everything except literally eating my Bible and the desires that I once had have been either kept in check, or diminished.

    One more thing. When you wrote that people have prophesied over you regarding marriage, I sort of cringed a bit, not because of prophecy in and of itself, but because there are some individuals in the Church who can discern the desires of others, and after picking up on them, they’ll speak words over you in order to feed them.
    Has your desire for marriage gotten stronger and more urgent since those prophecies? If so, I’d pray & ask the Lord if those prophecies were from Him.
    I believe that when God sends someone to prophesy over you, the immediate result of that prophecy is peace – not a stronger, more urgent desire.
    Beware of people’s motives.

    Stay in the Word, sister. Pray, not for marriage, because He heard you the first time. But pray for things like a deeper intimacy with Him, a stronger hunger for His Word, compassion for His people, a love for the truth, wisdom…He’ll give you all of these things, and you’ll be so full and joyous because of it that anything else He’ll give you will be a side benefit.
    Including marriage.

    Now, could I have made this any longer?

  16. Angela,

    I did read your post and thanks for the words of wisdom. There was a point in time when I could say that I was really content with being single. But as I get older (I’m in my early 30’s) the desire for marriage and childrens get stronger. Yes, the people that prophesied over me knew my desires. I try to test everything that is said over me. The Bible also says to despise not prophesying. If children and marriage aren’t going to be God’s plan for me, I wish He would take away the desires or plainly let me know. I feel I will be better able to accept it.

  17. Psalm, e-mail me if you ever want to discuss this. I can write more, but this isn’t the place for it.

    You can get my e-mail address from Pastor Foster if you want it.

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