The Bible says that a young man can keep his way pure by "living according to God's word" (Ps. 119:9). Obviously sexual purity has always been a part of the Christ like walk, but I believe that we live in a day and age where it has become incredibly difficult for a Christian young man to keep his way pure sexually.
One of the things I've been asked by young men concerning sexual purity is "where do I start, what are the first steps toward sexual purity?" Well, the first steps begin in early childhood. Hopefully you have parents who did their level best to teach you self control and self denial as a tot. You may wonder what that has to do with sexual purity: everything actually. Self control is self control whether it has to do with keeping your temper when you are denied the opportunity to play outside until dark or when you are battling the desire to masturbate. Thus training in sexual purity begins at a very early age. The child who is denied nothing when young will not have developed the habits of self control and self denial. When he is a young man and the hormones kick in he will have no experience to draw upon in the battle against sexual immorality. I'm not saying he will fall into sexual debauchery but it will make an already difficult situation even worse.
The bottom line is that the battle to remain sexually pure is just that - a battle. If you have not been trained in warfare then it will that much harder for you to deal violently with yourself when you face the urge to satisfy your sexual appetite in an ungodly manner. This isn't to say that you will be unable to overcome sexual temptation, just that you may need to deal more harshly with yourself than a brother who has the advantage of early childhood training in self denial.
"Ah," you say, "if there is an ungodly way to satisfy sexual desire, then there must be a godly way - there is hope!" Yes, there is such a thing as godly sex and it takes place within the marriage relationship. Sorry to disappoint you, but the fact is if you want to satisfy your sexual urges in a godly fashion, then you'll have to find yourself a wife. We'll get to that in a later letter; right now we want to stay on topic and continue to look at how a young (single), man can keep his way pure sexually.
I think the best defense against sexual impurity is to be very careful of what you see. It should go without saying that pornography is forbidden under any circumstance. And lest you think that I'm limiting the definition of pornography to things like Playboy magazine or internet smut, think again. The Bible instructs us to abstain from any sexual gratification outside of the marriage relationship1. Unless you have a major short circuit somewhere (don't kid yourself, you don't), this means that you need to throw away your Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, your hot rod magazines and anything else you have stashed away that features photos of naked or semi naked women. Self control on this matter involves the wisdom to flee youthful lusts. I've talked to young men who tried to convince me that they could look at pictures of naked women and not be aroused sexually. They claimed that they were simply appreciating the beauty of the female form without any sexual thoughts concerning the object of their appreciation. As Bill Cosby used to say; "Rrrriiiight."
Now, you may think I'm going a bit overboard (but really I'm not), when I tell you that you need to adopt as your theme song "be careful little eyes what you see" - especially when you are in the checkout line at the local grocery store. As I said before (I think I said this and if I didn't I should have), we live in a sex saturated culture; and it seems that every magazine published in the USA features a semi naked woman on its cover (I only know this because my wife told me so). Yes it's a battle. Yes it takes constant vigilance. Nevertheless, the Bible demands sexual purity from the followers of Jesus Christ and the stakes are too high for you to give up in the fight.
Of course the "covenant you make with your eyes" (Job 31:1), not to look upon a woman with lust extends to the "real world" as well. The sad fact is that even in many churches you will have to be careful where you look and careful of your thoughts. Too many Christian young women have adopted the immodest fashions of the day. Obviously that will make it more difficult for you to keep your thoughts pure.
Although there are those within the Church who minimize the importance of avoiding fornication, Ephesians 5:5 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 tell us that no fornicator will inherit the kingdom of God. In other words committing the sin of fornication is not some youthful indiscretion that God will wink at. Also you need to remember that in the Bible fornication refers to any sexual impurity. It can refer to adultery (although there is a different term for adultery); it refers to sex before marriage, to gratifying your sexual desires with pornography2, masturbation or any other form of sexual misconduct. Does this mean that if you fail to control yourself and fall into the sin of masturbation that the doors of Heaven will be closed to you? Not necessarily. No more than it means Heaven is closed to you if you mouthed off to your parents from time to time when you where younger (or just yesterday). Think of it this way: no one who is unable to take orders will last very long in the Marine Corps. Likewise, no one who refuses to submit to Christ will inherit the kingdom of God. What Paul is saying in his letters to the Ephesians and Corinthians is that no one who is unwilling to submit to Christ in every aspect of their life will be able to be part of the kingdom of God. That is to say, if you are unwilling to give up pornography or masturbation or a sexually promiscuous life then obviously you're not willing to submit to the King; you won't enter the kingdom of God (you will not be among the "saved"). This doesn't mean that if you give in to sexual temptation at any point that you will be excluded from the kingdom. In the Marine Corps they have ways of dealing with a soldier who occasionally disobeys an order. They don't throw him out, but they don't let it slide either. The same is true in the kingdom of God (Heb. 12:3-11, 1 John. 1:9). However, if disobedience becomes a pattern, then the Marines will "grant" you a dishonorable discharge. Similarly, a pattern of disobedience in the kingdom proves that you had never submitted to the King in the first place and your "dishonorable discharge" will ultimately be handed down on the day of judgment. Listen; sex is probably the most difficult part of your life to bring under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. You will fail from time to time to overcome temptation. But you cannot allow an occasional failure to become a constant habit.
Another reason it is so important to maintain sexual purity is because if you fail to do so now, it will affect your marriage later. I'm not just talking about the affects of promiscuity on your marriage; any type of fornication will have its affect.
According to Paul, premarital sex creates a one flesh union even if your sexual partner is a prostitute (1 Cor. 6:16). Now, I don't go as far as some who say that the bond that is created is all but irreversible3, yet the Scripture is clear; a bond is created that is meant to exist only in the marriage relationship. Yes, there can be forgiveness and restoration, but don't kid yourself into thinking that there won't be any consequences. The same holds true for other sexual sins. If you cultivate habits of masturbation, pornography or lustful thoughts while you are single, you will find that those habits stay with you after you are married. Again, fornication in all its forms is not harmless. It will cause spiritual damage now and in the future, guaranteed.
Now then, there are definite steps you can take to win the battle against sexual temptation.
The first thing I ask of someone who is loosing in the battle against (any), temptation is how much time they are spending in the Bible and prayer. You cannot be transformed by the renewing of your mind if you neglect the material of transformation and renewal (Rom. 12:2). Reading and meditating on the Word of God is crucial if you hope to maintain sexual purity. As you read, your meditation should be directed at understanding the application of the Scripture to your life. Your meditation should be a prayerful conversation with the Lord beseeching Him to give you understanding and to make the Word flesh in your life.
Another important ingredient in overcoming sexual temptation is accountability. When you marry your wife will provide this service to you; while you are single, you will need to be accountable to your parents or pastor. In other words, you need to be willing to submit to inquiries concerning your spiritual state from time to time and willing to submit to discipline when you are off track.
The final point I want to clarify is that you will not win the battle against sexual temptation in your own strength. Obviously you need to put forth every effort, but it is in our weakness that Christ's strength is made manifest (2 Cor. 12:7-10 - indeed, the thorn in Paul's flesh may have been sexual temptation for all we know). Yes, work out your own salvation in fear and trembling4, but remember that it is "God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). In other words, your desire to obey the Word of God and your ability to do so are both dependent upon the Lord. The Scripture is clear that you have the responsibility to obey (the passages are too numerous to list, but read over the latter half of Colossians for instance), and clear that you must call upon the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be successful in your efforts to obey.
Satan has hit the jackpot in his battle against the Church; sex is a powerful weapon when perverted and the Devil is doing everything in his power to use what God intended as good to destroy the Church. But do not despair because you're not going it alone; Christ is with you.
1. The Bible frequently warns against fornication. The Greek word is pornia (porneia) is a broad term that covers all sexual activity outside of the marriage relationship. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich eds., 9 vols., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), 6:590-ff.
2. The word pornography is a combination of the Greek word pornia and the Greek word for writing, grapho (grafw).
3. Robert Andrews, The Family: God's Weapon for Victory, (Rice Washington: Sentinel Press: 1995, 2002).
4. Salvation is both the new birth and progressive sanctification. I touched on this topic in the article titled Saved In Childbearing.
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