As I glanced through one of evangelical Christianity’s best-selling books on male sexual purity this afternoon, I was struck anew by the fact that there is something deeply wrong with the way that this most-important of topics is usually addressed. The book’s central message (illustrated with creepily-gratuitous anecdotes of sexual sin), could be summarized, “To be male is to be inevitably drawn to sexual perversity and misconduct by the almost-irresistible force of your masculine sexual energy. Your job as a Christian is to spend the rest of your life holding back the force of this tide, while using your wife to funnel off as much sexual energy as possible to ease the arduous task of maintaining sexual purity.”
Faced with so overwhelming a task, and one so apparently at odds with one’s most basic nature, it is small wonder so many young men don’t bother to try at all; or, if they do try, end up struggling and exhausted by a task made impossibly strenuous by their misunderstanding.
Any discussion of sexual purity ought to begin, not with sex, but with morality generally. And any discussion of morality must begin with the self, and the effects of our choices and behavior on our self.
By “the self,” I mean that part of me which I most truly and deeply am; that part which is immortal, who I am now and ever will be, eternity without end. It’s a rather sobering thought, this realization that I cannot escape my self. If you mess up your first car, or your first marriage, it is at least possible to get a new one; not so one’s self.
And “mess up” we can, for the self is in a continual state of transition. In fact, the self changes its own nature, by its own choices, like a block of granite come alive to sculpt itself. Every choice I make shapes my self just a little bit, making me not quite what I was before: piling on something new, stripping off something old, changing the shape of what I am by perhaps imperceptible degrees.
Both good and evil become easier with practice, not merely through habituation, but because the doer is making himself more and more the sort of person for whom such acts come naturally. (And “naturally” is exactly the right word, for it is his very nature which is being shaped by his choices.) The man who beats his children, the boy who pulls the wings off butterflies, and the girl who passes along cruel gossip are all following the same blueprint in their self-transformation; the difference is merely one of degree, rather than kind. We cannot help but be shaped by what we do.
The tragedy of fallen mankind is the downward spiral in which corrupt choices shape corrupted selves whose further choices can only continue the hopeless pattern. Christian morality offers escape from this pattern, holding out the blueprint for right choices – for the choices that will lead to true joy and meaning in right relationship with God and with our fellow humans – while divine grace makes possible those right choices which would otherwise be impossible for our broken selves.
And because right choices, like evil, shape the self, this divinely-enabled right conduct will inevitably result in selves for whom goodness is increasingly pleasant. The man who loves his neighbor because he ought soon finds himself loving his neighbor merely because he does!
And this brings us back to where we started, on the topic of sexual purity. The divine rule as regards sex is fairly simple: It is a good which is to be enjoyed within the bounds of a marriage between a man and a woman.
In other words, when humans were invented as sexual beings, that was how sex was supposed to work; what it is designed to be. For a properly-functioning human creature – either male or female – this is what is best. What is natural. What offers highest joy and highest pleasure, in the fullest sense of the words. Anything else can only be corruption and diminution, because that is all that evil can offer.
Of course, this means that sexual purity would be terribly easy, if only we were properly-functioning human creatures. Unfortunately, even after turning towards Christ, the process by which we are straightened and restored is a slow and at-times-painful one. In the meantime, in sex as in the rest of our lives, we find ourselves in love with what is lesser, meaner, and lower. The desire is no less real for being unnatural and deathly. Like a falcon that has been taught to seek only rotting carrion, our own corrupted desires betray us.
This is where so many Christians, with the best intentions, fail to make a crucial distinction. When a man views pornography, for example, he is not acting out of a natural masculinity that must be suppressed for the sake of righteousness. Rather, he is dining on rotten, maggoty carrion unawares. And so long as he gluts on what is lower, he is ingraining ever deeper in himself a distaste for what is truly good and an appetite for what is death to him. This is why the excuse, “I’ll stop viewing pornography once I’m married” would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Oh no, he won’t stop, not for long, for he has just spent years making himself exactly the sort of person who needs pornography. Marriage will not – can not – make him a different person than what he has himself created.
However, there is a flip side that offers tremendous hope to those who struggle with sexual sin. For just as choosing what is corrupt cannot help but cultivate one’s appetite for what is lower, so also, choosing – by the grace of God – what is higher will create a love for what is higher and better. (A love which grows more naturally and swiftly because of the goodness of its object.) The man who chooses not to view pornography, or have extramarital sex, or sin sexually in some other way, is not only not sinning at the moment of his choice, but is inexorably making himself the sort of man who loves what is actually good and so will make the right choice tomorrow as well.
None of this is to say that it is easy to be sexually virtuous. Far from it. The choices to which I just so casually referred are agonizingly difficult, particularly in a culture in which most young men are exposed to sexual perversion so early that they have developed a taste for it before they really even understand what it is. “Oh, but God will help me.” Yes, He will. That doesn’t mean the choice will be easy – it means what would otherwise be impossible will be possible. Barely.
It’s a choice that must be made daily, again and again, and one which is particularly difficult initially, as the grooves and pits worn in the self by unnatural appetites are destroyed. However, those who try can know two things: The change is possible, by the grace of God, if we will only choose it. And when the choice is made, it will result in the sort of man who loves what is good; what is natural; what is real.
5 thoughts on “In which I eventually get around to discussing sex and purity”
I have been thinking about this subject (purity) a lot lately. Good post. Good thoughts. I can’t really leave a more helpful comment because I’m still thinking about it.
I also think the same thing. I appreciate the analyses you gave
I just have to say that I don’t know of any Sexual purity books that tell you to use your wife as a sexual outlet. Sexual sin is an epidemic that must be addressed as such. Because of the nature of the sin you can not overcome it on your own and you must be bold as parents to directly address the sin of pornography and other sexual sins.
Alon those lines Husband and wife should (before they are married) be sexually content. God created us to desire sex, we must seek to glorify God in everything we do, including our sex-life! God made sex the devil has twisted it just like God made us to desire food, but the devil twisted it into gluttony. God created us to enjoy work, but some fathers engulf themselves in work so that they are not rising their children as God intended them. God created us to take care of our bodies, but the devil has twisted that too and created an unhealthy obsession with “being healthy”. What do all these things have in common? 2 things:
1. they are all surface sin issues that show their is a deeper problem such as struggling with self worth, not believing that Christ is sufficient so we try to save our selves by being a better person, eating healthy or exercising more often (although good thing they become bad if we do them for the wrong reason). The same goes for sexual sin. Sex is a good thing God created us to reproduce “go forth and multiply”, but he created a way that was good. Because of gluttony, a false need to feel wanted, a worship of self and body or (a big one for children) a need for love that is not met by the FATHER so he (the child) tries to find it in pornography and other sexual sins.
2. They are all things that show that you have some honest problems in your christian walk. This is something that is different for each person and must be addressed on top of addressing and confronting the surface issue of sexual sin, gluttony or complacency.
Books that are addressing the sin of sexual purity should do just that it is the parents (FATHERS) job to go through the purity book with their child (son) (mother for girls) so that they can help them address this deeper issue. What you will find in most purity books is practical steps to overcome this sin. That is absolutely important. I firmly believe that in time the Holy Sprite will convict your sole of the deeper issue in your Christian walk (not being content with were God has you or not believing that Christ is sufficient to name a few). I would be very careful of writing and reading an article like this, because the devil can completely twist these well meaning words so that you (parents) will not want to use the amazing materials of best selling authors on purity book like Fred Stoker, Eric and Leslie Ludy, Joshua Harris and Julie Heramine. The sad, but true fact is that if you as parents don’t teach your children about Gods desire for sex and sexual purity in our lives then they will be told the wolds version of sex. Its just a fact. Parents be proactive not reactive! May God bless your efforts!
I have to agree with all of Byrons points and would, but first I want to say that while I may point out some disagreements between us, I am not here to tear you down, but merely give my advice, and help challenge your walk.
First I would say that we need to correct the idea of “masculine sexual energy” this desire is not evil and all well known purity books I have read do not hold this view. Rather it is our Self and his sin nature that perverts our perfect and holy desire for sexual intimacy inside the confines of marriage. This is the message that Purity books are trying to display.
And secondly there is a common theme in your blog that is a misconception. This is the idea of, self. you seem to believe yourself to be who you really are when in fact your self is the flesh, and the sin nature that man has making him fall to sexual temptations. And while you believe that it is all about your choices and how you react, and how you shape yourself…. I am here to tell you, your terribly wrong. I am a recently recovered 7 year porn addict. and I tried to shape myself and change my actions and become a good person following after righteousness… but I couldn’t. And if it was possible to act righteously we would have no need for a savior, which we know is not true. And I am here a free man only by the grace of God and His supernatural intervention.
Instead of granite forming itself by habits, it may be better understood as our lives being clay, being broken down and reformed again and again until we are formed into His perfect pottery
Thanks both of you for your thoughtful comments. I actually agreed with Byron’s comments too–he appears to believe he is disagreeing with me, but I can’t see any area of dispute. I certainly wasn’t intending to imply that all books on sexual purity are bad, and I apologize if I gave that impression.
And I agree with E.S. Prichard too. Of course “masculine sexual energy” isn’t evil. It’s good–just corrupted in our fallen world, and in need of sanctification. I hope I didn’t give the impression I thought otherwise. I just reread the post and can’t see where I might have implied that.
As for making good choices, you’re exactly right. We can’t do it ourselves. That’s why I wrote,
Christian morality offers escape from this pattern, holding out the blueprint for right choices – for the choices that will lead to true joy and meaning in right relationship with God and with our fellow humans – while divine grace makes possible those right choices which would otherwise be impossible for our broken selves… choosing – by the grace of God – what is higher will create a love for what is higher and better
That being said, I do still hold to my central point in this post, which is that the choices we make shape who we are. We can’t make good choices without God’s grace working in us, but those good choices (made possible by God’s grace) do still shape our selves. That’s what sanctification is all about. My point in this post was simply to encourage men that resisting sexual sin is part of the process of sanctification; that one’s soul is genuinely changed through such resistance and it becomes easier and more natural over time, though of course one always must remain vigilant. Frankly, as a former porn addict I imagine you’ve experienced something like that yourself.
It’s rather disconcerting to get two comments disagreeing with things I don’t believe I actually said, especially when I agree with the points made in both comments. Perhaps the post was written with insufficient clarity, for which I apologize. If I’m misunderstanding either of your points, please don’t hesitate to clarify.