Singleness & Sexuality: Part 3
This article will focus on tools, attitudes, and methods for helping you to deal with sexual desire and sexual temptation. Remember that the goal God has for us is that we live an overcoming life. That doesn’t mean that we will have a trouble-free or temptation-free life nor does it mean we will always overcome in the moment. However, it does mean that we don’t have to live in isolation, feel like a failure, be overrun by sin, or lack purpose in life. We are called to “get up again” and continue moving forward (Proverbs 24:16). As you read the items below, you will likely recognize many strategies you are already following. If so, be encouraged you are on the right track. You may also have tools or practices that aren’t listed in this paper that you find very helpful. Keep them up! Conversely, it is likely that some of the items below may come easy to you while others may seem more challenging. That is very normal. Do your best to find a way to incorporate them into your life, realizing they may need to be adapted to fit your circumstances.
Incorporating a comprehensive approach
Consider the following two life-paths you could walk, and consider how each is likely to deal with sexual desire, tension, and temptation. It is easy to see there will be a big difference.
|Vibrant/Committed Christian walk (intentional commitment in prayer, the Word, worship)|
|+ Actively engaging in life by using your time and talents to serve meaningfully as defined by God|
|+ Good stewardship of the physical, emotional, relational and spiritual aspects of life|
|+ Strong connections with God’s people (accountability, mentoring, fellowship, friendship)|
|+ Intentional practice of self-discipline, taking thoughts captive, disciplining one’s thought life|
|+ A life devoted to Christian service|
|+ Zero tolerance for inputs and accelerants (anything that stirs, increases, or leads to lust or sin)|
|+ Repentant spirit and continued growth in areas of weakness|
|= Living an overcoming life in Christ|
|Mediocre spiritual walk (inconsistent prayer life and time in the Word, apathetic worship)|
|+ Passively engaging in life to get “what’s in it for me”|
|+ Not taking adequate stewardship of the physical, emotional, relational and spiritual aspects of life|
|+ Isolation, absence of deep connections with God’s people (lack of accountability, mentoring, etc.)|
|+ Undisciplined thought life, lack of self-discipline|
|+ Service to others is avoided, is an afterthought, or only done if required|
|+ Carelessness with inputs and inconsistent resistance to accelerants|
|+ Shame and hiding, fearful to confess sin and seek forgiveness|
|= Living in defeat, disconnect, and discouragement|
We are called as followers of Christ to have a comprehensive approach to dealing with our sexual desires and temptations. This means our plan for resisting sexual temptation should touch all aspects of our life and have multiple layers of protection and action. It is critically important the struggle is framed properly in this “both/and”, not an “either/or”, scenario. Too often we believe changing one or two aspects of our life will result in a victory which, in reality, requires us to be completely aligned with God’s truth by His grace. A few of the specific strategies are discussed below.
Using Scripture to guide our thinking
Below are some Scriptures and questions you can use to help guide your thinking as you develop strategies to overcome sexual desire. These verses and questions can help discern how to properly view this struggle. These questions can be used for self-examination or reviewed with an accountability partner or mentor.
(1 Cor. 6:12-13)
- Is this type of thinking or behavior bringing me under its power? Am I being controlled by it?
- Is this type of thinking or behavior increasing or decreasing the Spiritual fruit of temperance (self-control) in my life?
- Even if this type of thinking or behavior isn’t overtly sinful, is it wise or beneficial for me? (James 1:14-15)
- Is this type of thinking or behavior increasing my lust? If so, I need to flee.
- Is this type of thinking or behavior objectifying someone as an object of lust?
- Does this thinking or behavior cause me to feel shameful or isolated from God through the conviction of the Holy Spirit?
- Is this thinking or behavior leading me away from pursuing a marital relationship which God has called me to?
- Is this thinking or behavior putting a stumblingblock in someone else’s way?
- Is this thinking or behavior taking advantage of someone or leading them into sin?
Redirecting and reframing sexual desire
Our sexual drive is God-given and as with any other drive, we must discipline it to keep safeguards around it. We deal with it appropriately by redirecting our focus and reframing our thoughts. We redirect our focus away from sexual desires and toward other activities. Reframing occurs when we shift our perspective. Instead of concentrating on what we cannot have that would seem to satisfy our sexual desire, we concentrate on God and find ways to be drawn closer to Him and others in wholesome ways.
- Redirecting: The practice of redirecting takes our sexual desire and refocuses this energy toward a different activity. These types of activities may be short-term, immediate tasks, or long-term training. For instance, choosing to go for a spontaneous walk or run is a healthy way to redirect sexual desire rather than sitting in your bedroom alone. Or, perhaps you want to get involved in a training program for a hiking trip that requires regular physical activity multiple times a week. You could also get involved in gardening or a household project that could provide healthy outlets for energy. There are situations that call for short-term solutions and others that call for long-term solutions. The key is being purposeful in redirecting your sexual desire when the tension starts to build.
- Reframing: Reframing is more of a mental than physical exercise. It is looking at a situation in a different way, changing the frame of reference so as to give it a new meaning. For example, you can reframe a problem as an opportunity, a weakness as an area to work on building strength, an unkindness as a lack of understanding.i James was reframing when he said, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:2-3) The feeling of unfulfilled sexual desire can often turn our perspective inward and lead to a self-centered focus. Our own emptiness and deficiencies become very apparent. However, if we use reframing, we can acknowledge our feelings as a deep desire for relationship and connection. We can then intentionally and proactively seek to reach out and connect with others in healthy ways in order to deal with these feelings (dinner with friends, activities with nieces/nephews, attending church gatherings, etc.). In addition, reframing can motivate you to show compassion, and to delve deeper into knowing others, knowing yourself, and knowing God.ii
Protecting yourself against temptation
It should be no surprise to us that temptation will come. Our adversary, Satan, is working diligently to find ways to get at us. Sexual temptation and frustration over sexual desire are certainly areas he tries to exploit. As 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” Based on this warning, we need to be aware of the sources of temptation around us (i.e. environmental sources of temptation) as well as the vulnerabilities inside of us (i.e., spiritual, physiological, emotional, cognitive, and social sources of temptation). 2 Corinthians 2:11 tells us that we should not be “ignorant” of his [Satan’s] devices. He is often subtle in that he can “hijack” legitimate needs and desires in order to lead you to temptation.
There is a wide variety of ways that sexual feelings, tension, and temptation can be kindled. Many temptations come as we passively go through our day without a diligent plan of protection. An “innocent” search on the internet or drive down the street can take a turn toward temptation as we come across something we were not expecting. Below are a number of sources that we need to be aware of and on guard against.
- Unfortunately, you don’t have to look very far before you are confronted with sexually explicit and implicit content in many types of media, billboards, the Internet, etc. In addition, there may be specific people and certain locations that serve as sources of temptation for you individually.
- Satan is eager to entice us and draw us towards temptation (James 1:14). Attacks from Satan, the lust of the flesh, and even self-righteousness can be sources of temptation.
- As humans, we must deal with our physical drives that can put us directly or indirectly in the way of temptation: sexual tension and fatigue are two examples of these types of physical states that we must learn to manage in healthy ways.
- Emotions of sadness, loneliness, anger, boredom, stress, insecurity, etc., can all increase our vulnerabilities to temptation. Sometimes people try to “stuff’ their emotions in order to cope with them, but that tends to only make them worse or come out in an unhealthy way later.
- Our thoughts play a large part in how we manage temptation. Viewing individuals as “objects” rather than souls, rationalizing our thoughts or behaviors, believing we are entitled in some way, or believing we are helpless to defend ourselves from temptation are all ways our thoughts can lead us astray.
- Satan wants to use our God-given longings for connection, affection, and affirmation to derail us through seeking ungodly means to fulfill those desires.
Ephesians 6:10-18 reminds us that we have spiritual protection (belt of truth, helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith) and a weapon (sword of the Spirit) to use as we wage a spiritual battle.
“Starving” our sources of temptation
We need to accept our responsibility in choosing how to feed our minds and the extent to which we feed our fleshly desires. When facing sexual temptation, take inventory of your life to see what sources of temptation you are aware of that you are allowing in your life. You are encouraged to pray through Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
We can all find ways to justify things in our lives that quite simply need to be removed and from which we need to flee. There may be certain environmental sources of temptation that you knowingly allow in your life (various forms of media, romance novels, pornography, etc.); or perhaps it is a relationship that consistently provokes unhealthy desires. Choosing not to feed the natural desires within us is an important step towards overcoming sexual temptation. This is a matter of enforcing your personal “zero-tolerance policy” on inputs and accelerants.
For more information, readers are encouraged to go the Dealing with Sexual Temptation section of the ACCFS website at www.accounseling.org/sexualtemptation.
Remember the Body of Christ
In the midst of this struggle with sexual desire, it is imperative to remember the invaluable tool which God gives us in the form of His Body of believers. We are called to be active and involved members of this Body. This involvement can help fulfill or reframe the longing for deep connection we may feel is lacking in our lives.
Within the Body, we should utilize the source of protection accountability partners and mentors can provide (Proverbs 27:17). We are able to walk alongside each other through life as “members one of another” (Romans 12:5). We are also instructed to “bear each other burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and to confess our faults to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16).
Accountability partners are typically people of your same sex around the same age and stage of life as you. Mentors are individuals of the same sex with more experience in life or in some specific area who provide guidance and support. Accountability partners and mentors who know you well and know your vulnerabilities can provide encouragement as well as help you avoid some situations that might cause you to stumble. In addition, they can provide the “faithful wounds” that we often need when we are being led astray by our own desires (Proverbs 27:6). For more information, readers can go to the Mentoring section of the ACCFS website at www.accounseling.org/mentor.
Managing Technology Effectively
While the topic of technology goes beyond the scope of this paper, it is too important to omit altogether. In many ways, technology and social media have affected people’s lives in a positive sense. However, with different opportunities introduced daily, individuals are being called to a higher level of responsibility as new doors are also being opened to temptation. Technology has increased the ease of accessibility to pornography and sexual images like never before. Personal stewardship and high levels of accountability and integrity are needed to stay away from falling into a trap of isolation and secrecy. Remember that our Christian beliefs and behaviors need to go with us online. Nothing is hid from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5b tells us that God “…will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.”
Viewing pornography or graphic sexual images on the television or the computer can create a mental catalog of images to be recalled during future struggles. As sexual temptation is heightened, sinful fantasies increase and can result in masturbation to satisfy desires instead of seeking to fulfill deeper needs of connection in line with God’s truth. Through continually viewing and fantasizing, a person’s relationships with others and overall view of reality can become distorted. Women become objectified, diminishing a man’s ability to see her worth in Christ as a human being. She instead becomes viewed only as an object of desire or fulfillment and standards are created which can never, even in marriage, be righteously filled.
Two extremes can occur when looking at social media’s impact on a believer. While intended to be used for building connections socially, some sites can have the opposite effect, increasing a person’s sense of depression and isolation as they view another’s accomplishments or appearance. This can result in a diminished sense of personal value and reality. Also, some people settle for superficial relationships by communicating through a device rather than face-to-face so they don’t have to make deeper connections and have accountability with other believers. Unfortunately, this superficiality has the effect of hiding insecurities or embellishing truths by keeping their true self hidden. This state can lead to further complications as hollow, shallow relationships lead to loneliness which can exacerbate difficulties of dealing with sexual desire.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a distorted sense of concealment and safety that arises from the use of social media. Certain phone apps can embolden people to interact in inappropriate ways, while inappropriate pictures or messages may be exchanged under the pretense that they will be deleted and unseen by others outside of the intended recipient. These actions blur appropriateness in relationships, as people perceive these actions as “safe” without a clear understanding of the lasting mental, emotional, and spiritual effects that can result long after a physical picture is gone.
For more information, readers are encouraged to go the technology section of the ACCFS website at www.accounseling.org/technology.
Fulfillment and empowerment through Christ
Our goal must be to have pure desires: desiring God’s gift of sex to be honored and undefiled. In the spirit of Colossians 3, we must continually “put off” or “mortify” the natural lusts and “seek those things which are above” in order to “put on the new man” (Colossians 3:1-11). As we continue this pursuit of sanctification, we become transformed and conformed to the image of Christ and fulfill His calling to us (Romans 8:29, Romans 12:2). God’s call to us is based in His unending love for us. When He calls us to defeat temptation, He does so knowing that He has something far better for us than the temporary, artificial fulfillment that lustful thoughts and actions attempt to provide. As we seek to defeat lust for the sake of holiness, we need to be properly equipped with:
- The right standard for holiness as outlined in God’s Word.
- The right source of power to change: the Holy Spirit’s conviction and the power of Christ in us, not just will-power that can lead to self-righteousness.
- The right motive for fighting for purity: gratitude for the unmerited grace we have received and the desire to become more like Christ.iii (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7)
Remember your value in God’s eyes. He was willing to pay the ultimate price so that you could have a relationship with Him. Consider the following verses in His Word: (Psalm 139: 17-18, Isaiah 43:1-2, 4, Isaiah 49:16, Zechariah 2:8, John 15:9)
Develop an intimate relationship with God and reflect on His love for you. How do you do this? In a similar way that you develop relationships with people:
- Spend time with Him.
- Talk to Him (pray, journal).
- Read His Word and meditate on it.
- Examine His work in nature.
- Open your heart and let Him in to even the secret places where no one else is allowed.
- Use the gifts and talents He has given you to glorify Him and serve others.
Finally, by finding purpose in the bigger picture, single people are able to focus on serving God more and their unfilled desires less. “When people catch a glimpse of something much larger than themselves, something they deeply believe in, seemingly nothing is too difficult for them.”iv This is not to say maintaining this purpose will always be easy, but this discipline allows us to strive for and fulfill the heart of Colossians 3.
Singleness offers both joys and challenges. One major struggle single people face is finding ways to deal with their sexual desire. There are many ineffective ways of dealing with this relevant issue. Attempting to just “white knuckle” your way through life and relying on your own will power will set you up for failure. Merely trying to repress or deny your sexuality until you get married is also ineffective. Redirecting and reframing your sexual desires, developing and maintaining healthy relationships, starving sources of temptation, and gaining victory over lust are ways to properly acknowledge your sexuality and yet not allow it to lead you into sin. Finally, a vibrant, committed spiritual life which maintains healthy communication with God and the body of believers should be viewed as an essential first line of defense. The intimacy we have with our heavenly Father and the opportunity to experience it through prayer is powerful and fulfilling.
- Pray for the presence of Christ and the desire for God’s will in your life, whether it includes marriage or not.
- Pray for yourself to be growing into the person Christ wants you to be.
- Pray for the purity and integrity of the men and women you know.
- Pray to be able to honor God as part of the Body of Christ.
Questions for further discussion:
- What specific activities can you do in order to “redirect” the tension that comes from sexual desire? How can you specifically “reframe” your sexual desires into a greater perspective?
- What are your vulnerabilities? Are there any social or environmental sources of temptation that need to be removed from your life?
- Who are you accountable to for maintaining your sexual purity?
- How can appropriate boundaries be set to maintain integrity and accountability when using technology?
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iii. Ibid., 47-40.