Celibacy or purity for the single Christian?



In 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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