On Wednesday 19 August 2020, we held a special event on the topic of “Can we live without sex?” with Dani Treweek and Chris Thomson.
During the evening, Dani spoke on whether life without sex is actually good. Chris spoke about whether life without sex is actually realistic for Christians. In the final part of the evening, Dani and Chris, along with Chase Kuhn, answered some questions posed by the audience.
Links referred to:
- Video from this event
- The Single Minded Conferece
- Our recent interview with Dani in episode #044
- Details of the upcoming Priscilla & Aquila event: “Retiring for work: A lifetime serving the Lord” with Peter and Christine Jensen
- Details of our October event: “Facing infertility as a church family” with Jonathan Morris and Megan Best
Chase Kuhn: In this special episode of the CCL podcast, I’m very pleased to bring you the audio from our most recent event on the question, “Can we live without sex?” This event was livestreamed, and the audio is coming from our Marcus Loane Hall at Moore Theological College.
We just apologise now for any technical difficulties that we encounter, or sound issues, as it was a live event. But we hope that you will enjoy and benefit from listening to the audio. Please enjoy!
CK: Good evening and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living live event—well, live online for you. We’re very glad that we get to meet in this way even in a COVID season, and we’re very grateful for everyone that’s registered and is viewing either with their church, their small group or individually in their home. We’re very glad to have you here.
The Centre for Christian Living exists to bring biblical ethics to everyday issues, and tonight, I think we’re getting to a very important issue. My name is Chase Kuhn. If you don’t know me, I’m the Director of the Centre for Christian Living here at Moore College and I’m very much looking forward to introducing you to our guests in just a few moments. Tonight’s topic is “Can we live without sex?” and I imagine the practicalities of this question are very very apparent to you. And yet, I think we ought to consider them for just a moment.
In a culture that is so saturated with sex, how is it that we are meant to think about sex in our lives as Christian men and women? I mean this for singles. I mean this for married couples. I mean this for people that may be finding themselves suddenly single, and how we can think about what the Bible teaches us in contrast to what the world is constantly telling us about satisfaction in life is really what we’re aiming at tonight.
So I hope that what we listen tonight from our guests will be a blessing to you in your own Christian walk. If you’re single especially, we want you to have real confidence in God’s good design for your life. If you’re a married person, we want God’s good design for your life. And we want a better awareness of one another as we’re together in the church community. So we’re going to be considering, “Can we live without sex?”
Let me introduce you to our guests. As I said, it’s my great pleasure to do this. Dani Treweek will be our first speaker. Dani has spent the last few years pursuing a PhD on a theology of singleness, and she has completed this now. And so, in some ways, she is a very very qualified person to be speaking into this space, and one of the things that’s been great about Dani’s ministry is as a single woman, she’s helped people think about this pastorally in her own church ministry, but she’s also begun a conference called Single Minded that has been very widely appreciated—not just in Australia, but worldwide, actually. And it’s a great resourcing ministry for singles and marrieds in thinking about singleness in church and in our daily living.
We also have Chris Thomson, who’s joining us, who is a colleague of mine here at Moore College. Chris lectures in Old Testament here at Moore, and Chris has also long thought about singleness, he’s contributed to the Single Minded Conference, and one of the things that I really appreciate about Chris is his real desire to sit under God’s word and listen to that about how he’s going to be living out his own single life faithfully before God. And every time I’ve talked to Chris about this, I have benefitted richly from his ministry to me and to so many others, and so I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
Both of our guests tonight I have found to be so clear and articulate in the way that they are reasoning biblically and theologically about these issues—a single man, a single woman—each of them single—are seeking to be very faithful in their life before God and really trying to help men and women in any state of life that they’re in to be faithful and to God as well. And that’s what we’re hoping for tonight: how can we be faithful to the Lord in our lives?
So before we get going, let me just give you a couple of important details that we can let you know about. First of all, because it’s a live event online, there may be technical difficulties. We’re obviously very much hoping that that won’t be the case. But if you should find any technical difficulties, there’s a chat function in the livestream and we’d love for you to use that chat function in the livestream to report any issues or seek any resolution for those problems. We’re going to be recording this and we’re hoping that the recording will be nice and sound, and available to you just in case you have any issues that are irreparable. Lord-willing, that won’t happen at all—it won’t be a concern. So that’s the plan.
The first part of our evening is going to focus on two presentations—first from Dani, then from Chris. That will run us for about the next 50 minutes and then after that, we’re going to have an extended time of Q&A. And the way that we will be addressing questions and answers tonight will be through a feature called Sli.do. If you’re not familiar with it, you can go in your web browser, you can search “sli.do”—that’s the web address, and once you’re there, there is a code that’s unique for this event: “ccllivewithoutsex”. And there you can report questions and those questions can then be upvoted, and so you can see other questions that people have raised, you can vote on questions that you think would be really helpful for you to hear, and as we get into our question and answer time, our team’s going to be feeding those questions to me and we’ll get to hear from our guest panellists their responses to these questions that we hope will, again, be helpful for clarifying issues and maybe even exploring some of the application of them in your own life and ministry.
The final thing is that we’re really just hoping that there will be a great spirit of godliness as we’re addressing each of these issues. And so, we’re asking for your online behaviour, we wouldn’t have to say this, we hope, but your online behaviour to be respectful—mindful of people asking really heartfelt questions that will be important to them—and to be respectful of that in this environment.
Finally, before we give over to our guests, there are some online handouts that you’ll find. Those have been sent out with the email link that came to you. But there should be a link as well available in the chat function of the livestream. You can click on that. You can get the handouts for this evening. Both Dani and Chris will be making reference to several quotes there, as well as some Bible verses, that would be helpful for you to track along with as we go through the evening.
The last thing we have to do before we give our time over to our guests is for me to pray that the Lord would bless us as we listen to this teaching this evening. So please join me in prayer.
Our heavenly Father, thank you for your great loving care for us and you kind provision for us of this life as men and women—men and women together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and we pray that tonight you would bless both Dani and Chris as they speak to us—all of us as we listen and receive and interact with these ideas, and we think about the application of truth into our own hearts and lives as we seek to honour the Lord Jesus, our great king. Our result tonight, Lord—what we want more than anything—is for our lives to be better oriented to Christ so that we might honour him whether we are single or married—that in our sexuality, we would genuinely embrace the wisdom that you’ve given to us in your word and appreciate that and live under the glory of Christ. It’s in his name we pray. Amen.
Well, our first guest this evening is Dani Treweek and Dani is going to be addressing us on the topic of whether or not life without sex can be good. Is it good? And Dani, we’re looking forward to hearing from you, so over to you, Dani.
Life without sex: Is it good?
1. Can we live without sex?
Dani Treweek: Great. Thanks for having me, everyone! We really are gathered here with one particular question in our mind tonight: can we live without sex? In of itself, I think it seems like a pretty simple question. But when we start breaking it down, things become a little bit more complicated. See, what is this “sex” of which we’re talking about? And not only that, what do we mean about living without it?
Well, to kick off our engagement with the question tonight, we’re going to tackle each of these in turn—starting with whether we can really live without sex. What are we talking about when we say “sex”? What is sex? What counts as sex? What doesn’t count as sex?
Now, in one sense, you might be thinking, “Oh, come on, Dani! It’s pretty clear. We all know what that means.” But I’m actually not so sure it’s that straightforward. You see, most of us, I suspect, would agree that sexual intercourse is clearly sex. But what about all the other things? In the language of the time that I grew up in, what about first, second and third base? Now, I never quite was clear on what exactly was encapsulated in each of those things. But regardless of my lack of clarity, the question remains: are they included “sex”? Some things—perhaps, many things—that we do with our body are clearly on view when we talk about sex. But for other things, well, context matters and circumstances matter and intentions matter.
And so, tonight as we talk about sex, what we’re going to have in mind is a way that we use our bodies to incite sexual arousal or promote sexual intimacy between ourself and someone else, or to provide sexual gratification to ourselves or to another person. And this definition of sex is focused much more on intent and purpose and motivation than it is on a specific list of what we do or don’t qualify as sex. It’s a way of understanding sex, which urges us to not look simply at what we do with our bodies and particularly our sexual organs, but why we do those things, or, perhaps, why we long to do those things.
Now, what that means is that it’s also important for us to locate ourselves in this conversation that we’re having tonight. As most of us think about the question, “Can we live without sex?”, we bring certain perspectives—certain lived experiences—certain histories to that question. Some of us watching tonight will never have had sex. Others will have had sex, but aren’t having it any longer. Some currently have a regular and an active and a healthy sex life. Others currently experience, perhaps, a difficult or a frustrating or even a painful sex life.
But just as we acknowledge that there is lots of different situations and perspectives coming to this question tonight, there’s one perspective that needs to overarch all of those, and that perspective is God’s perspective on sex. As Chris and I speak tonight, we do so as people who are firmly convinced by God’s word that sex is one of God’s good gifts to us. And it’s a good gift that he’s given to be received and enjoyed and embraced within the particular and the exclusive context of marriage. Starting way back in Genesis and then moving right through the rest of Scripture, God has revealed his good intention for sex within the one flesh union of a man and a woman in marriage. Their sexual relationship serves the intimacy of that union—of that committed covenant—and it’s a way that God is at work bringing a new human life into the world within the context of that union.
And so, tonight, it’s these purposes from God which will be guiding our consideration of the place of sex in our lives. It’s his intentions that we want to allow to shape whatever situation we find ourselves in. Tonight, whether we are married or whether we’re single—whether we are having sex or we’re not—whether we’re glad we’ve had it or perhaps we now regret it—whether we ever have it or we don’t.
2. Can we live without sex?
DT: But, of course, tonight’s question doesn’t only ask whether we can live without sex, it also asks whether we can live without sex. Now, again, lots of different people will bring lots of different perspectives to that question. But tonight we want to consider just two that are significant for us as Christians.
The first one is one sense of that question—that Christians have wrestled with right throughout church history. And it’s a question of whether it’s realistic for us to live without sex. Way back in the fourth century after Christ, St Augustine talked about how it was his sexual longings that delayed him becoming a Christian sooner than he did: he has this incredible passage in his writings where he describes these sexual longings as “murmuring in his ear”, saying, “Do you mean to get rid of us? Shall we never be your companions again? Never—never again?”
Fast forward a thousand years or so, and we find Luther, who said that unless a person was specifically called by God to be single, then they must marry, because otherwise, and I quote, “they will be bound to commit heinous sins without end”. Even as recently as the 2016 conference, a very well-known American pastor and theologian, John Macarthur, taught that singleness—and again, I quote—“leads to sexual sin at a rampant level, because you’ve got all these people with their pent-up desires which can’t be normally met and they’re about to explode”.
And so, as we ask whether we can live without sex, one of the things that we need to think through is whether a life without sex is even a realistic option for us. Chris is going to help us consider how God’s word speaks to that particular sense of our question a little bit later on.
But before he does, there’s another way that we need to unpack our question of whether we can live without sex, and it’s this: can we actually say that living without sex is truly living? Recently I was listening to Louis Theroux’s podcast and he was on this episode interviewing Miriam Margolyes, who is a British and apparently also Australian actress. You would probably best know her as Professor Sprout in Harry Potter. I will spare you my terrible British accent, but let me just recount for you a snippet of the conversation that they had: they were talking about the way Miriam often uses sex in her comedy, and she says it works really well to do that, because—this is what she says—“nearly everybody—unless they are terribly unfortunate—have had it, are having it, or hope to have it”. And Louis Theroux responds to her by quoting a French poet who said, “Of all perversions, chastity is, perhaps, the strangest”. For Louis Theroux and Miriam Margolyes, the thought of a life without sex is terribly unfortunate and strangely perverse. Are they right? Can a life without the experience of sex or the experience of sex again, be a truly enjoyable life? Is it a good life? That’s the part of our question which I’m going to spend the rest of my time leading us through tonight.
3. Living without sex now … in light of the past
DT: CS Lewis once wrote,
Every age has its own outlook … it is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.
CS Lewis, On The Reading of Old Books
Our age is no exception to that. We live in a time in a culture in a place, which has a particular outlook—including a particular outlook on sex. And so as we think tonight about whether life without sex can be good, we need to do a little bit of digging underneath the outlook of our age. We need to spend a bit of time understanding the connection we see between a life with or without sex and the good life, and we need to understand why we see that connection—why we see it as existing.
a. Two revolutions of the past
DT: And to do that, we need to start in, perhaps, a little bit of a surprising place: we need to start by looking to the past—and particularly by looking to two pivotal revolutions that have happened in the past.
The Industrial Revolution
First of all, the Industrial Revolution of around the late 1700s/early 1800s. Many of us would be familiar with the old Sinatra song and also 90s sitcom jingle,
Love and marriage,
love and marriage,
they go together like a horse and a carriage.
Let me tell you, brother,
you can’t have one without the other.
Now, this sentiment—this sentiment that romantic love is really the glue—the foundation of marriage—that they necessarily coexist together—that they don’t make sense without each other—it seems like a self-obvious truth, I think, to us in our age in our place in our culture.
But actually, that perspective on marriage and love and, by implication, sex, would have seemed a very strange one to people who were living in the West as recently as just a couple of hundred years ago. You see, prior to the late 1700s, most people simply did not have the luxury of marrying for love. Marriage wasn’t primarily seen as a—a public announcement of two people’s intense romantic feelings for each other. Which also means that people didn’t see sex as the pinnacle expression—the ultimate experience—of that romantic love within marriage.
Now, don’t get me wrong: it is not that people didn’t enjoy sex back then, because clearly they did. And it’s not that romantic love didn’t exist before then, because clearly it did. But before the Industrial Revolution, love and marriage and sex didn’t go together like the horse and carriage that they actually used back then. You could actually and did often have one without the other.
You see, before the late 1700s, the household of a husband and a wife was not primarily seen to be a haven of romantic affection. Instead, the marital household was the centre of economic production. The household was a collection of people who were bound together to help each other survive and, hopefully, thrive within the broader society, and it was also a collection of people who worked within the broader society to—to help that community to survive and, hopefully, thrive. This meant that back then, the home wasn’t a refuge from the workplace; it actually was the workplace. It was where you grew and you made your own food; it was where you produced and you sold your own goods; it was where you bartered and purchased other household’s goods. And you just generally made life work that way.
Your spouse was not so much your soul mate as they were your workmate. And so were your children as well, actually. But then the Industrial Revolution dawned, new technologies began to develop, factories began to be built, and the household increasingly lost its place as the economic centre of production within society. People left their homes—left that spousal unit—to go to work in the factories. And as this happened, marriage and the household became increasingly privatised. They moved from being primarily outward-looking to turning and being primarily inward-looking. And the historian Stephanie Coontz sums it up in this way: she writes,
By the end of the 1700s […] individuals were encouraged to marry for love. For the first time in five thousand years, marriage came to be seen as a private relationship between two individuals rather than one link in a larger system of political and economic alliances. The measure of a successful marriage was [… now] how well a family met the emotional needs of its individual members.
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage
As marriages became increasingly central in meeting people’s emotional needs, sex in marriage gradually became elevated to the ultimate expression—the physical celebration—of those needs being fully met. And so over time, sex became to take on even a kind of other worldly significance.
Now, again, of course that is not to say that love didn’t exist between many spouses back then; it clearly did. And it wasn’t to say that sex with your spouse back then wasn’t thought to have been delightful and special, because it was. It’s not even to suggest that romance and wonderful sex don’t find a right and fitting place within marriage. I mean, we just need to look at the Song of Solomon to actually see that’s true.
But the point is that this romanticised trinity of marriage, love and sex as that which was designed to provide ultimate fulfilment to our human emotional and relational needs really only came into existence about 200 years ago.
So there is our first historical moment, which has given shape to the way that we, even as Christians today, tend to think about the idealised place of sex in our lives.
The Sexual Revolution
But there’s another revolution and one that happened much more recently than that, which has had a very significant impact in our thinking in this area. And that is the sexual revolution of last century.
When we think about the sexual revolution, I think we get this picture of hippies in bellbottoms, dancing around parks, holding, you know, a free love sign in one hand and making a peace sign with the other. And that is certainly a picture of the sexual revolution. But it’s not the complete picture of the sexual revolution. It’s not what it was all about.
You see, just as the massive changes to the way that people thought about marriage, love and sex at the end of the 18th century came about because of new technology and new industrial advances, so that was also true of the sexual revolution of the mid-twentieth century. It was medical and technological advances which ultimately paved the way for the sexual revolution to happen. What were they? Well, they were the development and the easy access to the contraceptive pill, and they were the legislation and easy access to abortion.
Until the middle of the twentieth century, having sex meant you had to be willing to take the consequences that came with that—especially—especially if you were a woman. The Pill and abortion changed all that, and as they changed that, they also changed the way that we as Western society thought about sex. It became much much easier to separate sex from marriage—from having a family—from the societal expectations and pressure that came with that. And that’s precisely why hippies could advocate for free love, because sex became about freedom.
Here’s how one author describes it: his name’s Guy Brandon, He says,
Instead of bringing with it the usual expectation of childbirth and raising a family, the intimacy of the sexual relationship was sought in isolation and sex became about something else [… it] increasingly became about expressing “me”—a part of my identity. Divorced from family, sex has been recast to serve the culture’s pursuit of pleasure and need for self-identity.
Guy Brandon, Just Sex
b. One conviction in the present
DT: And so, here we stand we today as a contemporary society which is hopelessly and endlessly confused about the place of sex in our lives. On one hand, the societal changes after the Industrial Revolution have shaped the world’s thinking about sex so that as we see it as essential and ultimate to our human relational needs.
This was re-emphasised to me just yesterday as I read an ABC article about Victoria’s lockdown restrictions at the moment. In Victoria at the moment, you can’t travel further than 5 km from your home; you can’t visit other people’s homes—except for very very exceptional circumstances; and you need to be in your home between 8pm and 5am every night—unless: unless you have an intimate partner who does not live with you. If that’s the case, then you may travel to their place wherever it may be as often as you like to stay for as long as you like. As the article puts it, if someone’s close relationship is not an intimate partnership, then it’s not permitted in Victoria right now. If we need to be persuaded that our society sees sex as essential to the good life, then we just need to look at what we consider to be essential during a pandemic.
But on the other hand, the sexual revolution has turned sex into something extraordinarily ordinary—extraordinarily common—extraordinarily routine. We’re now told that we should seek it wherever we can, try it with whoever we want, enjoy it as much as we want and have it without needing to be overly worried about any consequences. What matters most is it’s about me and my personal choice. It’s about me using sex to determine who I am—who I want to be—who I want you to see me to be. It’s about my identity. It’s about my freedom.
Our world is so confused about sex, it’s either the way in which someone else fulfills me or it’s the way I fulfill myself, or it’s both of these things at the same time. But either way, whatever way, this means that we have one contemporary conviction about sex and that is, that it is ultimate. We see sex as ultimate. We see it as essential to the good life—to a life worth living. Which means that we see a life without sex as not only terribly unfortunate, but also strangely perverse.
But what about us Christians?
DT: Well, that’s what the world thinks about sex; what do we as Christians think about it? Well, the good news is that we haven’t completely bought into what the world is trying to sell us. We still tend as Christians to place a high value on sex as a good gift from God, designed for his purposes. We don’t generally see sex as common. We are largely appalled at its commodification.
But the world’s confusion about sex as being essential for the good life has affected us as Christians perhaps more than we’re willing to admit. On one hand, the romanticisation of sex and marriage has found a real safe haven in evangelical Christianity today. If you need to be convinced of just how loud the Christian voice has become on this, then let me encourage you to take a trip down to your local Christian book store and have a wander through the aisles on relationships and marriage and sex and love.
But on the other hand, we’ve also breathed in the air of the world around us when it comes to seeing sex as this life-giving force for personal fulfillment. In his really excellent book, Divine Sex, Jonathan Grant puts it this way: he says,
[In the world’s eyes], we can achieve personal fruition only through full, free, and honest sexual expression. Self-denial is seen as a form of self-harm or an unhealthy incursion on our self-identity. As a result, even as Christians we may begin to wonder why God and the church would want to deprive us of these essential needs. This demonstrates the grip that our culture’s vision of sexuality has taken on our imaginations [… and] the frustration, disappointment, and anger that so many believers experience in this area. Why would a good God lead me to this lonely pit? It’s a familiar narrative that I’ve heard from many Christians over the years.
Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex
If sex is so ultimate—if sex is so good—why would a good God lead any of us to the lonely pit of a life without it? Is a life without sex really and truly one which we describe as being a good life?
4. Living without sex now … in light of the future
(Matthew 22:23-33; Revelation 19:6-9; Revelation 21:1-3)
DT: Well, we’ve looked at how the past 200 years would answer a resounding “No” to that question. But what about the future? What answer does it give us in the present? In Matthew 22:23-33, the Sadducees tried to corner Jesus by getting him—they wanted to get him to admit that this whole resurrection thing he’s been going on about is really not much more than a load of wishful thinking. To do that, they give a hypothetical example of a woman who’s been married to seven different men—all of whom have died—and they challenge Jesus to tell them, “Which one of these men is she going to be married to in the resurrection age?” “Try and get yourself out of that one, Jesus,” is the angle here.
But of course, they were always doomed to fail. In verse 29, Jesus looks at the Sadducees and he says, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (ESV). In the future—in Jesus’ future—in our future with him—we as resurrected human beings will not be married to each other. And the reason for that is not only because the purpose of marriage in this creation will not carry over to the next creation, but because in the new creation, the ultimate purpose of marriage in this creation will have been fulfilled. In passages like Revelation 16 and chapter 21, we read of the long-awaited eternal marriage between Christ and his church—the heavenly marriage to which all earthly marriages are a mere foreshadow. When that marriage finally happens—when we collectively as God’s people are intimately and finally and eternally united with our saviour, human marriage will no longer be part of our human reality in heaven. And so, neither will sex.
As we look at how the Bible speaks about Jesus’ resurrection body—as we look at passages like 1 Corinthians 15—we discover that in the new creation, we will all be changed and perfected, and isn’t that going to be good! But we will still be embodied. We will still be physical. I will still be me; you will still be you; we will still be human men and women, relating to each other in eternity. But because we won’t be married to each other, we won’t be having sex with each other. Your future—my future—our future together is eternal life without sex. And you know what? It’s going to be a good life. It is going to be the best life.
But what does life without sex in the new creation have to do with our lives now? I mean, we’re not there yet, are we. We’re talking about the future; we’re still here in the present. We’re in the overlap of the ages—the now, but not yet—the creation where sex and marriage is still really, really important in God’s plans and purposes for us. So what does living without sex in the future have to do with the way we think about living without sex in the now?
Well, in heaven, we are going to be our most fully perfected holy authentic human selves, aren’t we. But as fully perfected holy and authentic humans, we will not be having sex. What this means is that we must not hold sex to be an essential part of what it is to be a true authentic human being. God’s future teaches us that we must not see sex as ultimate—as something that we must experience if we’re to truly live the good, human life. It insists that we not regard something which doesn’t even exist in the new creation as being ultimate in this one. I love this quote from the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann: he says,
To live in anticipation [of God’s future] means letting one’s own present be determined by the expected future of God’s kingdom […] the anticipation of the kingdom of God is not yet the kingdom itself, but it is a life which is determined by that hope.
Jürgen Moltmann, The Liberation of the Future and Its Anticipations in History
A life without sex now is not yet a life in the kingdom of God. But it is a life which is to be determined by that hope. A life without sex now can and should be a life which is determined by our future. A life without sex can and should be given dignity and value in light of that future hope. A life without sex can and should be seen to be a truly, truly good life in light of that future hope—a future hope that is ours in Jesus Christ, who himself was a man who never had sex, but who lived the ultimate good life.
Life without sex: is it a good life? The hope we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a resounding answer to that question, and that answer is “Yes”: yes, it is.
Introduction to Chris
CK: We’re going to continue moving on to our next section, which is “Life without sex: Is it realistic?” Chris, we look forward to hearing from you now. Thank you.
Life without sex: Is it realistic?
Chris Thomson: Thank you, Chase! And it’s very good to be here, and I want to say as well just what a privilege it is to be involved in this evening and how much, as well, I’ve enjoyed conversations with Chase and Dani on this subject. I’m convinced it’s a very important one as they are as well.
CT: Dani’s really helpfully shown us that sex is not ultimate—that the one flesh union between a man and a woman points beyond itself to that precious union between Christ and his people—both in this world and in the world to come. And the celibate life is good, because it anticipates the life of the world to come, when there will be no more marriage or sex, as Dani’s reminded us.
I love this quote from Andrew Cameron: he says that single people are “harbingers of heaven”: we speak to that new creation existence. Sam Allberry says that “Marriage shows us the shape of the gospel by pointing us to our oneness with God, but singleness shows us its sufficiency”—that we have the reality; we don’t need the sign.
Now certainly sacrifice in the celibate life: to forego sex is to forego something good. But it’s not an ultimate good. It’s not to deny ourselves something that’s essential to thrive as a human being. I’m as convinced of that as Dani is.
But you might be on board with everything that Dani’s been saying—everything that you’ve heard so far this evening—and you might be wondering still if life without sex is a good life, is it actually possible? Is it realistic to live without sex—for a season or perhaps for a whole lifetime? Dani’s already mentioned significant Christian leaders—past and present—who’ve said, “Yes, it’s impossible.” Many pastors counsel people to marry young lest they commit sexual sin.
And that idea that it isn’t realistic to live without sex can strike a chord, because most of us experience sexual desire and attraction as powerful forces. Perhaps we wonder, “Isn’t it inevitable that we’ll act on them? Are we really meant to resist a force that seems so strong—so natural—in this world?” Perhaps there are times when some of us have actually given in. Perhaps even now we’re engaged in a relationship or a habit which we know God doesn’t approve of. But you just feel powerless to overcome it. And we see other Christians give in all the time, don’t we—leaders, even—pastors—and we think, “Well, if they can’t be sexually pure, how can I?”
I want to persuade you this evening that we are not powerless in the fight for sexual purity—that life without sex is realistic for singles and, indeed, for married people for whom sex is not an option. I want to persuade you that God has given you everything you need for a godly life—for a life of sexual purity. I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m not saying you won’t stumble. But it is possible.
And let me give you three reasons why I believe that.
1. Jesus shows us that life without sex is realistic
CT: First, Jesus shows us that life without sex is realistic. Jesus shows us that life without sex is realistic, and Dani touched on this towards the end of her talk. But you might be thinking, “That’s just Jesus.” We can sometimes struggle with the idea that Jesus fully shares our humanity. It’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that he is both fully God and fully human. And so sometimes we default to thinking of him as somewhere in between—not quite fully human—not quite fully God; somewhere in between.
I still remember the moment at theological college when I understood for the first time that Jesus’ divinity did not in any way diminish his humanity, and his humanity did not in any way diminish his divinity. It was one of those mind-blowing moments. As Jesus hung dying on the cross, he experienced real pain. He bled real blood. It’s true that at that very moment, he was putting breath into the people who stood around, mocking him. At that very moment, he was making planets revolve in their orbits light years away. But his divinity did not diminish his humanity. It didn’t lessen his experience of the suffering of the cross. It didn’t shield him from the highs and the lows of human experience. He hungered. He tired. He grieved. He laughed. He loved.
Hebrews 2:17 says that Jesus
had to be made like them [that is, the offspring of Abraham], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Heb 2:17 NIV)
If Jesus wasn’t fully human, there is no salvation for humanity. This doctrine really matters. And he was tempted. So later in Hebrews—Hebrews 4:15—we read,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Heb 4:15 NIV)
And I take it that “tempted in every way” includes sexual temptation. So Jesus shows us that it’s possible to say “No” to sexual sin. It’s true that Jesus died relatively young. But he said “No” to sexual sin as a teenager, he said “No” to sexual sin throughout his twenties when, I’m told, testosterone levels in men are at their highest. Doug Webster comments—and I think this is a profound comment:
He showed us how to live fully for God as a single young adult. However, because of the sexual preoccupation of our age, many have trouble relating to Jesus because he seems to them asexual. It is ironic that by virtue of his singleness and celibacy, Jesus is rarely considered as an example of authentic singleness.
Later he says this: “It dehumanizes Jesus to speak of him as asexual, especially when the male-female dynamic was a real part of his life.” And we see that in his relationships in the Gospels—both with men and with women. He was a real man. But he lived without sex.
Jesus shows us that life without sex is realistic.
2. Godliness is a struggle, but possible by the Spirit
CT: But what about you and me? Is it realistic for us? Well, secondly, godliness is a struggle, but possible by the Spirit. Godliness is a struggle, but possible by the Spirit. So Dani talked about the way that we live in the now and not yet, or the overlap of the ages, and I’ve tried to represent that in the diagram on the handout: if you’ve got the colourful handout, I’ve got a diagram there.
Clip art: Vecteezy.com
We’re living in the last days of this world—what the Bible sometimes calls “the flesh”. That’s the grey area in the diagram. But the age to come, which will be fully here when Jesus returns, that age has already broken into the present as the firstfruits of the Spirit is poured out on God’s people. And the Bible says that there is conflict: there’s a War of the Worlds, if you like, between the present world and the world to come—the flesh and the Spirit. And if you’re a Christian, you will know that conflict as you find yourself being pulled in two directions.
Paul puts it this way in Galatians 5:16-17, which is on your handout, or you might want to grab a Bible:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (Gal 5:16-17 NIV)
Or some translations say, “So that you do not do what you want”. Either way, there’s this idea that we’re not acting in line with our desires all of the time: either we have a desire to be holy, but the flesh draws us into sin, or we have a desire to sin, but the Spirit enables us to resist it. But we’re feeling a conflict within us. And you’ll know that conflict if you’re a Christian.
Some years ago, I was looking at a recruitment brochure for the British Army—not because I was planning to go into the British Army, but I was curious, and I saw this brochure. Here are a couple of extracts from the brochure:
When it comes to action, travel and adventure, there’s nothing to beat the army! As a soldier, you will travel all over the world, visiting countries that your mates can only dream of. The army means great training and pay—great prospects, great mates, and a great laugh. What more do you want to know?
Well, you might want to know that there’s fighting involved. You might want to know that there’s a likelihood you might get shot at if you join the army. But funnily that didn’t find its way into the brochure, and by the way, I was looking at the Australian Army website the other day just out of curiosity, and it’s a very similar spiel.
I hope when you became a Christian, you were told that you were joining a fight. I hope you weren’t just told it’s going to be great. It is great, living the Christian life: it’s a wonderful privilege to be walking in relationship with the creator God who made us—to know that we have sins forgiven, to know that we have a worldwide fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ. There are wonderful joys in being a Christian. But it’s a struggle. The flesh tries to pull us towards the acts listed from verse 19:—
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (Gal 19-21a NIV)
All kinds of things that God does not approve. Those things are everywhere in our world and they’re the acts of the flesh. But the Spirit seeks to produce in us the fruit in verse 22: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22 NIV). And so sometimes we find ourselves following the Spirit, and sometimes we find ourselves following the flesh, and oftentimes we find ourselves torn between the two.
But did you notice the promise in verse 16? “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16 NIV) This isn’t a conflict between two equal powers; the Spirit gives us the strength to resist the flesh. Look at verse 24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24 NIV). It’s not that it’s no longer there, but our relationship with it is decisively broken. Satan would love us to believe that we can’t fight. Satan would love us singles to believe that sexual sin—pornography—are inevitable—or that past sexual sin continues to define us and to mould us. But Paul says, no, we’ve crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
I love watching spy dramas, and one of the central tropes in spy dramas is different agencies trying to recruit people—assets—to work against their government—sometimes by seduction: “We’ll give you a better life”; sometimes by threats: “We’ll make life difficult for you if you don’t play along”. And once they’ve succeeded in inciting a small betrayal, then they convince the asset it’s game over: they say, “Your own side will never take you back now; you belong to us.” Well, the flesh plays all of the same tricks on us—sometimes seducing us; sometimes threatening us, saying, “Oh, life’s going to be so hard for you if you don’t give in”; sometimes telling us that we’ve blown it—that God no longer is our master; we might as well just give ourselves in.
But Paul says, no, we belong to Christ Jesus. We’ve crucified the flesh. The Spirit enables us to say “No” to sexual immorality, impurity, selfishness, and “Yes” to kindness, gentleness, self-control.
But it’s not automatic: we need to walk by the Spirit, in line with what the Spirit says in Scripture in prayerful dependence on the Spirit’s power. Or as Paul puts it in verse 25, “Since we live by the Spirit”—since it’s the Spirit that’s given us life—“let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25 NIV). I gather the word translated “keep in step”, it was originally a military word: it meant “to line up in formation”—to fight alongside someone. So we need to be fighting on the same side as the Spirit. We need to be pulling in the same direction. So let me ask you, “Are you fighting?” Are you ready to fight?
As well as spy dramas, I’ve watched enough war films to know that soldiers don’t just saunter into a battle unprepared and unawares. Are you on your guard? Do you pray constantly for the Spirit to strengthen you? Do you take whatever steps are needed to stay away from sin—to avoid it? Jesus said (I think, speaking hyperbolically), “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It’s better to enter the kingdom of heaven with one eye than with two eyes to go into hell” (Mark 9:47). Now, I think he was speaking for rhetorical effect. But the point is that whatever it is that causes you to sin, root it out of your life.
Now, because this is a talk about living without sex, I’m going to focus on sexual sin. But I don’t want to give the impression that this is the only area we need to struggle in. We have to fight against every desire of the flesh—hatred and discord and jealousy and rage and ambition and envy, and so on. We have to fight for joy and peace and forbearance and kindness and gentleness.
I think sometimes we can reach a point in the Christian life where we feel like we’re satisfied with our level of godliness in those areas, and we stop fighting. There’s a great book by Jerry Bridges called Respectable Sins, where he tackles some of them. I think one of the reasons sometimes why we think that sexual sin is particularly powerful is we don’t have that same feeling about sexual sin all of the time: we’re not satisfied with it, because our society—or, at least, our Christian church—talks about it in the way that it does. Don’t hear me to say that other sins are unimportant. But let’s think about the battle for sexual purity. In the things that you do—in the things that you watch and you read—in the things that you think—you can either make it easier or harder for yourself to fight this battle.
On the website Reddit, there is a Subreddit called “What could go wrong?” I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I quite enjoy this particular Subreddit: it’s the place to go if you want to see videos people doing really stupid things, or if you’re just curious to know what happens if you mess with a bear or set off a firework in your car. There’s a few of them along the lines of “What could go wrong if I pour petrol onto this fire?” And you can probably guess what happens in the video: the fire that was under control suddenly rages out of control. And you watch and you ask yourself, “What was this person thinking?”
Brothers and sisters, some of us are pouring petrol onto the flames of our sexual desire. And we think it’s impossible to fight, because we’re not really fighting. Perhaps you’re in a dating relationship and you’re getting physical and you’re finding it harder and harder to stay self-controlled. But you’ve never actually had a conversation about what’s appropriate for Christians. You haven’t made the decisions about where you’re going to spend time or where you’re going to put your hands that mean that in the heat of the moment when you’re enjoying an intimate time together, you don’t go too far.
I brought a couple of magnets with me as a bit of a visual aid. They’re not super powerful, but let’s pretend they’re really powerful. The thing about magnets is that the closer you bring them together, the more strength you need to stop them from coming together completely. And I think our sex drives are a bit like that: you can sort of think, “Well, how close can I get without crossing the line?” But you get too close, you need a lot more strength to pull apart. Let’s be wise in the way that we relate to one another in dating.
Or perhaps the petrol for you is the bars or the websites you visit. Perhaps it’s the books you read or the thoughts you allow to enter your mind when you notice somebody attractive. Keep in step with the Spirit—keep fighting alongside the Spirit in this War of the Worlds.
I think one of the reasons we find this such a challenging issue is that in our world, we don’t even need to go looking for temptation; it’s everywhere. It’s on billboards, it’s in movies, in the workplace, even at church. But there are things we can do to protect ourselves: ad blockers, accountability software, we could decide maybe R-rated movies aren’t for me—maybe there’ll just be too much temptation there. At a time when I found this battle particularly intense, I resolved that if I saw a beautiful woman and I was tempted to lust, I would turn instead to the Lord and praise him for creating such beauty in the world, and remind myself and praise him that he is the one from whom all beauty comes. It felt a bit like when you’re in a war movie and suddenly a bullet comes whizzing past out of nowhere and there’s a sniper, and everybody runs to cover. We need to be prepared to take that kind of evasive action when a thought enters our mind or we see an image that’s unhelpful to us.
It’s really hard work: it’s tiring. It’s a struggle. That’s why the New Testament, time and again, describes the Christian life as a life of endurance. But the Spirit enables us to persevere. Godliness is a struggle, but it’s possible by the Spirit. So let’s keep fighting.
3. Marriage is not God’s answer to sexual temptation
CT: But some of us might be thinking, “Doesn’t Paul say in 1 Corinthians 7 that people without the gift of singleness should get married to avoid sexual immorality? And if so, doesn’t that mean that if you’re single and you don’t have that gift of singleness, then you can’t resist sexual temptation—that everything I’ve just been saying doesn’t apply?” And so I want to address that in this last point before our Q&A and to see that marriage is not God’s answer to sexual temptation.
So please turn with me 1 Corinthians 7 or you’ll find that it’s there: I’ve selected some key verses on the larger handout.
Paul’s advice about sex
CT: Now, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul’s responding to a question about sex. You can see it there in verse 1: “Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’” And you’ll see, in my Bible, that’s in inverted commas: there’s some debate about whether this is Paul’s opinion or whether this is the statement that he’s responding to. But either way, he addresses this question about sex, and he addresses various groups in turn. So he addresses married people first of all, then he addresses unmarried people and widows, then those already married to unbelievers, and then betrothed people.
And verses 1-7 seem to be primarily advising married people. So he says,
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (1 Cor 7:1-2 NIV)
So Paul clearly thinks that sex between a married couple is better than sexual immorality. In the previous chapter in Corinthians, we’ve learned that sexual immorality was occurring all over the place in the Corinthian church: some people were having sex with prostitutes; other people maybe were saying that all sex is unspiritual and you should abstain from sex entirely. And so Paul’s wading into this debate, and he says, “Look, if you’re married, and perhaps especially if there’s a context where sexual immorality’s all over the place, well it’s a good idea to keep having sex with you spouse.” Now, that’s assuming it’s possible and we’re conscious that there’ll be some people for whom that’s not possible. Which gives everything that I’ve just been saying about the power of the Spirit to be godly still applies. But if it is possible—if there’s a marital relationship there within—where sex is possible, then Paul says, “Enjoy sex within that relationship. Don’t go looking for it elsewhere.” And he says in verse 5,
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Cor 7:5-7)
Now, confusion sometimes arises in this passage because of the translation of verse 2. And some of you may be aware of different translations. The ESV, for example, says, “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor 7:2 ESV), which makes it sound like Paul is saying, “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, everybody should find a spouse quick, otherwise they’re bound to sin.” But there are three reasons why that’s an unlikely interpretation—why I think the NIV has actually glossed this passage well.
Firstly, that idea that when Paul says, “Everyone should have his own wife” means “Everyone should have a wife” doesn’t fit the immediate context of verse 2, which is all about husbands and wives fulfilling their marital duties. That’s explaining what he’s talking about in verse 2.
Secondly, I’m told, and I checked three commentaries and they all said the same thing, the Greek expression “have one’s own wife” or “have one’s own husband” doesn’t mean “take a wife or a husband”, but it means “to have sexual relations with one’s wife and husband”. That’s actually what that Greek idiom means, and that’s how the NIV translates it.
Paul’s advice to singles
CT: And thirdly, Paul moves on in verse 8 to give specific advice to single people, and when he addresses single people, his advice is this: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” So he clearly doesn’t think everyone should have a husband or wife, which is what he would be saying if you translate verse 2 the way that the ESV translates it and interprets it as meaning “Everybody should have a husband or wife”.
Now I will get to verse 9. But notice verse 8: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried”. Not bad, but good. It’s not to say that it’s easy—it’s not to say that it’s pain-free—but it is good.
And he just gives one exception: verse 9: “But if they cannot control themselves”—and this is the NIV where I think maybe there’s a little bit of room for improvement in the translation—he says, “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor 7:8–9 NIV). And that’s the other verse in this passage which is sometimes taken to mean that if you’re struggling with lustful desires, you should find a wife and get married quick. But a more literal translation is this: “But if they are not exercising self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn”. And opinions differ among scholars as to whether “burn” there is referring metaphorically to judgement or whether it’s talking about burning with desire.
But either way, there’s nothing about not being able to exercise self-control. What Paul says is if they are not exercising self-control—in other words (and I think Paul is saying) that if unmarried people are giving in to sexual sin, which I think means if they are having sex, then they should marry. If they’re committed to a sexual relationship, then they should actually formalise that one flesh union in the way that God has ordained, which is marriage. But that’s the exception. Otherwise, Paul’s advice to singles is it’s good to stay unmarried.
And he actually says the same thing even when he talks about betrothal in verses 25-37. So in verse 27, he says, “Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife” (1 Cor 7:27 NIV). He even goes so far as to say in verse 38, and it is a difficult passage, but I think this is what he’s saying: he says in verse 38 that although a betrothed man is free to marry his betrothed, he’s actually better off continuing the betrothal.
Now, betrothal isn’t exactly like engagement in our modern world; betrothal in ancient Greco-Roman culture often started younger. And opinions differ as well as to whether Paul is here addressing a specific situation that affected the church in Corinth or whether this is general advice. For what it’s worth, I think his point is quite general, because he goes on to say, “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31 NIV). But that’s another issue. I’ve talked about it in different talks. If you’re interested, you can ask about it in the Q&A.
Paul’s advice about life in general
CT: Either way, I think the key point that I want to make is that Paul certainly doesn’t expect that everyone’s going to get married or everyone, apart from a very select group with a special gift. Verse 9 is the exception to the general rule. It’s not that Paul’s general advice to unmarried people is “To the unmarried and the widows, I say it is good for them to get married, but if they have the rare gift of being able to exercise self-control, then they can stay unmarried like I am.” And in fact, that wouldn’t fit with the main message of these chapters, which is to get on with serving God in your current life situation. That’s what Paul’s saying about life in general. So in verse 17, he says,
Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. (1 Cor 7:17 NIV)
And it’s so important, he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 24:
Each person should remain in the situation [or literally the “calling”] they were in when God called them. (1 Cor 7:20 NIV)
And then again:
Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. (1 Cor 7:24 NIV)
Notice that “calling” doesn’t refer to only to your work, but to your whole situation in life. And it refers to the situation you’re currently in, not some future situation God wants to move you into. It’s not something, in other words, that needs to be discerned: if you’re an accountant, that’s your calling. If you’re single, that’s your calling—at least for now. If you’re able to change your situation and you want to, that’s fine. Paul says in verse 21, if you were a slave and you can gain your freedom, do so. But his main point is don’t think you can’t get on with serving God as a slave. Don’t wait until you gain you freedom before you start serving. And in the same way, don’t think you can’t serve God faithfully as a single person.
So what about that “gift” of singleness? Doesn’t Paul say that only certain people have been empowered to stay single and godly? Well, I don’t think so. The only time Paul refers to a gift is back in verse 7, and that’s part of his advice to married people. It comes before he says in verse 8, “Now to the unmarried and to the widows, I say this”. So when he says, “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that”, that’s part of his argument for why married people shouldn’t stop having sex. He’s saying, “Don’t think you need to abstain as though you were single. It’s okay for you to stop sex for a while by mutual agreement for prayer. It’s not command; it’s only a concession. After all, you’re not single like me; your gift is marriage.” So in context, he’s not talking to single people and saying, “Only some of you have the gift of singleness”; he’s talking to married people and saying, “None of you have the gift of singleness”.
So I think it’s more likely that he’s using “gift” like “calling” in the verses we looked at earlier to refer to the situation in life we’ve been given by God. So Dani and I have the gift of singleness; Chase does not have the gift of singleness, because he’s married.
Now, I certainly know people who say that they experience singleness as a singular joy and pleasure. They don’t struggle with loneliness, they don’t struggle with sexual temptation in anyway. It’s very rare, in my experience. And we could call that a gift of singleness if you like. But I don’t think it’s what Paul’s talking about in this passage. And I don’t think it’s something that we need if we’re able to stay sexually pure and live without sex.
Now, for some people, your singleness—your gift—will be chosen. Jesus says in Matthew 19 that some choose to remain singleness for the sake of the kingdom. But for others, it’s not chosen. And I want to acknowledge that for those for whom it’s not chosen, it can be particularly hard to live faithfully as a single person. Sometimes we feel that God is denying us good things—marriage and sex that we want—and sometimes if we’re not vigilant, that can make us prone to sin in particular ways. But please know that whatever gift you’ve been given—whether it’s the one that you asked for or not—it is a gift from your heavenly Father who loves you. I know for some, that would be hard to hear.
My brother Alex is a literature professor. He often gives me books for Christmas, which I love, because he always chooses really good books. But sometimes I don’t read them. I remember one book that I read recently: he’d given it to me years ago and it looked kind of dull. And so I just put it on my bookshelf. And a couple of years ago, I was looking for something to read and I picked it up, and it was riveting and I loved it: it was a great story. And sometimes we don’t really appreciate the gift that we have at the time. Sometimes later on, we come to appreciate it. For some of us, it might not be until we meet Jesus in the new creation that we look back and we see what God was doing in our lives through this gift of singleness.
But God has given you that gift. And if we say that the gift of singleness is just a special empowering for a few people to survive as a godly single without marriage, then that leaves us with nothing to say to the person whose singleness is unwanted. I think it’s pastorally very unhelpful teaching. It’s all very well saying, “If you don’t have the gift, get married”, but what if you can’t get married? What if no one’s interested in you—who you’re also interested in? Or what about someone who experiences same-sex attraction, but is convinced from the Scriptures that it’s not appropriate for them to act on that? To say that it’s impossible to remain self-controlled without that gift is to invite bitterness or capitulation to sin.
So I want to persuade you that life without sex is realistic and possible. If you’re a single person and you’re struggling with lust or pornography or any kind of sexual sin, please don’t think that getting married is going to take away that struggle. The Spirit is actually the gift that you need to live godly self-controlled lives in whatever situation we find ourselves.
CT: So is life without sex good? Yes, absolutely, because it reflects the life of the age to come and testifies to the fact that the new creation is already beginning and that there is a union even more precious than the one flesh union of a man and woman.
Is life without sex realistic? Yes, because Jesus has shown us such a life and because the Spirit enables us to resist temptation. It’s not always easy, but it is possible. Thank you for listening.
CK: Thank you very much, Chris. And thanks, again, Dani. I found both of those so helpful in their own ways, and I thank you for that great reminder at the very end there, Chris, that life without sex is realistic, because God has given us his Spirit. Just as Christ lived a life without sex—a very full and rich and wonderful human life—we can actually live a life after him in the power of the Spirit. Thank you very much.
We’re just about to move into our time of question and answer. I’ll just encourage you once more to be considering Sli.do. I’ll just tell you right now, we have so many questions on Sli.do, I know we won’t be able to get through them all. At times, we’ve considered follow-up episodes on our podcast, and I think this might be one of those times that we’ll follow up with some of these questions, which have been been so helpful; I’m really grateful for your contribution in those comments.
Before we turn to the question and answer time, I’m just going give Dani and Chris a moment to catch their breath. I want to tell you about a couple of resources. The main resource hub for the Centre for Christian Living is our website: ccl.moore.edu.au. There, you can find a whole bunch of resources, whether they be videos or audio from past events; you can find transcriptions from events; you can find short essays and articles; and you can also find our podcast, which is a very regular resource that we’re trying to keep active for you. We’re putting up roughly two podcasts a month. Our most recent podcast was with Dani Treweek: it was a very very helpful podcast, speaking from having been a part of it, and also heard feedback from many of you and many others as well how much they’ve appreciated her wisdom and her clarity and her theological thinking on the topic of singleness. I really encourage you to listen back to that episode as well as the back catalogue of our podcast, and hit subscribe so that you can continue to stay on with the upcoming episodes.
I’d like to tell about two more resources. One is an event that you will find for the Priscilla & Aquila Centre, another centre of the college. Peter and Christine Jensen will be presenting on “Retiring for work: A lifetime serving the Lord”, and even as you plan and prepare maybe a decade or more out for your own retirement, some of you watching tonight might be retired or even entering into retirement now. And I want to recognise once more that many people struggling with singleness continue to struggle in singleness into the later decades of their life. And so, can I encourage you to make sure that you tune in for that Priscilla & Aquila event coming up in September? You can find more information on the P&A website.
Finally, we have our next Centre for Christian Living event already scheduled for October. The event is “Facing infertility as a church family”. I’m very pleased that we have two wonderful guests: Professor Jonathan Morris as well as Megan Best—both of them medical practitioners; Jonathan, a leading obstetrician in Australia; Megan, a very well-known and respected bioethicist, as well as a medical practitioner. I’m really looking forward to being able to think about a very difficult topic, again, that is so much around us in our churches, and it’s good for us, whether we are single or married, fertile or infertile—whatever we’re finding ourselves in thinking well and reasoning from the Scriptures about these things in our lives, so please make sure you join us for that event, which will also be livestreamed again5.
CK: Let’s move on to the question and answer time. Once more, thank you again, Dani and Chris. The first question I’m going to put to Chris: Chris, is masturbation without the use of pornography etcetera—so other obviously sexually explicit things that would be forbidden, I think, within wisdom—is masturbation a healthy means of managing sexual urges as a single person?
CT: Thank you. Yeah, it’s an important question, I think, but I think it’s important not to overstate the importance. The Bible doesn’t directly address this, I think: there are one or two passages that people sometimes cite as being directly applicable. I don’t think they are. And I think it’s really important, therefore, that this does not become like a spiritual barometer by which we assess our relationship with God.
So I think especially for people for whom this is a really significant issue, it’s very tempting to think that your relationship with God is all over the place. But actually there are lots of things that the Bible speaks explicitly about that I would suggest are better barometers—like your relationships with people: are you loving towards your neighbour? Do you love God? Are you enjoying your relationship with God and seeking to live for him? All of those fruit of the Spirit that we talked about before.
Having said that, the Bible does speak clearly about lust. I think perhaps it’s helpful to turn to Matthew chapter 5 and verse 27: I touched on this verse during the talk, but Jesus says in Matthew 5:27,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matt 5:27-29 NIV)
So lust is a really serious issue. And it’s an issue that often goes alongside masturbation. So many people find that it’s just part and parcel of the process—that if you’re seeking to arouse yourself—even if you’re not viewing pornography, you might be thinking lustful thoughts in your mind. But also, you might find that it is actually gives rise to more lustful thoughts—that if you practise masturbation, that, far from sort of putting your sexual desire to bed, as it were, it might be one of those things that’s actually fanning the flames.
So I want to encourage you not to make it the sort of defining issue in your Christian life, but I do want to encourage you to watch especially what’s happening in your mind—what’s happening before, what’s happening after—and to seek to avoid anything that generates lust for you.
The biblical picture of love
CK: Thank you very much for that. The next question I’m going to ask is going to be for Dani. Dani, if marrying for love is a new cultural construct, how should we understand the biblical picture of marriage as primarily about love—that is, God’s love for the church?
DT: Yeah, that is a great question. I know we sort of—I rushed you through a huge historical movement very very quickly and so if you’re interested in exploring more of this, it’s worth going and having a look: you could look at some of the resources that I quoted on my way through.
I think there’s a few things to say there. The first is that marrying for love wasn’t a brand new historical development; I mean, just look at Shakespeare, for example. That was before the Industrial Revolution—Romeo and Juliet: they wanted to marry for love; didn’t really work out for them. But it wasn’t a brand new thought. It wasn’t something completely new on the scene. It’s just that very few people actually had the ability to choose basically who they were going to marry, let alone to choose that they would marry someone based on their romantic feelings. Certainly those who were wealthier—maybe the nobility—they had more of an opportunity for that at times. But the common everyday householder didn’t usually have that capacity until the Industrial Revolution. And then what happened was that really became much more of a cultural phenomena so that anybody, really, was able to enter into that sort of marital choice.
We’re talking about the West; don’t forget other parts of the world today, that’s still very much the case: marriage for love is not very common. But what happened was as more and more people began to marry for love, it became the defining feature of marriage, and it also then became, as we saw, the thing that was seen to fulfill the ultimate relational needs of us as humanity—that idea of experiencing romantic love with the happily ever after of marriage, and sex is kind of the culmination of that. So that’s the first thing to say.
I think the other thing to say is the question talked about marriage primarily—love being primarily a picture of marriage. Certainly love in terms of God’s love for his people—certainly when we look at marriage, love is one of the wonderful things that marriage actually can offer us. Look at the Song of Solomon, for example: we very much see love and romantic love celebrated within marriage. But marriage in the Bible’s vision for it is not just about these kind of romantic affectionate feelings of love: there’s more on view for what marriage actually is designed to be. There’s that one flesh-ness—the coming together of the man and the woman—that kind of complementarity and the way that that actually says something distinct about this union. You know, we see pictures of all sorts of biblical marriages where we have men and women working together to bring about God’s purposes in this world. So I don’t think we want to reduce marriage to just being a picture of love.
Now, having said that, it is true that romantic love in marriage is a wonderful thing to be celebrated and delighted in. Again, Song of Songs shows us that. But as we think about what does that mean for us as we look to God’s ultimate purpose of Christ’s marriage with the church, I think it actually rebukes the centrality—the way we place so much hope in love now—the way that we see that romantic love in marriage is kind of the culmination—the ultimate fulfilment of what we really need. Because human marriage now is meant to be that trailer—the preview of the final thing. So when you go to a film—a movie, which none of us are doing anymore—but when we used to do things like that, you go and you’d see the trailers of movies that are coming up, and you weren’t content with the trailer; you didn’t say, “Oh good, I’ve seen that now; I don’t need to see the thing.” The purpose of the trailer is you actually go, “Well, that’s inadequate! I want to know more. I want to have the whole experience.” And that’s what human marriage—or, you know, one of the important purposes of human marriage is: it’s to make us long for the ultimate marriage all the more.
And so, as we think about the place of romantic love and sex in marriage, we celebrate it—we delight in it—but we also recognise it’s not ultimate. It’s not the thing that is going to fulfill our needs. It’s not the thing that is essential to who we are as people. We’re waiting for that—for that final day when we have the perfect union between Christ and us collectively as the church.
Sexual purity and discipleship
CK: Thanks Dani very much! I’m going to ask the next question to Chris, and Chris, this comes back to your engagement with the—the solution for us in sexual temptation. The solution, it seems, biblical wisdom is not necessarily marriage. It may be marriage—it’s not necessarily marriage—but much more so the Holy Spirit.
So as we’re thinking about discipling Christians—especially as we’re thinking about youth or otherwise—people that may find a lot of sexual temptation coming in hot and heavy—what is the best way that we can help them think through that remedy of walking in the Spirit, if you will, rather than just running into marriage, maybe foolishly?
CT: Yeah. Yeah, it’s a good question. And I should preface this by saying I’ve never been a youth pastor. So I’ve never really been in that situation. I’ve been a teenager. But I was a very shy teenager who went to an all-boys school, and I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but I didn’t get into trouble, because I was shy and went to an all-boys school.
So I think I would just say keep teaching the Scriptures—keep holding out to them the promises of God. Everything that I’ve been trying to persuade you of tonight, if I’m right—if you’re persuaded that I’m right—then please teach that to your teens—to your kids—and let them know that the Christian life is a struggle, but that God has given them what they need. And of course they’re free to marry, but make sure that they don’t think that when they get married, they’ll never look at another man or woman. Make sure that they know that when they get married, it’s not like pornography will stop being an issue for them.
CK: Yeah. I think it’s a very wise word. I can remember being a young married man myself and thinking, you know, all sexual temptation would just disappear once I’m married. Man, that was foolish! It doesn’t happen that way. I don’t think it happens for men or women that way, and therefore life in the Spirit is really the answer even that situation.
This isn’t my platform right now—I’m meant to be facilitating questions—
CK: —but having been a youth minister, and we talked about this a little bit earlier, I think one of the things in hindsight I wish I would have done more for my youth was not try to be as prescriptive about boundaries. That is, I think I gave them quite a moralistic framework for how to be sexually pure: don’t do this; make sure you do that; etcetera. And I would have taken them much more carefully into 1 Corinthians chapter 6, which gives us a really rich picture of why we ought to be thinking about sexual purity—that is, that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. That is, that we enjoy an intimate union with God himself and therefore a violation of sexual purity is really exposing that wonderful union to something quite perverse.
And that would have actually, I think, hopefully some of my youth that I would have been pastoring to much a better place than rules that felt impossible.
CT: ’Cause the gap’s [inaudible]
CK: —Spirit dwelling in me and a relationship that I have with God—
CK: —who is leading me forward in this new life, so.
CT: Perhaps if I just add one other thing, I know that a lot of young people have been influenced by the sort of culture around the kind of purity movement—especially in the USA, but it’s been an issue here in some churches. And I gather that—it’s not something that I’ve been a part of myself, but I gather that part of it is this idea that, you know, if you just hold on a little bit longer, you’ll get married and you’ll have great sex, and if you just stay pure now, then there’s this kind of reward at the end. And often there’s a lot of disappointment, because either people don’t get married, or they find that sex is difficult within their marriage. And so I’d say as Dani was saying, another thing I’d encourage you to keep doing with your teens and your youth is just keep pointing them not to wait for marriage, but to wait for the return of the Lord Jesus—to have their eyes fixed beyond. And it’s harder when you’re younger: you have a sort of shorter horizon, I think. But let’s keep pointing people to the Lord Jesus as he sits enthroned in heaven now, but also as he will return one day and bring about the perfect world that marriage points to.
CK: Yeah. And our life will be so much better framed if that was married or single, our desire—if our desire was for Christ above all else—how much richer our—our singleness or our marriages would be actually by that.
Pastoral care of singles in the church
CK: We have time for maybe one, maybe two more questions. Again, we’ll have to do a follow-up, because of so many great questions here. Dani, this one will be for you. Having served in ministry yourself on church staff teams, how do you think we should help people in ministry think about pastoral sensitivity? That is, so many ministers are themselves married: how do we actually have credibility addressing singles in the crowd about sex and sexuality?
DT: That’s a great question, and I could talk for ages, so I’m not going to; I’m going to be as brief as I can. I think there’s probably two parts to that question: one is pastoral—relational—and the other is theological.
In terms of the first one, that sensitivity—particularly when we’re talking in the context of church ministry—needs to be based on relationship—needs to be based on developing trust and confidence. The single people in our churches need to know that even though their pastor is no longer single themselves, they actually are interested in their lives—are interested in discipling them in their singleness—they’re interested in actually encouraging them and challenging them and rebuking them and loving them. And so, I think—I mean, it sounds a very obvious answer, but cultivating the relationships that allow those conversations to happen is really important. And that comes down to not just the one-on-one time you spend on them, but the way you speak from the front of church—the illustrations you find yourself consistently using in your sermons—the language that sort of gets rolled up in your church ministries. A tip would be have a chat with a couple of, you know, trusted, mature, single Christians in your church about how you’re going if you’re a pastor or a church leader in that area, because you may be a little bit blind to some of the tensions they might be feeling there. So pastorally develop those relationships and build that trust and show your interest in their lives.
But theologically, I think, we need to, well, re-watch this recording, really! I think we need to come to grips with God’s value and dignity for singleness—for a life of celibacy. We need to actually be able to talk with our single Christian congregation members and friends to show them that their life isn’t just stuck in Plan B, and it’s not that they just have to suck it up and make do with it—it’s not they have to suppress their sexuality—that actually God has a plan and a purpose for them in their singleness. The way to do that is by going back to God’s word and grappling with that and then bringing that to bear through the pastoral relationships that we actually have with one another.
CK: That’s very helpful. Thanks Dani! And what you’ve said here has affirmed so much of what you shared in the podcast just a couple of weeks ago, and I’m really grateful for that—that community approach of life together in the church—a better ecclesiology that thinks about one another really as brothers and sisters together, whether we’re married or single, helping one another. And I could just testify from my own life, some of my dearest, dearest friends are Christian men and women that are single, and they are some of the best encouragements to me as a married man in my own holiness, in my sexuality, and in so many other facets of my life, and my prayer is that I am the same to them. And so thank you for what you’ve shared.
Dani and Chris, we’re out of time. I am so grateful for what we’ve heard from you. I do hope that you’ve enjoyed tuning in tonight. I hope that you will listen again to what we’ve heard recorded here, that you’ll continue engaging. Keep your eyes out for the podcast as we release new episodes. Do subscribe. Again, try to get to some more of these questions in a near episode and do keep an eye out for future events as well.
Let me pray as we conclude our evening. Father, thank you for the wisdom that’s been shared tonight from your word—the rich theological truth that helps us to frame up a better understanding of our life here in this world, which is your world. Thank you for the good gift of sex and thank you for the good gift of sexuality, even when it’s a sexuality that isn’t expressed in sexual intimacy, but a sexuality that is committed to you in chastity. Thank you, Lord, for the great example that we have in Christ our brother, and thank you for giving us your Spirit so that we can walk forward in the newness of life that you’ve promised to us. Keep us all in faith as we await that final day when we will enjoy that great union with Christ—that great marriage feast—that we will be celebrating together, and we will be together as brothers and sisters forever. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
CK: Thank you again for joining us.
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As always, I’d like to thank Moore College for making the ministry of the Centre for Christian Living possible, and to extend thanks to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for audio editing and transcribing. Music provided by James West.
Except as otherwise noted, Bible quotations are from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society, www.ibs.org. All rights reserved worldwide.