All Christians, whether married or single, are expected to practice chastity. Chastity is often confused with celibacy. Celibacy is a vow to abstain from sexual relations for life. This vow is most often taken by monks and nuns. Celibacy is a wonderful gift for those who are called to it and a wonderful witness to the rest of the Christian community (Matthew 19:12). It is unfortunate that local churches seldom present celibacy and the monastic life as potential vocations for their parishioners. Such vocations are not for the majority of Christians (most are called to marriage), but they are God’s will for some. If chastity was discussed and encouraged more frequently in our congregations it is likely that celibate vocations would increase as well.
Chastity for single Christians means abstaining from sexual relations, and for married and single Christians means developing a pure mind and a right attitude toward members of the opposite sex and sexual activity in general. Chastity and celibacy differ not only in that a celibate person vows to abstain from sex from life, but that a celibate persons vows to reframe from all sexual behaviors, period. A chaste single person may engage in some sexual behaviors (i.e. romantic kissing, embracing, etc.) with proper discernment and in the right spirit. Both married and single Christians need to establish sexual boundaries, this includes the obvious boundary of no sex for single Christians, but must also include boundaries that preserve the spirit of chastity in a relationship, whether between married persons or single persons.
The question for Christians practicing chastity is not “how far can I go without crossing the line” but “how can I best preserve a pure mind, a pure heart, and a loving attitude that honors God?” For single persons this means acknowledging that sex is a sacred gift and that it is a gift to be given away only within the confines of marriage. It also means recognizing that one’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that sharing one’s body (visually or otherwise), is a precious gift and should not be done lightly. For married persons practicing chastity means resisting the temptation to embrace sexual attention, stimulation, or fantasy from anyone or anything other than one’s spouse. Discussions of chastity are often reduced to a list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. This approach has some merit, but fails to capture the true spirit of chastity, which is not only about purity of body, but purity of mind and spirit.
Chastity is ultimately about guarding your mind and heart. We all know how easily our bodies can submit to the demands of our mind or the cravings of our heart. Chastity is about allowing the Holy Spirit of God transform our hearts and our minds into something beautiful, something strong, something that reflects the glory of God and the majesty of creation. Maintaining a chaste spirit is not easy. Today, more than ever, the world provides a number of challenges for Christians wanting to be faithful in this area. Next week I will address some of these challenges and how many Christians handle them.