Today I want to address some of the particular challenges Christians face as they strive to practice chastity. DISCLAIMER: I won’t be able to address any of these areas comprehensively, nor I will be able to address them in the full complexity they deserve, but hopefully I will be able to give some starting points for those wishing to be more faithful in this area.Guarding Your Eyes
It’s natural for us to recognize the beauty of God’s creation in the form of an attractive person. It’s natural for us to be drawn to certain parts of the human body on the members of the opposite sex. It’s natural for us to admire non-physical traits in other people which contribute to their attractiveness. These natural responses are not wrong. God designed us to be attractive to one another in this way. There is no sin in finding someone attractive. Most Christians, married and single, will be sexually attracted to many people throughout their life. This is simply part of who we are as biological creatures created by God.Sin enters the picture when we begin to lust. Feeling sexually attracted to another human being is not lust. That attraction, that impulse is a good thing given to us by God. Lust on the other hand, turns a human being into an object for sexual gratification. With lust there is no honoring of the other person, there is no recognition of a relationship, there is merely the desire to have, to posses, and to use another person for one’s sexual gratification. This can be done without saying a word, hence Jesus’ stern warning about lusting after other people in our hearts (Matthew 5:28). When we find ourselves lusting after another person we should shift our attention (mentally and physically) to something else.
The practice of chastity requires that single and married Christians learn to guard not only their eyes, but their hearts. Most affairs and most sexual sins begin in the mind and heart (that is, in our imaginations), and not in the physical encounters themselves. Guarding one’s eyes may mean not looking twice if a lingering stare causes you to lust. In today’s world this can be extremely difficult with the fashions that both men and women are sporting (which raises the whole issue of modesty), but with Spirit guided practice not looking twice can become fairly automatic. Also, it can be helpful to pray a simple prayer when feeling tempted to lust, “Lord thank you for the beauty of man” or “Lord thank you for the beauty of woman.” This prayer recognizes the goodness of creation, the goodness of sexual attraction, and the goodness of beauty in another human being. It also re-directs the natural impulse toward God and away from lust.Masturbation
Masturbation has been a controversial topic in the Christian community for a long time. The controversy encompasses a number of factors. However, the two greatest factors that contribute to internal debate in the Christian community about masturbation are: 1) The fact almost all people engage in this behavior at least at some point in their lives and 2) The reality that masturbation is often partnered with lustful thoughts about a particular individual. Some Christians have taught that all masturbation is wrong, as it is seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage. Other Christians have recognized that masturbation is at the very least part of the process of adolescence and coming to terms with our identities’ as sexual creatures. These Christians have usually wanted to affirm the normalcy of masturbation, especially for young people, while recognizing the dangers of lust associated with it.
It is certainly possible to live a healthy life without masturbation, just as it is possible to live a healthy and fulfilling life without sexual intercourse. Clearly masturbation can be used to lust after another human being, imagining illicit sex with them, and reinforcing one’s view of that person as an object for sexual gratification. Masturbation can become addictive but with God’s grace a person can build new habits and new patterns for dealing with their sexual impulses and with their lusts. Again, Christians have different views on this particular topic, but all would agree that using masturbation to lust after another person is wrong.Pornography
Pornography has become a destructive force in lives of millions of people. Christians are universal in their agreement that pornography is sinful. This is because pornography totally disregards the sacred dimension of sex. It takes a beautiful gift of God, which is it be shared privately, as a sacred trust, between a man and woman who have vowed everything to each other, and broadcasts it for lustful purposes. The acts themselves are sinful and demeaning and in turn they encourage further sexual and demeaning acts by the viewer (e.g. lustful masturbation). In addition, pornography is severely damaging the sexual lives of many married couples. Men and women are given unrealistic expectations about sex and what it should be like by viewing these materials. Addiction to pornography has sky rocketed over the last few decades because of the internet.Fantasy
We have creative minds as human beings. Our minds will sometimes suggest and even paint vividly for us sexual fantasies. Many people have had the experience of having a sexual dream, in which a friend, co-worker, or other person is featured. These dreams can be embarrassing, , as well as sexually exciting. It is not sinful to have had such a dream or for a sexually provocative ideas or images to come into our mind. This is part of what it means to be human and part of what it means to live in our Fallen world (we are shown sexually suggestive images all the time). However, for the Christian, we must not dwell or encourage or actively embrace this sort of fantasizing for the same reasons we need to guard our hearts and our minds (see above). This would include not participating in various online and virtual games where individuals engage in textual pornography, or what is sometimes called cybersex, either as themselves or as characters in some sort of role playing game or scenario. This would also include reframing from watching certain movies and reading certain books (i.e. sexually explicit romance novels).
CohabitationCohabitation is a normative practice in today’s society. However, it is not an ideal practice for Christians. There are numerous studies that show that couples who cohabitate before marriage have a higher divorce rate than those who do not. This, while a consideration, is not the primary reason why Christians should not cohabitate. The practice of chastity for single persons means the establishing of boundaries that will preserve chastity, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. Couples living together, even if they manage to reframe from physical intercourse, will be tempted to push the boundaries of chastity in a variety of other ways. This is why it is not advisable to have one’s significant other over for the night, much less living with you. There may be times when an exception to this rule is in order, and then the couple should sleep in separate rooms. These exceptional circumstances must be severely limited and not be seen as excuses to move toward more regular cohabitation. A couple living together before marriage, even if they are reframing from sexual relations, will still tarnish their Christian witness as most individuals will assume they are having sex if they are living together.