A young man who is a friend of mine texted me a very insightful question concerning the sermon that I gave on singleness. It got so many of my creative juices flowing (as well as the fact that my answer started to become too long to text) that I decided to turn it into the blog post you see here. Below is his question as well as my response.
Question: How does singleness put sexual desire in its proper place without rejecting sex as God’s creation?
This is an interesting point of tension. As a single person living in accordance with God’s commands, you will not get to experience the goodness of sex unless you eventually get married. Yet, you can still see that sex is a good part of God’s creation. So, how should you respond to sexual desire in your singleness?
The Bigger Reality
Part of the answer lies in seeing the bigger reality that lies behind sex. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:31-32,
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Marriage and sex both point to the greater spiritual reality that exists between Christ and the church. Within marriage, the dynamic that exists between a husband and wife is meant to reflect (to some extent) the dynamic which exists between Christ and the church, especially in terms of headship, love, submission, and respect. On the other hand, sex points towards the unity between Christ and the church similar to how it functions to unify a husband and wife within marriage (two becoming one).
As Christians, we all get to experience this unity in Christ, regardless of whether we are single or married and regardless of whether we have sex or not. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-23,
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
So, even if we do not get to experience marriage or sex in this life as a good of God’s creation, we do get to experience the greater reality behind it: spiritual unity with Christ and with one another.
The Smaller Reality
Of course, this unity is not always perfectly felt and experienced in the smaller reality of our lives. Truth be told, because we are embodied creatures and because sexual desires are often so strong, this unity can feel like a concession prize rather than the ultimate fulfilment, especially when compared with how much our culture declares sexual fulfilment to be the end-all-be-all of life.
Nevertheless, a crucial part of our sanctification as Christians is learning to mind that gap which exists between the Truth and our felt experience, between God’s bigger reality and our smaller reality. We must realize that this gap is ultimately the result of sin on the world, our culture, our minds, and our hearts.
However, on the new earth, when we are fully free from the effects of sin, this will no longer be an issue (Revelation 21:3-5). We will be able to fully experience the unity between God and ourselves. We will be able to fully experience the unity in the church as brothers and sisters in Christ. We will have such utter joy and fulfillment that sexual desire won’t even cross our minds.
This is because sex and sexual desire are a part of the smaller reality of this earth and this present creation. On the new earth and in the new creation, sex and sexual desire will no longer have a place because the bigger reality towards which they point will be the very reality in which we live our eternal life in Christ.
This in no way diminishes the intrinsic goodness of sex and sexuality in our present time. But what it will mean is that we will not look to sex and sexual desire to be that ultimate fulfilment.
We must train our minds to see beyond the smaller reality of our lives towards the bigger reality in Christ. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:1-2,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Sex and sexual desire are no different than anything else in this regard. A godly singleness will drive us towards this bigger reality while at the same time help us to see the goodness of creation in the present, smaller reality.