Purity, Temptation, and Sexual Fulfillment

Man praying in the forest

Recently a young man was arrested and charged with killing eight people after opening fire on three Atlanta-area massage parlors. Naturally, this horrific tragedy made national news. As is typical in cases like this, investigators, reporters, and news commentators have sought to determine the motive of the killer. According to the Cherokee County sheriff’s Captain, this man claimed to have a “sex addiction” and “wanted to eliminate” the temptation that existed for him in these locations.

Predictably, many were quick to use this tragedy as an opportunity to push certain talking points. Rather than simply condemning the one who committed the murders, blame was spread to the denomination to which he belonged; this then turned into charges of “racism and sexism” in churches. There have even been claims that “purity culture” in churches (which has been described in part as an emphasis on modesty in women in order to not cause a temptation for men to lust) would lead religious people – especially those who are socially conservative – to blame this crime on the victims and not the gunman.

Every reasonable person – Christian or non-Christian – should be able to immediately agree that what this man did in murdering these eight women was wrong and that the authorities should see to it that he is tried, convicted, and strongly punished for this. Yet this tragedy has been turned into an opportunity by some to attack religion, Biblical morals, and modesty.

I will not defend the reprehensible actions of the young man who murdered these women, regardless of his motive. It is also not my intention here to defend the denomination of which he was a member or any group with which his church was reportedly affiliated. However, I do believe it is important for us to understand what the Bible teaches about purity, temptation, and sexual fulfillment. This story, along with the reactions to it, make it evident that many do not understand these topics.

Purity

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God… For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 7).

Each one of us is responsible to keep ourselves pure. While we can teach and encourage others to be pure in their lives – as Paul was doing in the passage above to the brethren in Thessalonica – we have the obligation to look to ourselves first. We have been sanctified (set apart) to be God’s special people. Therefore, we are to behave as His people and not follow after lustful passions.

Paul was also very careful to point out the importance of purity to Timothy in his dealings with his sisters in Christ. He was to treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). With so many stories of preachers, pastors, and other men in positions of leadership in religion becoming involved in illicit sexual relationships, many in the world have concluded that holding to the Bible’s teachings about gender roles somehow contributes to these moral failures. The failures of certain men to live up to the standard of God’s word does not change the truth of God’s word, yet it is possible for “the ministry [to] be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3) in the minds of those in the world because of the sinful actions of those who claim to be Christians. It is especially critical for one who is in a position of “leadership” (officially or unofficially) to remain pure and treat everyone with dignity and respect as ones who have been made in the image of God.

It is also important to note that the purity we are to display in our lives is not a level of purity that has been defined by the world – even the religious world. Instead, we are to look to God’s will and see what His word teaches us about how to be pure. John wrote that we are to be pure “just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). The world – even some in the religious world – will justify all sorts of sinful behaviors as being pure, good, or beneficial to us (premarital sex, homosexuality, pornography, etc.); yet we have been called to a higher standard. Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Temptation

But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:14-16).

We are each to work to overcome temptation. While it is true that we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23; cf. 1 John 1:8, 10), our goal as Christians is to put away sin from our lives. John gave this as a reason for writing his first epistle: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin…” (1 John 2:1). For us to “not sin” we must overcome temptation. Jesus even went so far as to say that we are to take extreme measures to combat temptation. After explaining that a man who simply “looks at a women with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” He explained how far one should go to defeat that temptation:

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

However, when we think about the need to overcome temptation, we must understand that the way to overcome one temptation is not to commit another sin. For example, if a man is tempted to commit fornication or to lust after a woman, the way to overcome that is not to murder the woman whom he is lusting after; instead, he is to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18, ESV). Notice what Paul wrote about temptation:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

There is always a way of escape for every temptation we face. In other words, in every situation we find ourselves, we have at least one option to do what is right. As Paul explained, the temptations we face are “common,” which means that others have encountered the same situations and have resisted the temptation to sin. When we sin, we cannot blame anyone but ourselves.

However, the Scriptures also teach that one can bear responsibility for tempting others to sin. Jesus cited the example of Balaam who advised Balak to “put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Revelation 2:14; cf. Numbers 31:16; 25:1-9). He also identified a woman named “Jezebel, who…leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality…” (Revelation 2:20). The wise man described a woman who was “dressed as a harlot” seducing young men to commit fornication with her (Proverbs 7:10). In all of these examples, the ones who were seduced and tempted to lust and then commit fornication were ultimately responsible for their own actions and guilty of their own sins – hence the reason for Jesus and the wise man giving these warnings. Yet there is no Biblical or rational reason to conclude that the ones who created the temptation were without blame for their actions.

Sexual Fulfillment

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).

By God’s design, men and women both have a desire for sexual activity and intimacy. This drive may be stronger in some than others, but it exists because that is how God created us. However, God did not design us in such a way that we cannot help but engage in some kind of sexual activity. It is possible to remain chaste. Paul was unmarried and indicated that it was good for others to be in the same state (1 Corinthians 7:7-8).

Yet God did provide a way in which sexual desires could be fulfilled – in marriage. The Hebrew writer said, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). It is important to note that this marriage must be as God defines it, not as the world does. Jesus indicated that marriage is between one man and one woman for life (Matthew 19:4-6). The only exception that would allow one to put away his or her mate and remarry is if one’s spouse is guilty of fornication (Matthew 19:9).

In a God-ordained marriage relationship, both the husband and the wife can find sexual fulfillment in one another. As Paul explained in the passage above, this would help lessen the effectiveness of any temptations they might face to commit fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2, 5). Each one in the marriage relationship – the husband and the wife – were to consider their bodies as being for their spouse.

However, lack of sex in marriage is not an excuse to sin. One must remain pure even if he is unmarried, widowed, separated for a time, his spouse is sick or is uninterested in sex, and so one. No matter what the situation, we are each responsible for keeping ourselves from sin.

Conclusion

It is wrong for someone to view another person as being less than human (e.g. a man who objectifies women and sees them as nothing more than a source of temptation or a means to fulfill his desires). It is also wrong to seek to fulfill sexual desires outside of a God-approved marriage relationship. Each one of us is personally responsible for our own sins, regardless of what others do.

At the same time, we need to be mindful of how our words, actions, appearance, and so on can have an effect upon others. We do not want to be guilty of putting a stumbling block before others. They will still be held responsible for their sin, but we will be held responsible for what we have done as well.

Let us strive to keep ourselves pure in our thoughts, words, and actions. And let us seek to encourage the same purity in others as well.


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