A lifetime of chaste, content, disciplined singleness is a beautiful gift…which few people seem to have (1 Cor. 7:7). God is clear: Those who cannot exercise self-control must marry (1 Cor. 7:9). But this counsel is not always immediately applicable. What good is it to advise marriage to a thirteen-year-old struggling with lust? Even those old enough to marry must practice self-control while they pursue marriage.
Sexual immorality is not just a temptation for singles. The Bible sternly warns against adultery, sexual violations of marriage vows. But single people are uniquely challenged to practice purity as divinely created sexual beings. So how can single Christians practice chastity to God’s glory?
Understand the threat of sexual sin
This might sound insensitive. As Tevye said, “Send us the cure. We’ve got the sickness already!” But, as Calvin wrote, Scripture stresses “the enormity of [fornication’s] wickedness and baseness” to help us fear its threat. Paul’s warning to “flee sexual immorality” is like a governor’s hurricane evacuation order: if you are unmoved by the danger you will not flee.
Sexual sin is uniquely destructive. All sins degrade our integrity and erode our joy in the Lord. Still, “He who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 618). Fornication isn’t the worst sin, but Charles Hodge is right: “It is altogether peculiar in its effects upon the body; not so much in its physical as in its moral and spiritual effects.”
Sex joins two lives in an act of unparalleled closeness (1 Cor. 6:15–16). It “engages and expresses the whole personality in such a way as to constitute a unique mode of self-disclosure.” When the sex act is committed outside of marriage it loses “its covenant-making power for you, even if you get married. Ironically, then, sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.” Eugene Peterson is blunt: “Fornication is love reduced to sex.” This kind of sex, “depersonalized for mere consumption, whatever the initial pleasures experienced, soon turns ugly, degrades, and eventually destroys intimacy.” Sexual consumerism—sex minus a divinely sanctioned commitment—makes us view others as commodities rather than treasures.
Sexual sin can be damning. An unrelenting commitment to fornication will exclude a person from heaven. “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites…will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9–10). This isn’t an empty threat. Right now there are people in hell who thought they could play religion while valuing extramarital sex more than Jesus. Fornication isn’t the unpardonable sin; God rescues fornicators (v. 11). But apart from deliverance, those who relish sexual sin are outside the kingdom.
Be part of a church that will help you fight fornication
Especially in a sexually permissive culture, you need a church that engages sex biblically. While sex is good (Gen. 1:28), sexual sin makes us lawbreakers in need of redemption; the church cannot waffle on this. But faithful churches will also provide hope for all sinners. Paul’s Corinthian audience was exhausted by sexual sin and weighted down by guilt. He preached Christ as the only one who could cure restless desires (1 Cor. 2:2; Matt. 11:28–29). We should not expect to see fornicators, adulterers, and homosexuals converted to Christ if we do not meet them with the grace of the gospel.
More concretely, believers must open their homes to single people, providing a haven of companionship and a respite from long hours alone in which temptation can gain strength. We should prepare to respond with prayerful and sympathetic love to those courageous enough to confess sexual sin. In this way we help bear their burden (Gal. 6:2). Caring friends will also offer to singles the platonic physical affection practiced by Jesus and his disciples (John 13:23). One single friend put it this way: If appropriate “intimacy doesn’t come from somewhere else like God or friends, it is pretty much a given” that singles will “be either emotionally suffering or falling into sin.” We can learn from many non-western cultures the sacramental art of appropriate physical contact.
Take Responsibility for Your Sexual Purity
Repent of sexual failures. You will only flee sexual immorality when you get serious with God.
Develop friendships with people who value purity. Especially in the area of sexuality, “evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33). By contrast, those committed to sexual integrity can help you swim against the cultural stream.
Practice saying “no.” To an outrageously sexualized people, Paul said, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27). When by the Spirit we say no to our desires, they resist with vehemence. Rarely engaged will-power reacts like muscles at an annual visit to the weight room, but in time, “no” begins to win the war against lust (Rom. 8:13).
Use Wisdom. Where do you tend to sin sexually? Approach those areas with sound wisdom, realistic planning, genuine accountability, and pointed prayer.
Pursue marriage. Marriage isn’t a magic pill for loneliness and lust, but it is part of God’s prescribed regimen for practicing the beautifully human desire for deep sharing.
Come to terms with who you are in Christ
Paul couches his warning against sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:9–10) with four striking statements about how God saves (vv. 11–20).
You were washed. When you trusted in Jesus, his blood purged your filthiness. Believers treasure their washing by refusing to wallow again in the sin Christ died to wash.
You were sanctified. God’s children are special, set apart from the world. Our beloved, unmarried Savior has shown us the beauty of true godliness and taught us to no longer fulfill our lusts (1 Peter 4:3). You were justified. In justification, God exonerates us from the death penalty our sins deserved. He cancels our condemnation and tells us to sin no more (John 8:10–11).
You were bought with a price. At Calvary, God brought his Son to the devil’s slave auction and left with a vast family of blood-bought children. God’s sons and daughters are too precious to continue doing the devil’s dirty work.
Sexual sin is dangerous but it need not be damning. Flee sexual immorality. If you’ve been washed, sanctified, justified, and bought by Jesus’ blood, you can!
- ^ Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 227.
- ^ Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 211.