Monday, August 29, 2022

Anonymous Asks (212)

“Is it realistic to teach abstinence until marriage to today’s Christian teens?”

The subject of sexual morality comes up frequently in the New Testament but nowhere is the Christian standard for the unmarried made more explicit than in 1 Corinthians 7. That standard is self-control, which in the case of sexual desire means total abstinence. The contrast to self-control is burning with passion, which Paul clearly portrays as undesirable. He writes, “If they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

Those are our two biblical options: self-control or life-long, monogomous marriage. The third condition, in which young believers attempt to remain pure while being perpetually distracted by frustrated sexual desire — or, worse, the guilt of having given in to it — is not only undesirable but extremely difficult in a culture in which almost all one’s peers are sexually available and porn is ubiquitous.

A Dangerous Game

The dangers of sexual activity in our present cultural environment are almost too obvious to state. For young women, there is the risk of unwanted pregnancy and the question of what to do about it when you are not in a relationship you intend to be life-long; birth control options that increase a woman’s chances of heart disease, blood clots, bacterial infection, ovarian cysts or stroke, and predispose her to anxiety and depression — or, in the alternative, fail to deliver 100% prevention. (For example, the effectiveness rate of barrier methods is around 85%. Couples who engage in regular sexual activity using only barrier methods for even a few months run a significant risk of pregnancy.)

For young men, there is the loss of control that occurs when you have a child on the way into the world and no legal ability to defend it from a mother programmed by her society to kill it guilt-free. For both sexes, there is the ever-present concern of contracting sexually transmitted diseases of various levels of severity, some of which have long-term health consequences and the risk of infecting future partners, not to mention the disappointment, loss of trust and other emotional baggage that result from living through a series of sexually active relationships that did not result in a payoff. Christians who have been sexually active carry extra baggage: guilt, shame, damage to their relationship with the Lord, loss of testimony and the weight of the responsibility of having stumbled another believer.

Opportunity Cost

Fornication may also come with significant opportunity costs. Even after repentance and restoration, a Christian teen with a known history of sexual activity may find he or she is no longer high on the lists of peers who might otherwise have made good life partners. Few serious young Christian men want to raise someone else’s child, with all the complications that may entail. Few serious young Christian women want to partner up with men who have accumulated a lengthy sexual history.

Put that way, self-control seems vastly preferable to following the crowd. But most teens are either ignorant of the dangers or inclined to ignore them when in the grip of desire.

So is teaching abstinence “realistic” in our cultural environment? It is certainly not easy, but the alternative to abstinence is all the above, plus a higher risk of relationship breakdown and/or divorce when you do marry. Moreover, Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 7 are not merely one possible lifestyle option: they are God’s prescribed standard for godly young men and women.

Sooner Than Later

The issue for the Christian, then, is not whether abstinence seems feasible, but how to enter into adult life and relationships in a godly way.

For some this is not a problem. The Lord Jesus taught that there are “eunuchs who have been so from birth”, men and women for whom marriage is not a desired goal and self-control is a non-issue. There are also “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”, men and women for whom the service of Christ is so important and all-consuming that it eclipses ordinary physical needs and makes the burden of singleness lighter than it might be for you or me.

For others, being single is a huge distraction and a looming occupation. Such a person, says Paul, “should marry”, a command that only becomes problematic for those who cannot find a willing and biblically-acceptable partner. For those who can, my own conclusion from years of observation is that marriage is better entered into sooner than later.

True Love Waits

But what if you can’t? What if your intended or his/her parents won’t agree to an early wedding date because of career plans or other complications? In such a situation, the reminder that “true love waits” is not out of line. Paul also wrote that Christian love is patient and enduring, that it bears all things, and does not insist on its own way. Even Jacob, who had a pretty serious streak of self-will, served seven years for Rachel, and they “seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her”. Genuine love may find waiting for a sexual relationship difficult, but all other options are much worse.

If the person you are waiting for does not inspire that sort of Jacob-like intensity and commitment, there is a significant chance you are looking at marriage as not much more than the opportunity to scratch an itch, in which case it may be time to sit down and rethink your goals and priorities.

No comments :

Post a Comment