Let’s pause for a brief summary:
- We are called – commanded, even – to have meaningful, loving relationships with each other;
- Men and women are different and complementary;
- Marriage is deeply significant but not the only relationship men and women are supposed to have;
- In these days of sexual brokenness, God works through each other to bring forgiveness, healing and restoration;
- Sexual temptation is not a good reason to avoid the opposite sex.
That’s all well and good. But how do we go about putting this into practice? This is not the kind of thing which one can simply come up with ten quick tips about! Having said that – there are a few helpful things which I think will apply ‘across the board’.
Understand how sin distorts our desires
One of the insights I’ve found most helpful is this – that our desires are not always completely wrong but rather distorted. I heard recently someone say, “The problem is not that we want bad things – the problem is that we want good things too much.” I think this is helpful: someone who robs and steals, for example, may want – say – comfort and luxury. Those are not bad things in themselves, are they? But when they become ultimate things, they mean we pursue anything to get them.
Sin often (always?) is a distortion of something good, rather than a complete out-and-out bad thing. That’s what makes it so insidious.
Let’s think about how this applies to the relationship between men and women. Let’s imagine a man looking at a woman he finds attractive. Analyse that feeling: is the feeling of attraction purely sexual and wrong, or is the sexual feeling a distortion of something good? Is there a kernel of something good there which – with the help of God – can be brought to life while the bad side is slowly killed off?
I have found it transforming to think about sin like this: analyse a particular emotion or thought. What is it I really want? What is good about that? What is sinful about that? How can I pray and ask God to help me? And this is where the next point comes in!
Walk by the Spirit
This is what the apostle Paul says in Galatians chapter 5:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:13-18
Here Paul mentions some of the things we’ve already seen – the purpose of the law is for us to love one another, for example. But notice the way that he says we can do this. “Live by the Spirit” – as in, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity. But what does it mean to live by the Spirit?
In practical terms, it means to live life acknowledging that we all struggle with sin and we need to daily come to Christ in repentance and faith. We daily confess our sins and ask God to transform us – but, the wonderful good news is, by God’s power we can be transformed.
And really, this is the good news that I wanted to finish this section with. Transformation and change is possible. It is possible to conquer addiction to pornography, or bad relationships, or overcome our history. Lives can be remade. Friendships are possible where previously they were impossible.
Jesus said this:
‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:34-36
If we are set free by Jesus, then we are set free indeed. Sin is no longer our master, but Jesus.
How to move forward
If you’re someone who has started to put this into practice, I’d love to hear your stories – get in touch with me!
If you’d like to continue exploring these issues, I’ve included some suggestions on the final page.