Question of the week: when is sexual desire sin?

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Earlier this week I shared a blog post on the hot topic of lust.  It prompted a bunch of really great questions so I’ll tackle one here today.

How do we navigate the line between healthy sexual desire and sin?

Here’s what I think:

  1. It’s okay to desire good things (like sex).
  2. A good thing becomes sin when we elevate it above God.
  3. We must seek to redeem good things, not destroy them.
It’s okay to desire good things.

A couple of years back one of my close married friends was desperately longing for God to give her a child.

At the same time, I was longing to have the physical intimacy that comes with marriage.

My friend and I both desired good things.  Both sex and babies are good things, made by God for His glory.

It’s not our desires that were wrong, it was when we ‘followed’ those desires instead of God’s word that we wandered into a dangerous spot.

A good thing becomes sin when we elevate it above God.

“Each man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” – James 1:14-15.

Sin is what happens when you let your desires tell you what to do.

When God says to do one thing, and your desire tells you to do something else, who do you listen to?

  • When God says don’t be anxious, but your desire for you bosses approval demands your anxiety, who do you respond to?
  • When God calls you to walk in purity in singleness today, but your body desires a sexual outlet, who do you obey?
  • When God calls you to set your mind on things above, but your desire for a spouse or a baby demands that you spend your mental and creative energy dreaming of earthly gain, who do you follow?

When we want to fight this we have to keep our enemy in mind.  God’s gifts are not our enemies.  God’s gifts are not the same as our sin.

We must seek to redeem good things, not destroy them.

When I tell folks I am really wanting sex in marriage their usual response is to tell me that they’ll pray for God to remove that desire.  That’s our natural instinct.  If something is causing us to sin – destroy it, right?  It’s biblical.

However, we have to be really careful that we maintain the distinction between a desire for something good and sin.  Fighting your sin is not the same as destroying your desire.  Here’s why that matters:

1. When we seek to destroy good things we end up giving Satan credit for God’s design.

It seems like the general plan for purity among singles is to convince them that they shouldn’t want sex.

The problem with that is that it has produced a whole generation who have a distorted view of sex. There are no shortage of single folks who think sex is a bad thing.

They associate sex with sin and satan instead of God and glory.

When my friend was longing for a baby, I prayed for her to find godly contentment and exploit her season without kids for God’s glory.  I also prayed for God to give her a child.  I wept with her over that unfulfilled desire and I knelt beside her and prayed earnest prayers for the desires in her heart.

And she did the same for me.  She prayed and continues to pray for me to find myself so fully satisfied in God in singleness, that I actually believe I have no lack in my life.

She also prayed and continues to pray for me – earnestly, with all her heart – for God to hear my prayer and grant me my desire.  She prays for Him to bless me with marriage for my good and His glory.

We both want to recognize that good things, like babies and sex, are made by God for His glory.

They aren’t to be associated primarily with sin and satan, but God and His glory.

2. Desires enable sacrifice.

The second reason I think that we shouldn’t confuse fighting our sin with destroying all desires is that desire enables worship and sacrifice.

And David said longingly; ‘Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!’ Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it.  He poured it out to the Lord. 2 Samuel 23:15-16

David was thirsty.  The kind of thirsty that probably you and I have never experienced.  The kind of thirsty that caused men to risk their lives to bring him water.  But when he got the water he just poured it out on the sand.

I pour out water all the time.  It means nothing.  Why was David’s sacrifice so much bigger than mine?

The degree of sacrifice is proportional to the degree of desire.

David’s sacrifice was great because the water was greatly desired.

On the days when I wake up with no desire in my heart, my purity still matters to God and it’s still glorifying to Him.  But, on the days when I wake up filled with great desire in my heart, and yet through the Spirit I still walk in the obedience of purity, a great sacrifice is poured out before the Lord, and I am able to worship Him in a different way.

Let your desire be an opportunity to sacrifice and worship God.

Count your unmet desire as a gift from God; an opportunity to grow in faith and offer your heart as a sacrifice in worship.

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7 thoughts on “Question of the week: when is sexual desire sin?

  1. Thank you thank you thank you, I really appreciate that someone has been able to write about this, and been able to give us women a way to give it back to God without too much shame.

  2. “Desire enables worship and sacrifice.”
    “The degree of sacrifice is proportional to the degree of desire.”
    “Let your desire be an opportunity to sacrifice and worship God. Count your unmet desire as a gift from God; an opportunity to grow in faith and offer your heart as a sacrifice in worship.”

    Yes, and yes again. There are a number of things we can say through sacrifice, and they’re not mutually exclusive:

    “God, I desire this because it’s good. That shows me how good You are.”
    “God, I really, REALLY want this. But I want you more.”
    “You’ve chosen not to give this to me. I trust You more than I trust my need for this.”
    “Someday, if or when You do provide this for me, the worth of the gift will be shown both by the strength of my desire for it and my unwillingness to accept counterfeits. This gift is so good that the Giver must also be glorified.”

  3. This is just a wonderful piece. It’s just so helpful and encouraging to know there are other believers dealing talking about these issues in a positive and honest manner.

  4. awesome read.. i am really struggling with some of the topics you went over and this has helped re-boost my faith when i needed it most.. God is good and i praise the name of the Lord Je’sus for leading me to your writings..

    God bless

  5. I just re-read this, following the link you have in your latest post. SO GOOD. You know how to use words in a way that so clearly portrays the truth. You simplify this mess of confusion and unmet desire and guilt and hope into something concrete that I can hold on to.

  6. “Count your unmet desire as a gift from God; an opportunity to grow in faith and offer your heart as a sacrifice in worship.” YES! Thank you for making sense of this desire so many of us have. Being new to following Jesus, I have a lot of friends who think I’m crazy for rejecting these desires, but I know that my desire for God is greater.

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