It was at a CCEF conference on “Sex Matters” that I heard a speaker give one of the most perceptive approaches to celibacy in singleness that I had heard to date. She said two things that struck me. One, she said we often look at singleness as a problem to be solved rather than a providence to be capitalized on. That perspective changed the way I pray for singles in my church. I ask God not only to protect them in their singleness but to prosper them in it, making the most of the opportunity for the sake of the kingdom.
Her other insight I found even more profound. She described the urges from within and the pressures from without as a situation of suffering for the cause of Christ. On the one hand, that indicated that the struggles for celibacy were real and not something to be regarded lightly. On the other hand, it sanctified the situation for the glory of Christ and brought to bear a whole new approach for handling the circumstance in a constructive manner.
There are large portions of Scripture that deal with handling suffering, where we honor Christ in our attitudes and actions in the midst of difficult circumstances. Situations of suffering bring with them great expectation arising from God’s purpose. That’s why James says we are to consider it joy when we encounter trials of diverse stripes. We know that they are character-developing. God’s sovereign plan is afoot.
God equips us for profitable, purposeful suffering. Peter’s first epistle majors on suffering, addressing general principles and specific situations like marriage. He begins his letter acknowledging tribulation but even in the salutation he urges obedience to Christ. Suffering does not open the door for disobedience or for anything other than conformity to the will of God. In fact, that conformity attracts the attention of others and opens the door for gospel conversation.
But enduring suffering for the sake of Christ and the cause of the gospel has fallen on hard times, particularly suffering created by conformity to biblical precept. Celibacy is sneered upon. Persevering in a difficult marriage has its pain threshold.
God limits sexual relations to the bond of marriage, as God defines the institution in Genesis and Jesus affirms it in the New Testament. That means those called to temporary or lifelong celibacy may find themselves in a situation of suffering. But God’s grace is sufficient to help believers not only bear up under it but to thrive in it and find fulfillment through dependence upon Him.
Today, however, grace is being enlisted not as an enablement to obedience but as a conspirator to concupiscence. Paul describes the redemptive curriculum and the role of grace as a teacher.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:11–14).
But the grace promoted today is a grace without backbone, an invertebrate, jellyfish-like grace. It is all warm and squishy, and sounds so Christian. It is touted as loving, embracing, affirming, tolerating. Such grace is accepting without being expecting. It makes no demands. It holds no expectations. It stamps sins “forgiven” and gives the green light for their further pursuit along the highway of life, without fear of being pulled over by the police officer of the Law.
The Jesus it purports to exalt becomes nothing but a ventriloquist dummy for what people want to do. He issues a carte-blanche permission slip that we fill in with the ink of grace. “Jesus would want me happy.” Instead of genuinely offering the hope of the gospel and the power of the new life, the “good news” that God is okay with sin (or alleged “sin”) is proclaimed. Any ground for judgment (i.e., moral discernment) is lost, wiped away with “thou shalt not judge,” a phrase ripped from its context and wielded for ends contrary to the One who uttered it.
All sort of sins, not just sexual, find approval through this political machination of the kingdom of the evil one. The result is that, not only is Christ dishonored but His church is emasculated for its work in the world. Those who find refuge in a supposedly “loving” church that preaches this gospel find themselves being exposed to another gospel, like a knockoff Rolex that looks nice but will inevitably disappoint.
But the church can be effective in an increasingly depraved culture not by accommodation but by accreditation of the true gospel of Christ, and the power therein to deal with both sin’s guilt and power. Removing the struggle by rebranding the sin, thus allowing it license in our lives, might relieve the suffering but it does not reflect that which is good, holy, noble and true in God’s workmanship of grace.
May this be our prayer for ourselves and for the church, to “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:9–14).