by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I remember sitting in my counselor’s office a few years ago and he told me, “Sex is biological.” He meant ‘sex is a natural function and urge.’ Sex is not a habit or an emotion. It is biological. But like all biological urges sex is within the control of the will. Sex is not evil or bad, no more than hunger is evil or bad.
“All of the seven deadly sins are rooted in the flesh. But unlike Buddhism, which sees desire itself as the root of all evil, Christianity has never identified desire itself as sin. It is inordinate and excessive desire expressing itself compulsively that is seen as sinful. Natural pleasures like food and sex, being part of our true humanity, are good.” – Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology, p66
[Seven deadly sins: vainglory, envy, anger, melancholy, greed, gluttony and lust – John Cassian (360-435)]
Augustine described the cardinal virtues as directed towards the world – prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance (as opposed to the theological virtues – faith, hope and love, which direct us to g-d). He states… prudence is “love making a right distinction between what helps it toward God and what might hinder it.” (Chan, p92) Temperance and its Chastity are related to the disciplines of abstinence, because they “manage” the will, they control the temptations of the flesh – in our case lust.
The flesh is always the battlefield. Our will either serves the Spirit or serves the flesh. The way of the flesh is slavery, a bad slavery. Whereas slavery to the Spirit is life-giving freedom and peace. No wonder Paul says “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.” 1 Cor. 9:27 This is why we cannot present ourselves to temptation unaware.
We are caught between a good biological necessity and sex’s appetite for indulgence. Dallas Willard thinks therefore, that sex cannot be done away with (read: “the monks got it wrong again”). This is why Paul says “it is better to marry than to burn” 1 Cor. 7:9. Sexuality is indeed a deep drive, a core feature of our identity. No wonder abuse destroys so deeply. No wonder self image and self worth are so integral to one’s sexuality. Those men who think no one “good enough” will ever marry them settle for someone with equally low self esteem – as low as themselves and they then proceed to duplicate the same broken dysfunction as their family of origin. Years of pastoring have brought to my office a full array of sexual dysfunction, broken identities, sin, deviance and abuse.
But rather than pronouncing “everyone should work extra hard on controlling their sexual appetites” I’d rather say a) sex is biological – don’t try to kill it or you’ll end up worse off than before, and b) learn from your sexuality – it is a part of your identity and so it has a massive voice about your neediness, your self-worth, your intimacy quotient. And then c) don’t give the devil a foothold – watch over your soul with all care. You’ve been bought with a very expensive price.