The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak
A Holistic Approach to Combating Sexual Desires outside of Marriage
If you have come to a point in your Christian walk that you understand God’s will for singleness is to refrain from sex outside of marriage, congratulations to you! This is a great revelation, but not an easy one to come to terms with, especially if you have previously engaged in sexual relations in the covenant of marriage. I have outlined a few steps that may help you during trying times when the desire for sex seems to overshadow your will to abstain from it.
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Feelings
Living life as a Christian does not mean that fleshly desires simply go away, nor does it mean that we are expected to suppress how we feel. The Bible says in James 1:14 that, “each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” So inside each one of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, are desires to live in submission to our flesh. The Scripture goes on to say that, “when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” If we acknowledge our feelings, we can bring light to our fleshly weaknesses and seek help and strength before our desires draw us away from living righteously.
Step 2: Ask God for Help
Once we acknowledge our feelings, and recognize that our sexual desires are jeopardizing our Spirit-filled walk, we must cry out to God for help. David wrote in the 139th division of Psalm that God has searched and knows us, that He knows our very thoughts before we think them. How comforting to know that although our struggles to remain abstinent may be new to us, it isn’t news to God! He knew the challenges we would face –1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” The Bible tells us to pray about everything, and I hope, dear friends, that we are brave enough to interpret this quite literally. Your prayer could sound something like this:
God, if I am to be completely honest, right now I desire things that are outside of your will for my life, and somehow this just doesn’t feel right. Lord, change the desires of my heart! Fill my heart with an eagerness to do something else besides what I’ve known all along to do! I’m scared Lord! I’m afraid that I’ll be missing out if I choose to live without the things my body so badly desires. But I trust you more than I trust my fears. The peace I have when I am with you, surpasses any kind of joy or pleasure I’ve experienced in the world. And it is everlasting-through all of eternity. Thank you for allowing the Holy Spirit to settle within me, to keep me safe in moments like this, to turn my cries into something only You can understand. I’m doing my best here Lord. Show me the way out. It’s in Your Son Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Or your prayer could be something entirely different. Just make sure it is honest and sincere and you will be justified before God.
Step 3: Identify Your Triggers
Acknowledging our feelings and praying to God are critical spiritual steps taken in the battle of control over sexual desires. Educating ourselves about the physiological effects of desire will also help us stay on the righteous path. Perform a moderate study on the brain’s reward pathway and you will find that it was marvelously designed by God to seek out and make pleasurable the things—food, water, nurturing and sex—that will keep us alive.
When a person engages with these things, the brain rewards the parts of itself that process emotion and create memories with an abundance of chemicals. These chemicals cause a pleasurable sensation, and create memories about the environment where the activity took place so that the experience can be recreated. The latter process, or the triggering process, (as I have termed it) is a natural part of life that is beneficial in many ways, but can have potentially negative consequences for those of us who wish to refrain from activity that we once found physically pleasurable. In the case of sex, we have to identify environments or activities that we have taught our brains to associate with the act. Perhaps there was a specific fragrance that your spouse wore to get you in the mood. Or maybe viewing certain kind of movies, reading romance novels, seeing certain images, being around certain people increases your sexual arousal. Or maybe it’s a genre of music or a style of dance that gives your body a signal that it’s go time. Note them, and be aware of them. Anticipate these triggers in your daily activities or upcoming plans, and avoid them as much as you can.
Step 4: Replace Your Triggers
Once you identify your triggers that tempt you into thinking you need sexual activity, and decide to avoid them, you must replace what once tempted you with new and different activities. Just as our brains learn to associate certain activities with pleasure, with effort and discipline, it can unlearn or disassociate these acts with feelings. Below are just a few examples that may trigger our physical senses to desire sex, and activities we can do to replace them.
|Potential Triggers||Trigger Replacements|
|Taste||Chocolate, Whipped Cream, Strawberries, Alcohol||Other Fruits and Vegetables, Water, Tea|
|Touch||Desire for Intimate Contact with a Spouse||Hug your Family, Hug Your Church Congregants, Massage, Pedicure, Manicure|
|Smell||Cologne, Perfume, Flowers||New Scents|
|Sight||Graphic Movies, Romance Novels, Social Media||Bible, Wholesome Movies, Christian Websites, Blogs|
|Sound||Romantic Music, Love Music, Sexual Communication||Praise & Worship Music, Talk & Pray with a Christian Friend, Your Marriage Journey Podcast!|
|Act||Dancing, Visiting Nostalgic Places||Swim, Yoga, Running, Martial Arts, Group Exercise Classes, Visiting New Places|
Step 5: Seek Godly Counsel
If you are having trouble batting sexual desires on your own, you may need to see a professionally trained spiritual counselor. Some people abuse sex, drugs and/or alcohol in an effort to escape the pain of traumatic life experiences. If this is true for you, you must seek assistance to deal with the root of the underlying trauma and then you can address the unhealthy behaviors that arose from it.
Step 6: Repeat Steps 1 through 5
In Galatians 5, Apostle Paul encourages us to walk in the Spirit, so that we do not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Walking in this sense means that we are continuously present in the Spirit. The best combatant we have against temptation is to continuously feed our spiritual selves. We need to pray, we must read our Bibles, and we must participate in spiritual fellowship so that we are continuously connecting our Spirits to God.
Imagine your soul as a mode of transportation that consumes fuel to move, like a car, bus, or plane. The fuel that powers your vessel comes from either the Spirit or the flesh, and the type of fuel determines the direction in which you are moving. If your soul is filled with the fuel of the flesh, you will move in the direction of the flesh. Likewise, if your soul is filled with the fuel of the Spirit, you will move in the direction of the Spirit. Now imagine resting your vessel at the top of a hill. If the proper mechanisms are not in place, the vessel will naturally roll down to the foot of the hill. Our souls operate in the same manner! If we do not have something in place to keep us on the righteous path, we will gravitate towards natural pleasure—our flesh will be tempted and we will be drawn away.
Prior to the decision to become abstinent, you may have been using sex to power your soul with the fuel of the flesh, which caused you to behave in a way that pleases the flesh. Now that either your understanding of God’s will for sex has changed and you decide to align yourself accordingly, or you find yourself newly single, you must replace the natural fuel with fuel of the Spirit so that you can learn to behave in a way that pleases the Spirit.
I know dear friends, that this is easier said than done, because even if we follow each of these steps, we may still feel like we are being denied something—and no one enjoys the feeling of deprivation. If we feel this way, we must be careful to identify the source of those feelings. The fall of man came when Eve was drawn away from God’s will because she was led to believe she needed something she did not have. The enemy uses the same tools on us just as he used on Eve, tricking us into thinking that we are missing out, we are being cheated—we are losing—when we do not have the things that we desire. For those of us who were married, this concept is especially difficult to grasp because not only do we experience the feeling of deprivation, we miss the natural satisfaction of what was freely and rightfully available to us. Despite all this, we have to continuously remind ourselves that although God’s will may not make sense from our frame of reference, we must trust the One with the complete picture, completely in all things, including His decree that sex is preserved for marriage.
If we can follow the steps and remain faithful, our lives will be transformed. We will no longer be slaves to our flesh. We will begin to desire Godly relationships with people—wishing only to facilitate them on their Spirit-filled walk and not hinder it. We will trust God’s will beyond our circumstances. We will find meaningful purpose in our single hood, and we will be satisfied with the love of God.
I pray earnestly for your strength and endurance until all these things come to pass.
In God’s Love,