There is a mistaken idea — even among Christians — that passion and all the energy that goes with it are the unique property of the sexually active (or in the Christian context — the married). For cultural reasons from Sex and the City to Taylor Swift’s unfillable, Blank Space, passion has become synonymous with sex and lust. Sure, passion is sometimes used to describe a college freshman’s obsession with Frisbee golf or charity work with the DC Central Kitchen, but by and large — you say “passion,” we think sex. The given conclusion is that the sexless are therefore also the colorless and passionless.
From the culture’s point of view, you’re the stand-in for Steve Carell in the 40-Year-Old Virgin, looked down on, pitied, and needing to revisit “safe-sex” education. The church-goer and wider Christian community might not send you down the Trojan aisle at Safeway, but many church-goers buy into a modified and sanctified version which leads inevitably into an awkward conversation punctuated by winces and tensing shoulders when married believers run out of ways to say, “Just wait, your time is coming.” Sadly, unmarried Christians often resign themselves to living in a frustrated state that erodes joy and encourages heart rust. To paraphrase Christopher West: “Hey, no fair! I’m not married, and so I have no ‘legitimate’ chance get to indulge my lusts … I’m condemned to a life of hopeless repression.”
This is inherently a lie.
Married or single — you’ve been designed to be energetic, to fulfill desire, and to express passion. Christian marriage is not a “legitimate” place to indulge lust. Godly marital sex has more to do with self-sacrifice and self-denial than with self-gratification. Likewise, godly celibacy fits into that redemptive model of self-sacrifice. Christopher West continues:
The difference between marriage and celibacy must never be understood as the difference between having a ‘legitimate’ outlet for sexual lust on the one hand and having to repress it on the other. Christ calls everyone — no matter his or her [marital status] — to experience redemption from the domination of lust. Only from this perspective [can Christian] celibacy and marriage make any sense. Both vocations — if they are to be lived as Christ intends — flow from the same experience of the redemption of sexual desire …
The point is that our sexuality calls us to give ourselves away in life-giving love. The celibate person doesn’t reject [or abstain from] this call. He just lives it in a different way.”
Frequently, unintentionally single Christians balk at the idea that God could have made them such passionate, relational people without giving them an outlet for it in marital sex. If there’s no sex, there’s no place for all of your pent-up passion to go. This perspective buys into the culture’s mantra that sex is about personal fulfillment and self-satisfaction — the get-yours mindset.
The Gospel tells the truth. Sex is not the only outlet for your passion, energy, and desire. God did design women and men to pour passion into sex, marriage, babies, and building a home, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that grace hasn’t provided other channels “to give ourselves away in life-giving love.”
Becoming Mother Teresa will not immediately dull a massive sex drive, but Christians have sex and passion too connected in their minds. Passion is not pheromones, hormones, or libido. Instead, it’s the energy that makes sex sound like a worthwhile idea in the first place. As much as our culture or church doesn’t want to admit to, that energy can be channeled and used in other ways. Living a celibate life when you want to be married is physically, socially, and mentally hard, but singles do themselves a disservice when they concede to associating passion only with sex.
The world has the mistaken idea that those who are celibate are empty and deprived of one of the few remaining treasures of innate worth. In reality, promiscuity, lust, and sexual cravings ultimately drain rather than satisfy. The only biblically-sanctioned outlet for our unmet desire is found at Calvary — on either side of marriage. As believers in Christ, we’ve been set free from the domination of lust — freed to experience redemption of passion as we walk in the fullness of the Spirit.