If you google the word “abstinence” you will get 18 million hits. While I didn’t check all of them, a quick perusal shows the word is most often used regarding chastity. Especially dealing with teenagers refraining from sexual activity.
One link advertised a mug you could give you your teenagers with the word “abstinence.” The back of the mug offered this definition
“Something people like me do for reasons not always religious. I’m abstinent because I don’t wanna be that girl who got pregnant when she was 15 and now has a McJob.”
Secondly, abstinence is often used regarding sobriety. Some people who’ve been in alcohol rehab speak of their months or years of abstinence from drinking. The word, however, has a deeper and even more significant meaning and application in the lives of Christians.
Abstinence deals with discipline. Restraint. Avoidance. And self-restraint. Not just in the area of sexual purity. Or becoming a teetotaler.
The Bible warns us to “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:3). “To abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul (I Pet 4:11). And to “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).
The context of the preceding verses suggests there are higher and nobler motives involved in the practice of abstinence in any area of life.
Abstinence from sexual immorality, Paul writes, is “the will of God.” It speaks to our “sanctification.” We are to be set apart. Dedicated to God’s use. And fashioned for spiritual excellence. Our practice, purpose, and passion in life rises above the deeds, direction, and desires of those bent on worldly and carnal pursuits.
Furthermore, our life on this earth is transitory and temporary. Peter calls Christians sojourners and pilgrims. Aliens and strangers. Foreigners and exiles. Since we’re citizens of a heavenly kingdom, our abstinence from carnal desires ought to be obvious to those around us. “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles,” Peter enjoins.
The third passage reminds us that abstinence from every form of evil is just one aspect of holy living. Rejoicing. Praying. Giving thanks. Allowing the Spirit to work in our lives. Respecting the Word. Faithful examination. And embracing every good around us. (1 Thess.5:16-22) These qualities require discipline. And are intricately connected to abstinence from evil.
Abstinence does not occur accidentally. It requires forethought. Involves intentionality. And is developed by training. It is the spiritual exercise of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8).
It’s demonstrated in bridling our tongue when we want to lash out. Of controlling our temper, when it’s easy to “fly off the handle.” And even in denying ourselves something good, when something better is the best choice.
George Bernard Shaw was right when he wrote, “Virtue consists, not in abstaining from vice, but in not desiring it.” I suppose to some degree there will always be that conflict between the flesh and the spirit. Good and evil. Right and wrong. But a deepening spiritual appetite will gradually decrease our craving for carnal passions.
A deliberate decision to abstain from actions that compromise our Christianity and our values will strengthen our resolve, deepen our convictions, and enhance our relationships.
Plato correctly observed that “The first and best victory is to conquer self.” When we couple self-discipline with the right restraint of our desires, we determine our ultimate destiny.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman