IN the ongoing debate about sex education, it's remarkable how much hostility is roused by the idea of promoting abstinence. Yet the lessons of abstinence, self-control, unselfishness, and respect for others must be learned at some time.

Of course, the leading argument is that expecting such self-control is unrealistic. But this is too facile. Why shouldn't self-control and unselfishness be obtainable goals?

Character training--instilling moral, ethical, and spiritual values--has always been a prime responsibility of families. And while society provides small support for this today, this merely emphasizes the important responsibility parents have. When such training has a spiritual foundation, supplemented by the parents' own example, children do experience the value of self-government. And as they demonstrate this self-government in their daily lives, they discover the support Christ, Truth, provides them.

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's Gospel, Christ Jesus taught, ``Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God'' (5:9). Doesn't this necessarily include letting God, divine Love, make peace within us? When we let God's love still all strife and carnal desires within us, we are able to demonstrate greater love and patience with others. Self-control actually proceeds from feeling the peace of God within, the control and government of Spirit ruling us and supporting us. The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, speaks of ``bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ'' (10:5). This is no mean feat! And the sooner we strive for this goal, the sooner we will achieve it and help our children attain it. The spiritual growth our obedience brings reveals that purity, patience, kindness, unselfishness, discipline, and self-control are natural to men and women.

Realizing that these qualities are natural reassures us that it is possible for us and our children to express them, to live them. The value of abstaining from self-indulgence and intemperateness can be taught and appreciated. An essential starting point is an understanding of God as Spirit. The Bible reveals Spirit as ever-present and omnipotent good. Spirit is the creator of man, the life-giving force of being that forms man, governs him, and animates him. Because Spirit, God, is good, this good works in man, motivates him, inspires and directs him, and gives him a joy and satisfaction that nothing else can. Because Spirit is omnipotent, it cannot be overruled or nullified by physicality.

Rather than believe that man is governed by the body, by rampant hormones, or sex drives, we can acknowledge the government of Spirit. The Bible says that God gives man dominion over all the earth. This has to include at least dominion over our own consciousness and body. Recognizing Spirit's government of man nullifies the claim that sensualism can take over our thinking and emotions.

Prayer, based on spiritual understanding, is powerful. It reveals man as the reflection of God. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, is the author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, an excellent guide for parents. In this book she writes, ``Reflecting God's government, man is self-governed'' (p. 125). Children love to learn what it means to be God-governed, to be His image and likeness. Self-government and self-possession bring the assurance that makes abstinence, along with a loving regard for others, far more natural than intemperance and unrestrained sexuality. Shouldn't we do all we can to help our children experience the joy that comes from dominion and spiritually impelled self-control?

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