Abstinence usually refers to the decision not to engage in sex, typically limited to a specific period of time, such as until marriage. Celibacy on the other hand, is the decision (often formalized by a vow) to remain abstinent over an extended period of time and, for some, this may mean their entire life. Most people do not naturally desire to remain single and celibate for a lifetime. The desire for marriage is not sinful. In fact, marriage is God's general plan for mankind "to multiply and replenish the earth"  Gen 1:28, 2:18,24). While not a cure for lust and temptation, marriage can keep us from sin: “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor 7:2). Rather than engage in immorality, believers are to be married. Sex within marriage between one man and one woman or celibate singleness – these are the only two options for Christians. It is assumed most people will marry as indicated by the directions given regarding the leaders in the church (1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:6-9).

However, the Bible speaks of those who “have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it” (Mt 19:11,12). These are those

This is a matter between God and the individual

who by the grace of God, have chosen to renounce marriage for the kingdom’s sake. Such celibates have received a special enablement from God to stay single and serve Him more fully without the burden of a wife and children. Later this gift that enables a person to remain unmarried and focus their attention undivided on the Lord is mentioned again (1 Cor 7:32-34).

Although the Bible mentions celibacy as being a desirable quality, the Roman Catholic Church has made this a binding requirement for its leaders. This anti-biblical requirement has done much damage to those to whom God has not gifted or called to be celibate (1 Cor 7:2,7,9). It has resulted in tremendous failures in the areas of adultery, fornication and the abuse of children.  

See also: abstinence, chastity, marriage, passion, self-control, temptation, virgin.