Sexual purity is a simple and complicated subject for Christians. It’s simply because the Bible makes it very clear what we are supposed to do: Don’t have premarital sex. Sex is for marriage. Period. That’s not a complicated thing to understand or teach in the church.
However, things get weird when Christians start explaining why we should “save ourselves for marriage.” I don’t have a problem with what the church is telling Christians to do and not do regarding sex. I have a problem with why we are often telling Christians not do these things. The motives for sexual purity that Christians often have is the problem I want to address here.
The Right Reason to Pursue Sexual Purity and Practice Abstinence
In my article Sexual Purity: How the Church Often Gets It Wrong, I cover this point in much greater detail, so I encourage you to read that article to get a deeper understanding of what I am saying in this section.
In short, the reason Christians should not have premarital sex and should practice abstinence before marriage is not [that] they are retaining a purity they were born with but because they are living from the purity that Jesus gave them when they were born again at the moment of their conversion.
We teach people that if you have sex you have forever lost your purity. But do we teach people that if they lie once they have forever lost their truthfulness? Do we teach them if they ever say a cuss word they have forever lost their ability to speak righteously? If they ever punch someone in anger, do we teach them that their fist is forever tainted and can never be used for good again? Then why do we teach people that they have one chance at sexual purity and if they blow it they are forever damaged goods?
Of course, sin has consequences. Of course, people who don’t have premarital sex will not have to deal with certain issues that people who do have premarital sex will need to work through with Christ. There are countless benefits to obeying God when it comes to sexual purity and countless problems when we don’t obey God. But this pattern is true of all sin, not just sexual purity.
When the church talks about obedience in general, usually they teach it right by communicating that we should obey not to be saved but because we are saved. I believe most American churches have a decent understanding of grace. It’s not an odd thing [nowadays] to walk into church and hear the pastor say that we are saved by grace alone and through faith, not by works. We are to obey because we are a new creation and because it is a sign of our changed hearts, for although we are not saved by works, faith without works is dead.
However, everything seems to change when the topic of sexual purity comes up. Suddenly the above biblical truths go out the window and everyone has one chance to retain their purity and if you mess it up you are doomed forever. This is wrong.
Yes, we should teach Christians to obey God’s word and not have premarital sex. But we need to teach them this for the right reasons, just like we do on every other topic of obedience that we teach on in the church. We don’t teach people that if we miss one tithe our finances are irredeemable, so therefore, you better not miss one tithe ever in your life if you want to have blessed finances.
We should obey because God has saved us, because we love God, because we want to reap the benefits of following Christ. But again, it seems when the topic of obeying God’s commands for sexual purity come up the motive taught is completely different. Now all of a sudden we must obey God because if we don’t we have lost our purity that we were born with and there’s really nothing you can do after that. You have been marked with the scarlet letter. Yes, there’s grace for you, but purity is not an option anymore. This is wrong.
We must apply the same biblical truths that we apply to all teaching on obedience. Christians should practice abstinence when they are unmarried because they are seeking to reflect the purity that Christ has given them, not because they are so afraid of losing the purity that they were born with.
30 God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 31 Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31 NLT)
People who think they have their own purity boast in themselves. This is so dangerous.
Lie: When You “Save Yourself for Marriage” You Are Pure Because You Haven’t Had Sex
There are benefits to being a virgin, but never think your lack of certain sins is a form [of] true purity. The Bible says we were all born sinful (Psalm 51:5). We are “totally depraved,” which is a theological term that means every part of our humanity is tainted with our sinful nature. It does not mean we are sinful as possible. Some people really do sin more than others. But every one of us [h]as been infected with sin in every part of our existence and being.
So to think you are pure because you have not had sex is a lie. You are only pure when God transfers the purity of Christ onto you. When we say, “save yourself for marriage,” many of us subtly take those words “save yourself” too far. So many people have tried to be their own messiah through their own sexual purity, and then when they sin in a sexual way they feel they have lost their purity forever.
This mindset is based [on] a “works theology.” The Bible says we are not saved by works but by grace through faith and so we can then live for God (Ephesians 2:8-10). We should seek to live pure lives because Jesus has made us pure, not as a way of saving ourselves.
Lie: You Can Lose Your Purity Forever and You Will Always Be Damaged Goods
The above mindset leads us to take all the pressure for our purity on ourselves. Eventually, we crumble under this load one way or the other. We either sin sexually before marriage or are let down by the idol of purity once we get married.
If you sin sexually, you must repent and God will grant you his grace. There are consequences to sexual sin, but you are not damaged goods forever if you sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is more than enough for our failures.
Lie: If You Don’t Save Yourself for Marriage, Your Sex Life in Marriage Will Be Tainted Forever
Another lie is that if you commit a sexual sin before marriage or have premarital sex, you have totally ruined your sex life in your marriage forever. Again, it is better to not sin sexually. You will have less to overcome if you obey God in your premarriage days.
But never believe your marriage and sexual experiences in your marriage must be tainted or ruled by the sins of your past. This is a lie of Satan. Lies only have power when you believe them. Don’t believe you have ruined something that you don’t even have yet if you are not married. Jesus can restore. Forgiveness can be granted. And you can enjoy the gift of sex in marriage as you rely on the gospel of Jesus Christ for redemption. This is not an excuse to sin more as a single person; rather, this is hope for all true Christians who truly want to live for Christ (Romans 6:1-4).
Lie: Virgins Are Better Christian Spouses Than People Who Have Committed Sexual Sin
In an effort to help people pursue sexual purity in their Christian singleness, we have ended up demonizing those who have sinned sexually. Just because someone is a virgin does not mean they will be a great spouse. And just because someone has had premarital sex does not mean they will be a bad Christian spouse.
To judge someone for their past is to discount the sanctifying work of Jesus. God really does change us over the years. The person you were years ago does not need to be the person you are now. So don’t view all potential marriage partners by their past sexual sins or lack thereof. There’s so much more to Christian maturity and people really are transformed by God’s grace.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
Lie: Someone Who Has Saved Themselves for Marriage Will Fill Your Need for a Perfect Person
We are turning our young Christian women into purity idols that we think will fill our heart’s desire for a perfect person. But only Jesus is perfect, so only Jesus can fill that desire for “the perfect one.”
Idols can be expressed in two extremes. You can be a glutton or anorexic. You can be in debt or you can be stingy. You can be a people pleaser or a people hater. Likewise, the idol of sex can be expressed in many ways. One extreme is that you indulge in all kinds of sexual immorality. That’s what most people think of when they think of sex as an idol. But you can also idolize sex by thinking a virgin is a demigod or something. If you think a guy or girl is so pure they will fulfill all your fantasies, take away every insecurity you ever had, and be the perfect person you’ve always dreamed of, you are idolizing sex and purity.
We need to teach Christians that we are to go to our spouses to give and not just take. For example, if you go to a woman to make yourself feel pure because she is “pure,” you are using her as your personal savior. You should be going to your wife to give grace, offer strength, and to love her like God loves you. Virginity does not need to be in this equation. If you need her to be perfect to love her, you don’t actually love her.
Maybe God wants to give you the daughter he loves so you can help be a part of healing and loving her. She has been attacked by Satan and the world and God wants you to love her like Christ, to show her you are going to give to her and not just take as you reflect the gospel in your marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33).
In summary, the perfect guy or girl is not out there. So many people are looking for the “perfect one” and missing out on some great people because they want their future spouse to be their personal Jesus rather than their life partner.
Don’t believe these lies about sexual purity. Pursue purity out of your newness in Christ. Love the person God brings into your life regardless of their past. Believe the gospel and see people through the transforming power of God’s love. When we are Christians, we are no longer defined by our past sins. We are new people. We are no longer our old sin. Jesus has made us pure, totally, completely, and forever.