Sexual purity before marriage is one of the many good things Christians promote and encourage. We have written books about it, we go to conferences that talk about it, and we buy silver-colored rings (whether real or fake doesn’t matter) to remind us that we are to keep ourselves pure for our one-day Mr or Mrs Right. We love to quote scripture about how we are not called to be impure but to live a holy life (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, Matthew 5:8). Most unmarried Christians will tell you that they do want to wait to have sex until marriage. We normally nod our heads in agreement that purity is a good thing that we are called to maintain in our lives, and by doing this we will have a strong and healthy marriage someday. We are instructed by youth leaders and motivational speakers to “keep ourselves pure” for that special man or woman God has planned for us.
But what we are not told is that it is impossible to do so.
We can’t keep ourselves pure. Someday we have to realize that we can’t keep pure because we were never pure in the first place.
People look at my love story as a success. As my husband and I dated/courted we were sure to set a lot of boundaries in order to “keep pure” for our wedding day. We never had sex–we were virgins on our wedding night, we had our first kiss at the altar, and we tried to be careful about how much time alone we spent so that we could have accountability in our relationship.
People may look at us and say, “Now there is a great example of purity in the Christian life.”
I’m sorry to tell you this… but it’s simply not true.
As I courted Sam, I constantly struggled with guilt over things we did. I look back on my journal entries and see a messy tangle of swirling emotions about this new relationship I was experiencing. Sam was more open than I was about sharing his feelings and affection with me. I struggled with wondering things like: are we moving too fast? Should I do ________, more or less? Are my feelings for Sam okay, or are they sinful? You may laugh, but I was struggling with guilt after the first time I held his hand because it felt so pleasurable to me. I was afraid of pleasure because I was afraid that it would lead me astray. That someday I would lose my senses and give away my purity before it was time.
But really, I had it wrong.
In my fear and shame over these things, I was focusing on myself and my ability to keep myself pure and forgetting that my purity didn’t come from me.
It comes from God.
Too often in our books and seminars about abstinence, we are told that we need to keep pure because God’s word commands it, or it leads to a more fulfilled marriage, or because we could get an STD, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes the heart of the issue is ignored altogether and we are just scared or guilted into doing the right thing. I know for me, it was often just because I wanted to be right and do the right thing so I could get the credit instead of obeying God’s Word out of love for Him. Just signing a paper or getting yourself a promise ring is not going to keep you from making sinful choices. Whenever our focus is on ourselves and how we are going to keep ourselves pure, you can bet that our own convictions won’t last for long–especially under the pressure of temptation.
In essence, we need to realize that we are not pure.
“…There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
We are not pure… but God is. HE is the source, the well to draw from. We should not strive for purity because it’s the right thing to do, or because you’re a better Christian if you do it God’s way. We seek purity because we are seeking HIM. We are pure because He makes us pure. We don’t “do it” until marriage, not so we can have bragging rights, but because we love Him and we want to honor Him.
Those who have given away their virginity before marriage often understand this principle better than the rest of us. They see firsthand how human effort in the ways of “keeping themselves pure” has failed them and how God can turn around their sin for His glory and restore purity in their lives. The “failures” at purity are often placed at the end of these motivational talks were the pastor explains how even though they have messed up, God still forgives and can give them a new start.
When are we going to realize that we all fit under that category?
All of us have lusted over someone, committing adultery in our hearts with them. All of us have our own struggles and desires that are very far from pure. We are all failures at purity. It is only when God gives us the strength to say no to our flesh that we can move forward. He is purity, we are only trying to be more like Him.
This is a picture of my purity ring. My mom gave both me and my sister one for a Christmas present. We got to pick out the design and customize it. I can remember one time when I was struggling with fear over thoughts about the future. I was terrified that someday I would give in to my sinful desires in a moment of weakness. When I told my mom this she did something strange. She took my ring in her hand and said, “Rachael, do you see this cross in the middle of your ring?”
“Let this remind you,” She held it up for me to see, “that it is Christ who is at the center of your purity. He is the one that holds it together.”
We are pure, not because of ourselves, Amen? We are called to follow in His footsteps, to love, to wait, and to be freed by the knowledge that the God who created love and sex is the One who knows what’s best for us. May we, the failures, always find our source in Him, the Purest of the pure.