Growing up in youth group I knew the “purity talk.” I had seen the object lessons. I read and participated in the Bible studies on Christian dating, remaining pure, and preparing myself for marriage. I knew that I should hold out for “the one” and keep myself pure for my future husband. I prayed for my future husband and wrote letters to him. I even kissed dating goodbye until God brought “the one” into my life.
I left each of those events with my head up (and my body modestly covered), thinking, “I am so well prepared—I will never succumb to the temptation of sexual sin.” And yet, I lost the battle for purity. Though I never fully “gave myself away,” I didn’t remain pure as I should. I was impure in my relationships and I was also impure in my thoughts.
Looking back as a married woman, I see where I went wrong. The motive I took going into the battle for purity was the same motive that lead me to sin: Selfishness. But even before that, my view of purity was wrong, and that hindered my battle as well.
Maybe you are like me and felt (or feel) totally equipped to fight temptation against sexual immorality. I encourage you to consider with me your definition of what true purity looks like, and to also consider what is truly motivating you in your battle against sexual sin.
Correcting Our View of Purity
In Aimee Byrd’s book Why Can’t We Be Friends? she discusses how our misguided view of purity has kept us from growing spiritually and relationally with one another, especially in the context of co-ed relationships. We have defined purity as avoidance of the opposite sex, as holding off until we meet our future spouse. And with this view of purity, we have made it a Christian commodity and another kind of gospel.
“Purity is treated as a commodity for ultimate blessing: if you maintain your virginity until marriage, you will be blessed with wonderful sex and a happily-ever-after relationship. Don’t be fooled—this is the prosperity gospel, in which God’s holy standard exists to only reward you for your great victory.”
But this kind of view of purity is inaccurate. This kind of definition makes purity solely about marriage, when purity by the Christian standard is so much more. Aimee writes,
“Purity isn’t merely abstention. It isn’t practiced by avoidance. Purity isn’t just a physical status for a virgin, nor is it even the success of a faithful marriage. Purity is pre-eminently about our communion with God—a fountain that overflows into our other relationships.”
On the outside, avoidance and virginity appear as purity and holiness. But what about on the inside? What about the thoughts that people can’t see, the lustful heart people can’t perceive? Purity is much more than our physical status. God calls us to a higher purity. He commands that we be holistically pure—not in body only, but also in thought and speech, that we be totally free and unmixed from sin. “Be holy as I am holy,” God commands (1 Peter 1:16). Being pure doesn’t simply mean you are a virgin or that you have no interaction with the opposite sex, but is a call to complete holiness—set apart from sin and perfect obedience to God.
This standard isn’t even possible for us. But this is where purity begins: We can’t be pure—that’s why we need Christ. Jesus lived the perfectly pure life we cannot, and then he died for our sins and our impurity on the cross as the perfect sacrifice. We are declared just and pure before God as if we had never sinned when we believe the gospel. From there, we live a pure life only by the power Christ. This is biblical purity.
Correcting Our Motives
The purity movement in the church has taught us to be pure for the sake of a future husband and a blessed marriage. Will the motive of a possible future marriage keep you from gratifying a present lustful desire? What if you don’t marry someone? What if you never find that future spouse? What will keep you pure? Or what if you do find that special someone, what will keep you pure once you are engaged? What if your marriage isn’t so perfect—what will keep you from seeking fulfillment somewhere else?
As Aimee Byrd has also already shown us, this is the prosperity gospel—believing that our abstinence will be rewarded with a blessed marriage. It is a selfish, unbiblical motive, and one that will not sustain. As believers, we should have a higher motive.
Motivated by Love for God
Our purity should be motived first by a love for God. God has commanded us to be pure (Ephesians 5:3; Galatians 5:17-21; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 18) and if we love him we should obey his commands (John 14:15). Our love for God should override our desire to satisfy our temptations. Knowing that God calls us to purity, we should hate anything that is sexually immoral. We should want to glorify God with our bodies, knowing that he has created it as a temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Motivated by Love for Our Brothers
Our second motive for purity should be love for our brothers of the faith. They are not first possible-husbands-to-be or a source of sexual gratification. The Christian men in our lives are first our brothers in Christ, and we are called to honour and love them as such. They have been adopted along with us by God to bring him glory, and we should strive to encourage them in that journey of holiness (Hebrews 10:24).
Sexual sin is first selfish; we have a desire and we want to fulfill it. But believers are called to love each other more than ourselves, and to lay down our lives for one another (John 15:13). In the same way, let us so love our brothers that we fight to put off our sexual desires and strive alongside of them for sexual purity.
A New Attitude in the Battle for Purity
My hope is that I have not discouraged you in your battle against temptation, but rather encouraged you to consider how you have viewed purity and if it truly matches up to the same purity God demands. I hope that I have encouraged you to examine your motive for purity. I also hope that I have encouraged you to take strength in Christ, because without him the battle for purity is already lost.