“Every time you kiss a boy, you give a piece of your heart to him.”
“When a man sees a women dressed immodestly, his mind forces him to complete the rest of the picture.”
“You have no business hugging boys.”
“That’s why I didn’t kiss until I was engaged.”
“If you struggle with porn, maybe you need to get rid of your smartphone and get a flip phone.”
“Dress with dignity. Your body is a precious gift for your husband’s eyes only.”
And so on. I’m sure these statements are all too familiar to those of us who grew up in purity-saturated youth group culture. Let me make one thing clear as day before I move on so you get the right picture: I am infinitely grateful for my years in youth group. My youth leaders have been some of the most influential people in my walk with God. Having a community where I could learn and grow in my faith with others my age, supported by caring adults who truly wanted the best for us, was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I will never for a second say that youth group is damaging.
That being said, I think there are some problems with the general rhetoric that we as a larger Christian culture have given to our teens for the past few decades. Here’s what I mean:
When I was in youth group, we were not shy about talking about sex and relationships. We usually had one or two small group units on it every year and, especially as I got older, my small group would have discussions about it outside of the week’s theme if the topic came up. I’m grateful for that. But something always fell a little short.
Let’s use this as an example. There were a few married couples in my church, not much older than my friends and me, who had saved their first kiss for their wedding day. It wasn’t super common, but it was common enough to be brought up frequently. So we would ask, “Is it okay to kiss before marriage?”
The response, whether from a leader, a blog, a book, a conference, or some other medium, always went something like this: “Well, kissing isn’t inherently evil, but kissing could lead to more things, things that actually are sinful. It’s a slippery slope, and don’t you want to save all your purity for your husband?”
Not a completely wrong statement, but there’s a fundamental error here. To understand this, we have to zoom out and see the bigger picture. Why do we pursue sexual purity, or purity of any sort, in the first place? Is it so we can arrive at our wedding night after years of suffering and striving and sweating and struggling and finally be able to say, “Babe, we made it”? Because quite frankly, that is exhausting. Constantly having to check your behavior–check if your actions cross the line or not, check if your thoughts are in the right place, check if you’re acting out of lust or out of love, check if you’re allowing yourself to keep sinning, check this and this and this and don’t forget about that–will run you into the ground.
Because, news flash: try as we might, we will never conquer sin ourselves. We are just not strong enough. Encouraging, isn’t it?
But what if purity stopped being about behavior modification? What if we stopped telling our sixteen-year-old kids who just got into relationships and are dealing with struggles way over their heads that if they only stopped texting late at night, stopped spending so much alone time together, stopped watching so many movies, stopped kissing while sitting down, stopped wearing skinny jeans around each other, that they would be able to overcome lust?
What if we understood that our sin has been taken care of?
Let us not forget that when Jesus died on that cross for us a few millennia ago, he spoke three very powerful words: “It is finished.”
The Bible tells us in that those of us born again in the Lord already have the righteousness of Christ within (check out 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Your sin is conquered and, surprise, none of it is your doing. This is absolutely revolutionary. Because all of the sudden it becomes not about how much I can clean myself up to be a good Christian and live a pure life to hopefully have a good marriage someday. It becomes about the near-incomprehensible fact that despite all the muck and the grime and the dirt of your sin, Christ still went to the cross for you because He. Loves. You.
Can you wrap your head around that for a second? Probably not fully, but give it a try. Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless, spotless lamb of God who has all the power in the world and all the glory of Heaven decided to come down to this earth as a helpless baby born in a humble stable, live a human life with all its joy and sorrow, never sin once, and die an unimaginably brutal death and rise again on the third day, hallelujah! Because His love for you is too great for Him to do nothing about that sin. He created you, He knows you, and He wants to have a relationship with you.
Let’s zoom back in a little. If we understand this righteousness and freedom that we have in Christ because of His love, it breaks us from the bondage of always having to measure up. This view changes everything. Instead of focusing on these single issues, we start to see everything we do as Christ working out His plan through us.
When we look at the big picture, purity is not about saving your virginity for your future spouse, who, by the way, is another sinful human being. At the end of the day, it’s not about avoiding stumbling blocks so we can win some prize for being the best at saying no to temptation. It is about the glory and the gospel of God. It is about realizing that you can do nothing out of your own humanity to conquer lust and completely surrendering to Christ to work in you through the power of the forgiveness of the cross. There is something oddly liberating about admitting you cannot do this on your own and throwing up your hands and saying “Okay God! It’s time for you to take over!” And you do it again and again and again as He leads you on the path of transformation into Christlikeness. That, my friends, is what purity is about.
I’m not writing this as one who knows everything or even one who claims to. I am a twenty-year-old virgin who has only ever been in one relationship and serious though it was, I know I have only scratched the surface of this issue. But I have been learning some revolutionary things lately and it would be wrong to keep it to myself.
It’s Sacred Sexuality week in chapel here at Northwestern. A week that brings about a lot of nervous laughter, a lot of avoided eye contact, and a lot of comments about saving up chapel skips so you don’t have to go to “sex week.” But I believe that many students really do care about this issue and like me, are searching for answers. Last night, hundreds of students gathered to watch the film The Heart of Man. This dramatic documentary brought about some of the best discussion you can have in a carousel classroom with 200 people. It’s intense, it’s thought-provoking, and it’s needed. I won’t write everything about it here (this isn’t an ad anyway), but if the topics in this blog post spoke to you in any way, I’d highly encourage you to check it out. I think it’s on Netflix.
Another discussion that started to change how I view purity and relationships is this YouTube video by Katie Gregoire Emmerson. She explains this viewpoint so beautifully and so passionately, and I want more people to learn what she has to say.