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In today's featured article "How Purity Can Become a Problem," I address the spiritual and practical dangers of finding your identity in purity and becoming legalistic about it.
So what's the alternative? Obviously purity is important and a standard for a Christian's life. But if it's not about the ring or the ball or the pledge, what is it about? And, more specifically, what does it look like? Here are a few ideas for practical purity:
1. Make God's Word the priority, not the latest purity book. Books about saving sex for marriage and having pure interactions with the opposite sex have their place. These stories and insights can encourage us in our own journeys. But books, written by people, were never meant to take the place of our true source of wisdom. Psalm 119:9-10 says:
"How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
Let me not wander from your commandments!"
While there are absolutes in Scripture, it's helpful to remember that the advice contained in books is NOT God's inerrant Word. You should constantly compare these ideas to what you find in Scripture. As Paul says, "Test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
2. Don't fear meaningful fellowship with those of the opposite gender (in fact, seek it out!). This was an important lesson for me to learn. What did it look like to interact freely with the opposite sex while maintaining the purity God desired of me? I wrote about my journey in the article "Boy Crazy."
"While the version of boy-craziness I had observed as a teen was unproductive and lacked self-control, I began to wonder if too little emotion toward guys was actually hindering me from developing the types of relationships that could lead to marriage. By guarding my emotions too carefully and avoiding any interaction with the opposite sex that could be considered flirtatious or forward, I essentially cut myself off from the benefits men could bring to my life."
At one point in my life, I think I feared that engaging in deeper levels of conversation with a guy would either send the wrong message (me being forward) or overstep the bounds of "emotional purity." But as I sought the Lord and grew in my faith, I realized I could trust the Holy Spirit to convict me if I was out of line. This freed me to enjoy deeper, more meaningful friendships with men.
3. Cultivate purity in your heart and trust that the actions will follow. This goes back to what I said about depending on the Holy Spirit and reading the Bible. If you are filling your life with things that feed your soul and deepen your relationship with the Savior, purity will naturally occur. Sure, there are specific rules to follow, and there may be areas of struggle you need to seek accountability on. But, overall, living the pure life should be a joy to carry out when you are cultivating Christ's life in you.
4. Don't compare. Christians are great at looking at one another and saying, either "I would never be THAT prudish" or "I would never be THAT worldly" (or some version of those statements). Basically, this kind of judging is counterproductive and can take our eyes off what we should really be focusing on — our own walk with Jesus. Ultimately my purity is between me and Him, and He is going to care little about what others did. So seek His heart on the issue and refrain from measuring your success (or failure) by the actions of others.
Those are just a few ideas for keeping purity from becoming a problem. Maybe you can come up with some more? God gives us freedom to make choices that honor Him (1 Corinthians 10:23). Purity is about using that freedom wisely.
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Suzanne, if I were there I couldn't hi-five you enough for this article. It hits all the right notes. I think it can sometimes be tough to find that balance that respects people's decision to wait while still not making those who stumble or struggle feel like second class citizens in the kingdom of God, but you _nailed it_. Awesome. Love it. Should be posted in every youth/college/singles group in America. Well done. Gold Star. Someone get her a cookie. :)
Do churches teach their congregants to tithe or give to the church and ministries just so that God will provide for them? No, they teach to do it out of obedience. Do churches teach their congregants to love their neighbors just so the neighbors will be kind in return? No, they teach to do it out of obedience. Do churches teach their congregants to obey traffic laws and drive responsibly just to avoid getting traffic tickets or having accidents? No, they teach to do it out of obedience.
Why then do churches encourage purity simply because of the consequences (e.g., great sex later, avoiding unwed pregnancy)?
I think one key to keeping purity in perspective is remembering why it is important: Obedience. It honors the Lord. It’s not about what you’ll get or what you’ll avoid.
I think singles would be better equipped to remain pure (and do so without going to unhealthy and unbiblical extremes) if the church emphasized that their motivation should be honoring the Lord, not holding out hope for great sex later when they get married or avoiding heartbreak, STDs, unwed pregnancy, etc.
oh! I was so excited about seeing this article I didn't even answer the question. Here is a really, really important one that I think gets missed: Single women need to spend more time with married women (and OLDER married women) who give them a seat at the table to talk about real life issues. Maybe it's just my group of friends, but among the girls who married at about 23-24, they all seemed to enter a blaise period of life where they were just SO over the mystery and wonder of marriage by about 25-26. "Oh honey, you don't need all those silk nighties you'll get at your personals shower, they're just not even worth the effort to put them on. You need things you can be comfortable in. Yawn." in contrast, my 40-something friends who had had their kids and were looking at empty-nester times had a TOTALLY different perspective on marriage and sex to bring to the table "You're only young once, and your body is going to change over time. Enjoy it while you can, and be ready for changes when they come!" The balanced perspectives I got from my diverse and sassy group of friends in every stage of life (single, married, divorced and widowed) helped me develop a healthy view on sex that I never would have gotten from sappy, hands-folded and posture perfect, sentimental, "your body is the temple of the Lord" single women's bible studies. (Their awesomeness also helped me develop a much healthier body image. Did you know that it's not just skinny and beautiful models that have sex? Holy cow!)
I can't remember the exact moment it was, but at some point, among my friends I realized that sex went from being this magical thing that everyone looked forward to together -- to being a normal average part of life no different than pouring a bowl of cereal for breakfast for everyone but me. Can you imagine if we treated job searches like this? Eveyone who has a job gets their own group for discussion and networking, and the special group for "the unemployed Christian" meets in another room and talks about how they just need to trust God more for the right timing to get a job. Isn't it possible that the employed people could help move the serious job-seekers from point A to point B?
Oh, and one other thing, The whole Zero-to-Carmen Electra in one magical married night needs to stop. Like full stop. If the best sex you ever have is on your wedding night, you are probably doing it wrong. People need to be told that you are going to have no idea what you're doing. :P It's not this magical thing that you suddenly know. There is going to be a learning curve. Yes, it's a quick learning curve, and yes, you will *prooooooobably* figure it out in short order -- but there are practical possbilities that you are going to have to counter.
Finally, The link between purity and chastity. Maybe we really just need to go back in time. Chastity is really what we want from people, right? "Purity" has just become the trendy buzzword. You cannot be "Pure" without being Chaste. But "Unpure" is so derogatory and demeaning and "unchaste" is simply a statement of fact. I think if we instilled the idea of the virtue of Chastity, rather than some rediculous Joshua-Harris-Esque Hand-holding-at-the-altar baggage scenario in our youth, we'd all be a lot better off.
Yes, some really great stuff here! There's so much crappy advice out there (usually from people who have been married for decades), but this was refreshing. However, I wish I could say that living the pure life is a joy to carry out - for me, it's been an endless struggle.
What Suzanne and AshleyTOF said. This is gold.
I am glad to see a Christian blogger address the problematic aspects of purity culture. I've read many insightful blog posts written by atheists who grew up in Christian homes, but when a current "insider" speaks up, it is harder for Christians to ignore or dismiss the message. You did a good job of explaining the problems concisely and clearly.
One of the biggest casualties of purity culture is the victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Elizabeth Smart talked about this a while back: experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/.../elizabeth-smart-and-psychology-of.html
I agree with Shannon. Too often we try and "sell" Christianity or Christian living as if you'll get something out of it if you obey what God wants. This not only sets us up for disappointment when we don't receive that cookie but also creates a manipulative attitude towards obedience with wrong motives (James 4:3). Blame this on our consumeristic mindset.
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey my Commandments". If we really love Jesus then we ought to obey Him simply based on that alone.
Absolutely true!! I would say that one of the most important things to do regarding purity as a problem is don't proclaim it. So many Christian gals don't necessarily come right out and say "I'M a virgin!" But they wear large rings that state "TRUE LOVE WAITS" or other such messages. I'm not slamming purity rings at all. I think they're cool. In fact I wear one. However I think it's important to be discreet. It's much harder to become prideful about purity if no one else really knows if you are a virgin. (Not saying they won't assume it.)
Appreciate the post.. I think the main thing is to not let 'purity' become a part of your identity. And it's just plain incorrect teaching also.. we are all unclean and needing sanctification through Christ.
I really like Alyson's comment and link to Elizabeth Smart's statements. I notice Christians focus very much on fmeale 'sexual purity' and very little on male 'sexual purity'. I wonder why. I am not one of your kind, I am a non-Christian. I volunteer with many survivors of sexual abuse/assault. I myself am a survivor. Nearly every single woman I speak with who comes from your faith tells me they are blamed for the abuse they endured and that they are taught how 'unclean' and 'impure' they are now. That is disgusting. I used to be one of your kind but was tired of being told how I was to blame for the assaults that I was forced to endure and how defiled I was. I cannot image Christ saying anything like that to a sexual abuse/assault survivor yet his followers frequently say that.
Suzanne, good article. Thank you
"I notice Christians focus very much on female 'sexual purity' and very little on male 'sexual purity'."
First off, I have personally not heard anyone in the church blame people who have been sexually abused/assaulted for what happened (though I don't doubt that victims are sometimes told that or feel that this is implied). It is never okay to blame a victim for what happened to them and people who do that need to re-read the parts of the Bible that speak about God's heart for justice.
However, I don't think the focus on female sexual purity is a uniquely Christian thing. Just Google "sexual double standard" and you'll find all kinds of secular articles about the fact that women who are very active sexually are viewed as being bad, while men who are the same are viewed as enviable. I'm not defending it as right, but it a double standard that has existed throughout history unrelated to religion. Though, I do agree it is strange to see this double standard play out in the church. I've even read comments from Christian women on this blog who said they would have concerns about dating a Christian man in his late 20s/30s who was still a virgin because any halfway desirable guy has usually had sex by that age these days -- so not having "fallen" in this area shows there is likely a problem with the guy.
Yeah, but Corwin, If we approached the issue from a egalitarian standpoint of mutual chastity and realistic expectation, don't you think, in the long run, it would be better for everybody?
MikeTime: I was not saying that sex itself is overrated. Merely that honeymoon sex, specifically, is overhyped.
"I cannot image Christ saying anything like that to a sexual abuse/assault survivor..."
Bingo, Leah. I can't disagree with you that Christ is frequently misrepresented by those who claim (and indeed those who are honestly trying) to follow him. We're all human, and there are Christians who fall extremely short of God's ideal, just as there are non-Christians who demonstrate compassion and grace far better than many inside the church. But we don't follow other Christians, we follow Christ, who is the ultimate model of mercy, grace and compassion towards both those who have sinned and those who have been sinned against. And there are many Christians too who are deeply passionate about fighting against abuse and injustice, and who aren't afraid of calling out Christian organisations and leaders when they preach bad theology and do harm in those areas. You strike me as someone who would enjoy Rachel Held Evans's blog - she explores these kinds of issues a lot.
Corwin, my apologies for suggesting on Christianity had the double standard. Yes, you are correct. It is exists in Western and Eastern Civilizations. Although I am no athesit I have witnessed the double stand there as well. A promisuous woman is called "_____" (what ever ugly label they choose) while men who are like that are idolized.
I'm sorry those are the messages you have received from Christians. You are right that condemnation is not Christ's perspective of anyone who has been a victim, or even those who suffer as a result of their own choices. Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). People are imperfect, but Christ is beautiful in His perfection.
Thanks for joining the conversation!
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