I recently read an article on Elizabeth Smart. You may remember hearing her story. She was abducted at 14-years old from her bedroom in the middle of the night. For the next 9 months, she was repeatedly raped and abused.
After she was rescued, she struggled with feelings of worthlessness and shame, part of which she blames on how she was taught in church to view sex and purity.
She describes a talk she sat under as a young girl in Sunday School. During this talk, analogies were used to dissuade teens from participating in the sin of fornication. This is one example she shares:
You’re like this stick of gum, and if you have sex before you’re married, it’s like someone chews up that piece of gum, and then when you’re done, who wants a piece of gum that’s already chewed up? No one.
When I read this example, it reminded me of listening to similar talks on purity when I was young. I don’t care for these types of analogies. They don’t offer a big enough picture of sex, the goodness of God, and the Gospel.
There’s a “have your best life now” feel to them. I believe this is why we are hearing from many, like Elizabeth Smart, that they were harmed by the way purity was taught in their churches.
It is important to present to our youth a right view of sex, but the key words are “right view.” This means we need to teach sex from the context of the whole Word of God and through the lens of the Gospel.
Sexual purity begins in God’s goodness, not ours
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” Genesis 1:27-28
The beginning of humanity is found in the goodness of God. Man and woman were created in God’s image without sin. They were created good and they were given the directive to be fruitful and multiply (to become one flesh in a sexual union). Sex is part of God’s goodness and, in marriage between a man and woman, honors God.
We know the story of humanity doesn’t end there, though. Adam and Eve, our first parents, sinned against God. They disobeyed the one command God gave them and through that disobedience, sin entered the world, and death and all of the creation plunged into fallenness.
God’s Word tells us that when our first father, Adam, fell, we fell with him (Romans 5:12). This means we are born sinners. Our sinful acts flow naturally from our sin nature.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5
We are all born “chewed up pieces of gum” (alluding back to the analogy). None of us are born perfect sticks of gum in shiny paper. None of us have a righteousness of our own (Romans 3:11-12).
This is important because when we talk about sex with young people, we don’t want to create the illusion that if they guard their hearts enough, control their desires enough, and abstain from any sexual contact, they can please God on their own. This sets them up for self-righteousness, fear of man, and an entitled attitude toward God. Even worse, it can eventually lead to disillusionment. Trying to appease the Law in their own strength will crush them.
When the reason we give to flee the sin of fornication is the fear of becoming chewed up gum, it creates the misconception they had some righteousness of their own to begin with, and it takes their eyes off of the beauty and supremacy of Jesus and His finished work on their behalf.
Instead, we need to start with the fact that each of us is born as chewed up gum, with chewed up desires, doing chewed up things. This fallenness affects every part of us, including sex, but Jesus is greater.
There is hope for chewed up gum. There is hope for human beings born sinners with sinful desires, sinful thoughts, doing sinful deeds.
Jesus, being fully God, took on human flesh (John 1:14). He lived the perfect, holy life you and I fail to live, even when we try very hard (Hebrews 4:15). For those who place their faith in Him, their sins are forgiven and they are clothed in Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). They are immediately declared justified, or righteous before God (Romans 5:1).
The moment of justification is also the beginning of sanctification. God is working in His people conforming them into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). He has made them alive and is making them new (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s work of sanctification is a process and is as unique and individualized as the people in whom God is doing the work.
Chewed up pieces of gum cannot boast in their own purity, which always falls short. They can boast only in their Savior and His finished work on their behalf (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Even if a man and woman have pursued sexual purity before marriage, there will still be times they struggle with that old, chewed up, fallen nature after they say, “I do.” Sexual purity before marriage doesn’t insulate couples from sin struggles or trials after marriage.
But, those who have learned to trust in the goodness of God and the finished work of Jesus before marriage will have the functional faith to continue therein once married.
Those who have learned to trust in their own goodness and strength will find neither can bear up under the weight of two sinners living under the same roof. A pursuit of purity doesn’t begin in our own strength or goodness but in Christ’s.
Sexual purity continues in Jesus’ worthiness, not our own or our spouses
I’ve heard girls say the main reason they seek to remain sexually pure is that it’s the best gift they could give their husbands. I’m not arguing against the benefits of beginning one’s marriage in purity, but I am concerned about making marriage the end goal.
Sexual purity should be part of a greater pursuit of holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16). It should flow from a heart surrendered to Christ. This means sexual purity should be as much a part of the Christian man’s life as it is the woman’s.
Often, this isn’t the expectation, because sexual purity has been made a gift a woman gives her husband on their wedding night instead of humble obedience to Christ by Christ-followers.
If marriage is the end goal of sexual purity, then what about those who never marry? Have they preserved this “gift” for naught?
What of those who remain sexually pure before marriage only to have a difficult marriage? I’ve heard both men and women express this disappointment: “I really regret saving myself for that jerk. He/she wasn’t worth it.”
But is Christ worth it?
A pursuit of sexual purity must be anchored in the worthiness of Jesus, not the worthiness of some spouse who may or may not be in our future, or even in the idea of our own worth. Even in sex, a Christian is to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love others as himself (Mark 12:30-31).
Fornication is a violation of another human being by involving them in sin (even if that other human being has consented), it is a violation of our own body (1 Corinthians 16:17-19), and blasphemy against Jesus ( 1 Corinthians 6:15-16).
Sex isn’t merely a physical act; sex is a spiritual reality. Sex creates a “one flesh” spiritual union. This union is a picture of Christ’s union with His Church. Fornication distorts that picture, giving a false representation of Christ, His Bride, and the Gospel.
When we fix our eyes on our true Groom, Jesus, when we gaze on His goodness, His beauty, His love, His faithfulness, and His sacrifice, we will never find a reason to falter, to be discouraged, or to feel jaded. He is worthy!
Sexual purity ends in Jesus’ finished work, not our own efforts
While Jesus was teaching early one morning at the temple, the Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Him who had been caught in adultery. They stated that, according to the Law of Moses, she should be stoned.
Jesus replied, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” In that one statement, Jesus reminded a group of self-righteous men they were as chewed up as the woman they brought before Him. There were no stones thrown that day. Then, Jesus turned to the woman,
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:10-11
This is very powerful! Jesus was God incarnate; He was perfectly good and without sin. If anyone had the right to condemn her, it was Him. Yet, He didn’t. He had not come to condemn, but to take sinful man’s condemnation on Himself. He had come “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
If sexual purity is about ourselves, we will have a spirit of self-righteousness. If sexual purity is about following Christ, we will have the mind of Christ (and His heart) towards those who struggle or fall into sexual sin. We speak the truth but do so with Gospel-centered love.
Of course, we must address the consequences of sin. Consequences are a real part of the choices we make, but we need to be careful we don’t make the fear of consequences the main motivation in pursuing purity. Those we’re teaching will be tempted to focus more on doing away with the consequences instead of mortifying the sin. This is what ultimately gave us abortion on demand. There is more to sex than avoiding the consequences of sin; there is the pursuing of the goodness of God’s design.
Teens, young adults, and adults alike need to understand that their efforts for purity, sexual or otherwise, will fall short. This shouldn’t lead to some sort of antinomianism concerning fornication or any sin (Jesus told the woman caught in adultery “go, and from now on sin no more.”), neither should it lead to despair. On the contrary, it should drive us deeper into the Gospel.
We fight for purity from Christ and for Christ. We fight from His finished work on our behalf and for His glory.
When we sin, even when the sin brings hard, life-changing consequences, there is no part of our story that exists outside of God’s redemption. Even the most painful, consequential parts are swallowed up in Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we repent, place our faith in Him, and surrender all to our Father’s hand, God will work all things for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
The pursuit of sexual purity shouldn’t be a pursuit in and of itself as if sex is everything, neither should it be abandoned as if sex is nothing. It should be part of the greater pursuit of Jesus having the first place in our lives and it should be bathed in the hope of the Gospel.
Let’s give those young people entrusted to our care a view of sex that sees Jesus high and lifted up and let’s make our churches a place where the Gospel is readily available for those struggling.
Unfortunately, you may be one of the many women and men living with the pain of sexual abuse and rape. God hates sexual abuse! God takes every assault, every pain, and every shame/as if it were done to Him personally. If you take anything from this article, I hope it’s the knowledge that God’s design for sex is good.
What was done to you was a gross perversion of God’s intent and He stands with you and for you in condemnation of those acts. You can trust Him with your story, all of it. He has a way of bringing beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3).
If we can help you, please go to our main services page and look for the most effective way we can serve you. Let us know. It would be a joy to come alongside you.
Also published on Medium.