In recent years a lot has been written about the negative fallout of the "purity movement" of the 1990's and early 2000's. And rightfully so. Many were wounded as a result of narrow, incomplete teaching on God's design for sex.
Essentially, "purity culture" taught that sex is for marriage, virginity is sacred (seemingly above all else), and if you save yourself for marriage you will be blessed with happiness and great, godly sexual bliss. This led many young people to go "underground" with their sexual struggles and questions due to the shame created by the purity movement (whether intentional or unintentional).
But does the failure of a particular movement mean that certain terms must be forever relegated as "dangerous" or unhelpful?
I would like to propose that the term 'sexual purity' is good and useful when properly understood. I will attempt to share what we at Be Broken mean when we use this term, and hopefully this will lead you to a fuller understanding of God's good and beautiful design for sex and purity.
Only God is Pure
When we think of purity as meaning totally unstained or absolute perfection, then there can only be one being to whom this definition fits: God. He alone is perfect, absolutely holy.
To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:25)
This is important to understand so that none of us thinks we can produce within ourselves something that belongs to God alone. God is 100% holy and perfect, we are not.
But this might seem confusing when God's Word also says, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" (1 Peter 1:14-16, referencing passages from Leviticus; 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, and others)
Is God commanding us to do something that is impossible? If only God is holy (pure), how can he command us to be holy?
This is where it is important to remember that we are "made in God's image." (Gen. 1:26-27) Another way to state this is that we are "made in God's reflection." We do not contain the essence of God in our being (we don't possess omniscience, for example), but by God's grace we do possess the capacity to reflect Him.
In this way, God's call on our lives to "be holy" is to accurately and faithfully reflect His image and character in the world around us.
Therefore, sexual purity would mean we accurately and faithfully reflect God's design and desires regarding sex and sexuality.
This is where we need to understand what God's design and desires regarding sex and sexuality actually are.
Sex is Good
In the beginning, God created Adam from the dust of the ground and then fashioned his wife, Eve, out of Adam's body. After they were created, "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." (Gen. 1:31)
Human beings made in God's image, male and female, were declared "very good" by God. This included their sexuality. In fact, Adam spoke of this intimate union when he first saw Eve. He said:
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:23-24)
Adam immediately recognized the "fittedness" of Eve to himself; bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She "completed" him in a way that no other creature God created could. This "one flesh" union was good and sanctioned by God in the covenant bond of marriage ("hold fast to his wife").
But God's design for sex is more than just a way for a husband and wife to connect or procreate. God's design for sex is to give us a tangible picture of the kind of relationship He desires with us: covenantal, intimate, life-multiplying.
The goodness of sex points to the Author of good: God. He is the ultimate Lover, the faithful Spouse, our persistent Pursuer.
When we see God's design for sex through His eyes we begin to understand that His call to purity (holiness) is not merely about a list of do's and do not's, but rather an invitation to know Him and love Him in the same way a husband and wife know and love each other.
To pursue sexual purity is to guard the metaphor of sex God has given us by not distorting or dismantling it through pornography, adultery, fornication, gay marriage, polygamy, and the like.
But we also guard the metaphor by not idolizing it; the picture is meant to point us to its Painter. Sex, and even marriage, cannot ultimately provide what your soul can only experience with God.
Sex is good. God made it so. Its design is to draw us closer to our Maker, the only One who can satisfy our deepest longings.
Purity is a Journey, Not a Destination
Nothing in nature is pure. At least not in the sense that we often try to apply (or misapply) this word to sex, as in "sexual purity."
Everything in nature contains "pollution" or imperfections of some kind. Therefore, purity is not a natural state. For anything to be pure it must be purified. Purification is a process of removing the pollutants and imperfections.
For example, gold is not found "pure" in nature. There are all sorts of imperfections attached to it; dirt, other metals, rock, etc. While much of this can simply be chipped away from the gold, the impurities that are woven into the gold itself cannot be removed without melting the gold. This requires high temperatures (roughly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit!) in order to separate the pure gold from the imperfections. This takes time, patience, and precision.
This is what the process of pursuing sexual purity looks like. Human beings are not naturally pure. We have many "pollutants" and imperfections in us (and around us). Pornography, lust, abuse, and more weaves into our lives, our minds and hearts. And these impurities are not eliminated in a single moment in time. We require regular "purifying" throughout a lifetime.
Another way to think of sexual purity as a process is to consider it like a bath. If you bathed yesterday, would you consider yourself permanently clean? I hope not! In a matter of days (or maybe even shorter!) it would be evident that one bath is not adequate. Bathing needs to be a regular part of your life in order for your body to be clean (or "pure").
Sexual purity is a journey. Some parts of the journey might require purification by a refining fire to remove deeply embedded pollutants. Most of the journey will require purification through regular "bathing" to remove the normal, natural imperfections that make their way into our lives daily.
Sexual purity is not a static, permanent state. It is a daily pursuit of reflecting the holy image of God by examining the mirror of our lives and removing whatever is blocking a clear reflection of Him.
The Goal is Mature Faith, Not Sexual Abstinence
Finally, sexual purity is more about maturing in faith than it is about sexual abstinence. While there are boundaries for sexual behavior, the primary focus is on Jesus.
In our ministry, most of the people who reach out to us for help are looking for answers to very specific problems.
"Help, I'm addicted to porn. How can I stop?"
"I just found out my husband has cheated on me. What do I do?"
"My 14-year-old son is sexting with his friends. How do I lock down his phone?"
Hundreds of such requests come before us every year. These are real people with real problems and real pain. But if we simply give them quick, pat answers that only address the urgent question without guiding them to the deeper needs, we aren't actually helping them with their problem or their understanding of sexual purity.
You see, no matter what the presenting sexual problem may be, the solution is always ultimately found in Jesus. (I know this sounds like the classic "Sunday school" answer, but it is still true.) Remember, God is holy, perfect, and he revealed himself to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. In Him, the fullness of diety dwells. (Col. 2:9)
Internet filters, accountability software, support groups, counseling, and all other kinds of tools are helpful for curbing behaviors. But no "tool" produces sexual purity in the heart. Only Jesus can transform a person on that level.
Ultimately, sexual purity is about faith. Will you trust God with your whole heart, your whole life, including your sexuality? Pursuing Him in faith is the most "purifying" thing you can do. His love and truth will cleanse you in ways you might have thought impossible.
Sexual purity is not a term that we need to fear or categorically dismiss due to its historical mishandling. We just need to understand it better from a biblical framework.
When we use the term "sexual purity" we mean:
Living in such a way to reflect God's design and desires regarding sex and sexuality,
Guarding the metaphor of sex by not distorting or dismantling it -- or by idolizing it,
Engaging the process of purification, seeing the need for regular cleansing from the normal, natural imperfections of daily life,
Depending on Jesus as the ultimate hope and power for true purification.
May God grant you favor and peace as you pursue a life of sexual purity.