By Brittany Rust, Crosswalk.com
I dedicated my life to the Lord as a teenager and went through high school during the heights of purity culture in the church. Now, I was never asked to wear a purity ring, but it also didn’t feel too far from being a request. I had friends “date Jesus” all the while spending their free time writing about their future spouse in a husband journal. (Yes, it’s a real thing, check it.)
Now let me first say, I’m not here to put down purity culture—it got a lot of things right. It was clear about God’s teachings in the Bible about sex, waiting until marriage, and being committed to purity. These are, indeed, solid principles teenagers need to hear.
But I do believe purity culture also missed the mark in some ways, and I think it’s what they missed in the teachings that really faulted the movement. We were basically told not to have sex or else. That’s it. And that didn’t really work.
Years later, in my twenties, I had a moral failure in ministry when I had sex with my boyfriend. After confessing my sin and stepping out of ministry for restoration, I wallowed in my shame for months, believing I was the only Christian girl to miss the mark in this way. I was an outlier. But I began to find out that many of my Christian friends had done the same as well and didn’t tell anyone. They, too, were ashamed.
How did so many of us seem to do the very thing we said we’d never do?
The Heart Behind Purity
I submit that there was one major piece missing in the movement, and really, it’s the heart behind purity. It’s the WHY.
Instead of not having sex simply because it’s in the Bible (and while that’s all the reason you need, I find that assurance in Scripture comes with maturity), we should be communicating the WHY—the HEART. And it’s this:
We choose to follow God’s design for sex and relationships BECAUSE we love Jesus. And our love for HIM is bigger than our desire for anything else.
Listen, pastors and parents, your kids are hearing sexual language in the world, whether at school, from videos, or through older kids. We do our best to protect their hearts and minds but it’s happening. And we are naive to think it isn’t. So, shouldn’t it be important for us to have the honest conversations as well? Let us point our young people to Biblical teachings but also to the heart matter that they might stand strong in the face of worldly teachings and temptation.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Anastasiia Stiahailo
The Biblical Teachings
We know that sex is very powerful—it connects and binds people, and it brings life. But it can also destroy and leave hurt in its wake.
It’s why God talks about it in the Bible. He knows its power and He wants to see it used for beautiful things. But it’s only beautiful when it’s within the boundaries God created.
So, what does the Bible say? Our best definition for sex and relationships is found very early in the Bible—Genesis 2.
Genesis 2:18-25 says,
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man 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. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
God created a man and a woman to be a companion. And He gave them two directives: care for the land and multiply. But we also read in verse 24 that they became one flesh.
So, sex was designed by God to be between a committed man and woman for the purposes of procreation and intimacy/unity. But He made it fun, too! Right, it was GOOD for a man and woman to hold fast to one another. And that means for both genders.
You see, there has been this narrative in the Church that sex is only enjoyed by men, but that’s not true. By perpetuating this toxic lie, we’ve made women think it’s a duty to endure rather than a gift to enjoy. Let’s be clear about that and stop perpetuating a narrative that only ends up hurting women, and marriages, in the long run.
Ok, so some people today will tell you, “well, that’s all in the Old Testament. But it doesn’t apply anymore.” Or that “Jesus never condemns what the Church might condemn today. I would argue that the Old Testament is still relevant but for the sake of argument, let’s see what the New Testament says.
You can find several verses speaking against lust, adultery, sex outside marriage, and homosexuality. But let’s look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:3-6,
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
In these words, Jesus upholds the same definition used in Genesis. The same design. Mic drop, end of story.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Duong-Nhan
5 Tips for Pursuing Purity
Now, let me share some things maybe purity culture didn’t that could be helpful. Here are five ways you can better address purity culture with your youth, in addition to the Biblical teaching:
1. Know your why.
We touched on this already, but it’s one of the most important things we should be communicating to young people when we address purity.
It’s not about NOT having sex but rather being obedient to God.
If we choose to approach purity, not from the lens of a “no” but a “yes,” then there is a perspective shift. We encourage our teenagers that a love for God supersedes any other desire.
If the approach is a “yes” to loving God rather than a “no” it makes a difference. You see, it’s not about leaving a desire unfulfilled but rather seeing that only Jesus can bring the true fulfillment we all desire.
2. Pray and read the Word.
Prayer gave Jesus strength as he often pulled away, and he fought the temptation with the Word of God. So, if this is how Jesus approached temptation, then shouldn’t we?
Let’s find ways to support prayer and Bible reading as a habit in our youth groups. Perhaps that looks like a prayer before the Wednesday night service. Or reading the Bible together in community. And showing our teens how to incorporate both into a daily habit.
Make it very clear that prayer and Bible reading are game changers.
3. Have a solid community.
“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” We’ve all heard that, haven’t we? But it’s also true, isn’t it?
Having friends, and boyfriends or girlfriends, that have the same commitment will go a long way when committed to purity. For our young people to stand firm, they need an army of support. They will thrive in accountability.
Encouraging godly relationships, discipleship, mentoring, and accountability is vital in our youth groups.
4. Protect the heart and mind.
It’s never a bad idea to remind people that what comes in will stew and eventually come out.
Remind your youth to guard what they take in via the media, entertainment, reading, and in conversation. Because what they take in will have an effect in their life.
I would encourage you to bring in adults who have struggled with an addiction or sin but found the freedom to share their testimonies in the context of a youth service. For a young person to hear about the reality of sin but see that what God offers is better is a valuable tool.
5. Have amazing boundaries.
The question I often hear when I talk about sex, or really any life struggle, is this: how far is too far? How far can I go before it’s technically sin?
That’s the wrong question! The one people should be asking is, how far can I stay away?
If youth don’t have strong boundaries, they will begin to make little compromises. And once anyone starts making compromises, even little ones, it gets easier to make the big compromises.
We know the Bible isn’t about stealing our fun and joy, but about protecting us. If we choose to see His boundaries around sex as a bunch of don’ts that steal our fun, we get God all wrong.
You see, a distorted view of sex leads to a distorted view of God. You can’t separate the two.
So, let’s teach God’s design for sex accurately and show the boundary lines but remind our teenagers that God has made a way to protect us.
An Honest Approach
I shared these very words with hundreds of teenagers at a youth conference this summer, and the number of genuine gasps and shocked looks on faces I saw told me we aren’t talking about this enough.
Many had heard the unspeakable words we dare not say in church. But to hear them from a pastor in a pulpit was shocking. But why? Furthermore, the response I received when it was all over was overwhelmingly positive. Dozens of teenagers lined up to show gratitude for the honest conversation.
Let’s not be afraid to have these honest conversations. Our teenagers need a solid and timely word from their youth pastors.
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Brittany Rust has a passion to see people impacted by the power of God’s Word and His abundant grace through writing and speaking. She is the founder of Truth and Grace Ministries, Truth x Grace Women, and is the author of five books. Brittany lives with her husband, Ryan, and son, Roman, in Castle Rock, Colorado. Learn more at www.brittanyrust.com.