On Sexual Purity and Advancing a Biblical Sexual Ethic

Since Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye) announced he walked away from Christianity, there has been a lot of criticism of the “purity culture” of the 1990s. To address this, BreakPoint asked several Christian thinkers, “Are criticisms of ‘purity culture’ legitimate, and in what ways should Christians change how we advance a biblical sexual ethic in this cultural moment?”

You can see the full online symposium on BreakPoint’s website, but I wanted to highlight a couple of the responses here. The first is from Brett Kunkle:

To advance God’s vision of sexuality, the church must first equip its own people, emphasizing two things: flourishing according to God’s design and redemption/restoration according to God’s grace. God’s intention is sexual purity: “It is God’s will…that you should avoid sexual immorality…For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (I Thess. 4:3&7). Without guaranteeing outcomes, we confidently teach the biblical connection between obedience and flourishing. However, a sexually broken culture also needs the restorative power of the gospel. When I met my wife in college, she was a single mom. Obviously, she had lived outside of God’s intent for her sexuality. But any PC message that stops there is entirely deficient. When she tells the rest of her story, an amazing picture of God’s redemption emerges.

The beauty of flourishing and forgiveness, borne out in real lives. Our culture needs to see both in full display.

I love Brett’s answer. Our sexuality can glorify God by demonstrating the beauty of both flourishing and forgiveness. And the good news about this is that every single Christian can express the truth of at least one of those options. If you did not follow God’s plan for flourishing, you haven’t blown your chance to honor and glorify God with your body. Acknowledging where you rejected His wisdom, accepting His forgiveness, and living in the joy of that peace also points others to the glory of God.

I also found Frederica Mathewes-Green’s response insightful:

In my hippie college days I claimed to celebrate all religions, but I deeply resented Christianity. We mocked Christians and argued with them, trying to undermine their faith....

Why did we want to bully Christians, and delight to sadden them? I used to say, “There’s something wrong with those Christians. They’re too clean.”

I think it was their purity that annoyed me. We felt somehow judged by them, though they never said judgmental things. Sexual purity somehow challenges people, even when it’s just minding its own business.

That’s because there is spiritual power in purity. This is a deep and ancient spiritual battle we’ve stumbled into, with a scope much broader than sex. Purity addresses all Creation, putting everything in tune so it can function and flourish according to its design. That’s what people mean when they call for purity in the environment, and human sexual behavior is really just a part of that environment.

So instead of apologizing for purity, let’s get better at living it. All of us, not just singles; we can all get better at governing the thoughts and images we allow in our heads, as St. Paul said, preferring “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Phil 4:8). Let’s honor purity, even if that makes us more annoyingly “clean.” Coming up with new phrasing wouldn’t help; it’s purity itself that they are rejecting. Perhaps they sense its power better than we do.

She’s right when she says that “sexual purity somehow challenges people, even when it’s just minding its own business.” More than once in my life I’ve been surprised to learn after the fact that the way I was quietly living my life was causing more consternation among the unbelievers around me than any of my arguments for Christianity—such that the topic was still coming up years later!

We (rightly) work hard to learn apologetics and conversational tactics, but we forget that the New Testament often speaks of our behavior as being something that’s part of our calling to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). When we act as He would have us act, we show people who He is: “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’,” and, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that…they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 1:15–16 and 2:12).

Sometimes remaining faithful to what God has called you to do (or not do) is difficult, but remember that you have no idea the ways God is using your faithfulness to glorify Himself and call others to believe in Christ. God’s ways are beautiful, and they will attract those who are looking for beauty. Be faithful. No matter how much you’re tempted to think you’re “missing out,” disobedience is never fulfillment, and obedience—living the way God has called you to live in your particular circumstance—is never second best.

blog post |
Amy K. Hall

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