By Jesse Jost
I just read a blog post this morning where a Christian woman was decrying elements of the purity movement that make those who had a sexual past feel like they were damaged goods and worthless. She mentioned the shame she felt when a speaker demonstrated the pollution that promiscuity brings by having a row of boys spit in a cup and then asking a girl at the end if she wanted to drink the vile mixture. The preacher concluded that those who sleep around are like that cup of spit, and who would ever want to drink from that? The blogger went on to bemoan all the “baggage from this whole purity movement (that is)heading out into the world.” Her rant raises some pressing questions. Are women and men who engage in extramarital sex whole and undamaged? Is the only reason they feel damaged because our warnings create needless guilt?
I feel very strongly about the “purity movement.” I have spoken to many groups and camps about purity and spilled much ink on the subject. I take her concerns and accusations seriously. My passion for the subject of purity comes not from wanting to heap guilt on people, or simply shame them for choosing a different path than Heidi and I did. Our desire is for people to find wholeness and the deep pleasure that comes from holy, sanctified sex. Here are some thoughts I had in response to this young woman’s concerns.
What causes the damage?
I’ve heard the arguments: that it is not premarital sex that causes problems. The problem is that the church heaps false guilt on a perfectly normal activity. It’s the guilt that causes the hang ups and the issues, not the sexual activities. If only we Christians didn’t have such a weird fixation on sex.
Is that what I’m doing when I plead with young people? Causing hang-ups? Messing up a perfectly healthy and normal thing? Here’s why I don’t think I am.
God’s opinion counts
Even before we look at scientific or psychological evidence, we have to look at God’s opinion on the issue. He is pretty clear on the dangers of sexual sin, warning us that all fornicators (sex before marriage) and adulterers (sex outside of marriage) will be judged. Hebrews 13:3. He commands us to flee lust and that anyone who defrauds or takes advantage of his sister sexually will be punished (1 Thess 4:3-8). Serious stuff. If Christians have sexual hang ups, it’s because God commands us very strongly in these areas.
Sex is holy, sacred, and very dear to the heart of God. It’s a picture of the intimacy he wants to have with us. It’s also a glue that helps hold a marriage together. Sexual sin brings damage. It damages our relationship with God. We feel guilt and shame, not because some purity speaker shames you but because what you did was wrong in God’s eyes. Period.
Sexual sin brings a host of psychological damage as well. Pornography rewires your brain in a way that hinders your ability to be attracted to a real shape-shifting woman. Sex makes you physically addicted to the person you experience it with – great if it’s your spouse, if it’s not your spouse…not so much. True sexual intimacy needs safety and security; previous partners will cause sexual memories that are very real and are damaging intruders. There is real pain and damage involved with sex outside of marriage. Not because I say so but because it is a violation of God design. Putting gasoline in a diesel engine will damage the engine not because I made you feel guilty for doing it, but because the engine was not designed for high octane gasoline. Sex was designed for the holy equation of one man and one woman who have covenanted to remain together for life. A violation of this formula brings worse damage than gasoline in a diesel.
So if you have sex before marriage, are you damaged goods? It pains me to say this, but yes. But you are also damaged goods if you are arrogant, or self-centered, or a critical gossip. Sin against God in any area damages us and those we interact with. Sin is heartbreaking stuff. We wink at it, but it makes God weep, because he sees the painful end result.
Does the purity message make you worthless if you are not a virgin?
The gospel is very hard on our self-esteem. It tells us that we are broken, that we are guilty, but this is not the fault of the message. We would still be this way if there was no gospel or purity speakers. But the gospel means good news and provides a solution that actually works. Apart from the hope of new birth and the forgiveness of sins and the empowering of God’s spirit, we are stuck with our own pitiful attempts to fix ourselves. We brush our willful mistakes under the rug. We try to convince ourselves that we are beautiful and righteous while we still see our ugliness. Apart from Christ we are stuck with renaming ourselves without being really healed. We paint colorful tattoos over the bloody wounds.
Christ offers us something so much better: he takes our brokenness and guilt away and he gives us a new identity and a power to live in a way that is in keeping with his design for relationships. If you have sexual sin in your past (and who of us doesn’t?) then you have been broken, you have been damaged. But you are not worthless! You are not broken beyond repair! You don’t have to deny that your pain is real. You can acknowledge your damage and bring it to the One who can completely heal you and give you a fresh start.
But the design won’t change. Gasoline will still damage a diesel engine, even after the engine was cleansed and fixed from the first corruption. God still commands us to purity and holiness in this area. Sexual sin will still bring damage. The key is not to rename sin as harmless. The harm is done whether you acknowledge it or not. The key is to find forgiveness and healing, and the power to live a holy life and with it the deep pleasure that it brings.
The following clarifications came out of some discussion in the comments section when I posted it on facebook.
1. The use of the phrase “damaged goods”
I completely agree with those of you who pointed out that we shouldn’t refer to people as goods. I used that terminology because that was the phrase used in the blog post I was addressing. And the aspect I meant to focus on was the damage sin brings. But I also wanted to contrast who we are apart from Christ’s grace and our being set free. “Damaged goods” is how Satan wants us to see ourselves. We have sold ourselves into Satan’s clutches and become slaves of sin. If there was no Savior, no God to redeem us, all we would be is damaged goods. But the truth is that there is a Savior who created us, and bought us back, and loves us in spite of our brokenness. In His eyes, people are precious children, not mere goods!
2. True purity.
When I use the phrase purity, I am definitely not talking about white washing attempts at self-righteousness! Those are ineffective, pride inducing, and frankly repulsive! There is a counterfeit, pharisaical version of purity some people attempt that keeps redefining sin so as not to include themselves; then they smugly walk around as if they don’t need grace and forgiveness. A harsh attitude grows in them toward those they deemed to have sinned worse than themselves. But the great sin of Pharisees is not their attempts at holiness, but rather the self-deception that they can be good enough apart from God’s grace. The Pharisee chooses as his identity that his righteousness is self made and he has the right to be critical of those who haven’t kept his lofty self defined standards.
Godlessness is at the heart of the Pharisee. Because the closer you get to God and feel his holy fire, the more you loathe your own sin and see how much you need his forgiveness. Someone who has truly been in the presence of God will feel no self-righteousness or pride about his “purity”. But that same person who has glimpsed God will hunger for holiness! And he will desire to be holy in the deepest part of him, not for show or to polish his image. He will realize that the satisfaction of God’s presence is worth so much more than the praise of men.
3. Shame and condemnation
I’m not sure what came across in my article and comments afterwards, but I sure was not advocating using shame and condemnation to try to reach people! My point was that when we sin, we violate the very real standard of GOD’S holiness, and THIS is the reason we feel shame and guilt. When we encounter those who have been broken by sexual sin, we can do one of three things:
1. Join with the devil and heap more shame and condemnation on them, make them feel worthless, and drive them away feeling miserable.
I never want to do that! Heaven forgive us if that is how our message is coming across. If you have been burned by others who have treated you that way, that is not the message of Christ. Jesus did not come in the world to condemn the world but to free us. There is now NO condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) We need God desperately to be freed from the clutches of sexual addictions. Heaping feelings of shame will only compound the sinner’s problem and push him deeper into hiding and the dungeon of addiction.
2. Deal with the shame and guilt by minimizing the sin.
I believe this approach is equally damaging, because the consequences of sin run much deeper then the shame and guilt. Rebellion against God’s moral order destroys us and our relationships. God has a holy hatred towards sin because he loves the sinner so passionately. We are so easily deceived by sin. In the moment of temptation sin looks so harmless, even beautiful. But God sees sin for what it really is.
All sin is devastating, but I want to focus here on sex-related sins, not because they are so much worse than other sins, but because their damage is far-reaching and seem to be a blind spot to so many people. Sex is a powerful force; desires when fanned become a consuming fire. Sex is inherently beautiful and because of that sexual sin at first looks so desirable. But a sex drive that is not surrendered to the authority of Christ will drive you to ruin! I’m sure there are rapists, sex addicts, and child molesters, and adulterers, who at some point wake up and ask, “How the heck did I get here?” Sexual sin takes you so much further than you ever meant to go.
Because I am captive to the word of God, I must be faithful to speak the warnings of scripture against sexual sin. Chris mentioned in a comment that we in the purity movement need to spend more time around those broken by sexual sin and other addictions. I agree. But the time I have spent with those tormented and devastated by sexual sin only makes me hate the sin with a greater passion. Note, I am not talking about hating sex – that is a precious gift – and the more I value sex, the more I am angered by the abuse of it. This whole thing started because I felt that the instigating article was dealing with the shame of sexual sin by minimizing the sin. If this approach gives young people the permission to delve deeper into sexual ruin, then I will fight against it!
3. Letting Christ remove the shame and guilt.
I love the message of the gospel! How we can come so broken and guilty and be made pure and whole again? We can be given a fresh start and a purified mind. Where Satan made sex look dirty and worthless, we can now see it as pure and beautiful. We can see that our sexual desires and attractions are not evil but normal and healthy. God gave them to us. He created them; He is the one who wants to satisfy them. I so appreciated how my parents were stern in their warnings against sexual sin, but whenever I confessed sexual sin or talked about my crushes, they were so gracious and non-condemning. It was their grace that made me desire even greater purity.
I so agree that if the purity message is only based on the danger of sexual sin, but there is no mention of the beauty of holy sex, our message will be ineffective. Young people need to be inspired and have their desires redirected, not condemned and repressed. But even more than a healthy view of sex, we need a healthy view of God! He is so beautiful and desirable. His rules are for our pleasure!