I was a freshman in Bible College when a chapel speaker brought out a piece of duct tape and asked two students to come to the front of the gym to be a part of a demonstration.
Using the strip of tape, the speaker bound the two students together, arm to arm. Once the tape was removed, she dismissed one student and invited another up to also be taped to the first. You see where this is going? She brought up another, and then another until the tape no longer stuck at all.
This was not an uncommon illustration of the value of purity. The point is that the more people we give ourselves to before marriage, the less “sticky” we are when we meet our potential spouse. And it wasn’t just tape. In other depictions throughout the years, there were rags that were used to wipe up a small mess, then another small mess, and again, until they were filthy. There were flowers plucked off, one petal at a time until none were left. While I know many for whom these tactics were more than effective, the issue with this kind of purity argument is that it entirely misses the heart of God. And unfortunately, not many of us were taught anything else.
When emphasizing the fear of dirtiness, the purity lesson moves out of alignment with God’s character.
God’s character says to the prodigal son, “It doesn’t matter how far you run, you can always come home” (Luke 15:11-32). The heart of God says to Joseph, “It doesn’t matter what evil has happened, I can turn it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Scripture tells us not to act out of fear but out of wisdom and discernment for who God is and why He says the things He says (2 Timothy 1:7).
When the issues of purity and holiness come up in the Bible, they are described as ways to be set apart, to be different from those who are not following God, and to keep His followers safe. We see these themes throughout the Old Testimony laws. Things like, “Don’t eat the foods the Gentiles eat.” And, “Don’t live in a house full of mold.” While purity maintains a presence in the New Testament, where other old-law commands do not, the purpose for purity and sexual abstinence before marriage is not about being dirty or clean. It’s not about being broken rather than whole.
Purity is about a posture of our hearts, being set apart from our flesh and apart from actions with unwanted consequences. Purity points us to a life dedicated to the service of God and others above all else.
God’s structure for marriage is parallel to that of Christ and His church.
Christ is always kind and loving. He is forgiving and merciful. There is no shame or condemnation for those who are with Him (Romans 8:1). In discussing purity with our churches, small groups, and our children, it is imperative to focus on God’s character as well as His reasons. And, by His character, His reasons can’t be based in fear.
Instead of existing to keep us from becoming unworthy, purity cultivates a standard centered on self-control, awareness of our value, and putting the needs of our spirits above the desires of our flesh. It exists because we are worthy of the best.
As individuals, it helps us learn to be more dependent on God than anything else. It teaches us that He alone affirms our value, fills our needs, and brings us joy. In practicing purity as a couple, we can be more assured that our spouse, and we ourselves, are preparing for a marriage centered on communication, honoring one another, and even self-sacrifice. With purity, we create a habit of living in fidelity—either to God or a spouse. It is the kind of marriage that God asks from us when we join His bride. And it’s the kind of marriage that God offers to us in return.
Also because of God’s character, our chance at purity never expires. There will always be an opportunity to turn toward what God says is best. He will always look at us and see the beautiful, endless potential of His creation, the children washed clean of iniquity by His endless love and mercy. When we see ourselves the way He sees us, and recognize the love behind the instruction, things only get better. The answer isn’t to achieve cleanliness by the fear of getting dirty. We are only called to recognize how much we are loved, how much we are worth, and to live accordingly.
In reality, there is no limit to God’s redemptive power.
There is no tape that can’t be made sticky again. There is no rag that cannot be cleaned. There are no flowers that can’t regrow. The only question is how far we want to move away from the best God has to give us before we head back home.
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