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  • Writer's pictureAnnie Phillips

A Biblical Approach To Sexual Purity

In a world where sex is the driving force behind all that we do, and seeking that above all else is god, as believers the natural question is, “why should we refrain from sex when God created it and wants us to enjoy it?” Like, seriously what is the big deal? If we love each other and no one is getting hurt and it is fun and enjoyable why this insane pressure from the Christian community to wait until you are married? What if I am committed to the person that I am with and we are even headed towards marriage? What if I am monogamous in my relationship and we both agree that this isn’t something we need to worry about? What about other Christian influences that say that this isn’t something to care about as much as we do? How do we land in a Biblical place?



I am a woman who as a teen attended purity conventions and signed waivers at camp where I swore I would wait until marriage. In my adult years I gave weekly purity talks to hundred of campers every summer for 10 years. What have I learned and what do I hold to in the areas of truth about sexual purity and, more importantly, what does the Bible say? In my opinion, the Church got a lot wrong during the “purity culture” years and made so many things more important than what the Bible says concerning true, surrendered worship, what God requires, and why. Purity culture forgot to mention the big swaths of truth about the Gospel and the justification of Jesus and the freedom that comes from Christ’s righteous record and how He cleanses us before they handed out certificates and purity rings.


The cultural pressure is also at an all-time high and it is difficult for many individuals and communities to know how to reach people with the Gospel and still obey the Scripture's imperative command to speak up about sexual immorality in an attempt to not lose our “cultural relevance”. Paul gives us great instructions when he reminds us as fellow believers not to see what is going on and turn a blind eye to things.

“You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master…you shouldn’t act as if everything is just fine when one of your Christian companions is promiscuous and crooked…we are responsible for those within our community of believers…” 1 Corinthians 5 (MSG)



The "Why" Behind Sexual Purity


If we start with the “what” without the “why” we have already made this about conformity rather than our heart bent on obedience motivated out of love. The hard and fast truth is that without a heart that has been quickened by the Spirit and eyes that have been enlightened to see the beauty of the Gospel, we won’t understand what the Bible has to say about sexual purity. Sexual purity is so intertwined with the Gospel and a life that has been set apart to do good works that if we are teaching purity before we teach about the love of Christ, we are missing it completely. God never asks us to change our behaviour before we first address the heart. A heart that is not broken over our need for God, a life that is not surrendered first to living a life like Christ, will never understand the conforming that must happen in all of life. To separate sexual purity from a heart that is bent on worshipping God with all of life will never amount to pleasing God. God is not pleased with us being a virgin before marriage. He is pleased with the righteous record of His Son, and when we trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross to cleanse us, justify us and reconcile us to God, we admit that we are broken vessels that God chose before the foundation of the world that we would be “holy and blameless before him”(Col. 1:22). That holy and blameless work is not a work of our personal purity but God’s imputed righteousness who exchanged on the cross our sin when "he became sin who knew no sin, so that we might become his righteousness" (2 Cor. 5:21).


A holy and blameless person is set apart “to do good works" (Eph. 2:10). Only God can define what those works are, and He does so throughout the entire Bible. He sets up what living a fruitful and bountiful life looks like, and it does’t come from pursuing our own passions and living our “best life”. When the lights have been turned on for us to see the beauty and the richness of the Gospel, then we can’t go back to living as ignorant people. We are no longer darkened to understand that following what God says is the only way to have a full and purpose-filled life--a God-glorifying life.


“Since then we don’t have an excuse for ignorance, everything--and I do mean everything--connected with the old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life- a God-fashioned life, a life renewed rom the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.”


The writer of Ephesians is Paul and he goes on in the passage to highlight different areas of our life that need to be changed and different. He lists being angry and stealing and the way we talk. He then says, “Don’t grieve God. Don’t break His heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such gift for granted.”


When we know the indicative truth of God’s love and His work of redeeming, justifying and sanctifying us, we are then given the imperative truth from His Word of what a new life in Christ looks like. We are a part of Him now and we are in Him, joined together with Him in all areas of our life. To live like we once did when we were prisoners of sin and darkened in our heart grieves Him. So, if we love Him, we will obey Him, and if we love him, we trust Him. What He says is good and healthy and righteous, we will want to obey. We also understand this same author (Paul) in a clearer way when we read in 1 Corinthians 5, 6 and 7 where he goes on a long explanation of what worship looks like in sexual purity and in other areas of a life In Christ.


Following what God says is the only way to have a full and purpose-filled life.

What Sets Sexual Sin Apart


Sexual purity isn’t in its own category of greater sins, but Paul states that in a sense, sexual sins are different than others. This is a sin that is committed against a person's own body. He makes the connection that our bodies are created with the same dignity that Christ’s body was created. He vividly paints the picture for us of carrying Christ’s resurrected body with us to a whore house when we engage in sexual immorality  (1 Corinthians 6:15).  Sobering to say the least. Sexual immorality reflects a failure to understand Who owns us. Believers are temples of the Holy Spirit, and His temple must not be defiled. We have been purchased from slavery to sin by the blood of Christ. He is our gracious, generous, and holy Master, so we must serve Him by striving for sexual purity.


"Sex is as much a spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in scripture ‘the two become one’. Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever--the kind of sex that can never become one. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love for becoming one with another. Or, didn’t you know that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So, let people see God in and through your body…”


Romans 12 says that we, in view of God’s mercy (not giving us what we deserve for our sin)  are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy (because of Jesus) and pleasing  (because of Jesus) to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world-but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”


1 Thess. 4:3 says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immortality, that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”


Sexual immorality reflects a failure to understand Who owns us.

A Sacred Covenant


Perhaps you are asking,“What if I have made a promise to someone that they are my person. Isn’t this whole thing just a westernised ceremony anyway? I mean, its just a piece of paper from the justice of the peace that I have to sign. Isn’t it more important that I have promised to love this person? Isn’t my word enough for this level of commitment?”


This has some truth to it in the physical sense. Our marriages today do not understand the significance of the covenant relationship; but the marriage covenant is much richer and more significantly important to God than a piece of paper. From the beginning God has modelled what it looks like to be in a monogamous relationship with us. It began with Noah and occurs another 270 times throughout the Old Testament--a sacred agreement. Like the promises made at a wedding ceremony, God entered into a covenant with His people and ordains marriage as a sacred covenant for the sake of His glory when displayed by a husband and wife in the sacred union of marriage.


Paul goes on to in 1 Corinthians to say that sex is a good thing, but only within the context of a covenantal marriage. Seems like Paul goes into a little bit of logic here, which I love:

“Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality--the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for your rights’. Marriage is a decision to serve, whether in bed or out.”


Tim Keller said that the reason God has set boundaries around sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is because sex is “the most delightful and the most dangerous of all human capacities. Sex works a lot like fire," he said. "It can warm, comfort, and purify. But if not handled with care, it can also burn, infect, scar, and destroy”.


Beyond the protection that marriage offers for sexual drives, we also know that marriage is a picture of God’s amazing love for us, His Church. This passage in 1 Corinthians is consistent with the description, not given by the world of what marriage is, but by God in Ephesians 5, where He lays out the purpose of marriage. Marriage is to be a living testament to the world of the relationship that God has with the Church. Our marriage is to be a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His Bride.


Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives these imperative commands for us to understand better that marriage isn’t about sexual fulfilment or living for ourselves, but it is out of respect for Christ that we are reverent and respectful of each other. We mirror God’s covenant and Jesus’ care for us when we imitate Him in this way. A love “marked by giving not getting”.


“Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling, white silk, radiant with holiness..and that is how husbands are to love their wives. No one abuses his own body but feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body.” Ephesians 5:25-28 (MSG)


So, here again we are reminded that we are a part of God’s body. When we come together with our wife or husband in sexual intimacy, this is honoured because two are becoming one and we are not defiling the picture of Christ and the Church. We are declaring the beauty to the world of what intimacy and oneness with Christ looks like. Pure, holy and undefiled.


Thabiti Anyabwile wrote:

“Christ Jesus gave Himself to purchase a lawless people (Titus 2:14) who are then made clean in conscience, heart, and soul through faith in Him (Heb. 9:13–14; James 4:8). This is why Paul could borrow the image of chastity to describe Christ’s ongoing purification of the Bride (Eph. 5:27) as well as his own labors on behalf of the Corinthian church: 'I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ' (2 Cor. 11:2) When we see Christ we shall be like Him — pure (1 John 3:2–3). Thus is the superiority of chastity over lust demonstrated. Lust works its way toward death. Chastity leads to the glories of heaven with Christ Jesus and the Father. Can there really be any doubt as to which path is best?”



Purpose In The Waiting


There is a waiting and an anticipation that doesn’t begin just as we wait to find the one that we want to marry or waiting once we have. The waiting is a picture of our waiting we endure until our consummation with Christ--when we are reunited with Christ. The entire period of waiting from the time we were brought near to Christ and made His and entered into the covenant with Him, we are set apart, sanctified and made His. We are waiting just like a bride waits for her groom and during this time of waiting we are to be living lives consistent with one who already belongs to another. This is the picture of sexual purity before marriage, where we wait for the covenant and the promise to be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ and our completed union with Him forever. To be a bride who is waiting for her groom who engages with anyone other than her beloved would be a sad sort of love story.


This is more than having sex outside of the covenant of marriage. Sex has meaning. It is a picture of sanctification and sacrifice and a picture of the redemption and ultimate union with Christ at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready. It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure-for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19:7-8). All thanks to the imputed righteousness of Christ.


We are waiting for the kingdom of God. When we abstain from sexual relations in marriage, we are mirroring this path of waiting until we are united in marriage. It is a death to our sinful desires to be presented as holy and undefiled. The most beautiful truth about our sanctification is that God through the power of the Spirit is working in us to “present us to God one day as a bride without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph. 5:27).


In conclusion, if we are in Christ and the Spirit of God is working and active in our lives, then we will strive to reflect His glory and His holiness to the world. We are to strive here to reflect as a Church, the bride, what it will be on that final day. We do this through living a life that strives to be holy and set apart and when we wait for marriage to fulfill sexual intimacy we both live lives that reflect Christ and we mirror Christ. We wait for sexual intimacy in  marriage because it protects us from ungodly passion and desires, but also because purity as a believer  is a bigger picture of the waiting that we are in before we are with Christ in glory--ultimately fulfilled at the second coming of Christ.



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