Welcome to the third installment of a series on premarital sex. In Part 1, we looked at what the Bible says about premarital sex. In Part 2, we addressed challenges to the Church’s ban on premarital sex. I intended the third post to be about how to maintain sexual integrity, but then I realized I needed a post to explain what sexual integrity is and how it blesses us. So, I’ll get to the practical how next week!
Does Abstinence Matter?
Teens and singles have often been encouraged to stay a virgin, maintain one’s purity, and/or practice abstinence. I’ve encouraged it too. It’s the biblical position that sex should be reserved for one’s spouse; thus, having sex outside of marriage is not God’s design.
However, a singular focus on abstinence before marriage has left a lot to be desired. It’s led to people erecting unbiblical boundaries to hold their virgin status—from doing everything but the deed to avoiding any physical contact with one’s intended, and many options in between. It’s left people feeling judged for past behaviors, current mistakes, or even stray thoughts. (See Where Purity Culture Got It Wrong, Let’s Get It Right.) It hasn’t always addressed other sexual sin, such as pornography and/or lusting. (See What Is Lusting?) And it’s put so much focus on what happens before marriage to the exclusion of what purity looks like in all seasons of life.
Thankfully, many Christian marriage writers and speakers have recently talked more about having sexual integrity. Why sexual integrity?
This one-minute video from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas explains integrity well. (Please be sure to watch!)
Using the video’s main points, sexual integrity for a Christian might be defined, then, as:
- Doing what’s right for the specific season they’re in, which could involve abstinence, engaging regularly and solely with one’s spouse, or showing self-control while working on healing and restoration.
- Understanding, accepting, and choosing to live according to God’s design for sexual intimacy.
- Avoiding corruption or hypocrisy (something too many believers haven’t done while yet preaching abstinence).
- Following God’s plan for sexual integrity whether it’s easy or difficult and whether tangibly rewarded or not.
Doing What’s Right
For years before I did “the deed,” I was a technical virgin. That is, I had not had intercourse and presumably, therefore, retained my V-card. But I hadn’t avoided sexual activity altogether. Like many other teenagers, I wanted to know how far I could go and then put the tips of my toes right on that line.
If only I’d understood that “How far is too far?” is the wrong question. Rather, we should ask, “What’s right?” or rather “What’s righteous?” What really honors God?Is Abstinence Before Marriage the Right Goal? "'How far is too far?' is the wrong question. Rather, we should ask, 'What's right?' or rather 'What's righteous?' What really honors God?" @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
Once we focus on doing what’s right, our choices become clearer. Especially when our views of righteousness are less informed by object lessons about “soul ties” (which I don’t believe, by the way) or strictures regarding modesty than biblical principles. For instance, look at these passages:
- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
- “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
- “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Based on those concepts, one can see that pushing sexual boundaries before marriage is not righteous, but withholding affection and intimacy during marriage is also problematic. Moreover, it’s not just what we do with our bodies, but with our minds, hearts, and eyes as well. Are we honoring God with how we look at others? How we treat them? How we demonstrate love? Such precepts can clear up a lot of fuzziness.
But as Christians in community, we should additionally ask: Are we honoring God to deny compassion, forgiveness, and support for those who failed but want to do better? Shouldn’t we be helping everyone, regardless of their current circumstance or past sin, to embrace sexual integrity?
Living by One’s Principles
Legalism has always existed among God’s people. Those wanting to know what’s okay and what’s not okay can find others willing to provide a ready-made list of dos and don’ts. Now, some of those dos and don’ts may indeed reflect God’s design, but even when they do, they can miss the main point.
Just look at what Jesus Christ said to the legalists of His time:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.Matthew 23:23
Jesus agreed there were rules, but He wanted the spotlight where it belongs: on living according to godly principles.
If there was a passage about abstinence in the same vein, we might imagine that Jesus would say that not having sex outside marriage is good but insufficient. Checking that box means little if we don’t also live out justice, mercy, and faithfulness. It isn’t simply what we do or don’t do, but rather who we are as people of sexual integrity before God.
When we live by godly principles, it’s easier both to follow the rules—the dos and don’ts that apply to all situations—and to discern what’s wise and good in specific situations where the answers may be less cut-and-dry.
Free of Corruption or Hypocrisy
Far too often, it comes to light that a pastor who preached abstinence before marriage is involved in a sex scandal himself. We can scream about the corruption and hypocrisy of such folks—and we should—but a lot of believers have engaged in their own secret sin regarding sexuality.
If not having sex is the goal, then you can pride yourself on that achievement while still watching pornography, reading erotic novels, lusting after others, having a masturbation habit, or talking incessantly and vulgarly about sex. But by sexual integrity standards, that’s corruption and hypocrisy.
Then there’s the hypocrisy of saying that sex is a gift from God within marriage, then getting married and avoiding sex like it’s a white elephant gift you would happily dispose of. Or demanding sex with your spouse in a way that shows neither mercy to your mate nor faithfulness to God.
Do you “consistently demonstrate good character by being free of corruption or hypocrisy” in the area of sexuality? If that doesn’t describe you, you can find true freedom—in Christ (see John 8:31-36)—and instead live out true sexual integrity.
Regardless of Circumstance or Consequences
Living with integrity ensures a reward from God. Consider these verses:
- “The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has repaid me” (Psalm 18:20).
- “One who pays attention to the word will find good, and blessed is one who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20).
- “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and follow it” (Luke 11:28b).
However, some have taken the truth that obedience brings blessing and implied that the reward is tangible and immediate. For example, some spouses were promised that waiting until sex for marriage practically guaranteed fantastic sex in marriage. And if/when that didn’t happen, they felt they’d been sold a batch of snake oil. To be fair, they kinda had.
While waiting certainly improves your odds of better marital intimacy, sex in marriage is a complex relationship! Just because the tab-A, slot-B mechanics are straightforward doesn’t mean the human dynamics are without challenges. Nearly every marriage will face a struggle in this area at one time or another.
You may experience blessings within your marriage for your faithfulness, or you may experience trials for a short or a long time. Still, as the video explains, “Integrity is revealed when people act virtuously regardless of circumstance or consequences.”
And the blessings God promises are more about who we become and how God reconciles us to Him:
- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ “(Ephesians 1:3).
- “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
Think about Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. You probably know them better by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These God-followers refused to bow down to an idol, but instead of receiving an immediate and tangible attaboy from Heaven, they got thrown into a fiery furnace so hot that it killed the guards who tossed them in. Before they were catapulted into the fire, however, they made this statement:
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.Daniel 3:17-18 (emphasis added)
Saved or not, they chose to do the right thing. That’s integrity.
Likewise, sexual integrity for the believer is doing the right thing whether it’s easy or difficult, whether it results in positive or negative (immediate) outcomes, whether it leads to sexual excitement the likes of which you cannot express or moments of loneliness and despair. THAT IS A HARD TEACHING, but it’s in line with how God has called us to live and serve Him in this world.
Sexual Integrity Comes from the Heart
I wish the word purity hadn’t been made, well, impure in its meaning for many Christians. In its best sense, pure means free of contamination or immorality.
Ideally, you never get tainted, but all kinds of substances that get contaminated can be purified. How much more can God return us to a pure state, no matter how little or large we failed! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Before marriage, God’s Word offers this prescription for purity, or sexual integrity:
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?Psalm 119:9
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
The goal isn’t abstinence, or any other single checklist item, but living according to God’s Word, seeking Him with all our heart. Yes, we should do the right things. But ultimately, sexual integrity isn’t about what you avoid but who you pursue.
And it’s never the wrong time to run into the Father’s arms.Is Abstinence Before Marriage the Right Goal?: "Sexual integrity isn't about what we avoid but who we pursue. And it's never the wrong time to run into the Father's arms." @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet
If you need some inspiration, this song came to mind as I was writing: Constant by Watermark.
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