When I was a teenager and my mother would complain about my bad grades or foul mouth, I would say, “Mom, I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have sex — what more could you want?”
I was especially proud of the fact that I wasn’t having sex, which is probably odd for a teenage boy. But I was a religious teenager, and among many evangelicals, virginity was one of the primary reference points of holiness for the single individual.
We had promise rings and True Love Waits campaigns and entire sermons dedicated to the topic. And the underlying message was that if we would abstain from sexual intercourse, we would “remain pure.”
It turns out that those of us who continued to wave the white flag of virginal purity weren’t that sexually pure after all. Many of us were looking at porn and/or fooling around as much as we could without actually copulating. But hey — we were virgins! Never mind the fact that our hearts weren’t in it.
The most troubling thing about this approach to virginity is that it engenders a putrid sense of spiritual pride that is based upon an unbiblical lie: that is, you can achieve sexual purity by completely external behavior, and you can increase your worth to God by what you do.
But the Gospel is the story of people who come to God with nothing to offer. So it’s not about what we’ve done (or what we’ve abstained from doing); it’s about what Jesus did on the cross when He saved us from both our sin and our self-righteousness.
Does it matter whether we have sex before we marry? Certainly. In addition to God calling us to flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), there are also benefits of waiting for marriage. They include learning to be patient and self-controlled, and taking the opportunity to sacrifice for your future spouse before you ever meet him or her. But all the virtuous virginity in the world can’t make you any more holy.
So if you’re a virgin, abstain out of love for God and your future spouse, but don’t see it as a self-justifying badge of honor. And if you aren’t a virgin but you want to follow Jesus, stop obsessing about it, choose obedience to God, and let go of the past (Philippians 3:13-14).
Sexual purity isn’t something you achieve by self-restraint. Any purity we have — sexual or otherwise — is a free gift that Jesus purchased for us with His blood, and there’s nothing we can do to add or take away from that.