The tendency in relationships is to push the physical boundaries. But there's a reason God asks for ultimate purity.
Camille fidgeted with her sleeve. "I didn't think it would be this hard."
She was talking about avoiding sexual temptation with her boyfriend.
"I always thought I'd be stronger."
I related to my friend's confession. Growing up in a Christian home, steeped in "true love waits," at one time in my life I hardly could grasp what a test of purity would look like.
Once when I was attending a Josh McDowell conference as a teen, he said, "Young ladies, by the time you're 18 you will be offered sex. Carry a quarter with you, and when that young man pressures you to have sex, give him the quarter and tell him to call your dad and ask if it's OK."
That wasn't my story. I have never been offered sex.
But that doesn't mean I haven't struggled to maintain my purity. The attacks have come in various forms. The trashy women's magazines I read when I was babysitting as a teenager. The TV shows and movies I've chosen to watch. The impure thoughts I've indulged. The temptations I've given into. I'm being brutally honest here, because I know I'm not the only one.
In and of themselves, these failures don't seem like a big deal. In fact, if I'm comparing myself to others, my overall purity would probably rate above average. And because of that, it can feel like these little concessions don't negatively affect my life, my relationship with God or my future marriage.
But they do.
Paul writes: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people" (Ephesians 5:3).
Not even a hint.
The kicker comes a few verses later:
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (5:5-6)
Our culture is full of "empty words" that tell us that sexual gratification is most important. But Paul warns that choosing anything—whether sexual impurity or greed—over God is idolatry. So our choices regarding "how far is too far" aren't about the behaviors themselves but about our esteem of God and His commands.
These choices are so serious that we can potentially separate ourselves from our spiritual inheritance—not only the prize awaiting us in heaven but the power in Christ we can have now. One friend described it this way: "Getting too physical just dulls you spiritually. Pretty soon stuff that felt wrong doesn't feel wrong anymore."
If you are in a relationship—even a godly one—a whole universe of purity choices presents itself. Is kissing OK? What about making out? What touch is appropriate and what touch is sinful? On the ladder of physical expressions that ends with sexual intercourse, at what level does one begin sinning?
The flaw in these questions is that the emphasis is on the wrong thing: the behaviors. Purity is a heart issue. Luke 6:45 says: "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart."
Going back to the Ephesians passage, Paul makes it clear that the root issue is idolatry—putting something before God. So if we truly want to put Him first in our lives—including the area of physical purity—the question becomes, "What is God's plan for sex?"
In "Sex and the Single Guy," Scott Croft says:
I think it's important for us to ask, "What is sex? And is sex just intercourse?" Well I would argue no. I would argue that part of our problem is we have tried to create boundaries and draw lines within a whole category of activity that we call an experience as sexual intimacy. And we think we can draw the line here or here or here and all Christians probably agree we have to at least draw the line at sexual intercourse. And then we get into trouble when we do that, right? When we draw our line we say OK we will go this far physically but no further. And then what do we do? Well we come right up to the line because that's what lines invite us to do.
In the same interview, Michael Lawrence says:
[We must] move the boundary outside of sexual activity. That's where the real boundary should be. Biblically, the boundary is between sexual activity and not sexual activity, not between the kinds of sexual activity we are going to engage in.
You may be thinking, This is all well and good for those in a relationship, but I'm single. I'm not struggling with going too far with my boyfriend or girlfriend. How does this apply to me?
Putting our sexuality under Christ's lordship is a lifelong discipline, whether single or married. I know that I have struggled with purity issues just as much outside of relationships as in them; the impurity just manifests itself in different ways. As my friend says: "Being in a relationship just brings to the surface sin and impurity that was already lurking beneath the surface."
Loose sexual boundaries in a dating or even engagement relationship will carry over into to marriage. Adultery, pornography, abuse and all types of sexual dysfunction plague Christian marriages and families. And these are simply behaviors that overflow from a heart where sexuality has not been brought under Christ's control. A heart where gratification trumps God's way. Sex is about giving sacrificially to another person within a covenant relationship, not taking whatever you can get away with.
That is why purity is such a serious issue. The edge of what is "OK" is dangerous, not because you might accidently cross the line and commit the big sin, but because letting in even a hint of immorality causes the heart to become calloused toward God. It dulls the spiritual impact of the believer. It drives a wedge between the child and the Father. And, yes, it has consequences.
Thank God for His grace. No matter how far we've fallen, we are invited to confess our sins and He is faithful to forgive them (1 John 1:9). Beyond confession there must also be repentance—a true change of heart. I have had to confess impurity and ask God to help me stick to a higher standard. Not so I can appear righteous but so that I can experience closeness with my Father and His full working in my life.
Walking in absolute purity may require some hard decisions about how you will conduct relationships, what TV shows you'll watch and how you'll use your computer. These decisions may appear extreme or odd to those watching. But remember the foundation you are building. Matthew 5:8 says: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
That glorious view makes leaving the edge worth it.
Copyright 2009 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.