When I was in high school, a local youth group hosted an evangelism event. They brought in a guest preacher and had a special band. A friend handed me a stack of flyers and I helped him pass them out.
I remember sitting in the back of a basketball gym, listening to the guest preacher rail against the evil and power of sin. He told us that if we lost our purity, we were like tape that had lost its stickiness or gum that had lost its flavor.
He didn’t give us a rose to pass from person to person, but he might as well have. Maybe he would have if more people had been there. The flyers hadn’t worked and the gym was mostly empty. His anger and frustration are what stick with me all these years later. Perhaps the empty chairs were getting to him.
He told us that God commands us to maintain our purity through strength of character, discipline, and avoidance of temptation. It was the responsibility of young women to keep young men from thinking lustful thoughts. So they had to dress modestly at all times.
I left the gym feeling like a terrible person. From the expressions of those around me, they felt the same way. Few of us met this man’s standards.
I realized later that the speaker was one of the many “purity preachers” who were common in those days.
Yay For Purity
Holiness is important to God, He wrote an entire Testament of the Bible on the topic of righteousness. There are many benefits to walking in purity, and sin has consequences. Deep down we all know this is true. The law is written on our consciences, which accuse us (Romans 2:15).
Psalms 119 shows us that the way to keep our way pure is by keeping it according to God’s word. The righteous are blessed and the wicked are cursed. I for one would prefer divine blessing, given the choice.
Throwing Stones for Purity
Could it be possible to be so focused on purity that we lose sight of the Gospel?
There was a group of people in the New Testament who focused primarily on purity. They turned Old Testament passages into weapons. I’m pretty sure they were not the heroes of the story. In fact, I seem to remember that Jesus got into more fights with these Purity Police than with any other group.
There is a temptation to take the one area in which we feel holy and turn it into a rock to throw at people who struggle in that area. If a man doesn’t struggle with lying, then it may make him feel better to look down on everyone who does struggle with lying.
He just needs to ignore the fact that God hates haughty eyes (Proverbs 6:16).
As more people in a community turn into Purity Police, the pressure to wear a mask of holiness grows. So we put on our purity rings, wash away our makeup, and make sure every denim skirt goes past every ankle.
I know young people who would dread going to homeschool events because the pressure to “look righteous” was more than they could handle. At these events, their parents would start punishing them for every minor infraction in an attempt to physically beat them into purity.
Purity Police don’t punish just those within the community for bad conduct. They also chase away the “unclean”. “If you can’t sign our statement of faith, you cannot play sports with us,” is their battle cry.
They are convinced that if an unclean child is allowed to interact with their clean child, the result will be that their child will become unclean. This is Old Testament thinking. In the Old Testament, if a clean person touched a leper, they became unclean. In the New Testament, when Jesus, or one of His followers, touched a leper, the leper was made clean.
We Are All Damaged Goods
This purity culture is particularly tragic, since none of us is pure. Our righteousness is like a used tampon (Isaiah 64:6). We are all tape that has lost its stickiness. We are all bubblegum that has lost its flavor.
What right do any of us have to stand in judgment when we have all sinned? Who of us can cast the first stone?
Could that guest preacher have been wrong? Do strength of character, discipline, and avoiding temptation really make us pure? Do girls dressing modestly keep men pure?
My understanding of the Gospel is that our action, or inaction, isn’t going to make us pure. Righteousness doesn’t come from the Purity Police enforcing the rules. We cannot beat each other into purity. It comes only from the Spirit of Christ living in our hearts.
Or, put another way, Jesus is the stickiness of my tape. Jesus is the flavor of my bubblegum.
Jesus is my only hope on the Day of Judgment.
Who should enforce the rules?
So, what should we do if we see someone else sinning? Do we need to punish them for that sin? Is it our responsibility to ensure that every sin has its consequence? That every sinner has her scarlet letter? At what point do we need to call in the Purity Police?
I will say that in my life, the positive change has not come through someone enforcing the rules. It has come when the Holy Spirit has corrected me in His way and in His timing. Sure, someone can try to force me to act right, but it never lasts.
The most surprising thing to me about Jesus is how gentle and patient He is in correcting me. He is more gentle with me than I am with others. He is more gentle than I am with myself. There are sins I have struggled with for years, and yet He has never once given up on me, never once stopped helping me to be better. He is always there when I stumble and He puts me back on my feet to try again.
Sometimes a fault of mine seems so obvious to others and yet it is not what Jesus is working on in my heart at that time. God’s ways are above our ways. Thank God that He doesn’t try to fix every imperfection all at once. I don’t think I could survive that.
Who are we to dictate to God what sins He should address in others and in what order? Should we take matters into our own hands and take on the job of convicting others of sin?
The difference between conviction and condemnation is not in what is said, but in where it comes from. If it comes from the Holy Spirit, it is conviction. If it comes from a human (or from ourselves) it is condemnation. Can God speak through humans? Absolutely. But there is a big difference between God speaking through man and man speaking for God.
I need to trust God to take the specks from the eyes of those around me. He doesn’t need my help for that. I also need to trust that He will help me with the plank in my own eye.
What would the Church look like if we put as much energy into praying for those struggling as we do into policing them? What if we waited for God to convict them directly, rather than trying to force them to comply with the rules?
What if I were as patient with others as God has been patient with me?
Parental Purity Police
Christian parenting is not about ensuring well behaved, respectful, and modest children. It is about introducing children to Jesus and letting them fall in love with Him. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
There is a trend among conservative parents not to allow any back-talk from their children. Command and control is the rule of the home. Submission and respect are inviolate tenets of the family. Could you imagine how life would be if our Heavenly Father parented us that way? Half the Psalms would need to be edited out of the Bible. If God wielded the heavenly rod that cruelly, none of us could stand.
Leonard Ravenhill once said, “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.”
In that line, my parents were far more concerned about us experiencing and getting to know God than they were about us complying with the rules. In fact, I don’t remember a lot of rules growing up. They did not try to beat us into purity. They were more concerned with our hearts.
A Time to Speak Up and a Time to Keep Quiet
I am not saying we should never speak up. If someone is sinning against us, Jesus gives us a very clear protocol of when and how to speak up in Matthew 18.
There is also a time to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves (Proverbs 31:8). We have a responsibility to protect the weakest among us from wolves, especially when those predators are wearing the clothes of the Purity Police.
Protect yourself and others from harm. Otherwise, trust God to be God. He will convict people of sin in His timing. God doesn’t need us to serve as His police force. This is one of the differences between Christianity and Islam.
To Kiss or Not to Kiss
Now, let’s talk about specifics.
I remember talking at a church to a group of parents a while back about courtship. I came prepared to answer objections to Traditional Dating. Instead, they surprised me with a lot of questions, asking what Traditional Dating rules they should have for their children.
I was at a loss as to what to tell them. Every family is different and within each family, every child is different. Who am I to dictate a rule that should apply in all those situations?
I don’t even think my grandmother’s rule of “not going out with the same guy twice in a row” applies to every situation.
Then one of the moms asked me what I thought about kissing. I didn’t know what to tell her. I grew up with the “nerd blessing” in that very few young women were attracted to me and I was so awkward around the ones who were that nothing went anywhere. In short, I had never kissed anyone.
So, I did what any good nerd would do. I went home and studied kissing in a book.
Here is my official position.
I see no rule in Scripture against kissing. I found no 11th commandment not to kiss. In fact, Paul says over and over that we should greet each other with holy kisses (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26).
Far be it from me to forbid that which God commands.
The impression I get from the Scriptures is that kissing can be a way to:
- say “hello” (Genesis 29:11)
- give a blessing (Genesis 27:27)
- say “goodbye” (Genesis 31:28)
- worship (Psalm 2:12, Luke 7:38)
- show brotherly love (1 Peter 5:14)
- show sexual desire (Song of Songs 1:2)
Could it be that when we forbid kissing, we make it only a sexual act?
What would the Church look like if we embraced kissing? I suspect it would be a bit awkward at first for Americans. American culture seems to be walking away from kissing. Even TV and movies show fewer kisses these days.
Before you scroll down and leave an angry comment, yes, I realize that there is a difference between kissing and kissing. So, I hear you asking, “At which point does a kiss cease to be a holy kiss?”
My answer is that I think you are asking the wrong person.
I think that with a lot of the specifics of dating, we have to let the Holy Spirit guide us. God gives us a lot of freedom. For some, eating meat may be a sin, while for others it is not (1 Corinthians 8). I think this meat principle applies to a lot of areas not specifically laid out in Scripture.
The primary commandment that God gives us for our interactions with other people is that we love them as much as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). Jesus tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Luke 6:31).
So, as we seek God on whether it is OK with Him if we kiss, we need to keep in mind the commandment that we love one another. Also, it is a good idea to seek God as a couple and make the decision together before the heat of the moment. Loving someone means not pressuring them into doing their conscience harm.
Those with the stronger conscience should support those with the weaker conscience. So, if one person has the faith to kiss without it violating their conscience but the other one does not, then they should not kiss. To do otherwise would be unloving.
God wants us to have sex. Lots of sex.
Is Sex Evil?
Sex is a lot of things, but evil is not one of them. Sex has the chance of bringing an immortal being into the universe. That is amazing when you think about it. In light of eternity, having sex may be one of the most significant things most people ever do.
God’s very first words to humans in the Bible were a commandment to have sex, enough sex to fill the planet with people (Genesis 1:28). The Bible talks quite frankly about sex. In fact, an entire book of the Bible is a celebration of sex (Song of Songs).
Is Sexual Attraction Evil?
If having sex is not evil, can longing for it be evil? How can longing to obey God be evil?
I hear of purity-focused couples having trouble once they get married. If someone has convinced herself that sex is evil, how can she enjoy having it? It is hard for an hour-long marriage ceremony to undo a lifetime of emotional conditioning. This can create marital trouble right as the foundation for the marriage is being formed. Not cool.
Making sex feel evil is an unfortunate side effect of the purity culture.
According to the Bible, God wants us to get married and then have a lot of sex: enough sex to fill the planet with people. I think we would do ourselves a lot of favors as a community if we put more effort into making marital sex sound amazing. If we focus more on saying “yes” to marital sex, it will be easier to say “no” to premarital and extramarital sex.
What do you think?
Sorry for the long rambling post. These are some thoughts that have been going through my head as I work on drafting Courtship in Crisis. I look forward to your feedback and gentle correction.
As you comment, remember:
“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”
- “Our Righteousness is like a used Tampon.” Click to Tweet
- “There is a big difference between God speaking through man and man speaking for God.” Click to Tweet
- “Purity comes only from the Spirit of Christ living in our hearts.” Click to Tweet
- “If we focus more on saying “yes” to marital sex, it will be easier to say “no” to premarital and extramarital sex.” Click to Tweet
- “What would the Church look like if we prayed for those struggling as we policed them?” Click to Tweet
- “God wants us to have sex. Lots of sex.” Click to Tweet
- “Jesus is my only hope on the Day of Judgment.” Click to Tweet
- “Could it be that when we forbid kissing, we make it only a sexual act?” Click to Tweet
- Righteousness doesn’t come from the Purity Police enforcing the rules.” Click to Tweet
- We cannot beat each other into purity.” Click to Tweet
- Jesus is the stickiness of my tape. Jesus is the flavor of my bubblegum. Click to Tweet