Several years ago, I was walking around Boston with an old friend and one of her friends whom I had just met. I can’t remember exactly how the topic came up, but her friend ended up saying something along the lines of, “Yah, we’re both Christians; we both still have our virginity.”
It was such a small comment, but it clearly reflects something many of us raised in Christian homes subconsciously believe:
That being a Christian=Being a virgin
Being a virgin=Being a Christian.
There are a number of problems with this mindset, that the sole factor in you being a Christian is your ability to control your private parts, and I want to look at a couple of them here. But before we get started, I’ll dispel any notion that Ethan is actually against purity now. Nope. Still a virgin and will be till my wedding day.
Problem #1: What about non-virgins?
I imagine anyone overhearing our conversation who was not a virgin would have immediately been turned away from Christianity. The notion that virginity is core to the Christian faith erases any chance for those who have slept around in the past to be saved. It’s as if their previous relations have disqualified them from the one relationship which is enduringly life-giving and soul-nourishing.
The Jesus I’ve come to know is one who reaches out to those who are especially filthy; to those who feel the most unworthy. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that our sexual transgressions are what make us unworthy in the eyes of God.
In fact, it would appear that the things which disgust God the most are things like pride and religiosity, the pointing of fingers at ‘sinners’ without first examining one’s own heart. Jesus seemed to chill with the prostitutes more than with the religious leaders of the day. Maybe the prostitutes had a unique view of God’s grace in a way the religious leaders never did with all their rules and laws and judgment…
Problem #2: Sexuality isn’t the only category of holiness
A couple months ago, I was in a thrift store thinking deeply (We’ve all been there…) when a simple yet profound line came to me:
He is no better a Christian who can control his penis but not his angry thoughts, his gossiping tongue or his worrying heart.
If you grew up in the church, your mentality may persuade you to believe that you are fulfilling your Christian duties by keeping it in your pants until marriage and maybe even reading your Bible every now and then. Some pockets of American Christianity have put so much emphasis on sexual ethics that the rest of the scope of Christianity has been mitigated to the back burner. Things like work, money, missions, friendship, food, and justice have taken second seat to the mammoth topic of Christian sexual ethics.
We would much rather debate about “How far is too far with my boyfriend?” than discuss how the Church can work toward ending human trafficking, or how we can make our inner-city neighborhoods safer.
Have you worked on growing in holiness in all areas of your life?
Keeping yourself sexually pure is a noble and admirable feat, and all Christians should strive for it (inside and outside of marriage…one needs to remain sexually pure even after the wedding day and remain faithful to their betrothed). But have we focused on this one topic to the neglect of other categories of holiness?
Do we still lust for more money and nicer possessions?
Are we generous with the money we do have, or do we spend it solely on ourselves, improving the quality of our own lives?
Do we have a handle on our emotions, especially in areas like anger and envy?
Are we patient with our coworkers and loving to everyone we meet?
Or are we merely concerned with how far we can get with our girl before God starts to frown?
What a small religion.
God cares about our sexuality and what we do with our bodies, yes, but He cares about so much more than that! If sexuality is the only area in which you pursue holiness, perhaps take a look at Scripture and see what God spends the most time talking about (Hint: It’s not sex…).
Problem #3: It removes the need for grace
Virginity, by definition, is something someone chooses to keep. Therefore, by your own willpower, you could hold onto it until your wedding day, and share that very special gift with your spouse.
But when we conflate this (very good!) choice with our faith, then the Gospel suddenly becomes more about our own willpower than it is about the gift of grace. We don’t get a special trophy in heaven because we kept our hands to ourselves until the honeymoon. We don’t earn our salvation, period.
If the focus of our faith is on our own restraint and self-control, then it entirely removes the need for a Savior to come and lift us up out of our sin and death; we could just get there on our own. Praise God it’s not up to us or our decisions to get ourselves into the kingdom!
Problem #4: It places sex on such a ridiculously high level
This is similar to #2, but with a few slight differences.
We live in a culture in which everything is highly sexualized. TV ads, Facebook ads, magazine covers, and yada-yada-yada. To ignore the topic of sexuality in the American Church would be a huge misstep, but we also must not let our culture’s fascination with the topic define our own views of it.
My friend’s friend in Boston seemed to think that because she was sexually pure, that counted as evidence of her faith. However, this does not reflect the teaching of the Bible, but rather a specific subculture of American society which waits for marriage. If we as Christians let our faith be dictated by our sexual views, we are not thinking biblically, but rather floating along with the cultural tides of American trends. Our priorities are being dictated by popular culture rather than by the Bible.
In other words, our faith should dictate our sexual beliefs, not the other way around.
Jesus did not come so that all may be virgins again.
He did not come to save only the sexually pure, nor does He turn His back on the ‘unclean.’ If anything, He moves toward those who feel the most ashamed and draws them into the sphere of His love so they can feel clean and new again.
American Christians have somehow married virginity to our faith in such a way that we have come to frown on those who screw up and cast out anyone with different beliefs than ours in the arena of sexual ethics. Yet, nowhere in Scripture do we see Christ doing this. In fact, just the opposite. He rescues a woman who was caught in adultery from her punishment and tells her to be free from her sin.
And that is a religion I want to be a part of. I wan to chill with a God who doesn’t mark me down for my sexual misdemeanors, but who sees past them to a wounded soul and a struggling spirit, inviting them to come and cast my cares upon Him.
My virginity cannot carry the weight of all my sin; Jesus can.
May we be people who look to Him, rather than our own sexual restraint, to cure us of our sin, shame, and fear.
A version of this article appeared on Ethan’s Blog on August 5th, 2017.
I’m Ethan & I love Jesus as much as my little heart allows. I’m an artist, traveler, and the Lord often speaks to me in poems. I’m a personal trainer, youth pastor and photographer. I graduated from Moody and now live in Colorado. Come check out my blog at www.ethanrenoe.com.