By / Feb 13

We were wrong about purity culture. It was damaging and repressive. That is the claim of a Lutheran pastor who is asking men and women to send her the purity rings from their teen years to be melted down to create a sculpture. And in some ways, I would agree with her. She is right that evangelicals have struggled with a healthy view of sex. But before we all send in our rings, I would offer some suggestions.

I learned a great deal that was right and healthy and true in church regarding purity. First, I learned that sex was precious. Sometimes that preciousness was described in ways that were unhealthy, but the core of the message that sex was a good gift designed by God was there. I also learned that my desire for sex was healthy. While I know that there are stories of men and women who were told that sex was something you had to endure, I was not told that in my church. My parents had very frank conversations with my siblings and me about a desire for sex. Finally, I was given clear boundaries that were meant to structure that desire. Those boundaries—of marriage between a man and a woman—seemed restrictive and unrealistic as a teenager, but they were for my good.

So if purity culture got so much right, what did it get wrong?

Where the purity culture went wrong, however, was when virginity was conflated with chastity or purity. Ironically, there was a greater interest placed on physical virginity (though this is a good thing) than spiritual chastity. To be chaste is not to be free from sex. A married couple is called to chastity as well. Karen Swallow Prior, in her book On Reading Well, quotes Lauren Winner, who describes chastity in this way: Chastity, then, is “not the mere absence of sex but an active conforming of one’s body to the arc of the gospel.” To be chaste spiritually is to pledge yourself to one person, the Lord Jesus.

In purity culture, to be chaste typically meant pledging to abstain from sex until your wedding night. However, that is only one part of it. As Winner points out, it is not merely an abstaining from but a conforming to that marks chastity—specifically, to the “arc of the gospel.” What is the arc of the gospel? It is the arc from enslaved to sin to bondservant of Christ; from outsider to brother or sister of Christ; from fallen nature to redeemed creation. That arc includes so much more than physical body parts. It includes the other crucial part of humanity: our souls. We are soul-body creatures. Therefore, we cannot only think of our chastity in relationship to our bodies, but to the very way that we are forming and being conformed in our inmost being to the image of Christ as pure, faithful, and chaste beings (Rom. 8: 29; 12:1-2).

The other major thing that purity culture often emphasized, to its detriment, is that if you were to lose your virginity, you were beyond redemption. This is one of the most dangerous and problematic things that could come out of a teaching about sex or purity. The man who has multiple sexual partners is not beyond the redemption of Christ; neither is the unwed mother.

Where the purity culture went wrong, however, was when virginity was conflated with chastity or purity.

Sexual sin is not any worse than the sin of pride that would lead us to think that we are about sinning in this way. Jesus does not bring us into the family with the condition that we are cleaned up first. We are brought in and invited to the table where we join a motley crew who look different than us but share one thing in common—none of us should be sitting where we are. Purity culture can sometimes emphasize maintaining purity so much that it leaves no room for restoring it. It ought not be so because our Lord is in the business of restoration (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Suggestions for a more holistic purity culture

I would like to offer some suggestions for how the church can correct the two problems I mentioned above. The first is to continue presenting sex as a beautiful and amazing gift from God. Sex is a good gift from God. It is meant to be enjoyed in the marital union. The love poem between Solomon and his wife in the Song of Solomon should encourage us to see the beauty in what God has designed.

Second, be willing to have awkward conversations continually with your children in age-appropriate ways. If you won’t talk to them, someone else will. And the story that we have of sex is much better than that of the world. In particular, we should teach them that chastity is not the same as abstinence. Abstinence can be done alone; chastity requires community. As Lauren Winner explains, “The community is not so much cop as it is storyteller, telling and retelling the foundational stories that make sense of the community’s norms.” If we truly want a culture of purity, then we need to tell a story that urges us to pursue purity, not use fear and shame to keep members in line.

Finally, remember that while virginity may be lost, purity and chastity can always be regained. The story of Christianity is the story of redemption. It is the movement from the filthy rags of our works to the white robes of the redeemed. So don’t let the pursuit of purity keep out those who no longer fit your definition of morality. Jesus wants his bride. She is kept pure not by her doing, but by the work of the truly faithful one, Christ.

By / Jul 18

During the Protestant Reformation, the great thinkers of that era like Luther and Calvin harshly criticized the mandated celibacy that was imposed on priests in the Catholic church. At the same time, they extolled the goods of marriage while remaining relatively silent on the goods of singleness. This, along with the criticism of celibacy, left a generally negative impression of singleness within the Protestant tradition that is still in the process of being corrected in most modern churches.

In most churches, many sermons are preached on marriage, but very few, if any, sermons are preached on what it means to be single, how to serve the Lord in your singleness, or have celibacy elevated as a legitimate calling or vocation in life. Singleness is often treated as an undesirable calling or vocation, analogous to a disease for which marriage is a cure.

Yet, this is not how Jesus or Paul talked about singleness and celibacy. In fact, both of them, being unmarried themselves, extolled its virtues. Two passages, Matthew 19:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, best exemplify this. Though addressing very different situations, three principles regarding singleness and celibacy emerge from both of these passages.

First, marriage and celibacy are equally worthy callings and vocations.

In Matthew 19:12, Jesus mentions various types of eunuchs, including “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” This has generally been understood to include individuals who deliberately remain celibate. The very mention of celibate individuals from the lips of Christ is of great comfort to those who face this as a daily reality. But more than anything else, the very fact that Jesus was celibate himself should carry the greatest weight in this conversation. Jesus never married or had sex, and yet he embodied what it meant to be truly and fully human more than any other person who has ever lived.

In 1 Corinthians 7, the language Paul uses regarding singleness would almost seem to suggest that he views singleness as superior to marriage (See 7:7, 38, 40). Yet, this is due to contextual factors within the Corinthian church, not the ontological natures of marriage and singleness. Paul refers to both singleness and marriage as gifts (charisma), the same word he later uses in chapter 12 when describing the other spiritual gifts. Jesus and Paul were both celibate vocationally, yet acknowledged the goods that marriage offers (See Matt. 19:4-9, Eph. 5:22-33).

Second, celibacy is a gift that some have the capacity to live out and other do not.

In Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus twice mentions that not everyone will be able to accept what the disciples had previously mentioned about remaining unmarried (Matt. 19:10). Most people, because of their sexual desires, cannot accept a celibate lifestyle and are better served and sanctified by being in a marriage. Paul affirms this principle throughout 1 Corinthians 7 in verses 2, 9, and 36.

It’s worth saying, though it may be obvious, that if you are currently unmarried, then you have the gift of singleness, even if it’s only temporary. If you are able to discern a calling from the Lord to remain single for an extended period of time (perhaps even your whole lifetime), then that is the gift of celibacy. Whether you have the gift of singleness or celibacy, both are gifts that the Lord will give you the grace to steward well.

Third, celibacy is given for the purpose of service to God.

In Matthew 19:12, Jesus affirms that eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs did so “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Paul also upholds singleness as a means of securing an “undivided devotion” (1 Cor. 7:35) to “the things of the Lord,” (v. 32) as well as developing understanding in “how to please the Lord” (v. 32) and “how to be holy in body and spirit” (v. 34). Celibacy and singleness cannot be viewed simply as an abstention from sex, but ought to draw all singles into a lifestyle of undivided service to God and to others.

Marriage and singleness in light of eternity

In Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus is being questioned by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. Who would a woman be married to in the resurrection if she had been married to multiple men during her life? Jesus makes an astounding claim in verse 30 when he says, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Marriage is an earthly institution and will not carry over into eternity. When we meet Christ face to face, we will meet him as single individuals.

At the same time, though, Scripture affirms that there will be marriage in heaven. Yet, it will not be between men and women, but between Christ and his church (Rev. 19:7, 21:2). Paul describes earthly marriage as a reflection of this heavenly marriage (Eph. 5:31-32).

So, whether one is married, single, or celibate, each person has to remain aware of the heavenly realities that transcend our earthly lives. If married, remember that in the resurrection, earthly marriage will cease, having fulfilled its intended purposes. If single or celibate, have the mindset that you are not yet married to the perfect husband, the Lamb of God. Everyone can take comfort in the fact that in the heavenly kingdom, we will have perfect communion not only with one another, but with the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ our Savior.

By / Apr 25

Broken sexuality has been before our eyes continuously in the form of hashtags and headlines. It’s been a steady stream of repeated revelations of sex abuse scandals. For many, their deeds of darkness have finally been brought into the light (Eph. 5:11), and there has been appropriate public outcry over many of these revelations.

How do these dark deeds become actions in the first place, though? The answer is complex. One aspect that might be passed over because it’s often viewed as normal in our culture, is pornography. We’re a culture steeped in pornographic images, even if it’s soft porn found in mainstream films, TV shows, and books. Though there is not always a direct correlation between pornography and sexual abuse, there is possible a connection between the two that should be taken more seriously.

88.2 percent of porn scenes contain some form of physical aggression against women. That ought to leave us wondering if the normalization of abuse in pornography impacts how society understands sexuality and abuse.

Two Dutch filmmakers, Damayanti Dipayana and Camilla Borel-Rinkes, look for these connections in their video project, Be Frank. In this seven-minute film, they read aloud sexual scenarios and ask different men whether they think it sounds like a porn script or a #MeToo story. Many of the men can’t tell a difference. By the end of the film, it’s revealed that all the stories are porn scripts. Then, the last still clip shows this statistic: 88.2 percent of porn scenes contain some form of physical aggression against women. That ought to leave us wondering if the normalization of abuse in pornography  produces outcomes that negatively impact how society understands sexuality and the power dynamics that exist when sexuality is abused.

We know of at least one recent case where this proves true. The court proceedings and prosecution of Larry Nasaar have shown a man whose fantasy life most likely fueled his real life. His sordid case highlights the question: could our actions be out of control partly because our fantasies are out of control? The porn industry romanticizes and normalizes these types of idealized, and often illegal encounters, without us having to use much of our own imagination. Yet, there is no public outcry against the industry that promotes the fantasy and entertainment that leads to such atrocities.

Our broken hearts

The truth is, we could forever rid pornography from our lives and still have a problem, because pornography originates in our own hearts and minds (Matt. 5:28; 15:19). Imagination is a powerful gift from God that, when twisted by our sin, can produce darkness and sin. If we continue to walk the dangerous path of our fantasy life, it could blur our minds to such degree that it becomes reality.

A broken heart leads to broken sexuality. A heart that hungers for filthy perversions and exalts the fallen self at the expense of others is what creates the porn industry and keeps its customers. When this type of broken heart and sin goes unchecked, there is always a possibility that physical actions will follow.

Redeeming our fantasy lives

We minimize the importance that God puts on redeeming our thoughts and imagination. Jesus emphasized this importance in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:27-28). He knew the real issue was not just the outward displays of broken sexuality and sin, but the inner man. He raised the bar so we would look at what comes before our sinful actions: lustful intent. Though he raised the standard of the law, he also fulfilled the law. He ushered in the new covenant so that our broken hearts could be fixed, for this is the root of the problem that could never be changed in the ceremonies and rituals of the old covenant:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ez. 36:26-27).

Jesus cares about our inner thoughts so much that he uses violent hyperbole to describe how we should be handling them:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matt. 5:28-30).

What do we fantasize about? Do we take part in what our culture esteems, like Fifty Shades Freed? What types of fantasies are we elevating, promoting, condoning, and even secretly allowing in the privacy of our homes? Jesus wants to pinpoint them and sweep away the darkness of our hearts with his cleansing light. He wants to redeem our fantasies.

To redeem means “to buy back.” Once we’ve been purchased by the blood of Christ, we should continually seek to cast off our former ways. We are no longer darkened in our understanding and don’t have to be enslaved to impure thoughts (Eph. 4:17-19). Paul tells us to put off this old self and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:22-23). He says in Ephesians 4:24 to, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The Holy Spirit gives us the power to walk in the light and put on this new self in Christ, but it’s also something we are responsible for as we learn obedience through knowledge of the truth and conviction of sin. Paul uses action words when he says to “put off” and “put on.” We must replace our impure thoughts with lovely thoughts. We must dwell on the good and not the profane. It’s easy to underestimate the power of our thoughts. What we choose to think about can determine our emotions and actions.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul exhorts the church with suggestions for what to think about: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

These are the types of thoughts we must put on, or dwell on. We can find many things in our world that are true, honorable, just, pure, excellent, and lovely. By dwelling on the beauty and goodness laid out for us in creation, the works of man’s hands, and the truth found in Scripture, we can invite light into our minds. We can more clearly see Christ. It’s his beauty and goodness that we must dwell on all the days of our lives. When we think of him and meditate on who he is, we will begin to see our thoughts—and actions—redeemed.

By / Feb 13
By / Sep 25

Many things aren’t the way they used to be, and yet some things are as they have always been. So it is with purity.

It is almost expected that teenagers and young adults will choose impurity over purity. And the opportunities to do so have only seem to keep increasing. We should think seriously about this challenge facing our children. Yet, things are just as they have always been. Driven by sinful desires, we are tempted to and often choose the temporary, fleeting pleasures of lust over the eternal, satisfying delight in the Lord. We should not shrink back in fear or sit still in ignorance regarding issues of sexuality.

While there may be new challenges facing a teenager’s pursuit of purity today, we can still point them to the old, but tried and tested, wisdom of God’s Word. Here are several ways we can do that.

1. Frame the call to purity in the broader call to sanctification.

The ultimate desire of a parent should be that their child would treasure Christ above everything else. If we place abstinence or any other good pursuit as their ultimate priority, we will misdirect students from what matters most and will, ultimately, lead to living a pure life in the long run.

So, talk about purity, but don’t talk solely about it. Talk as much about reading God’s Word, prayer, gossip, what they’re listening to/watching, living for Christ at school, dealing with conflict in relationships, and a host of other topics. Follow the pattern of Proverbs. Purity was a significant enough issue that it takes up the better part of four chapter (Prov. 5–9), but it wasn’t the first issue or the majority of what was said. Purity, like all godliness, begins with the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7).

Don’t neglect the urgency of this issue, but remember: the pathway to lasting purity is a growing love for and likeness to Jesus Christ.

Many parents are talking to their teenagers about sex and purity too late

2. Talk early, talk often, and keep talking.

Many parents are talking to their teenagers about sex and purity too late. In fact, you are probably late if you are waiting until they are teenagers. Statistics say that 1 in 3 children between ages 11-14 have seen pornography on a mobile device.

Be the first voice your child hears about sex and purity. Be the first to tell your child that God created sex and that sex is good. Be the first to warn them about the perils of pornography. Be the first to admonish them about the joy of purity. Be the first to point them to the One who can sustain them in their pursuit of purity and restore them from their impurity.

These conversations will not all happen in one setting, and they are often on a need-to-know basis when they are young. What matters is that you do not neglect to talk about it. Talk about it when they bring it up. Talk about it when your discernment prompts you to bring it up. Talk about it often, and don’t stop talking about it.

Remember that you do not need to talk to your teenager about this issue out of fear or anxiety, but out of wisdom in order to lead them in the path of purity. For some suggestions about helpful resources, see “When It’s Time for the Talk” by Tim Challies

3. Be slow to introduce technology and don’t do so without accountability and restrictions.

This is the frontline of the battle for purity. To give your teenager a smartphone or any wifi capable device without restrictions is to give your teenager unlimited access to porn. Odds are, your teenager already has a smart phone/device or has been asking for one for months, if not years.

But, let me be clear: technology is not the problem. It is our sinful desires that take advantage of technology’s anonymity and access to immorality.Parents must get educated on the resources available guiding teenagers to use technology with wisdom and set restrictions that point them in this direction. Here are some helpful resources:

4. Saturate yourself in God’s grace so you can lead your teenager to do the same in their fight for purity.

There will likely be a day your teenager is seriously struggling or has failed in the area of purity. When that day comes, point them to Christ as the source of forgiveness and the motivation for their continued pursuit of purity. In order to help your teenager pursue purity, and forgiveness, you need to know and dwell on the satisfying nature of God’s love and grace. You cannot give your child what you do not posses yourself.

When you are saturated in God’s grace, you will be able to help your teenager respond to whatever struggles and failures they experience as they seek to walk in purity throughout their lives.

A form of this article originally appeared here.

By / Aug 1

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church. 

In a changing world, your children will have questions you may not know how to answer. Join us for the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, Tenn., this event will welcome key speakers including Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Todd Wagner, and Jen Wilkin. Register here.

By / Apr 11

There’s no denying that we live in an overly sexualized society—and if the church doesn’t address these issues, the world will. At the ERLC National Conference, Ben Stuart, who has years of experience with college students, spoke to this topic in his talk: God, Guys, and Girls – Pursuing Sexual Purity in a Porn Culture. We hope this talk strengthens you to pursue purity.

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By / Aug 1

I came of age, and came to Christ, in the 90s. Like so many Gen X Christians, my spiritual foundation was chiseled in a youth group where purity was a big deal. I had a purity ring, signed a True Love Waits card and got the clear message that part of being a Christian was just saying no to sex. In my mind, virgin and Christian where two sides of the same coin, two pillars of my new identity in Christ.

Admittedly, it was a rudimentary theology. While I had surrendered my life to Christ, I had a tendency to add to the gospel, looking to the things I did, or in the case of sex, the things I didn’t do, as a means to please God. No band of gold could save me or keep me from sin. No commitment card could either. What I didn’t fully grasp as an angsty new believer is that only Christ’s work on the cross can do that.

Fast forward past the teen years, and I’ve spent 15 years ministering to young women. I’ve watched as talk of abstinence has gone the way of chastity belts. Stadiums are no longer full of teenagers promising to wait. As I’ve watched the pendulum swing, I’ve had simultaneous urges to cheer and to sound the alarm.

We are wise to help young people wrestle with the weightiness of the gospel instead of reducing it to a list of do’s and don’t’s. We should broaden the conversation about sex, marriage and intimacy beyond the “finish line” message they sometimes hear when we ask them to wait. As the church rides this next wave of the sexual revolution, we must teach our young people a sexual theology that goes beyond a few “thou shalt not’s.” But at the end of the day, abstinence still matters and purity and chastity still need to be taught.

What the hook-up culture has done to women

Anne Maloney is an associate professor of philosophy at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn. From her post on a college campus, she is on the front lines of the war for young people’s hearts and minds. She’s seen her share of casualties. In her article, “What the Hook-up Culture Has Done to Women,” she describes the devastating toll casual sex is having on college-aged women. Here’s a flyover:

  • “The young women I encounter every day on the campus of the university where I teach are worse off than this [rape] victim, because they do not know what has gone wrong in their lives. Nonetheless, something has gone terribly wrong, and on some level, they know it.”
  • “It is no coincidence that the top two prescribed drugs at our state university’s health center are anti-depressants and the birth-control pill. Our young women are showing up to a very different version of ‘college life’ than that of the previous generation.”
  • “The world we have created for these young people is a world which welcomes every sort of sexual behavior except chastity.”
  • “I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the reason so many college-aged women binge-drink is so that they can bear their own closeted sorrow about what they are doing.”

Her words punch me in the gut, and leave me gasping for air. What she sees happening on one college campus is likely happening on every college campus. These women, and the men they are sleeping with, bear the image of God. They are broken and battered by the lie that freedom comes when we throw off God’s guidelines for sexuality.

“Women have never been more ‘sexually liberated’ than these women are, or so they are told. No more are they shackled by ridiculous bonds like commandments, moral rules, words like ‘chastity.’ They shout: ‘We’re free!’ Yet they whisper: ‘Why are we so miserable?’” Maloney writes. “I continue to be struck by how unfree these students feel.”

Fast forward another fifteen years with me, and imagine the shock waves that will be sent out from the epicenter of this sin. These women are future wives and mothers, future Sunday school teachers and pastor’s wives. They will sit in our pews and in our women’s Bible studies. The men who make up the other half of this sexual equation will also come into our churches as walking wounded. When the reality of their sin finally falls on their shoulders, it will be an unbearable weight. If their wounds are to be bound up, it will only be by Christ, and often through the ministry of the church. We must be ready to run in with the salve of the gospel for those already wounded by the lie of sexual freedom. But in addition to doing triage, we must warn the next wave. We still need to beat the drum of purity. We still need to teach young people to wait.

Sexuality as a guard rail

In the broader culture, sexuality is the cause we are all war-dancing around. Whether it’s homosexuality, pornography or sex scandals within the church, nothing makes Christians stick out from the broader culture quite like talk of what happens (or should happen) in the bedroom. I don’t think this is an area where we should compromise.

However, sometimes we get the order of the message wrong, don’t we? The lost need the gospel first, and God’s commandments second. A desire to keep God’s law is a byproduct of accepting God’s grace. The gospel is the highway we want our young people to drive upon, but sexuality works as a guardrail along that road.

Paul said it a different way.

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18).

All sin is the same in that it all separates us from our loving Father, but sexual sin is different because the consequences are so devastating. When we throw off the guardrails, or simply neglect to maintain them, young people careen off into an emotional and physical abyss that is extraordinarily difficult to come back from.

Re-framed with different lens, as a parent, I put safety measures in place to protect my children from the dangers of electric shock because they don’t yet understand the complexities of electricity. They’ll learn about volts and currents when they are mature enough to grasp it, and then we won’t need to have so many conversations about why we don’t put forks in the outlets. But I’m going to do everything in my power to protect them in the meantime. In the same way, the consequences of sexual sin are so dangerous that we must protect our young people by teaching them to wait, even before they are mature enough to develop a robust theology, grasp God’s grander plan for sexuality or even articulate the basics of the gospel.

I’m so grateful for the youth workers who looked me in the eye and told me to wait. I’m thankful for the rings and cards that served as tangible reminders that God’s standards are worth sticking to. I’m grateful to have dodged the bullets propelled into so many hearts by the hook up culture. When I think of those bruised by the lie that sex without boundaries equals freedom, I can’t help but wonder how many hearts could have been shielded by a compassionate adult who wasn’t afraid to wade into the mess and say, “This is not God’s best.”

Parents, you should tell your children why you waited or why you hope that they will. Don’t just have “the talk.” Keep talking.

Pastors, please put purity in your queue of topics that you address regularly from the pulpit. There are young people in your pews who need you to show them where the guard rails are.

Youth workers, look around at the faces in your small group, your Sunday school class and your Wednesday night program. Then listen closely to Maloney’s haunting words. “An entire generation of women is wounded yet unable to find the source of the bleeding. . . . They “hook up” feel awful and have no idea why. It’s hard to heal when you don’t know you’ve been damaged. And the despair and shame that these women who hook up feel is real.”

We need to keep talking about sex. In a culture that’s gone off the sexual deep end, we need to continue to elevate God’s high standards—and then point them to the Way by which we can reach those standards. Words like “purity,” “chastity” and “virginity” should be in our collective vernacular. In this department, perhaps it’s time to teach like it’s 1999. Because true love still waits.  

By / Feb 26

In today’s culture, many couples choose to have lengthy engagements, using the extra time for wedding planning, financial planning and relationship building. Though these are important aspects of the engagement period and though every engaged couple has differing circumstances, I’m wondering if it’s time for us to rethink the idea of long engagements. I’m extremely grateful for godly mentors in my life who helped me think through this all-too-common practice. Faithful Christians might disagree on this, but I think there are four reasons to rethink a long engagement:

1. Once there’s a ring on it, temptations intensify.

Ask any Christian married couple how daunting their engagement period was. You would be hard pressed to find a couple who would recommend a long engagement. Many of those whose engagement was long would not encourage it. Engagement is a special and fun season, but waiting much longer than six months will be miserable for you and your fiance.

One of the greatest joys of marriage is sexual intimacy. Sex is a good gift from God to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. Sex unites you to your partner. Until you put that ring on, you truly have no clue the power of the temptations ahead. Long engagements compound the difficulty of escalating temptation. The pressure, from the Enemy, from your own natural desires, and from the culture can overwhelm you and your fiance in extraordinary ways. Unnecessarily long engagements only increase the likelihood of yielding to sexual sin.

2. You aren’t as strong as you think you are.

As Satan begins to attack you during this phase, even the most righteous can fall. Most often, we are the first to believe in ourselves and oftentimes to a fault. Do not fall into the temptation of pride, assuming sheer willpower will get you through a lengthy engagement without sexual temptation playing a major factor. One of Satan’s best weapons is his ability to deceive, and once he deceives, he accuses, bringing about guilt, shame and hopelessness. Long engagements can deceive even the most sanctified of couples. When entering this phase of life, you will need someone who has waded the waters that you will be entering; someone that can hold you accountable and help you and your fiance navigate through the engagement period.

3. Purity prior to the engagement does not guarantee purity after the engagement.

I recently had a conversation with a college sophomore who was recently engaged and was planning a two-year engagement. I cringed as he talked about how they had been successfully pure throughout their lengthy dating relationship and as he naively assumed the two-year engagement would be a piece of cake. I wish I had taken that opportunity to challenge him on his assumptions. I would walk him through the previous two points and share with him how hard a mere five-and-a-half months was for me and my wife. I cannot begin to fathom how treacherous the next couple years will be for the two of them as they continue to seek purity. I hope and pray that the Lord blesses them with that accomplishment, but I can assure you it will not be done without a great deal of outside help.

4. If you’re putting a ring on it, then you should be ready for the wedding bells.

From a kingdom perspective, one that subverts worldliness, purity matters more than planning. Planning is a virtue (don’t get me wrong), but when elevated above holiness, it becomes a vice. There are no hard and fast rules for Christians regarding the length of an engagement period. However, if you are not in a place to get married within a short period of time, you’d be wise to reconsider whether or not you are ready to enter that phase of life. You cannot be overly cautious when entering into the engagement period. This does not mean waiting for the perfect job, making the right amount of money and having the right house in the right neighborhood. It’s unlikely that will happen. No one is ever perfectly prepared for all the challenges that come with marriage. Once you think you’ve arrived, something else will replace that dream. We, by nature, will always be longing for something bigger and better. You do not have to be rich to get married.

Neither my wife or myself had full-time, well paying jobs when we got engaged. She was still in school (and still is), and I was working part-time as a College-Age Minister. By doing it this way, we knew that we were going to be forced to rely on the Lord to provide for us, and it turned out far better than relying on our own power. Had we waited until all of our “ducks were in a row,” we would not have been so aware of how the Lord provided for us. We now have an amazing story of God’s faithfulness in our lives, and I cannot think of a better way to begin a marriage than by relying so strongly on the One who provides.

5. Engagement increases the tension between couples.

Regardless of the length of your engagement, tensions build once you begin this phase of your relationship. Suddenly, you are removed from the “everything is wonderful” phase of your relationship, with its dreaming and dating and few worries, into the pressurized season of wedding planning, financial considerations and the stress of wedding two lives into one. This is the “already, but not yet” phase of relationships. So many things, beyond sex, await you in covenant marriage, but you are unable to take part until the two of you have committed your lives to one another before God and the church. While it may be appealing to have a year to two-year-long engagement, you are only lengthening the inevitable tension that comes with it. Marriage allows you to begin to work out the inevitable relational conflicts as one flesh.

As you think about your future engagement, I hope you will use this as thought-provoking material to drive a healthy conversation with your significant other and those around you.

By / Oct 5

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It is always a curious occurrence when morality makes headlines. For instance, in the summer of 2014, The Huffington Post led with the headline, “More Than Half Of People Believe In 'Saving Yourself' For The Wedding Night, New Poll Says.” In light of America’s amorality, people practicing sexual abstinence before marriage makes the news.

Making headlines recently is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his girlfriend Ciara Harris, an R&B singer. The couple has stated they are abstaining from sex until marriage. Wilson mentioned the pledge of abstinence in an interview with Miles McPherson, pastor of The Rock Church in San Diego. Wilson said Ciara agreed to put “that extra stuff off of the table and [doing] it Jesus’ way.” Many news outlets have reported on the couple’s publicly stated celibacy. One paper, however, ran an interesting follow-up piece that explored the issue further.

The Daily News article includes the experience of New Yorker Aurin Squire who, at times, has been celibate for non-religious reasons over the past few years. Yet, from a biblical standpoint, his experience has been quite religious. He told the Daily News, "Celibacy allows you to take a holiday from constantly objectifying people. . . . When you abstain, [you see that] other people aren't just for the purpose of having sex.“

The story unknowingly revealed some key truths of biblical anthropology relating to sex.

The first truth is the overall beauty of mankind. At the creation event of man, God declares man’s design is based upon himself. He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Mankind images God, reflects God, and represents God in a complex range of areas. God also informs us through David in Psalm 8:5-6 man was made “a little lower than [himself]” and that man was “crowned with glory and majesty.” Man holds a position of great honor in the world seeing he is fashioned in such a manner.

Therefore, viewing ourselves and others in this reality should spur us to honor one another, not objectify. Sexual sin, and sin in general, distorts the view of a person causing one to focus on what a person possesses physically and not who the person is holistically. In the midst of his sexual abstinence, Squire began engaging people at more than literally a skin-deep level. Due to God’s grace, he reclaimed some of his “eyesight” enabling him to see more of the overall beauty of mankind.

Sexual sin not only distorts, but it also kills. It kills basic, human joy. Sexual sin has the ability to darken a person’s soul in a unique manner. When one refrains from sexual sin, there is the possibility that his God-given enjoyment of life returns. Squire experienced this firsthand. When he entered his first period of celibacy, he was “anxious” and “depressed” the first few months. He, however, eventually “started waking up in the morning and laughing with a feeling of what he calls ‘ethereal joy.’”

Sexual sin’s heart-darkening power lies in its unique nature. The Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 6, “Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” An adulterer or fornicator rebels against God’s design for a specific, physical act to unite the emotions, the wills, the lives as well as the bodies of a man and a woman in marriage, and this unity is reaffirmed in subsequent times of marital intimacy. Sex affects the whole range of a person. Consequently, sexual sin, more than other sins, causes a person to experience less of his basic, human joy.

The second key truth is the biblical utility of sex. Several experts were asked to provide their opinion about Wilson and Ciara’s celibacy. Jennifer Berman, a urologist and sexual health expert, wonders if the “ambiguity of the time frame” is a concern. (Wilson and Ciara have not provided a possible engagement date.) She added further, “Sex is the glue that holds a relationship together.” This is the prevailing use of sex in society today. It is seen as the reason couples get together or stay together. Beauty magazines, TV shows, blogs and a host of other media provide a myriad of sex “tips” plus numerous ways to stay fit and look young in hopes of being a viable sexual partner. The mantra is “If the sex is good, the relationship will be good.”

In marriage, God designed sex to be used as an expression of relational love and service, not as relational glue. Sex cannot hold a relationship together for its character is expressive. God designed sex to express the spousal unity in a marriage achieved by fulfilling the roles he has given to each spouse. The roles can only be fulfilled by the power of God’s Spirit for these roles represent spiritual realities. The roles are substantial seeing they are based upon Christ’s selfless service to the Church and her response grounded in willful obedience and adoration. The husband’s role is to follow Christ’s example and the wife’s is to follow the Church’s (Ephesians 5).

In his design for marriage, sex is a reflection of the biblical, spousal roles. The spousal roles are based on the interactions between Christ and his bride, the Church. Realizing this hierarchy helps us view sex properly. Sex is based on something greater than itself and therefore cannot be the relational glue. Hence, Berman’s assertion is the inversion of God’s order and lethally dangerous to any relationship.

The waters of America’s amorality are teeming with constant sexuality. There is the temptation for Christians to fail to recognize how they have become wet living in this toxic environment. Wilson and Ciara’s pledge is a needed reminder of how the Church must resist being carried by the sinful current and prayerfully swim upstream toward holiness.