Getting Real About Purity: 6 Lessons I’ve Learned from My Struggle
This is the second post in my “Getting Real About Purity” series: a series I hope will encourage us to take an honest and scriptural look at sex, temptation and the pursuit of purity. Check out the first post here, and check back next Tuesday for the final post in this series.
I prayed over writing this post for a year. I was afraid to write it because I had to be vulnerable and honest, and I feared the judgment I might receive (I’m continually learning how cruel and harsh people on the internet can be). Then I realized my fear could prevent me from seizing an opportunity to debunk myths about the value of sex outside of marriage and connect with girls at various stages in their struggle with sexual sin.
Why read yet another post advocating purity? Well, I won’t claim to have special insight on this topic or a great deal of new wisdom to share (any wisdom in this post was granted to me from God through scripture and discussions with older Christians). What I do have is experience: experience making poor choices and dealing with the long-term repercussions of those choices. My experiences have reaffirmed all that I’ve learned from scripture. It is my hope and prayer that in sharing my experiences I can share lessons I learned the hard way in order to encourage those of you flirting with sexual sin to flee from it, as we are instructed to do in 1 Corinthians 6:18, and value purity.
The ultimate reason to pursue purity is that it’s God’s will for us.
For too long, I held a counterproductive view of purity. I thought purity was a lofty goal only righteous people who never struggle with sexual sin could attain. Consequently, the pursuit of purity always seemed hopeless to me with all of my unrighteousness and damage from past sin.
Purity didn’t seem attainable until I began to focus on pleasing God rather than reaching a goal. Only then did I realize the ultimate reason to pursue purity: it is God’s will for our lives to be continually sanctified so that we can have a relationship with him through Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). From the creation of man in Genesis 1, God’s desire has been for us to choose to have a relationship with him as well. In order for us to do that, we have to abide by God’s holy standards and seek to be holy, as He is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16), and be pure, as he is pure (1 John 3:3). Yes, purity is a high standard that has been impossible for any man but Jesus to attain of his own volition. Yes, our flesh is weak, and we can never be pure on my own. But God is rooting for those of us who choose to seek Him. That’s why he has extended grace and mercy to cover us as we are being sanctified, and he strengthens us with his Word, his Spirit, and the hope we have in Jesus Christ. He gives us all the tools we need to fight this spiritual battle because he wants us to be victorious with Him.
So let’s not seek purity for purity’s sake. That’s a tiring, fruitless quest. Let’s seek purity because God wants us to be pure, and we should want to show our love and gratitude for a holy God who has gone to great lengths to have a relationship with us.
Even a little sexual sin can cause great damage.
Here’s a lie about sex the devil has effectively planted in our hearts: just a little won’t hurt. Just a little porn won’t hurt. Just a little making out won’t hurt. Just having sex one time won’t hurt. Here’s the problem with that lie: Once you know what sex looks and feels like, you can’t erase that knowledge; and even a little taste of sex leads to the desire for more. This shouldn’t be surprising. God created sex to be a wonderful, powerful blessing for mankind, but only within the confines of marriage (Genesis 2:25; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5). Trying to access that blessing outside of God’s plan typically leads to an overwhelming desire for more that you cannot righteously fulfill as an unmarried person.
Furthermore, the consequences of sexual sin are typically greater than you think they will be. There are spiritual consequences. The guilt, shame and despair you experience after committing sexual sin only pushes you further from God, and that separation becomes palpable. There are mental consequences. Subconscious triggers can result from past sexual experiences, and these triggers make the mental battle against lust extremely difficult. There are even physical consequences. I think we are all familiar with the various STDs we catch from even one brief sexual encounter.
In the heat of passion, it’s difficult to consider the big picture. But don’t let the devil trick you into thinking just a little bit of sexual sin won’t harm you (the consequences may not appear immediately, but the damage will be done). Instead, head the command Paul gives in Romans 13:14:
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Sexual sin is never an act of love; it’s an act of selfishness.
Here’s another lie Satan has done a good job of disseminating: Sex outside of marriage is good if it’s between two people who ‘love’ each other. I used to believe this lie, and then I learned two critical aspects of love: “It does not insist on its own way,” and “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:5, ESV).
Love is not self-focused. It requires the constant pursuit of others’ best interests over our own. (Those of us belonging to Christ know the best interest for ANY man is to dedicate himself to Christ and seek to be pleasing unto God.) Love also does not delight in sin. It delights in the God’s truth, which is love, and righteousness. So if a man pressures you into doing anything sexual with him because he “loves you” and wants to show it, that’s not love. That’s manipulation based in a selfish desire for physical pleasure. If you allow yourself to give into such pressure for sex, you’re not displaying true love for him either. You’re putting your desire for that relationship over what’s good and right. True love requires standing in the face of temptation and saying, “no!” Sometimes true love even requires distancing yourself from a relationship that could be spiritually damaging to both parties. Even when it hurts, even when we face rejection from men we care for, we have to seek what’s best for them.
Sexual sin results from trying to meet real needs in a broken way.
I learned this concept from one of my mentors, Teresa. This was a groundbreaking realization for me. For so long I felt like such a fool for falling in and out of sexual temptation. Then Teresa helped me realize I was wrongly using sex to meet needs that were completely natural.
I longed for companionship, love, trust, acceptance, affirmation, intimacy — and none of those desires are inherently wrong. What is wrong is how I tried to circumvent God’s will and timing to immediately meet those needs with sexual sin. Fortunately, Teresa also taught me that there are righteous ways to meet those needs. For example, the need for companionship and acceptance is fulfilled by being an active, serving member in the body of Christ, the church. Just as serving others helped me overcome depression, it also fulfills my desire to have meaningful relationships with other people.
Thankfully God, in all his grace and mercy, gives us the ultimate means for fulfilling our emotional and physical needs: marriage. Our job is to faithfully wait for such a blessing and seek godly ways to fulfill our needs during our seasons of singleness.
False intimacy destroys our ability to experience true intimacy.
I breaks my heart to think of the many girls who fall prey to false intimacy, as I did. They desire intimate connection, but for varying reasons they don’t wait to fulfill that desire in marriage. So they settle for guys who give them little but ask for much by way of sexual relationships. Inevitably the intimacy they think is real betrays them, and their hearts are broken. In an effort to protect their broken hearts, they develop a callous attitude towards intimacy, and they attempt to separate the physical act of sex from the emotional involvement of intimacy. Ironically they become similar to the men who hurt them.
If this sounds like you, I want to remind you of two things:
1) God has something much greater in store for you: true intimacy in marriage — the connection that’s experienced between people two people who trust each other and are fully committed to serving each other. We cheat ourselves from the future joy of true intimacy when we settle for a cheap counterfeit.
2) You’re not just cheating yourself and future husband by settling for false intimacy, you’re destroying your ability to experience spiritual intimacy with God, who desires for you to be holy. So let’s not take intimacy lightly. Let’s value it for the blessing it is, but wait for men who deserve to experience it with us.
Confession is essential for healing.
I remember, opening up about my struggle with sexual sin in a prayer group, and feeling so ashamed because I thought no one could relate to my struggle. I felt like a heathen amongst saints. To my surprise, a few girls in the group approached me afterward to let me know they experienced similar struggles and also thought they were alone. In those moments, I realized the importance of confessing to one another as we’re instructed to do in James 5:16. Too many of us hide in our secret sexual sin because we’re ashamed and fear the judgment we may receive. In our attempt to escape judgment, we miss opportunities to receive encouragement and guidance from our sisters, many of whom experienced similar struggles. We can’t effectively pray for each other if we don’t know what to pray for. So let’s open up to faithful sisters we can trust and take advantage of the healing that results from prayers of the righteous.
I’ll end this post with two heartfelt pleas: To those of you who have not succumbed to sexual sin, please stay strong, stay on guard, and keep trusting in The Lord. Please know you aren’t missing out by waiting until marriage. God’s plan for sex is for our benefit, and the consequences of rebelling against Him are great. To those of you who have made mistakes, please know you are not alone and you don’t have to secretly wallow in your sin or guilt. Thankfully God’s grace is greater than ALL our sins, and He is able that frees us from the bondage of sexual sin. That’s what I will discuss in my post next week, along with some practical tips for fighting sexual temptation in the future.