One night when I was about 15 years old, I had a peculiar dream. At least, it seemed peculiar to me.
In this unusually long and vivid dream, I was married and had several young children. There wasn’t much else to it besides this. It was very ordinary and uneventful, but there was a sense of peace and joy pervading every moment; and when I woke up and tried unsuccessfully to go back to sleep, it nearly brought me to tears. Why?
I knew the life I was living would prevent this dream from ever being a reality.
It’s embarrassing and sad to say, but the kind of sin I managed to achieve between the ages of 12 and 15 is kind of jarring. I won’t go into any details because that’d be inappropriate both due to the nature of a public blog and my age at the time, but it suffices to say that I took advantage of my appearance to earn “love” and was most definitely taken advantage of by young men in turn. I never put much thought into the future impact of my actions. I just wanted to fit in and be affirmed in the moment.
So after having earned a reputation amongst my friends and family – not only for looking and behaving like a Jersey Shore character, but for being a generally unpleasant person to be around – the dream I had was really striking. Not long after this, I found a book “Wait for Me” by Rebecca St. James at our church library and read through it multiple times. The concept of sexual purity felt scandalous to me. The thought that a young woman could be beautiful, desirable, and loved without having to “put out” was truly a novel one, and I craved that kind of liberty. The weight of my sin and the pressure involved in my empty relationships was so heavy, especially for someone so young.
This was really the first major turning point in my spiritual journey, looking back. And while God was so faithful and kind to show me the truth and slowly draw me to Himself over the following four or five years, they were years filled with hypocrisies and contradictions between what I thought I believed and the sins I continued to struggle with. This was due to the fact that my heart had been awakened to the beauty of virtue and the ugliness of sin . . . but it had not yet learned to love and surrender to Jesus Christ.
My youthful obsession with the concepts of purity, courtship, marriage, femininity, and so on were really quite vain. I wanted them for the benefits they promised. There were even times when I thought deeply about it and was (by the grace of God) burdened by the knowledge that if my devotion to these things was never fulfilled – if I never married – I would be completely devastated.
There was not much substance to my faith outside of my commitment to purity. Unfortunately, this is very common in our culture. Many of us who experienced this “true love waits” movement did not value purity because we valued God Himself; rather, we valued it in the place of God, as a god.
Of course sexual purity is right and good. Of course we should honor the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4) and reject any cultural norms that run contrary to what God shows us about the holy purposes of sex in Scripture.
But we cannot elevate one vice or one virtue as the chief over all others. This is not the gospel.
Further, one of my friends describes yet another downfall of this false gospel in her own article about the purity movement:
We glorified sexual purity outside of marriage and marital sex within marriage so much that it became our identity. Being a virgin on your wedding night became a badge of righteousness to flaunt. And if you didn’t, you became a second-class Christian. Your sexual status became one of the most important things about you. The church bought into Romanticism’s idealism of sex just as much as our culture did, we just modified it a bit to fit our Christian morality.Rachel Tenney on Byte-Sized Theology
The purity gospel often ends up rejecting or outright contradicting the true Gospel because it assigns spiritual value to a person based on the extent of their sexual sin – even sin that has been repented of and covered in Christ. In this way it is nearly blasphemous. It degrades the work of Jesus in the life of people He has redeemed and ultimately becomes guilty of legalism (which values the law over and above the law-Giver).
To me, the gospel (the good news) of Christianity was that I could be respected by those in the church and one day have a happy marriage with a Christian man. It isn’t that these are bad things to desire, but if we desire them more than we desire Jesus Himself, we’re worshipping idols. These goals were attractive to me because they were so very different from my life experience thus far, having come from a broken home and a past persona that was the opposite of pure, meek, and beautiful. But again, I wasn’t obeying God in this way because I loved God. I wanted to redeem myself. I wanted God and others to see me differently, to love me, because they could see that I had it in me to choose the good thing after all.
The purity gospel cannot save. The purity gospel is no gospel at all. So despite my outward cleanliness, I was still desperately lost, like so many others who fell prey to the same idolatry. I was lost until years later when I came to believe that my virtue (or lack thereof) was empty without a genuine love for God. And this is a love not for what He could benefit me, but because of Who He is.
He alone is worthy.