One of my single, twenty-something team members returned from Christmas break with something of a epiphany having occurred. “I’ve made purity an idol in my life,” she confessed.
Memories of multiple blogs inserting this thought into the online Christian conversation ran through my head. Blogger Elizabeth Esther seemed to have started this snowballing conversation rolling. Rachel Held Evans, Boundless, and a number of others soon posed the question on their own blogs to perpetuate the debate. Before we knew it, we were reading grandiose claims such as “Virginity: Christianity’s Main Idol.”
Of all the myths birthed and nurtured in last year’s critique on the purity movement, this one brought the strongest response in my spirit. It is both the most truth-founded and most deceptive of the myths. A tricky one to be certain. While I believe it’s possible that purity may be an idol in your life, it is a myth that purity is an idol.
Myth #2: Purity Is An Idol
Before I reveal the logical fallacy in this trendy conversation, let me give you a few test questions to see if purity has become an idol in your life.
One of last year’s best blogs dissecting the evangelical purity movement was by Jen Pollack Michel. Jen was in no short supply of sincere transparency that invited us to drink of her deeply thoughtful and solid theological offering of grace. She wrote:
“… unfortunately, virginity has arguably become a modern-day idol of the church. According to Tim Keller, idolatry is fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Virginity, which is rightly good, has unfortunately become ultimate, idolized in some churches as, in [Sarah] Bessey’s words, become “a barometer of our righteousness and worth.”
I love her careful defining of idol and the fact that she used the word “some.” Some. Not all. It is true that some are suffering from idolatry. If the good thing of purity has become the ultimate thing, you are bowing to something you ought not. How can you know?
There are some simple tell-tale signs that you are hyper-focused on purity. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, it may be that purity has become an idol in your life.
1.) Do you read more books about purity and relationships than other critical subjects that move you on to living a sanctified life? If you think that purity equals righteousness, you have made it an idol. There’s so much more to sanctified living. Snap out of it by expanding the library on your nightstand. Here are some ideas of other topics with links to some of my favorite Bible studies or books: prayer, brokenness, Biblical womanhood, hunger for God, fasting, the fruit of the spirit, purpose and obedience.
2.) Do you believe you have no value unless you have a guy in your life? Perhaps you manifest by jumping from guy to guy and cannot be without one, or you might just fixate on the idea of one in your seemingly endless singleness. If you think you can’t survive without a guy, the idea of romance/sexuality/purity is way too big in your heart and is probably a counterfeit to the love your heart really needs: God’s. This was one of the most prevalent lies in Christian high school girls when Nancy Leigh DeMoss and I completed nationwide focus groups for Lies Young Women Believe. You might grab a copy of the book if you believe it. The fact is, as I wrote in Get Lost, you’ll never be satisfied with a guy until you are satisfied in God. “A girl needs to get so lost in God that a guy has to seek him to find her.”
3.) Do you jump on the bandwagon of trendy approaches to purity? Saving your first kiss until your wedding day. Signing a purity pledge. Wearing your purity ring. Are these bad things? Not necessarily. Let’s take signing a pledge as an example: the New York Times reported that those who did tended to delay the act of first sexual intercourse by eighteen months. That’s good. Authors from Columbia University and Yale called this delayed effect “robust” and “substantial.” But it also didn’t lead ultimately to waiting until marriage for many who put their John Hancock on those True Love Waits pledges. And that’s bad. Why did it work for up to 18 months for some and long term for others?
I believe the difference is this: some were led by God’s Spirit in this movement. Others were going along with the crowd. The difference in the two cannot be underestimated. The Scriptures are clear that it is God’s grace that teaches us to say no to worldly passions. Man-made trends don’t have the same power and can leave us terribly vulnerable to sin.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
(Titus 2: 11-14)
In And the Bride Wore White I wrote about a young couple who kissed for the first time at their wedding—Lauren and Kevin. It was both sexy and holy. Even the big burly guys in attendance were bawling their eyes out. I believe the Spirit was there touching and speaking to each of us as they kissed because this couple was led to this decision by the Holy Spirit. Kevin, you see, had found himself prone to too much passion. A kiss awakened his body all too many times, and he found himself in sin. So He prayed and he heard the Spirit ask him to take kissing out of the plan until a time that it was OK for him to have sex. There was power in his decision because it was led to it by the teaching of the Spirit, not a trend in his local homeschool community or church.
Have you jumped on a local or national trend to pursue purity? Jump off and run. While I’m not saying some group movements are led by the Spirit, you must be careful to hear Him in the chatter. If you do not, you have an idol. Though I don’t think the idol is purity, you are certainly in the worship position! What you’re really bowing down to is the fear of man and that—not purity—is your idol.
4.) Have you been unable to stay in a dating relationship primarily because you find the purity standards of the guys you date to be too low? By the time you are of marrying age, roughly 80% of your potential mates (I’m talking about born-again believers) will have had sexual intercourse. (According to Sex & The Soul author Donna Freitas, this is more likely to be roughly 20% of you are in the dating pool of an evangelical university where she says “purity culture” drives relationships as opposed to the “hook up culture” at secular schools.) But the reality is, you may find yourself loving someone who—gasp—isn’t a virgin!
And while we’re here, I can’t help but think of how many young women have written to me asking if they should dump a guy who has struggled with porn or who admits that it is a tremendous battle for him not to use it.
Listen, porn is ubiquitous. Our grandfathers did not struggle with it because they did not have to walk by Victoria’s Secret posters in the mall and drive by Hooters billboards on the highway. Today, guys can hardly get away from it. If a guy ADMITS his struggle, he is likely not willing to be overcome by lust. The key is humble admission and sincere repentance if he has sinned—whether it’s porn or past sexual partners that he confesses to you. A guy who is honest and vulnerable about his temptations and who is also obviously growing in the Spirit’s grace-filled teaching on holiness, can make a great life partner.
Many chose to discard guys like Kevin or my husband (who confessed to me before we were engaged that porn had been a problem for him). While you are not obligated to be in a relationship with a guy to whom you’re not married, be careful before you make his sexual past the only reason you feel compelled to walk away. (The words past and only being the key words in that sentence.) If you are unable to stay in a relationship with a guy—or a string of guys—because you just haven’t found one as pure as you are, I believe I see you bowing in idol worship. You have chosen to place the standard of purity that God calls us to (a law or commandment) above the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ in the life of that guy! You are worshipping the rules, not the Redeemer.
So…can purity become an idol in your life or lead you to one? Yes. And if it has become one for you, know that you’re not alone. My prescription for you is this: tell someone older and wiser who can help you navigate the guilt and frustration you’re feeling at this very moment. (And to put a bandage on the toes I just crunched when I stepped on them.) My goal is not to make you feel guilty, but to redirect you to so that your spiritual life is well-rounded and you can approach the topic of sexuality with purity of heart, not just obsessive rules about purity.
But keep reading, because sometimes when we see something that’s wrong in our spiritual life, we can run in the wrong direction. And the fact that you’ve elevated purity is not bad, it’s just that you’ve elevated it too highly.
The statement “Purity Is An Idol” is Still A Myth
While it is true that purity may be an idol in the lives of some, let’s take care not to make this statement a reflection on the entire Church or the purity movement in general. Article headlines such as Virginity is Christianity’s “main idol” do more harm than good and are a blatant example of logical fallacy.
The “informal fallacy of accident” or “destroying the exception” is one of the thirteen original fallacies identified by Aristotle. It occurs when we make an argument based on hasty generalizations by taking the behavior of some and hastily applying it to a large group. In this case, the idolatry of some individuals and churches has been applied to the Church at large and the purity movement as a whole. Sadly, this false logic has been used BY the church for years to critique the world and now it has been used to turn the church upon itself.
But that’s not my biggest concern, nor why I label the statement “purity is an idol” as a myth. It’s the fact that it’s so frighteningly close to a solid sexual truth that brings me to call out bloggers to use different language.
Let’s go back to Genesis again:
“In the beginning, God created.” Distinct in this creation are Adam and Eve. The pinnacle of God’s design, they were more than just a unique creation. They were a representation.
“Then God said, “let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26,27)
We—male and female together—are the image or likeness of God. Why doesn’t God mention the traits of being intelligent or worshipful or creative when he says we were created in his image? Why doesn’t he commend our language proficiency or our ability to compose sonnets? Apparently these are not the things that make us a representation of God. It is our maleness and our femaleness that makes us like him Him.
He mentions only gender.
This places authentic humanity and sexuality in the context of male and female distinctiveness.
I am finite.
I’m a woman.
I am female. Not male.
I’m a part of God’s image, not the whole.
But within my marriage—when my husband and I are in communion with one another—I am His full image. When Bob and I are one, we represent The One. In fact, the word for “one” used to describe the connection between distinct maleness and femaleness is a mere echo of a greater unity.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will be come one (echad) flesh.” (Geneis 1:24)
The male and the female are two distinct, independent humans but when they come together they are “echad.” An ancient Jewish prayer found in the book of Deuteronomy cries out: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (echad).” You see, God is distinctly three (Father, Son, Spirit) and yet in divine communion he is echad. Bob and I are distinctly two, but when we are joined together and in fellowship with each other and God, we are echad. More than anything else, I believe God chose maleness and femaleness together as his likeness, because he is a communal being.
Pretty heady stuff. 
The fact is human sexuality is the IMAGE of God. The word IDOL is so dangerously close to the word image. Of course, they are not the same. An image of sexuality knows its place as the picture of God and his love. An idol of sexuality rises up to try to take the place of God and his love.
But both look like God to us.
And that’s what frightens me about this myth so very much. It’s the subtle counterfeits that wrestle our heart from God so completely. If we are not careful with the language we use about sexuality—avoiding hasty generalizations that lump those who rightfully treat sexuality as the IMAGE into those who have been by stealth fooled into treating sexuality as an IDOL—we may throw the baby out with the bath water. In our good-hearted attempt to stop the idolatry of some, we may dull the senses of all and lead us to abandon the work of being a representation of the One True God.
Church, we are called to treat sex with such sacred thought and action that it will be the image of the Godhead and a picture of the love Christ has for the Church. (Ephesians 5:31,32) Search your heart carefully for any hint of idolatry, but be not fooled into believing that we can treat the image of God and his love with too much care.
We must not.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”