The Great (or not-so-great) Purity Myth

Holidays card with heart as a symbol of love/valentines day card

I think modern-day Christian purity movements are a hoax. You read that right. I think it’s all a farce. I don’t say that because I condone sex before marriage; not in the slightest. I say that because I think they’ve got the theology all wrong. In an effort to discourage premarital sex, churches across America have latched on to this narrative of telling young girls and boys to “guard their purity,” to protect it with their lives. This implies two logical conclusions, both of which are false.

The first is that your purity is something that can be lost, and, “once it’s gone, it’s gone.” This is clearly outside of the fundamental Christian doctrine that God has the power to restore all things—and that He loves us enough to offer redemption and that He can in fact make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

The second is that our “purity” is a gift we all even have. No—I don’t mean that in a Calvinist way, or that some of us have it and some of us don’t. What I mean is that it is absolutely silly to purport to be pure and spotless, as if those were ever ours from the start. The basic Christian doctrine is that we were all born in sin (Romans 3:23).

We’re all born in the flesh, with earthly desires. We’re all born with a nature to transgress. We are stained and in need of washing by the Blood of the Lamb. This is the fundamental Christian belief about the human reality we observe and live every day. We need to be baptized by the Spirit in order to ever become clean—in order to become pure.

That is why I say that the modern-day Christian purity movement, no matter how well intentioned, is misinformed, with potentially deleterious effects. These effects are rooted in the subtle inoculation of the young and vulnerable Christian masses with the wrong idea about who God is, and who He made us to be.

He did not make us perfect. He did not make us without flaw or blemish. He did not give us a “purity” that is ours to neurotically shield and hoard away lest it be tainted by an “evil culture.” Instead, He gave us free will, and a nature that precludes us from ever claiming “sinless-ness” or “purity.” Those were the claims of the Pharisees; but as Christians we believe that purity is not ours to claim.

Moreover, this movement has ingrained in us the notion that we’re free and clear as long as we don’t cross “that line,” but, when we do, it’s all over for us. We’re tainted. We’re broken. We’re damaged goods. And no man or woman or God could ever love us again. We’re instantaneously relegated to the status of second-class citizen and we’re probably going to hell.

But my brothers and my sisters—this is not the truth!

You want the real truth? The Truth is Love. The Truth is redemption. The Truth is countless second chances, and the Truth is newness of life.

You see—the truth about our nature as human beings is that we’re helplessly prone to sin. In one way or another, whether we care to recognize it or not, we are a slave to it, in need of saving. Some sins are small; some sins are big. Some sins are visible; some go unseen. Some are of the sexual nature; some are rooted in selfishness. Some are rooted in inaction; some are rooted in un-forgiveness. Some are rooted in anger, and some are rooted in pride. Whatever your weakness is, the reality is that we all have some weakness that makes us unworthy and impure. Whatever you’ve done or whatever you’ve only thought of doing, the reality is we all have sinful hearts in need of being reoriented towards love on a continual basis.

You see—purity is not something we have that gets lost. Purity is something we have to choose—on a continual basis. Purity is gained only by allowing our hearts to be transformed by Love every single day of our existence.

That is why chastity is a better theology. Chastity, or “an ordered approach to love,” as it has been explained, is the idea that we must choose to act in a way that allows our hearts to become pure. We must choose to allow God to direct our steps. We must give love and receive love in the way in which we were designed to. We must surrender to the will of the Father, while trusting in the sacrifice of the Son. Only then can we be made clean. Only then can we start to claim true purity. But my suspicion is: if you’ve already begun directing your heart in that direction, you realize that purity is something that we can never claim.

This is both good news and bad. While requiring much of us, it also frees us to experience the love of God so often preached to us. It does not condemn us for our failings—for our tarnish. But it does ask us to wash our hearts and our garments that they might yearn evermore Heaven-long. It does ask us to surrender our hearts and our bodies, our time and our energies, our cravings and desires, to Him who did likewise for us. It does ask of us to serve others as Christ served the Church. Once we submit to that, we find not only freedom, but the true nature of God, the us we were meant to be, and a love that cares not about these misguided priorities of “purity.” We find a Love that is not scared to walk with the sinners—to break bread with tax collectors or stand up for adulterers. We see ourselves in them, we look on them with love, and we know that together we are free. In Christ, we are free.

Have mercy on me, O God, in accordance with your merciful love; in accordance with your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.

Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin please cleanse me.

For I know my transgressions; indeed, my sin is always before me.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned.

I have done what is evil in your eyes, so that you are just in your word, and without reproach in your judgments.

I was born in guilt, and in sin my mother conceived me.

Cleanse me by the hyssop, that I may be made pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

You will let me hear gladness; the bones you have crushed will rejoice.

Turn your face from my sins; blot out all my iniquities.

A clean heart create for me, O God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from you, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore in me the gladness of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

I will teach the evil your ways, that sinners may return to you.

Rescue me from bloodshed, O God, my saving God, and my tongue will sing joyfully of your justice. 

Lord, you will open my lips and my mouth will proclaim your praise.

For you do not desire sacrifice, or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit.

A contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not spurn.

— Pslam 51:3-19


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