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Sexual Purity is Not the Goal

Last Updated: June 17, 2021

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Guest Author

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I recently came across an alarming statistic reporting that 90% of boys and 60% of girls confess to viewing pornographic material before the age of 18. Considering the likelihood that a decent percentage of the teens interviewed for this study lied about their porn use, it’s safe to say that these numbers significantly under-report the actual number of teens viewing pornographic content.

We don’t have to read findings from studies like this one to know that American teen culture loves—even worships—sex. A quick glance at the programming on MTV or the books on the shelves of “young adult” sections in bookstores makes that quite clear.

What is equally clear is that most parents of teens do not take their responsibility to shepherd their kids’ sexuality seriously. Most parents are terrified to have frank discussions with their kids about love, intimacy, and sex. Helping teens remain as sexually pure as possible requires an untold number of awkward conversations, a staunch commitment to protecting teens from pornography, and a staggering level of courage to fight against prevailing culture. That being the case, parents who take an active role in talking to their kids about these issues and helping them traverse the sexual dangers of teen culture should be applauded.


The primary goal of parenting is not to raise sexually pure teens. God desires much more than that.

In his final address to his Church before ascending to heaven, Jesus calls his followers to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). It is the mission statement for every Christian who has ever lived.

For parents, this mission starts at home. Christians are missionaries, and the primary mission field of Christian parents is the hearts of their children who are sinful from the womb and antagonistic towards God from birth (Psalm 51:5). Christian moms and dads are to regularly preach the good news of Jesus to their kids in words and show the love and grace of Jesus to their kids in actions.

Oftentimes, however, parents become overly focused on morality. They become more concerned with whether their kids are “good” boys and girls and less concerned with whether they know and love Jesus.

This mistake of putting morally acceptable behavior before love of Jesus is particularly acute in the area of sexual sin. All too often, parents who make it a priority to address their kids’ struggles with sexual immorality strive to completely eradicate it from their lives as opposed to teaching them what Scripture says about sexual sin.

They lock down their computers, cable boxes, and video game consoles with parental controls, watch their kids’ relationship status on Facebook like a hawk, and restrict their kids’ freedom to spend time with peers of the opposite sex away from the home in an effort to make it as difficult as possible for their kids to sin sexually. These are not bad things. Most of the time, these are good things. But they are not ultimate things.

Parents are not primarily called by God to put up roadblocks between their kids and sexual sin. They are primarily called to lead their kids into a loving relationship with Jesus. Being a “good” boy or girl is not the same thing as loving Jesus. It is quite possible to be a sexually pure teenager and not give a rip about Jesus.

In order to fulfill their calling from God, Christian parents have to get comfortable with talking to their kids on a heart level about all aspects of life, with sexual sin being a common topic of discussion in the teenage season on life. Far too often, parents find out about sexual sin going on in their kids’ lives, have one unbearably awkward conversation with them about it, and then rely on external forces to restrict their kids’ access to sexual temptation. The reality is that external restrictions don’t change the heart. Jesus changes the heart, and he generally uses his words spoken through one of his followers to do so.

Recently, I was leading a Bible study for junior high boys, and the topic of girls came up. Before long, several of the boys confessed to struggling with looking at porn and masturbating. I asked them how their parents had counseled them in regards to the issue. They looked at me like I was certifiably insane. I asked if they’d ever talked to their parents about sexual sin, and they proceeded to laugh in my face. They thought this idea was so funny that they eventually ended up in a heap on the floor, having fallen down from laughing so hard. After reigning in the conversation, I explained that their sexual sin was disgusting before God but that Jesus loved them to the point of death and had bled and died for their sins. Therefore, they did not need to feel overwhelming shame for their sin anymore. Their laughter quickly became tears of thanksgiving for Jesus’ love. I left the Bible study that night excited for what God was doing in the boys’ hearts, yet sad for the boys’ parents who would have had the joy of watching the gospel melt their sons’ hearts, if only they had been willing to talk to them.

Parents, it is time to have hard conversations with your kids. It is time to talk to them about their sin and the blood of Jesus that covers it. Protecting your kids from temptation is good thing, but it is not the best thing. Raising “good” kids is not the goal. We do not worship “goodness.” We worship Jesus.

Guest post by Reagan North, student ministry director at the campus of Mars Hill Church in Shoreline, Washington,

  • Comments on: Sexual Purity is Not the Goal
    1. David Frazier

      GREAT article…absolutely !

    2. Well done, Reagan! Thanks for this.

    3. Joshua Loy

      Thanks for this article Reagan!

    4. Reagan, this was excellent. Really appreciate how this pares away the legalism surrounding this issue and focuses on the real heart of the matter — literally.

      Thank you!

    5. What is sad is that the majority of parents don’t even bother to block porn on their computers and the ones that do don’t check to see if its working or if their kid is working around it. Totally agree on parental responsibility for the spiritual and moral life of their children.

      But, there’s no real evidence that God is disgusted by pornography or masturbation, so its not fair to condemn young men for this. Masturbation is 100% predictable for nearly every boy and the majority of girls. The only other things that are that predictable in life are death and taxes. God gave us His list of sexual immorality in Leviticus 18; this appears to be the yardstick used by the Early Church and they called those sins “fornication”. However, the primary thing they called “fornication” doesn’t seem to be on that list. 1 Corinth. 10:8 reveals the primary meaning of fornication in the New Testament to be “temple prostitution” which was idol worship by sex with a prostitute dedicated to the idol.

      But, as I was saying, God has wisely not condemned a private semi-sexual act called masturbation, probably because He has designed it for our good and for temporary usage only. Those who suggest that it is a sin, because it involves lust, are first of all, in error of painting practitioners with a broad brush, and secondly, accusing God of not realizing that masturbation involved a supposed sin called “lust”. Rarely is the word ever used to designate “inordinate sexual desires”. It simply means “desire” whether good and godly or not. Regarding porn, there are no prohibitions either, rather there are some samples of God using it as a literary form in Ezekiel http://studylight.org/desk/print.cgi?passage=eze+23:17+-+21&t=gwd&l=en not to mention the celebration of nudity and sexuality in Song of Solomon. Men were instructed what to do when they found a beautiful woman whom they wished to have as a sex slave; they weren’t condemned for this desire. (Deut. 21:10-14) Prostitution is never forbidden or punished in Israel; its considered part of normal every day life; only the married prostitutes and the idolatrous ones were condemned. So, I don’t agree with condemning all porn either since it is little more than the portrayal of the activities of whores, or simply, of exhibitionists. But, children should not be exposed to these things, because they don’t have the discernment to understand; it ruins their innocence and confuses them. Purity is an amorphous thing, but it should include relative sexual naiveté until one is hitting puberty and its parent’s job to protect their kids.

      • Luke Gilkerson

        @Rocky – You said, “There’s no real evidence that God is disgusted by…masturbation, so it’s not fair to condemn young men for this.”

        I assume by “masturbation” you are talking exclusively about the solo act of stimulating one’s own genitals. If this is what you mean then, yes, there is no term used in the Bible for masturbation. Mutual masturbation between married lovers is poetically described in the Song of Solomon (2:3,6; 4:12), but nothing regarding solo masturbation. So, yes, you are correct: as far as the physical act of masturbation is concerned, masturbation is not sinful.

        You said, “Those who suggest that it is a sin, because it involves lust, are first of all, in error of painting practitioners with a broad brush.” You are correct: If masturbation was simply a mechanical and mindless process (like breathing or blinking) or if people masturbated while filling their minds with benign thoughts, it probably wouldn’t be controversial. I suppose one could masturbate while thinking about Tonka Trucks, which is odd, but certainly not sinful.

        While the physical action of masturbation is clearly not labeled a sin in Scripture, heart motivations often connected to masturbation are sinful. The fact is masturbation involves mental and often emotional engagement. The pertinent matter is what God thinks about these heart-level motivations.

        This is where you comments about lust come into play. I’ll try to address some of your points about this.

        The New Testament often speaks of the concept of lust. For instance, Jesus said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The word in the original language and other related terms refer to setting one’s heart on something, craving something, or longing for something. It can be used to describe an appropriate desire for good things (Matthew 13:17; Luke 22:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:17; 1 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 6:11; 1 Peter 1:12), or it can be used as a translation of the old Hebrew term for “coveting” (Romans 7:7; 13:9) and thus relates to sinful desire (Mark 4:19; John 8:44; Acts 20:33; Romans 1:24; 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:6; Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:22; Titus 2:12; James 1:14; 4:2; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 2:16).

        When Jesus spoke against lust (sexual lust, specifically), he was tying together both the seventh and the tenth commandments. The seventh commandment reads, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). The tenth commandment reads, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). Jesus’ point is that “heart-adultery” is as damnable as physical adultery. When a man looks at a woman in a way that sets his heart on her sexually, he is has committed heart-adultery.

        Jesus’ point is sexual coveting (i.e. lust) is offensive to God. Why?

        First, the coveting banned in the tenth commandment has to do with desires for forbidden things. In the Hebrew text of Exodus 20:17, the word “neighbor” appears three times. God does not want His people to crave things that belong to someone else.

        Second, God detests coveting because of the strength or potency of the desire for the forbidden object. Remember, Jesus says looking (either with your eye or with your mind’s eye) can lead to lusting. But there is a distinction. Looking is not the same as lusting. Noticing someone’s physical beauty or desiring sex is not the same as lust.

        Consider Solomon’s warnings about the “forbidden woman” in Proverbs 6. He says, “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes” (Proverbs 6:25). Again, the word translated here as “desire” is the same one used in the tenth commandment. But notice how Solomon describes the potency of this desire: her batting eyelashes “capture” a man (6:25), her words are smooth and persuasive (7:5), and she plays to a man’s pride (7:15). This is not simply a man noticing an attractive woman. This is man whose heart is captured by her, obsessed with her.

        One might define covetous desire as an idolatrous desire. See, for instance, how Paul links these concepts in Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Paul’s list of vices moves from the most overt and external to the more subtle and hidden, as if he is peeling away the layers of an onion to get to the core of sexual sin. He mentions “evil desire” (which is the same family of words as the term Jesus uses in Matthew 5), but under this is “covetousness” which he labels as “idolatry,” a form of false worship. Sinful lust is not about our fleeting thoughts or passing desires, but is a desire that motivates and moves us, that captures our affections, where we treasure something in a way that replaces God as the object of our worship.

        I think Winston Smith’s description of lust is helpful in this regard. In his article, “It’s All About Me,” he has his readers look at their own sexual fantasies and ask, “How are the people populating my fantasies relating to me? What are their attitudes? How do they behave towards me in my fantasy world?” Much of the time, the fantasies are less about those people as much as they are about the imaginer. In your sexual fantasies, you take center stage. The plot and characters revolve around you. It is the world where the characters are you-centered and play to your desires for pleasure, power, or control.

        Smith calls this habit of fantasy “playing god.” “No matter how widely your fantasies may vary,” Smith writes, “in every instance you play god with people. You reduce those made in the image of the true God to mindless robots who serve your whims.”

        In other words, the reason why Paul links lust to idolatry is because the Bible says there are “idols of the heart” (Ezekiel 14:1-8). In this case, masturbation becomes the way we eroticize self-idolatry: We are turned on by a fantasy world where we are worshiped.

        Like it or not, our fantasies and the activities of our heart reflect the truth about who we really are. “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19). This is the real harm of sexual fantasies: they train the mind to be self-focused, pleasure-seeking, and escapist. This runs contrary to the attitudes of love and service that are modeled for us in the life of Christ (Philippians 2:6-8), who did not use people but was willing to lose its life for others.

    6. christian peper

      The serious problem of sexual dysfunction is seldom talked about in the church but is the “white elephant” in the room.
      Excessive negative messages about sexuality can cause sexual dysfunction. Sexual problems can follow individuals into marriage and are the cause of many marriages failing. Let’s not take purity dogma too far or marriages will suffer as the result.

    7. Emily

      @Rocky Racoon……I think it’s quite interesting that your interpretation of Deuteronomy 21 is that it tells them they can have sex slaves. I don’t read that at all! The passage talks about how to MARRY a beautiful woman who was taken captive. It said that they were to allow her time to process her grief, which means that what the man’s desires shouldn’t trump his partners feelings.

      The danger of porn is that it makes one think they can have whatever they want, whenever they want, with whomever they want, regardless of how that person feels about it. It doesn’t encourage the one viewing it to show compassion for their partner’s feelings! It encourages them to see their partner as a disposable object that is only there for the purpose of providing them pleasure.

      The difference between lust and love is that lust doesn’t concern itself with the feelings of the other person. It’s not only “coveting” what is not yours to have – it’s stealing something from someone whose not going to give it to you willingly. It’s dangerous because even men who are married can develop the attitude that they are ENTITLED to sex with their wife. When she’s not in the mood and he forces the issue, it becomes emotional rape. Then men wonder why their wives are no longer interested in being with them – it’s because she feels like sex is more important to him than she is! It’s not love if you force it on someone!

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