I was the teenager reading Christian books about modesty, purity, and relationships. I often read my favorite books over and over again. I loved learning and striving to understand God’s design for my life as a Christian girl.
I wore the purity ring.
I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
I saved sex for marriage.
I saved my first kiss for my wedding day.
I was that girl.
Fast forward to today, and I suppose some would consider me a product of the “purity movement”—the wave of young Christians who exchanged dates for True Love Waits rings, signing pledges, and committing to “guard our hearts.”
In recent days, there has been a lot of talk in Christian circles about those who grew up in the purity movement generation in the church and how it impacted our hearts, relationships, and views of sexuality. It’s clear in hindsight that well-intentioned church leaders may have given an unhelpful and unbiblical emphasis to specific practices—lists of do’s and don’ts that aren’t provided in Scripture.
Unfortunately, shame was also a player in this movement. The idea that you’re “damaged goods” if you sin sexually before marriage created a lot of fear and shame in the hearts of young Christians I know.
Due to some of these misguided and unbiblical perspectives, many women and men believe they developed a warped view of sexuality, dating relationships, and marriage.
As a product of that generation, I’ve been asked if I felt misguided, confused, or harmed by the purity movement’s messages. But as a new wife, I’m doing great. My marriage is sweet. I had a wonderful honeymoon and enjoy intimacy with my husband.
The purity movement may have made some mistakes, but hear me out: I don’t believe purity is to blame. It’s us. We are the ones who have twisted (or been taught to twist) God’s Word and have attached our own ideas and rules and concepts to purity.
Instead of ditching purity as an outdated, unhelpful, or hurtful concept, let’s reclaim it.
Here are ten things that purity was never meant to be:
Purity was never meant to be a god.
If our singular goal is purity rather than God Himself, we’re missing the mark.
Only God is worthy of our worship. He commands us not to worship anything other than Himself.
“You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).
That’s right—purity can totally be a god (little g!) in our lives if we make it front and center. It’s a good thing, but it’s not the ultimate thing. Don’t allow your “good works” or “good lifestyle” to become your god. Purity deserves our honor and attention, but it should never be an idol in our lives.
Purity was never meant to define you.
Our worth and value is not based on how “pure” or “impure” we have been. Purity doesn’t define us, and neither does impurity. In fact, God’s Word says that without Him, we are all impure sinners (Rom. 3:10).
As I say in my book, Sex, Purity, and the Longings of a Girl’s Heart:
“There are no ranking systems with God. There are no categories based on who’s lived a more pure life and who hasn’t. If we, as women, have the ability to contribute to, or to take away from our worth, the gospel is meaningless. Jesus’ death on the cross would have been pointless.”
If you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior, you are His beloved child. All that God sees now are sparkling white robes of righteousness—because of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21)! God’s child. Created, rescued, seen, and loved unconditionally by Him. That is the only definition that matters.
Purity was never meant to be a down payment.
This is a big one! Purity is not like dropping a quarter in the gumball machine and getting a reward. We’re not meant to embrace purity only as a down payment on a future husband and great sex. If we’re honest, how often do we view purity in this way?
If I obey God now, He’ll give me exactly what I’m dreaming of in my marriage. So just hold tight . . . the good stuff is coming later!
The reality is that we aren’t guaranteed a magical marriage and satisfying sex if we seek purity when we’re single. Our motivation for pursuing purity in our hearts should be to honor Jesus—because His gospel sacrifice is everything we ever need.
(For more on this idea, check out this post, “Why A Husband Isn’t Your Reward for Staying Pure.”)
Purity was never meant to be a terror.
If purity has been held over your head as a tool of shame, I am deeply sorry.
Purity was never intended to be used as a threat. Purity was never meant to be a tool by which to shame people into obeying and saving sex for marriage. That’s not God’s design. That’s a sad distortion.
Yes, negative consequences will happen if we throw purity out the window.
But know this:
- You are not worthless if you’ve crossed lines and sinned.
- You have not forfeited your ability to have a healthy relationship or a thriving marriage.
- You are not doomed to live an impure life.
- You are not damaged goods.
- You have not become unforgivable in God’s eyes.
God offers forgiveness and freedom from the chains of sin—yes, even for sexual sin.
Purity should be a beautiful thing, not a shame-creator.
Purity was never meant to be a badge of honor.
If you view yourself as more holy than others because of your commitment to purity, that’s a sign of pride in your heart.
Our desire to embrace purity should be born from a humble heart motivated to honor God, not to prop ourselves up.
Purity is not a badge of honor that we earn and wear like we’ve achieved something grand on our own. It’s simply the grace of God at work in our lives.
Purity can’t earn you brownie points.
Speaking of earning things, purity isn’t a way for us to earn points in God’s eyes. Yes, He loves us unconditionally, but that love is already full. We don’t gain or lose points. The gospel doesn’t work that way!
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says it like this: “If we belong to Him, we already have His favor; He could not love us any more and He could not love us any less.”
Purity was never meant to be about pleasing others.
Purity is not about living up to someone else’s standards, gaining approval, or being good enough for someone.
Don’t get caught up in living your life to please sinful humans. Of course, we should honor our parents and the guidelines they set in place for us. But the motivation to honor those rules goes back to loving God and our parents’ authority—not about earning favor.
Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
Purity was never meant to be a people-divider.
We’re not meant to be divided into categories of “pure” and “impure.” Because of sin, we’re all in one camp. We are all impure and broken before God. We are all in need of a Savior. We all need Jesus. Every single one of us.
Purity was never meant to be your salvation.
Purity is not a savior. It’s not a ticket into heaven.
Good works alone can never save us. It’s all about grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
Purity is not the ultimate goal.
Purity is not our end game. Oh yes, it’s part of the game plan for Christian life, but it’s not where we set our sights. Loving and serving Jesus should always be our goal—the bullseye, so to speak.
Purity is meant to be an overflow of our love for Jesus. It’s a desire to live according to God’s good design for us. That’s why purity shouldn’t be boiled down to a list of do’s and don’ts. (Especially if those lists aren’t found in Scripture!) It’s a lifestyle of holy living, motivated by Jesus.
The Real Authority on Purity
Whether you grew up in the midst of the purity movement or not, it’s so important that we view this concept through a biblical lens. Don’t allow your own sinful heart or misguided messages from those around you to define your view of purity. Dig into God’s Word for yourself and choose to make Scripture your final authority on this issue.
Remember that our entire lives are to be lived for the glory of God. That includes our sexuality. Our desire to embrace purity should be with the focus of living it out for God’s glory.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
I want to challenge you to do a personal study on the topic of purity. Consider if you’ve believed any lies about purity, and then search out God’s Word for Truth to combat those lies. For additional help in this area, grab a copy of Sex, Purity, and the Longings of a Girl’s Heart: Discoverig the Beauty and Freedom of God-Defined Sexuality.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
What is your view on purity?
Have you believed any lies about purity?
What messages have you been taught about purity?
How can you realign your heart with Truth?
Thanks for a valuable and informing contents of a subject (purity) that can so easily be misunderstand – and appreciate that the information was backed by Gods word.
I learned a lot from this article and made written notes to assist me further
My compliments to Bethany Beal
The purity movement was damaging. No two ways about it. I confess I still have hostile feelings toward the church about it even though by God’s grace I was not lost forever like many in our generation. They simply could not bear the pain of being told how awful they were over and over and over. I can’t say that I blame many of them. I’ve tried to see it as part of my ministry to work with people who were affected by the purity movement, much like the author of this article is trying to do.
Having said that I do agree with the author that purity itself isn’t a bad thing. But when we continually try to use that language it only gets misunderstood to mean all of the things the author pointed out are not accurate about purity.
I think we as Christians have to do the scary thing and just trust God with human hearts. Our mission is to form relationships with people like Jesus did. He didn’t get hung up on whether or not they were pure, He simply encouraged them to place their trust in Him as their redemption from all the things that would never satisfy/restore/bring life. The conversation Jesus had with the woman at the well is instructive here. Humans emphasize moral performance, God doesn’t. If He did, we’d all be screwed. God will morally correct and reform us through the Spirit-led process of sanctification, that is, if we would just get out of His way.
I could go on of course, but I’ll just say I’m glad Christians are finally admitting the atrocity that the purity movement was. It ravaged people’s understanding of God and we have to work to address that. My appreciation to the author for trying to recognize this issue.
If purity is not meant to be a badge of honor then why the rings? Why the purity balls? Why the signed and framed purity pledges? The misunderstandings about purity that you cite are all well and good. But it was the purity movement itself that created the problems that you are now addressing. I’m glad Josh Harris is now having second thoughts about his kissing dating goodbye. Josh McDowell (what’s with all the Josh’s?) needs to own up to the problems with True Love Waits. Like, how long does it wait? Does Josh McDowell advocate early marriage like Pastor Doug Wilson does? That would have been refreshing. But no. True Love will have to wait until my late 20s or early 30s when I will be financially capable of supporting a family with an annual salary that is enough to afford a single family home and two cars. That’s a lot of waiting.
And that assumes that after all the waiting, my wife doesn’t turn out to be damaged from previous sexual relationships and then I will have to pay the price for her sin even if I married as a virgin. Did the purity movement ever prepare me for any of this? Did the purity movement ever explain to me how to deal with long periods of sexlessness after marriage due to pregnancy or sexual refusal and gatekeeping? Did the purity movement emphasize the importance of regular sexual relations within marriage and warn against the sin of sexless marriage? Not that I am aware of.
The purity culture needed to deal with these real issues. And by not doing so, the purity movement earned its reputation as a bunch of prudes and sex haters. Is it getting any better? I hope so but certainly not soon enough to fix any of the damage it did to me.
Apparently Josh Harris is having second thoughts about more than just dating. He is now separated from his wife and planning to divorce her and has now declared that he is no longer a Christian.
Purity culture has lost one of its greatest champions.
Sex before marriage became the “Mark of the Beast” in the Purity Movement. Left lots of damaged people with unrealistic expectations. Like the tithing theologies where people were told that if you give your 10% to the church you’l never have money problems. I have met so many people who saved themselves for marriage just like they were taught and then later on began having intimacy problems in their marriage. They felt betrayed.