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Sexual Purity: What Scripture Teaches About God’s Plan for Sex

Last Updated: March 21, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. During that time, he also served as a worship leader, Bible teacher, and pastoral assistant. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Rexford, Montana with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

Since the ’60s, our culture has gone through a sexual revolution. This era overturned ideas of sexual morality, poked fun at the prudishness of previous generations, and offered a compelling alternative to traditional ideas about sex.

As documented by professor Carl Trueman in his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, this revolution has led to a sexual free-for-all. We’re just starting to recognize the full implications in mainstream culture.

How can you have sexual purity in a culture where sexual freedom is viewed as both a basic right and the greatest possible good? The Bible shows the way, as we’ll see in these scriptures on sexual purity.

The Importance of Sexual Purity

Nowadays, talking about sexual purity will usually get you some funny looks. Some suggest that worries about purity come from an oppressive or legalistic worldview. But there’s a good reason for Christians to concern themselves with sexual purity: the Bible tells us it’s important.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, “For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor.”

Positively speaking, purity is a goal for Christians because it reflects God’s will for our lives. Negatively speaking, Christians should avoid sexual impurity because immorality runs counter to His plan.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.”

So then, “sexually immoral people” are included with the unrighteous who “will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Sexual purity is a big deal for Christians!

What Is Sexual Purity?

Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t leave us in the dark about sexual purity. Scripture tells us clearly what sexual purity is: sexual purity means keeping sex within the confines of marriage.

The seventh Commandment summarizes all sexual sins under the basic heading of “adultery.”

Exodus 20:14, “Do not commit adultery.”

Scripture gives us a lot more specifics though. Sexual purity means more than not having sex outside of marriage. It also includes purity in our speech and our thoughts.

Purity in Speech

Purity includes the things we talk about, not just the things we do.

Ephesians 5:3-4, “But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks.”

So, sexual purity means we avoid talking about sex in a way that is crude, obscene, or foolish. Another way to think about this is to look at the opposite of impure speech: giving thanks. The Apostle Paul is saying that impure speech is speech that reflects an attitude of ingratitude for sex. This idea is repeated:

1 Timothy 4:4, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

So, one way to measure the purity of your speech is to ask, “Does what I’m saying demonstrate gratitude to God?”

Purity in Thoughts

Purity goes even beyond the things we say to the very thoughts we have. Jesus explains that sexual impurity begins with our thoughts and desires.

Matthew 5:28, “But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

So then, Jesus includes pornography with sexual impurity (in fact, the word for “sexual sin” used in Matthew 5:28 is porneia, from which we get our word “pornography”).

Why Porn Is Such a Big Deal for Purity

And among many other challenges, pornography has emerged as the single biggest threat to sexual purity for Christians in the 21st century.

Why is this?

For one thing, porn provides an avenue for sexual impurity on a broader scale than the world has ever seen. Graphic depictions of sexual acts can be seen at the click of a button in the secrecy of your own room.

Not only that, but pornography actually shapes our thoughts and desires. We’ve written in detail about how porn affects the brain. Research now shows that our culture has been dramatically affected by widescale exposure to porn.

And pornography is all around us. In 2016, the Barna Group found that as many as 68% of church-going men and 34% of church-going women look at porn regularly (the report is called The Porn Phenomenon: The Impact of Pornography in the Digital Age).

The Problem With Avoiding Sex

Unfortunately, Christians have not always addressed sexual purity in a helpful way. In fact, many have avoided the topic of sex altogether. Counselor and researcher Jay Stringer found that over half of the people who struggle with sexual purity as adults (specifically “unwanted sexual behavior”) never had conversations about sex or sexual purity with their parents.1

When discussions about sex are avoided, children are ashamed or confused about their sexuality. We need strong biblical instruction to counter the force of the sexual revolution.

Paul suggests in 1 Thessalonians that instructing children about sexual purity is the parents’ responsibility.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, “As you know, like a father with his own children, we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

We already noted 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 and the teaching about God’s will for purity. So then, if Paul sees himself teaching the Thessalonians like a father, that means parents need to be proactive in teaching biblical sexuality! This includes honest discussions about topics like pornography and lust.

Why is this so important? It’s part of a larger principle: purity means living without shame in the context of those we love. Ephesians is all about Christians living together through their connection with Jesus. And Ephesians also connects “walking worthy looks” to the idea of purity:

Ephesians 4:22-24, “Take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on a the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.”

As many have noted recently, neglecting to talk about sex isn’t the only problem Christians have had when it comes to purity. Purity can be a challenging subject, and it’s easy to stray into misunderstanding.

Let’s look more closely at biblical teaching on purity, in contrast with popular false ideas about purity.

Sex Itself Is a Pure Gift From God

First, one reason many Christians have avoided talking about sexual purity is the sneaking suspicion that sex itself is somehow impure. It seems tainted, unavoidably risqué, and an improper subject for polite conservation. There’s an idea floating around that Christians are prudes and killjoys when it comes to sex—and we’ve sometimes been guilty of this thinking.

But the Bible teaches the opposite. Sex itself is a pure and beautiful gift from God. While it is not the greatest good (the problem with much of our culture), it is nonetheless a good thing that God made. We learn this from the first chapters of the Bible.

Genesis 1:27-28, “He created them male and female. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth.”

Hear this: God is not only creating man and woman as sexual beings, but His very first command to them involves being fruitful through sexual activity (i.e. make babies).

If there remains any question that Adam and Eve’s sexual relationship was tainted with sin, the following chapter dispels this idea.

Genesis 2:25, “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.”

Genesis isn’t the only place where we learn of God’s pure design for sexual relationships. The entire book of Song of Solomon is an exuberant celebration of sexual love—including some wisdom for maintaining sexual purity outside of marriage:

Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4, “Do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.”

Likewise, the New Testament speaks of the purity of sex within marriage. The Apostle Paul tells us that marriage (and sex within marriage) is a picture of Christ and the Church—so it must be pure!

Ephesians 5:31-32, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

The Hebrews writer teaches that sex in marriage is pure; it’s sexual immorality and adultery that make it impure.

Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is to be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.”

3 Common Myths About Sexual Purity

Aside from the mistaken belief that sex itself is somehow impure or unspeakable, numerous myths about sexual purity have plagued Christians.

Covenant Eyes author Lisa Eldred writes about this in her article, “Purity Culture and Its Unfortunate Intersection with Porn.” Based on her observations, there are at least three common myths about sexual purity to be corrected by a biblical understanding.

Myth 1: Sexual purity guarantees a happy marriage.

Christians are commanded to pursue holiness, but the discipline of sexual purity before marriage isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get married someday or that your marriage will necessarily be a happy one.

If your motivation for sexual purity is finding a spouse or having better sex in marriage, you may be disappointed. Sexual purity certainly can benefit your marriage, but these benefits don’t always make themselves apparent. And that’s not the reason Scripture gives us for pursuing purity.

The motivation the Bible talks about for sexual purity is loving obedience to God. Christians who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus are motivated to purity because we recognize we have a higher purpose in life than our sexual desires.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.”

As Christians, our bodies are holy temples for God Himself! The reason we should pursue sexual purity is because we’re God’s people, and purity glorifies Him.

This doesn’t mean there are no other benefits to seeking purity! We’ve noted many of the benefits of quitting porn. See our blog post, “The Benefits of Quitting Porn: What Do You Hope to Gain?” Likewise, the book of Proverbs speaks of sexually fulfilling marriages.

Proverbs 5:19, “A loving doe, a graceful fawn—let her breasts always satisfy you; be lost in her love forever.”

God doesn’t promise a happy marriage. Unfortunately, we’re sinful people and our marriages are marked with the effects of sin, whether ours or our partner’s. Nonetheless, the biblical principles of sexual purity are foundational to a God-honoring and happy marriage.

Myth 2: Someone else is responsible for your lust.

Another common misunderstanding about sexual purity is that our failures are someone else’s fault. A common mistake Christians make is blaming others for their lust.

Over the years, I’ve been asked many times, “Why did God make me this way?” “Why doesn’t He just take away my struggles with lust?” It’s important to understand that while God is in control, we are responsible for our own sin. God created us morally responsible creatures. That means we can’t blame God, as James tells us.

James 1:13-15, “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.”

Even if we don’t blame God, it’s tempting to put the responsibility of our purity on someone else. What about the man or woman dressed provocatively who caused me to stumble? What about the pop-up ads? The culture of sexual promiscuity?

It’s true that there are many temptations around us. It’s also true that the sin of others can be a stumbling block. Sadly, there are many cases where sexual abuse or accidental exposure to porn can lead someone into sexual temptation later in life. The fact that you’re responsible for your own lust doesn’t mean you haven’t been wronged or that you’re responsible for what’s been done to you.

You’re only responsible for your own response.

1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As you seek sexual purity, it can be helpful to understand some of the influences that shape your temptations. The unique challenges you face can help you unravel the path to purity.

Jay Stringer calls this “listening to your lust.” As you do this, you will find that others have sinned against you. It may be that your parents neglected to talk with you about purity. An older person may have exposed you to porn or even abused you sexually.

These things are beyond your control, and they are not your fault. But you can’t pursue purity if you remain in bondage to your past. Taking responsibility for our lack of sexual purity is the first step toward cleansing and forgiveness.

Galatians 5:1, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of bondage.”

Myth 3: Sexual sin is irredeemable.

This idea of Christ freeing you from your past—whether things you did yourself or things that were done to you—leads to the next important truth about purity.

In trying to emphasize the benefits of sexual purity, Christians have sometimes implied that impurity is irredeemable. There’s the idea that if you sin sexually, you’re forever soiled. You’ve lost your purity. Many people fear that past sexual impurity will ruin their life forever. This is a lie.

It’s true that there are often consequences for sexual impurity. However, no sin is beyond God’s power to forgive and heal. For Christians, our purity is not based on what we do or don’t do. It’s based on the blood of Jesus!

1 Peter 1:18-19, “For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb.”

Without Jesus, you’ll always be impure before God, because our own efforts are never enough to meet His perfect standard. It’s a mistake to emphasize sexual impurity as somehow unique in this way. All sin makes us impure. And Jesus saves us from all sin. Whether or not sex is our particular struggle, we need the blood of Jesus to make us pure.

1 Corinthians 6:11, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Your sexual past and even your sexual struggles in the present do not define you. This means you can be sexually pure even if you are not a virgin! You can be sexually pure even if you have struggled with porn for many years. Lisa Eldred writes:

But remember too that in Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul paints marriage as a divine image of Christ and his Church (and in Revelation 21:2 the New Jerusalem, aka the Church, is dressed as a bride). It is Christ’s sacrificial love that purifies his bride, not her deeds. So too Christ is the one who looks at his sons and daughters and declares them pure, regardless of whether the world would call them “virgins.” (And yes, that goes for the person feeling trapped by porn too!)

The Biblical Way to Overcome Sexual Temptation

Not only does the Bible teach us about sexual purity, but it also teaches us practical ways to guard it and overcome temptation. There are three ways in particular.

Run Away From Temptation

The very first way to guard sexual purity is by fleeing temptation. This is the method that Paul gave Timothy. Here the temptation was other kinds of impurity, but the same method of avoiding temptation is equally valid.

2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Genesis 39 gives a vivid example of fleeing in the story of Joseph. Joseph was tempted to sexual impurity by Potiphar’s wife. What did he do?

Genesis 39:11-12, “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”

Joseph didn’t stand around and argue with temptation. He ran away as fast as he could! How do you flee temptation? When you’re faced with a sexually triggering situation, like Joseph, leave as quickly as possible. It may be awkward to leave (e.g. your friends are enjoying a movie together and a sex scene comes up), but don’t let this stop you.

Remove the Temptation

Similar to running away, Jesus offers another strategy in the Sermon on the Mount: remove the temptation.

Matthew 5:29-30, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Jesus gives this instruction while teaching about lust and adultery. The point isn’t to literally mutilate our bodies to avoid sexual impurity. (He has just finished saying that lust is a matter of the heart, so that wouldn’t necessarily help!) Rather, Jesus is saying that we should remove whatever temptations we can, even if it means sacrificing something that’s good in itself.

 What does removing the temptation to sexual impurity look like? It’s going to be different for different people, but here are some suggestions:  

  • Turn off TV shows that have sex scenes or other unhelpful images.
  • Get rid of music that’s risqué or sexually explicit.
  • Delete social media apps off your phone.
  • Don’t bring your phone to bed with you at night.

Resist the Temptation

When you’ve tried running away—when the temptation is something you can’t get rid of—what options do you have left? James tells us to resist with single-minded focus.  

James 4:7-8, “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Notice that resisting isn’t just white-knuckling our way through temptation. It includes:

  • Submitting to God. That means you trust that what the Bible says about sexual purity is good and true, even if it doesn’t feel like it!
  • Drawing near to God. This means spending time in prayer and devotions.
  • Cleansing your hands. This means confessing your sin to God and to others—more on that in a moment.
  • Purify your hearts. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote a devotional reflection on this passage titled, “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.” Our hearts are impure when we let conflicting motives—like our desire for sex—get in the way of our desire for God.

Make Yourself Accountable

If we stopped there, we’d miss out on one of the most powerful methods that the Bible teaches for guarding our purity: accountability.

God never intended for us to fight sin alone. Certainly, we have His Word and the Holy Spirit. But we shouldn’t ignore the power of human relationships for keeping us on track in our relationship with God. Scripture teaches this plainly!

Hebrews 3:13, “But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.”

James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”

There are many other places that speak to the power of human connection in the Christian life. Why is it so important? Because God created us for fellowship, both with Him and with other people. Open, accountable relationships are a part of His plan for purity.

Tools to Help With Your Sexual Purity

We want to help you with sexual purity. Covenant Eyes is committed to equipping Christians with accountability tools to overcome porn. When you install our software on your computers and mobile devices, it monitors your activity for sexual images so your trusted allies can help keep you on track with your purity.

1Stringer, Jay, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2018), 39.

  • Comments on: Sexual Purity: What Scripture Teaches About God’s Plan for Sex
    1. Jonathan R Butera

      I applaud this wonderful and very complete article on this critical subject. Thank you. … but there is one point that sticks in the way for me. You said it near the end of the article: “God does not promise us a happy marriage” this almost sounds to me like, “God does not promise us victory over sin,” or “God does not promise us eternal life.” If God places the book of Song of Solomon unashamedly in the canon and he elevates us to the status of the bride of Christ as (Ephesians 5:27) “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” , should we not be able to trust God for an ever improving and ever hopeful -for- the-best marriage?

      • Keith Rose

        Hi Jonathan! Thanks for your comment, and good clarification. Yes, if we’re talking about our membership in the Church, we’re part of the bride of Christ and in that sense we’re guaranteed participation in the ultimate happy marriage. Even the best marriage on earth is just a shadowy picture of what’s to come! In the article, I only meant “happy marriage” more in terms of the popular understanding. As Paul says in Philippians 4, Christians can learn to be content (i.e. happy) in all situations, which would include a difficult marriage or singleness.

        Blessings,

        Keith

    2. Konig Samuel

      Thanks a lot for sharing these great truths!

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