Cultivating Purity that Lasts
By LESLIE LUDY
Stacey’s eyes overflowed with regretful tears as she watched the lovely bride walk down the aisle in her dazzling white gown. She tried to concentrate on the wedding ceremony but couldn’t keep thoughts of shame and remorse from filling her mind. How would she feel at her own wedding someday, wearing a white dress but inwardly knowing she had given away her purity? And how could she have made such a foolish mistake when she knew the right way to live?
She remembered when, at the age of thirteen, her parents had given her a beautiful promise ring. She remembered slipping it on her finger and being so excited to wait faithfully for her future husband. She remembered enthusiastically signing an abstinence commitment in high school. She remembered going through Bible studies on purity with her church youth group and talking to her friends about why she planned on remaining pure until her wedding day.
But somehow, none of that was enough to keep her from failure.
In college, she began spending time with girls who didn’t value the idea of purity. They were constantly talking about the relationships they were in and trying to match Stacey up with popular guys. Stacey went to see many chick-flicks with her college girlfriends — movies that portrayed immorality as romantic and normal.
And slowly, her priorities shifted. She began to feel like purity commitments were unnecessary and overrated. After all, everyone she knew who didn’t value purity seemed to be perfectly happy. And every romantic movie she saw made impurity look right.
Eventually, she began dating a young man with very different standards than what she’d grown up with. Soon she tossed her purity commitment aside and decided she wasn’t going to live with those restrictions on her life.
Now, a year later, after a broken heart, incredible pain, and deep regret, Stacey realized she had lost something precious. She wanted to start over. She was baffled that her purity commitment had so quickly failed. She had known all the right truths, but she hadn’t been able to make them stick. She wished she had taken her promise ring and abstinence commitment seriously.
With all the truth that Stacey had grown up with, why had things gone so wrong?
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Thankfully, Stacey’s story didn’t end there. After months of wallowing in regret and shame, she confessed her sin to God, repented for what she had done, and allowed Him to make her new in this area of her life. By His grace, she experienced restoration and hope for the future.
But how much pain could have been avoided if Stacey’s purity commitment had truly been built on solid ground? Sadly, her story is all too common. Countless Christian young people who were raised to value purity are carelessly tossing their standards out the window the moment cultural influences become strong enough to sway them.
Consequently, many Christians have become cynical toward the whole idea of purity commitments and promise rings, saying it only sets young people up for failure and disillusionment, not to mention disappointment in marriage.
But I believe the issue runs deeper than that. Promise rings and abstinence pledge cards are not the problem. Rather, the problem lies with the core motive behind the commitments being made. Like Stacey, too many Christians make a commitment to a concept, rather than to a Person. When a purity commitment is merely a creed or concept, we can easily be talked or tempted out of it.
If you have ever wondered what makes purity actually work in a Christian’s life, let’s explore some crucial but often-overlooked principles from God’s Word.
#1. Cultivate Inner Purity
As a teenager, I used to think that purity was simply a line that I wasn’t supposed to cross. I pictured the edge of a cliff and decided that as long as I didn’t actually fall off the cliff, I could inch my way closer and closer to that line. I gave my heart, emotions, affection, and even pieces of my physical purity to different guys in short-term flings, all the while telling myself that I was still “pure” because I hadn’t crossed that line; I hadn’t fallen off the cliff. But inwardly I knew I had given away something sacred. I was still “abstinent,” but I wasn’t living in purity.
In Matthew 23:26 Jesus tells the Pharisees, “First cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.”
In a nutshell, that is the core principle we so often miss when it comes to purity. We think of purity as an outward commitment — a line we shouldn’t cross. We focus on keeping the outside of our lives clean, while totally neglecting the inside. And, like me, we typically do the bare minimum instead of going the extra mile to honor God in this area of our lives.
Growing up, I heard loads of teaching on saving my physical purity for marriage. But rarely did I hear anything about the importance of inner purity — guarding my heart, mind, and emotions.
When God began to gently refine this area of my life, I started to recognize that purity was so much more than not crossing a physical line. It meant keeping my heart pure. Guarding my emotions. Keeping watch over my thought life. And living to honor God and my future husband even before he came into my life.
A key Scripture for me during this time was Proverbs 31:12, “She does him good, not harm, all the days of her life” (NIV). I was stunned to realize that a godly wife was thinking about her future husband and living to honor him and do him good all the days of her life, even before she met him.
That verse changed my entire perspective on relating to the opposite sex. I knew that if my future husband could see how I was interacting with guys, he would not feel honored. Despite my adherence to an abstinence commitment, I wasn’t guarding my heart, mind, or emotions — or even my physical purity — for the man I would one day marry.
I decided that, by God’s grace, I would not give my emotions to a man until I knew it was the one He had chosen to be my husband. No longer would I carelessly give my heart away in short-term flings. I would wait until God wrote the love story in His perfect time and way. I committed to guarding my thought life — not allowing my mind to fantasize about guys or obsess over what they thought of me. And I stopped allowing my mind to be influenced by the debased mentalities of pop-culture through ungodly romance novels, secular songs, popular magazines, and immoral movies.
All of these steps proved invaluable to deepen my understanding of real and lasting purity. As I began to focus on cultivating purity in the innermost parts of my life, physical purity was the natural result — just like Jesus told the Pharisees. I didn’t need to constantly be told to maintain an abstinence commitment. It was simply an outflow of the purity I was cultivating in my heart and soul.
When you compromise physically in a relationship, it is not merely because you have momentarily forgotten about your abstinence pledge or that your promise ring has somehow failed you. It is because you have not been tending to the purity of your inner life. You have been attempting to clean the “outside of the cup and dish” instead of the other way around.
The first step in embracing the kind of purity that lasts is to take Jesus’ command seriously — to clean the inside of the cup and dish and tend to your inner life. That is when the outside will naturally become clean also. The Bible says that men look on the outward appearance, but God sees what is in the heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) And He desires purity in the innermost parts. (See Psalm 51:6.)
Consider what influences are affecting your heart, mind, and emotions. Are you watching movies that promote immorality? Are you reading novels that cause you to fantasize about romance in an unhealthy way? Are you surrounding yourself with friends who have a careless view of purity? Are you casually giving your heart to guys? If you have been looking at purity as merely a line not to cross, let God expand your understanding of what real purity is — the natural byproduct of a heart, mind, and soul that is set apart for Him. As you cultivate purity in your innermost parts, your outward commitment will automatically stay strong.
#2. Commit to a Person
During my youth group days, whenever Christian leaders presented the idea of “waiting for my future spouse” they always explained that I would gain many personal benefits if I did so. All I had to do was forgo the temptations of youth, and I could expect a more fulfilling marriage and a healthier physical and mental state free of unwanted diseases and untimely pregnancy. I was told that I should “respect myself” by living according to God’s standard. Youth leaders said things like, “Why would you want to open your Christmas presents early?” or “Why eat a cheap hamburger now when you could wait and have a gourmet steak dinner later?”
But these arguments didn’t work very well on me because I liked presents no matter when they were opened, and I preferred hamburgers over steak any day of the week. Like countless other Christian singles, I inwardly reasoned, I don’t really care if I have a less fulfilling marriage or some other negative consequence. Living for the moment is more important than what might happen in the distant future.
Many of us have learned the hard way that no amount of scare tactics (i.e. an STD or an unwanted pregnancy) or selfish motivations (i.e. “My life will turn out better if I wait…”) can stand up to the power of temptation.
So just what motive is strong enough to overcome compromise?
Simply put, overwhelming love for Jesus Christ. Devotion to Him. Givenness to Him. A desire to honor Him no matter what the cost.
In other words, a true commitment to purity must flow out of a relationship, not a rule. Our motive for purity must be passion for our King’s glory, not a selfish “What’s in it for me?” mindset.
When we are living in true purity, we no longer ask questions like, “What am I going to get out of this deal?” or “How far is too far?” Instead, we ask the question, “How far can I possibly go to honor, love, and obey the One who gave everything for me?”
The reality is that even if we never received any personal benefit from living according to God’s standards — His commands are still worth obeying. Why? Because He is worthy. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price — the price of His precious blood.
In his classic, convicting sermon called “Ten Shekels and a Shirt,” Paris Reidhead enunciates the proper motive for any Christian to give his life to Jesus Christ:
“Lord Jesus, I’m going to obey You, and love You, and serve You, and do what You want me to do, as long as I live, even if I go to hell at the end of the road, simply because YOU ARE WORTHY to be loved, and obeyed, and served, and I’m not trying to make a deal with You!”
Oh, that we would learn to live with that prayer on our lips!
How heartbreaking it is when we try to obey God’s commands out of selfish motives. When we are committed to purity because it might benefit our life someday or because it seems like a good rule to follow, we can easily be influenced out of it — just like Stacey was.
But when we choose to obey God’s standard simply because we love Him more than life itself, that is a commitment that won’t easily be shaken. Why? Because we are far less concerned with our happiness and well-being than with dishonoring the One who is worthy of all.
In my own life, my commitment to purity became rock-solid once Jesus became my everything. I was no longer wondering what I might get out of the deal or grumbling inwardly about missing out on short-term excitement. I truly longed to please Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. No one had to convince me that I should live in purity and obey my abstinence commitment. I embraced those standards wholeheartedly because of my love for Him.
If you have been wondering whether living in purity is really worth it, consider these powerful words from Paul, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20, emphasis added).
Remember what He has done for you. Remember that you are His. And then live according to that amazing fact. Lasting purity is that simple.
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You don’t need to attend purity pep rallies, sign an abstinence pledge card, or wear a promise ring in order to keep your commitment to remain pure for your spouse. Those things should only be outward reminders of an inward reality — that you belong to Jesus Christ and that you have chosen to honor Him in this area of your life. Not because of how it might benefit you. Not because of a legalistic rule. Not because your parents told you to.
But because of who He is.