Can Sexual Purity Be an Idol?

sexual purity church
1 Corinthians 1:30

There’s an assault on the church’s sexual purity. We are surrounded on all sides by a culture that glorifies external beauty, quick pleasure, and porn. So it’s no surprise to see the satanic claws of sexual immorality trying to squeeze the life out of Christians. Affairs, premarital sex, and the deadly glow of a smart phone late at night in the hands of a young boy with no accountability – these are the glaring sexual idols of our day.

But idolatry loves to swing from one extreme to the other.

The Idol of Sex Is a Double Sided Statue

Just like the carved idols forbidden in biblical times, the idols of the heart are three dimensional. If you turn them around and examine their other side, you will see they can be expressed in more than just one way.

Idolatry can lead to debt or stinginess, gluttony or anorexia, obesity or extreme physical fitness, people pleasing or people hating, cutting down a whole forest or bowing down in worship to the tree. The love for the same false god can be expressed in wildly different ways. This is true for the idol of sex as well.

We can be like the young man blinded by passion in Proverbs 7, led to the slaughter by a loud and wayward seductress. Or we can be like the Pharisees in John 8 who wanted to stone the adulteress woman in the name of religion. When virginity and “sexual purity” become the defining variable for who has value and who doesn’t, this is a problem.

I highly doubt you will walk into any “Bible believing” church and see the men parading seductively clad women around as they all express their love for the idol of sex. However, how many young Christian women are idolized for their virginity and sought after by young men as the sacred prizes who have the power to satisfy all their desires for sexual perfection one day in marriage?

Many young Christians have been sent on a wild goose chase looking for the “perfect one” somewhere out there. The church is often taught about the dangers of sex disproportionately to the power the gospel possess to redeem sexual sinners. And so to many it seems like a marital death wish to pursue anyone who has strayed from the path of sexual purity.

Every human heart is on the search for the “perfect one” somewhere out there. Jesus, however, is the only true remedy for that ache in our heart that sends us out looking for the one person who will never let us down.

You Can’t Lose What You Never Had

I’m not here to diminish the wildly negative consequences of premarital sex and all other forms of sexual sin. I also truly believe the church in general has done a good job of teaching Christians what they ought to do and not do when it comes to sexual behavior. My challenge is not in regards to what we teach about sexual purity, but why we teach it.

I believe most American churches have a good understanding of salvation through grace. It’s not an odd thing nowadays to walk into a church and hear the pastor say that we are saved by grace alone and through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Many of us have been taught rightly that we are to obey God not to be saved but because obedience is the sign of a changed heart; for although we are not saved by works, faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

how will God tell you who to marry

However, everything seems to change when the topic of sexual purity comes up. Suddenly the above biblical truths go out the window and everyone has one chance to retain their purity and if you mess it up you are doomed forever. Your future marriage is ruined, your future sex life is trashed, and there’s really nothing you can do about it because you had one shot at sexual purity and now it’s gone.

Whenever we start basing our purity upon an inborn quality that is dependent upon something other than the gospel, we are getting away from what the Bible actually says (Psalm 51:5, 10). Christians should practice abstinence when they are unmarried because they are seeking to reflect the purity that Christ has given them, not because they are so afraid of losing the purity that they were born with.

The Bible explains that if you truly are pure, then your actions will be pure. The fact that people “lose their sexual purity” shows that they were never truly spiritually pure to begin with. Our actions are a reflection of who we are and what we believe. A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit (Matthew 7:17). Likewise, a pure tree produces pure fruit and an impure tree produces impure fruit.

A loss of virginity is a real loss that God needs to heal. It will certainly cause issues that will need to be worked through which could have been avoided by practicing abstinence. But this loss of physical purity is a symptom of the impurity that has always been in your old nature. You can’t lose your purity when you were never truly pure to begin with. If you were pure you would never have done those impure things. The fruit reflects the tree. Purity is something that can only be given to us through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Jesus Needs To Save Us for Marriage

I’m never going to get mad about someone telling a group of young Christians to “save yourself for marriage.” Restraining from sexual experiences in your singleness to honor God and your future spouse is obviously right and biblical. Virginity is a blessing. But it is not the holy grail of blessings, the master key to marital bliss, or the winning lottery ticket to a lifelong swim in the fountain of sexual ecstasy.

In an effort to encourage sexual purity we often inadvertently demonize sexual sinners. The devil puts a subtle twist on the words “save yourself for marriage” and adds, “If you can save yourself for marriage, you can also lose yourself for marriage.”

There really is a weightiness to sexual sin unlike many other sins (1 Corinthians 6:18). However, when Christians elevate their sexual conduct too highly, they can turn “sexual purity” into a god itself. Your sexually pure behavior is not the foundation of marital grace or relationship success. All your pure actions, including your pursuit of sexually moral behavior, should not be your attempt to earn God’s grace but rather your attempt to reflect the grace God has freely given to you through the gospel of Christ.

Of course the instruction to “save yourself for marriage” is correct when received in the context of gospel-centered living. But don’t let Satan or the pride of your own heart isolate those words “save yourself.” You can’t save yourself in any shape or form. Jesus does the saving. Everything good is because of God’s grace.

So whether you are a virgin or a former prostitute, if you are a Christian your purity now flows from Christ alone.

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Mark Ballenger is the writing ministry of Mark Ballenger. To reach Mark, send him an email anytime:

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