The End of Purity Culture

3 truths to replace false assumptions we learned from the youth group.

Sign a pledge. Get a purity ring. Save yourself for marriage.

It seemed like a pretty simple formula to follow if you grew up in the Church. There were rallies, talks and Bible studies, all cheering on students simply to wait. Wait for a spouse. The one God has planned for you. The one who is probably waiting just like you. Sign a pledge now, and then meet that awesome guy or girl of your dreams in just a few years.

What the marriage-motivated purity culture of youth group days gone by didn't account for was the reality that Christian millennials find themselves living in today.

As the average age of marriage has steadily climbed, hovering now just under 30, the overall marriage rate has also continued to decline. According to Pew Research Center, in 2013 only 26 percent of millennials ages 18 to 32 were married.

For Christians in their 20s, this means a dating pool where people with an eye toward marriage feels a little like finding the Loch Ness Monster. For so long, many church leaders kept teens from sexual sin with the promise of a spouse—one who likely was also waiting, too—who wasn't too far down the road. Pledging to remain pure until marriage is important—it's a command. But, what happens when marriage doesn’t happen?

In lieu of signing pledges to wait for our spouse (which implies the promise of a spouse), we should instead commit our hearts to trusting that God is good, when things go as planned and when they don't. 

What does the purity culture have to say to the single woman blowing out the candles on her 30th birthday cake?

Christian are left to sort it out and pick up the pieces, often with a deep sense of disappointment that God seems not to have kept up His side of the agreement. If we're not careful, this can drive a spiritual wedge between a heart-broken person and a God who appears missing in action.

If this sounds like you, consider these three truths to replace some of those old beliefs that the purity culture left us with:

Expectations Shouldn’t Turn into Entitlement

It's a tough pill to swallow when something you always assumed as a given turns out to be a maybe, a maybe not or a not yet. That's how a lot of single Christians feel about marriage, especially those who grew up being taught marriage is the ultimate aim of adulthood. What starts as an expectation for our future can grow into an attitude that God owes you something. 

In lieu of signing pledges to wait for our spouse (which implies the promise of a spouse), we should instead commit our hearts to trusting that God is good, when things go as planned and when they don't. 

This is a harder, bolder statement to make with our lives, when we knowingly entrust ourselves and our future to the one we know is writing the story. Why? Because the prospect of marriage was never meant to be a contractual agreement that we sign with God, agreeing to hold up our end of the deal just as long as He holds up His. Instead, marriage is a good gift, among many others, and whether or not God gives it to us is no measure of His love or faithfulness. 

Only God Can Satisfy Our Deepest Needs

The purity culture told us to wait, and it also placed a major emphasis on finding the person who will bring our waiting to an end. When we live according to this philosophy, we live like we’re on hold until we get married. Many singles live disillusioned or marry just to marry, which quickly leads to unrealistic expectations. And once marriage does happen, the once unsatisfied single may expect his or her spouse to meet all of his or her deepest needs.

Transferring expectations from God to any human being is dangerous. You will be disappointed with the results, no matter how things go. A spouse can encourage us and be a vessel to experiencing love in a more tangible way, but he or she is still mortal and, therefore, quite limited. We’ll almost always wind up hurt and offended by the one in whom we invested all our trust, because that one cannot possibly meet our deepest needs.

Jesus is the only One who has the ability to satisfy our inner longings. His desire is for us to come to Him for true fulfillment, and He promises us complete satisfaction if we do that. God’s Word tells us what we can expect if we fall into the trap of looking to anyone (a spouse) or anything (marriage) but Him to satisfy our deepest needs.

“He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).

The key to fulfillment is to focus on becoming the one God made us to be instead of finding the one we’re supposed to marry.

“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength” (Jeremiah 17:5).

God’s Word also tells us the promises made to those who trust in God:

“He who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Proverbs 29:25).

Our Completeness Doesn’t Hinge on Our Marital Status

Purity culture also led us to believe that we weren’t complete until we were married, but Christ says that no individual completes us, and that our identity is in Him.

Whether you're scrolling through online profiles or scoping out all the potential prospects at a party, it is so much easier to focus on what other people have to offer, rather than taking a good hard look in the mirror.

What we didn’t always hear in those purity talks growing up was that the key to fulfillment is to focus on becoming the one God made us to be instead of finding the one we’re supposed to marry. As we begin to live a life of courage and boldness, knowing that we are whole individuals with or without a spouse, we begin to build a life worth sharing, whether that be with a spouse, or a strong community of family and friends.

God has designed each and every one of us with a distinct purpose for our lives, a purpose that is totally different than anyone else’s. The main question for the single Christian then, becomes “Am I living out the unique purpose for which God created me?”

The purity culture didn’t prepare us for the world we face today. It pointed us to a set of behaviors that ultimately led to a disconnect between singleness and faith. Fortunately, there is a better way. God makes promises He can keep, extends grace with abandon, and meets us wherever we are in the journey. Regardless of our current marital status, we’ll never be disappointed when we put all our hope in Him, entrusting our futures to the One that knows what tomorrow holds.

Top Comments

PM

115

PM commented…

I agree overall with the article, but maybe it can create unrealistic expectations to say that only God can fulfill our deepest desires (whatever does that mean anyway???). How many Christians deal with guilt because they don't have the feeling that God is fulfilling their deepest desires? I'd love to see an article on this.

Andrew Rudd

4

Andrew Rudd commented…

I guess the struggle for me is that I have been trying to focus on God and run to him to satisfy me but I still feel empty and lonely. I know that God is the only thing capable of filling that emptiness but for whatever reason when I run to him I continue to feel like I'm running on empty without any relief.

37 Comments

David Irons

1

David Irons commented…

I feel like you really miss the intent of the purity movement in this article. Signing the pledge did not imply the promise of a spouse. The intent was keep your hear pure which does take form by the evidence of your actions (ie abstinence), yes. The message was to put your faith in Him. In His timing He would provide for our desires in the form of a spouse, OR perhaps change your heart to pursue him just as Paul did. You make good points throughout the article. But your points are misdirected. Grace abounds always and covers anyone that believes in him despite any shortcomings including not living up to the purity promise. The points stand on their own without devaluing a movement of great value.

Ben

7

Ben commented…

I like the article's direction: finding fulfillment in God alone. I think that's a very important message - especially when we run after so many things (as millennials). I didn't know I was a millennial, but I guess I am - even at 30. I think one thing that didn't get addressed is how skeptical we've become of almost anything and everything and people in general. I've experienced this a lot when trying to even begin to initiate some form of dating. People know what they want, and they know it's not you. I see people getting older and older waiting for that "perfect one." I believe God brings people together at the right time (so maybe there is that "perfect one"). So maybe I should just trust him more. But it seems that everything in life requires action (whether it's faith or just going out and getting a job - I believe choosing to act releases God's provision if the act of what you're doing pleases him). If we're so picky that we never find anyone, well.... we'll never find anyone. If I'm "dating" Jesus and skip on like every person I see because they're walk with God is just not good enough or this or that... I'm gonna miss out on a good thing!

I've also found that because I'm so focused on God satisfying my desires (like someone posted), I focus less on relationships -- I try to rely less on people and more on myself and God. God gives us people and relationships in our lives. I think it's important that we build our lives centered around God and find everything we need in him, but it's ok to want to talk to someone or be connected or cry when someone's gone or want to punch someone in the face. Am I supposed to be that disconnected to follow Jesus? And what about non-Christians? We've delved into scripture so much that we haven't learned how to befriend anyone. We've made every action about testifying about Jesus which has made me just give up on a lot of things because I feel guilty if I'm not testifying all the time and if every single action I take isn't about testifying.

I think we've lost the ability to truly relate with and care for one another -- even if it's in a casual way. We've become so closed that that person, that person, and that other person don't matter to me. They either enrich my life or I'm serving them. There's no in-between. Or I just don't have time for you. We of course won't associate as much with people who choose to do things we don't agree with. But there's tons of pre-judgement in the church. I guarantee you every church has this click: pastors and those related to them. It's no joke! I see it everywhere!

This issue is deeper than just waiting for "the one" and the "purity movement." It's about how we relate with one another.

Mar Komus

39

Mar Komus commented…

God is the one who fulfills our deepest longings and needs. The catch, though, is that He has practical means of so doing. In the Garden of Eden BEFORE there was sin and everything was supposedly perfect, God found fault. He said, "It's not good for the man to be alone." He didn't make the man sit there alone until he found satisfaction in God alone. God made woman. SHE was meant to be God's solution to the aloneness problem.

You see, inside of every man's heart is a woman-shaped hole that only a woman can fill (and vice versa). We can try and fill that vacuum with religion, entertainment, drugs, etc. But only a spouse is meant to fill that void. God made it that way. Unless one has the gift of singleness.

Rebekah Branaman

2

Rebekah Branaman commented…

Unfortunately, the UNintentional message of the movement was taken by many to be: God will fulfill my desire for a spouse because of my purity. In the true love waits pledge, which many churches adopted, the promise of purity is given not only to God but also to a future spouse and children (marriage was not a question of IF but WHEN). If not having sex contractual obligates God to fulfill my desires, a poor foundation of faith is created.

For many of my friends, this unspoken and one-sided contract was irrelevant. Many of them married before the age of 25 (Christian woman tend to marry 6 years earlier that non-Christians) so it appeared God upheld his side of the bargain. However, for those of us who are now entering their 30s with no sign of the fulfillment of that contract, we work to undo the unintentional message of the purity movement. We are now relearning to trust the God who let us down.

As mentioned in the comments above, there is grace for sexual sin. There is also grace for the sin of envy and covetousness (which many single people feel each time their friend's engagement photos flood their Facebook feed).

Sex is not the only sin which affects the purity of my heart.

Tim Herndon

60

Tim Herndon commented…

I think this article is worth reading more than once. Let God's Spirit speak to you through your own biases and heartache. There is a lot of truth here, and truth is often very hard to swallow. God does not let us down, we let ourselves down by creating expectations of others He never wanted us to have and when those expectations aren't met, we have to blame someone. God loves us enough that He sent Himself in Jesus to die. I think it all comes down to do I really trust Him or not regardless of my expectations? Do I truly trust Him with my whole heart regardless of how others have treated me?

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