When I came of age in the ‘90s, Joshua Harris’s book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was all the rage. Don’t just save yourself for marriage; save yourself from casual dating, it said. The sexual revolution of our parents’ day was a direct attack on biblical sexuality, and we needed to fight back. There were “true love waits” campaigns and girls (not boys) wore purity rings to show that they were still in good standing, sexually.
While “purity culture” may have been well-intended, it did incredible harm to young adults and their notions of sexuality. There was rarely a positive presentation of sexuality and certainly not a mention of how it pictures God’s love for us in Christ. Sex was treated like the unforgivable sin. You were to overcome temptation with willpower, and if you failed, you were forever tainted.
Now, that all seems so remote and quaint. One young man recently told me that no one talked about sex in his church growing up. The new underlying premise is that sex before marriage is regrettable but also inevitable. I rarely meet Christians who save sex for marriage anymore.
Nonetheless, sexual abstinence is a cause worth fighting for. If you are wavering, dear brother or sister, let me provide a few reasons to hold fast.
1. God’s love is better.
The first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that our chief purpose is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We were created to delight in God. He is to be our first and chief love. Deuteronomy 6:4–5 tells us, “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and might.” We can do this because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
As a young Christian, I constantly ached to find “the one.” But I already had the Holy One. I was so blinded by my desire to be made complete by another person that I couldn’t enjoy the knowledge that I was a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Do you struggle with this? Pursue the God who loves you. Spend time with other Christians who remind you of God’s love. We have no business pursuing fulfillment in marital love when we are not fulfilled by God’s love of God. Further, even while we may hope and strive to find a spouse, we have no promise of attaining marital love. But we do have the promise of God’s steadfast love for us in Christ, and that is far better.
2. Marital love is better.
It’s a terrifying thing to be naked—physically or emotionally. We have felt the shame of our sin and brokenness since the Fall of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. Our culture tells us that getting naked with another is a good thing. It brings pleasure and—for a time—might even make us feel loved. But, like Adam and Eve, no human covering can fully mask our nakedness. In fact, human love constantly fails and leaves us feeling more naked and ashamed than ever.
There are few worse feelings in this world than opening ourselves fully to love and having our hearts broken. While some marriages still fail, marriage is intended by God to guard our nakedness. It pictures for us the love of God (Hos. 1–2) and reminds us that God’s love is stronger than death (Song 8:5–6). God knows us fully and loves us (Ps. 139). We are adorned in the righteousness of his son (2 Cor. 5:21). He reminds us of this amazing reality by placing us in marriage, where we can be loved to the very depths of our being by another person.
3. God’s word is better and stronger than our feelings.
We’re constantly sold the lie that our feelings are unchangeable and, as a result, acting them out is inevitable. In fact, Christians are often shamed for not bowing at the altar of their feelings. Restraint isn’t seen as an act of courage but as inauthenticity. Real courage, we’re told, would be to act upon our desires. Even worse, the broader culture often—ironically—reads restraint as a mark of additional perversion. Why would someone need to restrain their sexuality unless they have something to hide?
How difficult it is to resist these brisk cultural winds! Yet, the authority we invest in our feelings actually belongs to the word of God. When we realize that feelings are being substituted for the real power of the Bible, they become easier to resist. Our God is unchangeable; our fickle feelings are not (James 1). And his word is truth and cannot be broken (John 10:35). Our hearts are not the immovable rock before which God must be moved. He is our rock, and we need not be shaken.
Within the Bible, we rediscover the heart of God. Our own hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), but God’s unchangeable heart flows out to us with boundless love and compassion (Ps. 103:13). When we save sex for marriage, we are not merely preserving our own hearts. His very heart is preserving us in inescapable love. He’s perpetually reminding us that his mercy in Christ Jesus is greater than life, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can offer our bodies as living sacrifices in turn (Rom. 12:1). Friends, we can and should save sex for marriage because our Savior has and will save us for himself.