By LESLIE LUDY
When it comes to relationships, it’s hard to imagine a more confusing time in history than the times in which we live. Even in the Church, a fog seems to have settled over topics like singleness, purity, and pre-marriage relationships. If you are a single woman living in the midst of this fog, it can be tempting to take your cues from the culture instead of the unchanging Word of God. And if you choose to live according to a higher standard than what you see around you, it’s easy to feel alone and discouraged.
In this Q&A, I’d like to share some foundational truths from Scripture for godly relationships. Some of these principles may simply be refreshing reminders for you, and others may be concepts you have never considered before. Whether you are single or are influential in a single woman’s life, I pray these key scriptural truths will help to clear away fog and bolster your confidence in the amazing ways of our God!
Are purity commitments pointless or even harmful? Why do purity commitments so often fail?
During my teen years, I heard many messages about purity at youth group meetings and church conferences. I was told that embracing a purity commitment would give me a better future marriage, a healthier lifestyle, and a solid sense of self-respect.
But rarely, if ever, was purity described as an outflow of my personal walk with Jesus Christ. For years, I didn’t truly understand real purity. I viewed it from a selfish vantage point. To me, purity was just a rule I needed to follow if I wanted to stay on God’s good side and avoid personal heartache and regret.
This is a common story among Christians today — and it’s why many modern Christians are rejecting the notion of purity entirely. When it comes to purity, we are often committed to a concept instead of to a Person. A true commitment to purity can only flow out of a heart that longs to love, honor, and glorify Jesus Christ above all else. When purity is merely a philosophy or concept, we can be easily talked or tempted out of it. But when purity is an outflow of our own passionate devotion to Jesus Christ, it’s a commitment that won’t easily crumble.
Many Christians have wrong motives for embracing a commitment to purity just as I did growing up. It’s all too easy to approach purity wondering what’s in it for us, rather than having an attitude that says, “Jesus has given everything for me — the least I can do is give Him everything in return, including this area of my life.”
If you want to have a purity commitment that lasts, cultivate a passionate, daily, intimate walk with Jesus Christ. Surrender to Him fully and completely. Let Him have access to your entire life, including your love life. When He becomes the center of your existence and your love for Him is greater than anything else, no one will need to twist your arm to convince you to walk in purity. It will become your greatest joy and deepest desire to honor the One who gave everything for you.
Additionally, we must never forget that in our own human ability, it is impossible to live a pure and set apart life for God. Only when we allow Him to equip us with His enabling grace can we truly walk in obedience to Him. He can do through us what we are incapable of doing on our own. So yield to His enabling power, remembering that even though we can’t — He can!
What is inner purity, and why does it matter?
I used to view purity as a line that I wasn’t supposed to cross. In my early teen years, I entered into several short-term flings in which I gave my heart and emotions to one guy after the next while venturing closer and closer to “the line” in my physical interactions with them. I told myself I was honoring God and living in purity because I wasn’t technically crossing the line, but inwardly something felt wrong. I knew deep down that I was giving away sacred things that were meant to be guarded. Later, when I truly surrendered this area of my life to Christ, He completely changed my approach to relationships. I began to recognize that purity is so much more than a physical line not to cross. In fact, true purity begins on the inside — at the soul level.
Many of us grew up with purity messages that only focused on setting physical boundaries in romantic relationships. But in reality, physical purity is simply the natural byproduct of a pure heart, mind, and soul. When we cultivate God’s truth in the innermost part of our being, a lifestyle of purity is the outflow. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:36, “…first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.”
There are two key areas that are often overlooked when it comes to cultivating inner purity: guarding our mind and guarding our emotions. Let’s take a quick look at both of these areas.
Guard your mind. In Philippians 4:8, Paul outlines the kinds of things that should occupy our thoughts: things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Whatever we feed our minds with will shape our thinking and influence our decisions. One of the best ways to cultivate inner purity is to be watchful over what we are meditating upon in the form of social media, movies, books, etc. I once knew a Christian young woman who saw so many movies that portrayed affairs as noble and right that it changed her beliefs about faithfulness in marriage. She adopted the idea that it was okay to leave your spouse for someone else if that person was your “soul mate.”
Other women I’ve known have been pulled into immoral relationships primarily through the influence of movies, shows, and books that promoted that kind of lifestyle as normal and healthy. No matter how harmless those cultural messages may seem when packaged in the form of artistry or entertainment, they can quickly erode our inner purity and derail us from God’s pattern of set-apartness if we entertain them. To keep a guarded mind, I encourage you to evaluate whether you are thinking on the things in Paul’s checklist from Philippians (whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely, etc.) or whether you are polluting your mind with ungodly messages. Be willing to remove anything that could steer your thought life in the wrong direction.
Guard your emotions. In Song of Solomon 2:7, we find an interesting exhortation: “Young women … I charge you … do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time” (CSB).
Being led by our emotions is one of the main ways that we “stir up” certain thoughts, feelings, and actions before the appropriate time. When emotions lead the way in a relationship, we can easily make foolish decisions out of impulse or impatience. Only when our emotions are brought under the control of God’s truth can we cultivate a lifestyle of inner and outer purity. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “The difficulty is to keep a tight rein on [our] emotions. They may remain, but it is not they who are to rule the action. They have no authority. A life lived in God is not lived on the plane of the feelings, but of the will.”
When my relationship with Eric was first beginning, we made a purposeful decision to surrender our emotions to God. We wanted to be led by Him and not just our feelings. We wanted our emotions to take a back seat to His agenda. We wanted our conversations to center around Christ and not just our feelings for each other. This didn’t mean that our relationship was cold and mechanical — quite the opposite! But, by God’s grace, our emotions were not allowed to take over and cloud our decision- making abilities. And we discovered that this was one of the primary principles to building a truly God-honoring relationship.
If you are looking for practical ways to cultivate inner purity in your life, it’s important to bring both your thought life and your emotions under the control of God’s Spirit. You will experience tremendous freedom and fulfillment when He is given His rightful place as Ruler of both your inward and outward life.
Do you end up in a lonely, frustrated, extended season of singleness when you wait for God to bring along your future spouse?
It’s often viewed as foolish and naive to wait for God to bring your spouse into your life in His own time and way. After all, what if you are still waiting for your spouse well into old age? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just take matters into your own hands? With dating apps, online matchmaking services, and singles mixers so easily accessible, “waiting on God” often seems pointless and needlessly frustrating. But waiting on God is a spiritual declaration of our dependence on and surrender to Him — and it brings His blessing. Here’s a quick snapshot from His Word:
And I will wait on the Lord … and I will hope in Him.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.
Psalm 37:7 NIV
…those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength…
God is very interested in lovingly orchestrating the details of our lives — including our love lives. But most of us are not willing to leave the pen in His hands and wait patiently for Him to do His work. Why? Because we are not finding our fulfillment in Him. The enemy often tries to convince us that we can’t be truly happy unless we get married. And when we listen to that lie, we either rush ahead of God and create an “Ishmael” of our own making, or wallow in discontentment and resentment.
The key truth is this: The choice to wait for God’s timing and live faithfully for your future spouse is not what leads to the single-and-frustrated syndrome. It is buying into the lie that the only way to be truly happy is to finally get married.
Corrie ten Boom said it well: “…often [we] set our minds on some one thing we think will make us happy — a husband, children, a particular job or even a ‘ministry’ — and refuse to open our eyes to God’s better way. In fact, some believe so strongly that only this thing can bring happiness, that they reject the Lord Jesus Himself. Happiness is not found in marriage; or work; or ministry; or children. Happiness is found by being secure in Jesus.”
A single young woman that I knew was once asked, “Are you called to singleness?” It was a sensitive question because she deeply desired to be married. But after a moment’s pause she answered simply, “Today I am.” She chose not to concern herself with whether she would be single for the next two, five, or ten years. She knew that God had called her to be single today and that He would give her the peace, joy, fulfillment, and contentment she needed to live out that calling well — today.
“Solving your singleness” does not bring a magic cure for discontentment. In fact, if you look to marriage to meet the deepest needs and longings of your heart, you will only become disillusioned and disappointed. Only Jesus can satisfy us at the deepest level of our soul. Build your life around Him — not the pursuit of a relationship — and you will never regret it.
When you build your life around Jesus Christ and find your fulfillment in Him, you can trust that He will be faithful to guide you to the right person at the right time (if His plan for you is marriage). And it won’t be a desperate, anxious, frustrating search for a spouse, but a beautiful outflow of your relationship with Christ. Whether you are single for a short season, a long season, or a lifetime, you can rest confidently in God’s promise that “…none of them that trust in him shall be desolate” (Ps. 34:22 KJV).
What is the best way to prepare for marriage?
A group of Christian singles once asked Eric and me why our marriage had stayed strong through the years when so many other Christian marriages crumbled. As we thought about it, we recognized that there was one key reason — Jesus Christ had remained our first love. It’s easy to assume that a healthy marriage depends on having the right communication techniques, going to Christian relationships seminars, and reading the right marriage books. But while these tools can sometimes be helpful, marriage success truly boils down to one singular thing — putting Jesus first.
Why? Because if you enter marriage looking to your spouse to meet all your needs and fulfill you at the deepest level of your soul, you will typically end up nagging, complaining, and accusing him when he falls short. But if you enter marriage anchored to Jesus Christ and looking to Him alone to meet your deepest needs, you can love and bless your spouse far more effectively because you have been filled and satisfied by Christ Himself. Selfless love is what makes a marriage work. And selflessness is only cultivated when Jesus Christ is truly the center of your life.
If you are looking for the best way to prepare for marriage, my advice to you is simple:
Let Jesus become your all in all.
Let Jesus become your first love.
Let Jesus become your everything.
Preparing for marriage is simpler than we often realize. When Jesus is in His rightful place in your life, you have a strong foundation for a marriage that will go the distance.
How do I know if a relationship is being orchestrated by God?
When my relationship with Eric was unfolding, my dad made a profound observation. He said, “The reason I know this relationship is from God is because ever since Eric has been in your life, you’ve grown closer to Christ as a result.”
Eric had (and still has) a contagious passion for the things of God. When we spent time together, instead of drawing me to himself, he constantly pointed me back to Jesus Christ. In fact, after conversations with Eric, I would often find myself going to be alone with God, soaking in His Word, and pouring out my heart to Him in my prayer journal. This hadn’t been the case in my previous relationships, or even friendships, with other Christian guys who had always drawn attention to themselves rather than Christ.
One of the best ways to tell whether a relationship is truly God-directed is by the fruit it produces in your spiritual life. Does the relationship distract you from Christ, or spur you toward a deeper relationship with Him? Are you inspired to pursue Jesus more, or has your spiritual life taken a back seat to the relationship?
An earthly relationship should never distract us from the most important relationship of all — our personal walk with Jesus Christ. When God is truly the One writing the love story, both individuals become catalysts to lead each other closer and closer to Him.
If you are in a pre-marriage relationship that is distracting you from your first love, Jesus Christ, be willing to lay it down. As Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother [or husband or wife] more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37a).
No matter how exciting an earthly relationship may seem, nothing is worth jeopardizing our relationship with Him — the One who gave everything for us.
What if I feel it’s too late for me to experience God’s best in relationships and marriage?
One of the enemy’s tactics to keep us away from God’s best is to constantly hold our past mistakes over our head. He often tells us, “It’s too late for you, so why even pursue something better?”
But God-scripted, Christ-centered love stories are not just for those who have never compromised. In fact, the very reason that Christ sacrificed everything for us was to offer us the chance to be restored, washed clean, and given a hope and future. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Lk. 5:31–32).
It is never too late to be restored and made new by His amazing cleansing blood.
Repentance means turning and walking the other direction. Once you awaken to the fact that you are heading over a cliff, simply stop, turn, ask God’s forgiveness, and then — by His grace — head in the other direction. There is no reason to look back or second-guess your position as His child. You should not expect a second-rate version of romance. Once you have been restored by Him, you are clothed in His righteousness. You are entitled to all the benefits of His heavenly Kingdom. Your forgiveness is complete. Your sin is removed as far from you as the east is from the west. It is finished. Don’t base your acceptance of His forgiveness on whether you “feel” forgiven or not — base it upon the unchanging solid rock of His truth. He has promised, and He cannot lie! (See Numbers 23:19.)
In a world where Christ-centered relationships are becoming more and more scarce and God’s pattern is being openly mocked (sometimes even within the Church), my prayer is that we will choose, by God’s grace, to walk a totally different way — His way. God’s way is always the best way. As it says in Psalm 18:30a, “As for God, His way is perfect.”