How to Break Through the Confusion Surrounding Christian Relationships
by LESLIE LUDY
Purity. It’s a simple word, but one that often triggers intense emotion and controversy. In recent years, that one simple word has come under extreme attack, perhaps more so than ever before in history. Sure, non-believers have always scoffed at the notion of purity. Since the fall of man, the world has gone out of its way to treat purity with disdain and contempt. That’s nothing unusual. (If sinners can discredit God’s moral standard of purity, they can justify remaining comfortably in their sin.) But over the past decade, purity has taken a new and much more direct hit than those age old criticisms. And surprisingly, this direct hit didn’t come from the atheists or from the mouthpieces of our sin-saturated culture; it has come from within the Church.
Maybe you’ve heard rumblings of the “Christians’ case against purity.” For the past several years, disillusioned Christians have been publicly throwing purity under the bus, telling tear-inducing tales about how making a purity commitment ruined their lives and gave them nothing but heartache, shattered hopes, legalistic bondage, and unnaturally extended singleness. This was taking place even before Christian author Joshua Harris “kissed his purity, his marriage, and his faith goodbye” and became militantly antagonistic toward the ideals he once championed. The result in the Church has been widespread confusion. Many young people whose parents and leaders taught them an incorrect view of purity have been quick to jump on the anti-purity bandwagon. And now purity’s reputation seems to be hanging by a thread — not merely in the world’s eyes, but among Christians as well.
Even many believers who still agree with the moral idea of purity often feel the need to keep their views under wraps. After all, who wants to be associated with something that has led to such disaster and disappointment in so many people’s lives?
But in the midst of all this noise, it’s easy to forget one indisputable truth … purity was God’s idea.
For the past 25 years, my husband Eric and I have been deeply connected with the “purity movement,” as it has come to be known. We’ve seen many counterfeit versions of purity within the Church (and the damage they can do), and we’ve also seen the real thing (and the beauty that it brings). I’d like to take you on a brief walk down memory lane and share a little of my journey in this area. And in the process, I hope to clear away the fog of confusion surrounding this issue, and impart a vision for purity that is refreshing and beautiful.
Our Reluctant Journey Into the Purity Movement
Back in the mid-90s when Eric and I wrote our first book, it was not because we desired to be known as “Christian relationships experts” or had a passion to speak up on the topic of purity. Rather, it was because people were constantly wanting to hear about our love story, and we were getting tired of sharing it over and over. We figured that writing a book would be the easiest solution — that way, when people asked to hear the story, we could just hand them a book instead of having to re-tell it.
But then a Christian publisher got ahold of a copy of our self-published book and asked if he could publish it. He even went so far as to suggest that we become full-time writers and speakers on Christian relationships and purity. Both Eric and I were very resistant to the idea. When Eric asked me one day if I would ever consider it, my response was an emphatic, “No way!” And Eric agreed. Neither one of us wanted to be lumped in with those stiff “Christian relationships speakers” who seemed to be drenched in legalism and completely devoid of any romance. Words like “stodgy,” “somber,” and “rules-based” described them all too well, and we wanted nothing to do with that camp.
When Eric and I reflected on the way God had shaped our own pre-marriage relationship, there was nothing formulaic or oppressive about it. We had embraced certain standards and biblical principles such as faithfulness to our future spouse, honoring our parents, and surrendering the control of our love life to God. But for us, these decisions did not flow from a man-made, legalistic formula. Rather, they were the outflow of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They were simply an obedient response to the gentle, loving guidance of His Spirit.
Formula-based patterns for relationships were beginning to be touted among conservative Christian circles, but we paid little attention at the time. We were too busy enjoying the beautiful, life-giving, Christ-centered love story God was writing for us as we surrendered our relationship to the Author of romance. And we discovered that His ways are perfect.
Not long after Eric and I wrote our first book, we were invited to publicly speak on relationships. It was to a group of several hundred teens at a large church in Boulder, Colorado. They wanted us to give a “purity message.” Instead, we simply shared the life-giving story of God’s faithfulness to us as we had surrendered our romantic life to Him. We communicated the beauty, hope, and fulfillment that comes from putting Him in first place and following His lead rather than the lead of the culture. And that night, we knew that we had stumbled upon a message that the younger generation desperately needed to hear. At the end of our message, young people were kneeling all around the church, while others were on their faces, crying — willingly surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ and consecrating this area to Him.
God began to do a work in our hearts after that first public speaking event. We started to recognize that there were (and still are) two different versions of “Christian purity.” One was religious, man-centered, rules-based, and formulaic — a counterfeit, humanly-crafted version. The other was life-giving, Christ-centered, beautiful, hope-filled, and amazingly romantic — true purity as God intended it to be. And we began to recognize that God was asking us to stand up and become a voice for the latter.
That is how our journey into the purity movement began. Everywhere we shared the life-giving message of true purity, we experienced the same response we’d seen at our first speaking event to those teens in Colorado. The younger generation was hungry for this challenging-but-beautiful message of inviting Christ into the center of their love lives and learning to faithfully love their future spouse.
Publishers often tried to convince us to label our message with conservative buzzwords, but we never did. We did not want our message or our own story to be made into a formula. We simply wanted to inspire a generation with life-changing core principles from God’s Word such as faithfulness, love, honor, and surrender to Christ — principles that could be applied in anyone’s life, whether they were homeschooled or public-schooled, whether they were conservative or charismatic. These principles didn’t require a label. And they didn’t require a set of strict rules to be constantly enforced by parents and church authorities. They were simply the natural outflow of anyone who surrendered his or her life completely to Jesus Christ.
The Core of True Purity
In recent years, a new language seems to be emerging that is attempting to vilify purity. For instance, the term “purity prosperity gospel” has stepped onto the scene. “Purity prosperity gospel” is a derogatory phrase that has been used to argue that purity commitments set you up for disillusionment because they promise something they can’t deliver — happily ever after. But even when the purity movement was at its peak, I don’t remember the whole “purity guarantees you a perfect fairy tale” idea ever being taught or promoted by the various authors and speakers who had a voice on this topic. (Rather, this new phrase seems designed to embitter those who have experienced very real pain in this area of their lives.)
For our part, Eric and I have always proclaimed the unmatched beauty of God’s ways. We believe that God is the One who created romance and put the desire for love and companionship within our hearts. And we believe that there is no better way to find the pattern for real and lasting love than to look to the One who came up with the idea in the first place. But our core message has always been one of surrender — being willing to lay all our dreams at Christ’s feet and declare, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” Any message on true purity must begin with the principle of total surrender. As a teenager, I was challenged to surrender my love life to God — with no qualifications — when I read Elisabeth Elliot’s book Passion and Purity. I learned that if surrender is absent, real purity cannot be present.
True purity isn’t a bargain with God. (i.e. I’ll live this way as long as You give me the fairy tale I’m dreaming of.) Rather, true purity is an act of love toward the One who gave up everything to redeem us — a heart that longs to honor and serve Him even if we never receive any benefit from doing so.
One of the reasons that young people would often be on their faces or kneeling at the end of our relationship messages is because they were being challenged to lay all their dreams at Jesus’ feet — to give up their own plans and expectations, and follow Him no matter the cost. It wasn’t a message about getting everything you want; it was a message about giving up everything you are to the One who is worthy of all.
And that is where true fulfillment really comes from. Surrender is the only way to experience the beauty of true purity.
. . .
Though it has not been an easy road, Eric and I do not regret our stand for Christ-centered, truth-based purity. On the contrary, it has been one of the greatest joys and privileges we have ever known — both in our own relationship and in interacting with thousands of others who made similar decisions. And for the record, after over 25 years of marriage we are still very much in love and still believe that our love story is the best in the history of the world (not that we are biased or anything).
God has done something extraordinary over these past 25 years — not through the stiff and stodgy counterfeit camp, but through the many who have embraced God’s true version of set-apartness, purity, selfless love, and lifelong faithfulness. He has reawakened a vision for honorable masculinity and gracious femininity in the hearts and minds of countless Christians. Let’s not let the enemy come along and take it all away. Remember, His ways are perfect.