If you’ve grown up in the church, you are all too familiar with purity culture. It’s the culture that praised the Jonas Brothers for wearing their purity rings, and raised hell against Jamie-Lynn Spears for getting pregnant out of wedlock. It’s the culture that told young girls to dress modestly so as not to make our brothers stumble, yet never told our brothers anything about the inherent worth of women; just the inherent worth of our virginity. It’s the culture that never speaks of forgiveness, and only ever of our ability to abstain out of our own conjured up human will. It never preaches the good news, never talks about Jesus, and promises ease and success where ease and success were never promised.
Purity culture is to the youth, what the prosperity gospel is to the middle-class: baloney.
This so-called “purity” culture perpetuates in us this idea that we are justified by the things we can do for God. It assumes we can muster up enough obedience that God will look upon us and say, “Hey, you gave it a good shot, kid. Get on over here!” Then go on to bless us with every material and physical blessing we want. Purity culture perpetuates the image of a God that wants to give us new and better things instead of a God who wants to make us new and holy humans. It tells us that, at least in the bedroom department, we don’t need a savior, we just need to (literally) save ourselves.
As a result, we try to stay pure because we know that in the Bible, God says that sex is for the covenant relationship of marriage. But a lot of us slip up. We go too far. We head straight for disaster and let the weight of shame weigh on our hearts until we are in despair before the throne, begging God to forgive us because – and this is the kicker, here – we promise to do better the next time.
We ask God to judge us, not on his criteria, but on the times we’re in the mood to try to follow him. We all know his law is impossible to keep perfectly and so we reason that if God sees us at least trying to keep his law, he’ll bless us: with good husbands, adorable children – basically we’re all hoping that he’ll turn us into Jessie James-Decker like he turned water into fine wine all those years ago.
We forget that our God is a just God, that his holiness demands we be without flaw, blemish, or sin. We forget that even in our abstinence there is cause for eternal damnation because each of us is dead in our transgressions and even our good works are tainted by the grave. There is no amount of good we could display that would displace the sin in our hearts. Our offenses, even the small, fleeting thoughts, are too great for a perfect and holy God.
This is so hard for us to hear, especially those of us who’ve grown up in purity culture. We’ve been raised on a New Testament that sort of threw away the Old, not one that fulfilled it. We see the God of the Old Testament as one who’s kind of mean and a Jesus who hangs out with prostitutes and we simply cannot reconcile the two, so we settle for a God that’s somewhere in between. We reason, “God sees that I’m trying. He’ll honor that.” And herein lies the problem.
Do you want to know what God honors? Perfection. Do you want to know the one He’s pleased with? The obedient servant. Do you want to know what you and I will never be in this lifetime? Perfect, obedient servants.
Yet, this is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is SUCH. Good. News.
The good news of Jesus Christ is that he did live a perfect, obedient life. He upheld the law in every way, shape, and form. He was the Adam that Adam was supposed to be. And then he became our curse. He took on our shame, our guilt, our sin and bore it all on the cross. He paid our retribution with his blood and sat under the weight of God’s wrath in our place. He lived the life we were supposed to live and died the death we were supposed to die. God poured out the punishment for our sins on Himself so that all we ever had to do was believe in His name and we’d be accredited the perfect record Christ earned on our behalf.
God knew that sins curse would never let us uphold the law the way his holiness demanded, so he sent his son to do it for us. God literally sent himself down to earth so that he could repair the irreparable damage we’d inflicted on our relationship with him.
So, no. God doesn’t honor our efforts. He doesn’t honor our trying, he doesn’t honor our good works – God honors his good and faithful servant, Jesus Christ whose record of righteousness has been counted as our own by grace, through faith. So sing hallelujah, because we didn’t just get the sweet end of this deal, sisters, we won the freaking lottery.