“Are you married?”
That would always be the question from the time I was about 14. During any conversation with a person I just met, their eyes would casually drift over to my ring finger on my left hand and they would see the small silver ring that I wore with pride. This ring that symbolized purity. This ring that made the bold statement that I would be saving sex as a gift only to be experienced with my wife. This ring that symbolized everything that I would soon find out stood in stark contrast to the culture around me. This ring I wore not out of faithfulness to God’s standards, but as an ostentation. A show. A lie.
Because what is purity, and what does it involve? Is it simply abstaining from an act with someone else until marriage? Because if that’s all it is, I’m doing pretty good. But what if it’s more? What if it involves, like Job, making a covenant with your eyes to keep from looking at another lustfully? Have I succeeded? Can I succeed? Can any of us?
About four or five years later, as I watched that little silver ring fall out of the 3rd story window of my dorm room and into the grass below, I’d settled on an answer.
Before I continue to tell you my story, let me back up a bit more and write about when I first got that little silver ring. If you aren’t familiar with certain strains of evangelical Christian culture, you may not know about True Love Waits. It’s an organization that is built on the premise that complete abstinence until marriage is integral to God’s design for human sexuality. After taking a class on the matter, there was a big ceremony where all the participants would get a small silver ring to wear as a symbol of purity, of their intent to abide by God’s way with regard to sex.
So don’t get me wrong, I fully support and agree with that message and, as both a Christian and a youth minister, I advise others in the same way. But my experience in this “class,” left a lot to be desired. For one, we heard the message in its simplest form, stripped of all context “don’t have sex because Leviticus says so.” And further on, “don’t have sex because you’ll get an STD.”
I have very little respect for the husband-wife duo who were tasked with teaching us what scripture says about sexual relationships. Rather than hear and understand why one’s sexuality is so important, why waiting until marriage is a good thing, we simply heard, “NO!”
Everything built on the premise that sex is dirty, ugly, taboo.
Everything built on the lie that sex is not a good thing.
I now believe that sex, in the confines of marriage between a loving husband and wife, is good and holy, and reflects the Father in more ways than we can name. I believe it is important to speak about it, and not pretend it doesn’t happen. I believe that sex is good, and if it should be talked about anywhere, it is most definitely the Church’s responsibility to reclaim sexuality in the way it was intended, rather than treat it as an unmentionable obscenity.
If I listened to those teachers from my church, I wouldn’t have believed any of that. I would be afraid of sex, or just as bad, like a child told not to eat the cookies from the cookie jar, or our first mother told not to eat of the tree, I would’ve run headfirst into a lifestyle I wasn’t at all prepared for.
So my experience with “the sex talk” was an unpleasant one, at best. But I wore the ring anyway.
Maybe it made me feel holier than I was. Maybe it gave me a sense of security in that, hey maybe I had raging hormones and looked at every girl I saw with lust in my heart and my mind wasn’t nearly has pure as my left hand ring finger was, but at least I wasn’t lying like my friends who still wore their rings, even though I knew for sure that they’d been anything but pure.
And what about pornography?
The place I never wanted to go, but went anyway.
It wasn’t enough for me to just imagine it, like any good millennial, I was a very visually immersive teenager. What I desired in my heart, I needed to see with my eyes. And when those images met my retinas, they never left. And though I wore a ring around my finger, I didn’t wear it around my heart.
So flash forward back to the year I threw the ring out the window. I was majorly conflicted. See,my freshman year of college, I joined a group called “Dude Church” which acted as an accountability group where a bunch of guys got together and talked about sexual temptation, porn, and lust and prayed for one another. What becomes problematic about a group like that is, no one likes to let loose their dirty little secret, and rather than become supportive, it can easily become another avenue to heap shame and condemnation on yourself in the prison of your own mind. Honesty is freeing, yes, but it is also the scariest thing you can do.
So, keeping my confessions to a bare minimum, selectively choosing what to say and what to leave out, I’d trapped myself in my guilt. Rather than believing that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, I defaulted to the shame I’d learned to embrace in my True Love Waits class.
And the “wait” became more of a “weight” on my chest, a noose I’d tightened around my own throat. And with all my emotions pulling me higher and higher, I could not longer breathe.
So that moment on the top floor of my dorm was pivotal for me. It was the turning point between the version of me that I wanted the world to see and the one that actually existed. It was when I began to finally understand that when I leave this world, I want to leave it as a man with no secrets, as a man who finally understands the grace of God as a transformative force, rather than an empty, ostentatious formality.
So, thinking about whatever I believed purity was, I’d decided that I was not. And I took off the ring and watched it as if fell. And I didn’t go look for it later. For me, symbols are powerful. A ring was more than a ring. It was a false impression. It was a source of pride I’d put in myself and my ability to stay away from that dirty thing called sex. And as long as I didn’t cross the line, I was fine.
But that’s simply not true. Wasn’t it Jesus who said that lust and adultery are one in the same? That the intentions and motives of the heart make you just as culpable as if you’d committed the act itself?
And now, years removed from shedding the ring, I don’t believe that God’s impression of me is tied to how I squandered the gift of purity I’d mistakenly made into an idol. I believe that God’s view of me is tied to the sacrifice of Jesus that we celebrated last weekend at Easter. That the grace of God in Jesus covers all my sins past, present, and future.
And the lust, pride, anger, and idolatry I’ve so willingly ran headfirst into, that was washed away at Calvary and I am free.
Purity isn’t something that, once you’ve ruined, you can never get back. Purity is a process. One where you fall down on your face and rise again. Because if the Gospel has taught me anything, it’s that God’s approval of me is not contingent on a list of rules I keep, it is contingent only on Jesus Christ.
For clarity’s sake, I absolutely believe in God’s design for sex. I believe that abstinence until marriage is a key to joy. I believe that sin is serious, so serious that Christ had to die and defeat death for it to be erased. But I believe in a God who saves, who redeems the unredeemable, who sets us free from destructive patterns.
If your purity becomes an idol, you are sinning.
If what people think of you is more important to you than what truly is, please reevaluate your addiction to self. Because before God, all of our sins are out in the open, and we cannot hide.
Be honest. Be forgiven. Be free.