The Idol of Abstinence

I wrote this four years ago, before Joshua Harris had apologized for his books I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl. What I wrote four years ago, however, seems especially appropriate now as the Evangelical world reels from Joshua Harris’ recent separation from his wife and departure from the Christian faith.  Much has been said about that, and I won’t to add to the cacophony. Instead, I want to dig under the surface and look at our measure of success as parents, and what we prioritize in the education and training of our adolescent children. Is their purity really what we need to focus on? Is protecting their purity our most important task?

Ultimately, Jesus called us to make disciples of all the world, teaching them everything He taught His disciples. And what did He teach His disciples? He taught them to love God first and to love others the way they wanted to be loved. Discipleship is our clarion call, not purity or the virginity of our daughters (and purity culture is much more focused on girls than boys…). Purity is important, don’t get me wrong. But focusing on certain behaviors misses the point. Proverbs 4:23 says to guard your heart, because it guides behavior. Which is better? Controlling behavior or guiding hearts? Let’s think again.

The news is spreading across the Internet…Bristol Palin is pregnant, again. And she is still not married.

In most any situation, this would be awkward. But for Bristol, the issue is even more complicated. She’s been an outspoken advocate of abstinence for the last six years. And she has been paid a significant sum of money to be that outspoken advocate…to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Well…I guess we can see how well that worked…


abstinence idolYou know what I think? I think we’ve made virginity some kind of idol…as though it is the most important thing in the world to preserve and protect. Our children’s virginity is our measure of success as a parent (“well, at least they stayed pure…”) or our scarlet letter of shame.

But should that be the measure of success for us as parents?

Is our most important metric whether or not our children abstain from sexual activity until they say “I do”? Really?

What about rebellion?

We joke about it and make light of how teens rebel. In some ways we expect it.

But that is wrong.

The Bible is clear about a spirit of rebellion…it is like witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23). And I’m pretty sure that is worse than having sex before you’re married?!

More than worry about rebellion, or purity, or behavior in general, what we need to worry about is guarding our children’s hearts. The New Living Translation says it best, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23.

Please, parents, don’t focus so much on your child’s “sexual purity” that you forget to guard your child’s heart. That is what drives their behavior.

Remember, sex is designed by God for our pleasure. Yes, it is designed to be shared between a husband and a wife. But, bodies do what they’re designed to do, whether they are married or not. Our children can very easily and quite by accident find themselves in compromising situations. They make mistakes. And so do we. 

That is the beauty of a relationship with a God who knows and understands our brokenness. He has already made provision for our sin  and He empowers us to walk in His strength.

Brokenness with repentance is a precious thing.

Rebellion, on the other hand, is ugly and has few remedies.

So I ask…what do you really want? A child who does all the right things but for all the wrong reasons? Or do you want a child who may or may not stay morally/sexually pure, but they recognize sin when they commit it, love Jesus, and are willing to repent when they make a mistake?

What is a better measure of success?


3 thoughts on “The Idol of Abstinence

  1. Boy, you shoot straight. Great words to consider–what is most important? It’s our preoccupation with doing “right” that often leads us to the shame we feel when we blow it. Which we ALL will. Thanks for the great perspective on where our hearts really are. What really matters.

    • Thank you for your encouragement, Dayle. God has used you to help me recognize these truths, for which I will be forever grateful. It is also a gift to have you remind me of what really matters when I get distracted, which I so easily do. Ultimately, I’m thankful for God’s patience with all my idols, and for showing me that I have them.

  2. I appreciate this opportunity to have a different view of abstinence.Infact for the African church sexual abstinence is a more serious idle .I have not thought about that verse deeply on guarding of The heart as a foundation for directing our other decisions.Thank you

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