Every so often I run across an article discussing the problem of young Christians engaging in premarital sex. One recent example comes from Relevant Magazine, a cutting-edge magazine geared toward young adults.
Typically the information presented runs along the following lines: nearly all young Christians are having sex before marriage, despite intense efforts by the evangelical church to convince them to wait. (The Relevant article says that 80% of young Christians are having sex outside of marriage). In nearly every case, the writer characterizes the popular True Love Waits program as a colossal failure, because only about 12% of the students who sign purity commitments during the program actually keep their promises.
Despite the compelling statistics, though, I think articles like this are alarmist at best and misleading at worst. Why do I say that?
First, they often portray sexual sin as something new to Christianity, as if everything was a great deal better in the “good old days.” But that perspective is inaccurate. Go read any of Paul’s New Testament letters, and you’ll see repeated exhortations against sexual immorality, usually because members of the church were in sin. In some cases he provides specific examples of Christians who were failing in this area (for example, see 1 Corinthians 5). The Church has struggled with the issue of chastity for thousands of years. In certain eras and in certain cultures it has done a better job of forcing people to conform to external standards of purity (usually by shaming or punishing those who disobeyed), but I wouldn’t say that sexual purity has ever been the norm. Even if people managed to control their outer behavior, there were usually struggles boiling beneath the surface.
Second (and I really think this is key), articles like this make no attempt to distinguish those who identify themselves as Christians from those who actually possess a Christian worldview. In Ronald Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, he laments how the behavior of evangelicals is indistinguishable from that of the culture around us. He cites some of the same troubling statistics about sexual sin, violence, and racism in the Church. However, toward the end of the book he makes a critical distinction that I think is worth noticing (pp. 127-128).
He mentions that George Barna did a study to determine the effect of a biblical worldview on a person’s behavior. Here’s how Barna defines a biblical worldview:
For the purposes of the research, a biblical worldview was defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.
Guess what? Only 9% of “born-again Christians” actually have such a biblical worldview! And among that smaller group, the statistics relating to sexual activity are much more encouraging. While 1 out of 8 born-again Christians had sex with somebody other than their spouse in the month preceding the survey, only 1 out of 100 of those with a biblical worldview had done so!
So on a practical note, what does this mean? It means that sexuality cannot be discussed as a separate issue apart from the holistic calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Parents and youth leaders, take note: if you tell your kids to “just wait” without explaining to them why they should wait or integrating the discussion of sexuality with robust training in the spiritual life, your efforts will most likely fail.
On the other hand, the students who wait until marriage are concerned first with knowing Jesus and following Him. Their approach to sexuality is not disconnected from their spirituality, but is an integral part of it.
And here’s the really good news: there are students who are waiting. I know many of them in my own ministry. Yes, it’s difficult, and yes, they are constantly tempted and no, they don’t always make perfect choices. But they are waiting and they do see the value of sexual purity as a part of their spiritual life.
So let’s not be too alarmist or fearful, but instead let’s be diligent to make disciples, recognizing that the way we use our bodies is a critical aspect of walking with God (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Why or why not?