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First Thoughts

Recovering Purity Culture

We need to recover purity culture.

We read I Kissed Dating Goodbye in high school. As many will remember, Joshua Harris sought to dismantle what he identified as a culture of casual dating in the church. Many were helped by this book (including us!).

A movement began, marked by purity banquets, purity rings, and commitments made by thousands of teenagers to save sexual intimacy for marriage.

Purity culture was born.

But for many, that culture crushed them. Many have recently reported that as this movement integrated into their communities, churches, and families, it was more suffocating than freeing. As they failed to keep the expectations of purity culture, they were isolated from their communities, keeping their sexual sin in the dark. Even Joshua Harris, the man at the center of this movement, has rejected his book–and recently, even his faith.

Now, if that is what purity culture produced, why would we want to recover that?

Because purity is biblical and beautiful and freeing.

My generation has reacted against an unbiblical concept of purity–marked by extra-biblical rules, shame, and condemnation. But we fear that we are abandoning the biblical vision of sexual purity that is precious in God’s sight and is meant to mark the lives of believers.

The church must recover the purity culture.

Over the next six weeks, we want to give you a case for a biblical purity culture, not marked by extra-biblical rules, but not abandoning Scripture’s clear teaching on purity, sex, modesty, marriage, and media. We want to examine what the Bible actually says, trusting that it will set us free (John 8:31-32).  We believe that the result will be a culture of purity that glorifies Christ and is marked by grace.

But what would that culture look like?

Purity Culture Marked by the Grace of Jesus

The purity culture of the church has already been created. It happened at the cross of Jesus Christ. “Come now,” God says to his people, “…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Every church is full of dirty people who Jesus had to clean off with his blood.

This means purity culture does not begin when people in the church get their act together sexually. It starts when people confess their sexual sins to Jesus and he cleanses them with his redeeming and powerful blood (1 John 1:9).

When Jesus’ grace at the cross fuels our purity culture it cultivates humility among the church as we remember Jesus’ grace in our own lives and invite others to experience that same grace.

And as that happens–purity grows.

Purity Culture Marked by Growth in Jesus

When Jesus cleanses us from sin, he takes residence and ownership of everything about us–including our bodies. We are called “temples” of his Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and a “bride” in covenant with him (Ephesians 5:25-27). So, we are not simply forgiven for our impurity, we are given a new heart that longs for purity.

When we begin to see ourselves this way, it creates a purity culture in the church. As a ministry mentor of mine used to say, it makes the church a “safe place for confession, but never a safe place for sin”.

Because we belong to Jesus, we want to grow in listening to what Jesus says in the Bible about sexual purity. We receive his warnings about sexual sin (Matthew 5:27-30, 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8) as a roadmap to great joy and life from our good Shepherd.

Do you see how hopeful this is?

Imagine a purity culture where those enslaved to sexual sin can freely share their struggles without fear of shame and receive real help to grow and change. This is the purity culture that Scripture calls us to embody.

Purity Culture Marked by the Glory of Jesus

The most common critique of purity culture in the church is that it is marked by restrictions, legalism, and maintaining a “look” of purity. It is about externals. You need to suppress what you really want, to maintain the look for all the church people.

But this is not what Jesus does when he creates a purity culture in a church.

When Jesus creates a purity culture, he sets people free to enjoy their freedom from sin (Galatians 5:1). He describes growth in the Christian life as moving from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). In fact, purity culture is meant to be a culture motivated by the experience of pleasures (Psalm 16:11), not the abandoning of it. This is about seeing God’s glory.

Purity culture in the church pursues sexual purity because it’s motivated by the breathtaking beauty of Jesus Christ. It’s hungry for deeper pleasures than sexual sin. It’s motivated by enjoying true freedom.

Purity culture marked by the glory of Jesus is marked less by what you are avoiding, and more by what you are getting in Jesus Christ.

Recover and Recommit

“Purity culture” is not an invitation to shallow religiosity to please people. No, it’s an invitation to the thrill of walking closely with Jesus Christ–the fountain of life. It’s an invitation for sexual sinners to experience the grace of Jesus Christ, who not only forgives us of our sin, but also trains us to renounce it (Titus 2:11-14). It is a call to experience grace.

If that is biblical purity culture, then we think we should recover it.


Spencer Harmon is the Nocatee Campus Pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. He is Co-Author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating. 

Spencer Harmon is the Nocatee Campus Pastor. He is the co-author of three books: Letters to a Romantic: On DatingLetters to a Romantic: On Marriage, and Letters to a Romantic: The First Years.

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