Five Apologetics Every Student Needs: Premarital Sex

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This is the third article in our series, “Five Apologetics Every Student Needs.” The dictionary definition of ‘apologetics’ is: “systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as in of a doctrine).” In the current world culture of skepticism and relativism, it’s critical now more than ever that our next generation be equipped to defend their beliefs as true. In this series, we will present five Christian apologetics every student needs. Our hope is that you may use this series as a resource and guide to these often challenging conversations in your own ministry. Read the first and second articles here.

For many of today’s students, standard communication has been reduced to no more than 140 characters at a time. Similarly, the Christian faith and its implications has become more like a fast food menu: pick and choose your combo, but don’t expect the meat to be too authentic. The Biblical tenants of Christianity are rapidly being viewed less as universal, “black and white” realities, and more as individual preferences cast in various shades of grey (pun intended). More so now than ever, it is critically important for student ministers to articulate the truths of the gospel in a clear, concise, and genuine manner.

While concise gospel communication may be one of student ministry’s greatest strengths, incomplete gospel communication is assuredly one of its most dangerous pitfalls. Perhaps the most glaring evidence is in teen sexuality, specifically premarital sex. In a well-intentioned effort to clarify sex outside of marriage as a “black and white” matter, parents and student ministers alike have turned to purity rings and virginity pledge cards as a means of eliciting a conviction of young people towards sexual abstinence. 

Whether through a stand-alone challenge, or in conjunction with a “white rose” being passed around the group, the message is simple and straightforward: nobody wants “damaged goods,” so you’d better do everything you can to stay pure. Obey the standard of abstinence from sexual intercourse, and God will be pleased with you. Just don’t let him down by breaking your promise, especially after signing your name to this card. After all, who wouldn’t want to give a “True Love Waits” ring to his or her future spouse? Your spouse would be so honored to receive it from you; good luck finding one if you have to take it off beforehand on account of your sexual misconduct.

There’s only one problem: these efforts aren’t working. It’s as if we’ve forgotten Paul’s exhortation in Romans 4:14: For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise [of God-given righteousness through the Messiah] is void.

In his article, It’s Time to Bench Virginity Pledges, Cameron Cole points out that eighty-eight percent of students who signed a virginity pledge went on to have sex before marriage. Alternatively, “students who already had a deep religious commitment prior to the pledge succeeded in abstaining from sex.” In other words, a commitment to Christ determines whether or not a student will seek to obey God in matters of sexual purity far more so than a “commitment” to a ring or pledge. 

We can quote staggering statistics about depression and teen pregnancy amongst those who engage in premarital sex. However, the research is clear (as is the testimony of Scripture): life change is not synonymous with behavior modification, nor is it achieved through legalism, shame, or guilt. It is the result of gospel-driven heart change alone. 

I am convinced that the best apologetic for sexual faithfulness flows from a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

How can we raise up sexually faithful teenagers who are not primarily defined as “abstainers,” but as Kingdom partakers in authentic and loving relationships with their Lord? 

Allow me to introduce you to the Scriptural paradigm I use with my students: 

Ephesians 5:31-32

“’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” 

The Theology

In writing these words, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, which details Eve’s creation and then introduction to Adam. God said that men and women were created with equal worth and dignity in his image (Genesis 1:27). At the same time, men and women were created unique from one another: “male and female he created them.” Still, in Genesis 2:24-25, we see that even though men and women have distinct differences from one another, in intimate relationship (particularly in sexual intimacy), the two become one.

Paul says that this “one flesh” union was created by God to paint a picture of Christ’s relationship with his people. Yes, women and men are different, but the difference between God (holy in every way) and sinful people (broken in every way) is even greater. And yet, like husbands and wives, God and man can become one: through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

The glory of the gospel is found in the fact that a Holy God becomes one with sinful people for all time.  Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins. In doing so, his Holy Spirit’s renewing power is offered to all who would call on him for salvation. The Holy Spirit replaces our sinful spirit; when God looks upon us in judgment, we’re judged by Jesus’ Spirit instead of our own. By receiving his Spirit, Christ comes to be “in” us. And in accordance with Jesus’ prayer in John 17, we who are Christ’s come in fellowship to be “in” Christ.  How does this powerful message shape our view of marriage, romance, and sex? Paul is clear: marriage, romance, and sex point us to the gospel!

The Implications

Human sexuality is designed as a picture of the gospel. Whether we realize it or not, any sexual activity in which we engage paints a picture of our savior to a watching world. The question for the Christian then becomes, “What sort of picture am I painting?” 

In view of God’s mercy towards us through the cross, the following are apologetics that I hope will guide both students and leaders into a robust understanding of God’s high calling behind sexuality.

  • All Christians, whether single or married, are to ensure that their sexuality paints an accurate picture of the gospel (John 17:21).
  • Because union with the Holy One is possible only through a wholly-surrendered relationship with Jesus, sexuality is intended to be experienced within a committed relationship in the context of marriage. Temptation for any sexual activity outside of the bonds of marriage, intercourse or otherwise, should be resisted.
  • Sex is intended to showcase the glorious reconciling of two very different natures: broken and holy. Therefore, God-honoring sexuality is restricted not only by the monogamy of marriage, but also by the diversity found only in a heterosexual union. 
  • In light of these realities, singles should abstain from all sexual activity. Temptations such as lust, pornography, oral sex, and other forms of sexual activity that “don’t cross the line” of full-blown intercourse should be resisted, because all sexual activity promotes one-flesh unity between those involved. The glory of the gospel is that Christ gives himself fully to his people, leaving no part of their portion to those who oppose him. In like mind, Christians should aim to give their whole self only to their spouse (whether present or future), giving no portion of themselves to anyone with whom they are not in covenantal commitment.

The Confirmation

The fallout associated with the contemporary “sexual revolution” confirms that God’s high standards for human sexuality are not just for his glory, but for his people’s good and protection as well (c.f. Romans 8:28):

  • Though correlation doesn’t always equal causation, a recent study showed that folks who view pornography 3-5 times a week were three times as depressed on average as someone who didn’t view pornography.
  • Break-ups really hurt, because two people really were becoming “one flesh.” A 2010 study observed that, upon seeing images of their exes, people’s brains were most active in those areas associated with physical pain.
  • An Albert Einstein College of Medicine study showed that, “people may experience cravings for their ex-partner similarly to the way addicts crave a drug they are withdrawing from. This can lead to intense distress as well as psychological discomfort.” One can only image the proportionality of these feelings in relation to the level of intimacy explored by the couple.
  • A 2013 study from the Dunedin School of Medicine found that, “For both men and women, taking into account prior psychological disorders, the odds of developing substance dependence increased virtually linearly with the number of sex partners.”
  • A study by the National Marriage Project revealed a negative association between both cohabitation and premarital sex and the self-reported quality of a person’s marriage.

In contrast to the notion that God’s glory and our happiness are on “opposite ends of the spectrum,” it seems that we miss out on the best sex and most fulfilling relationships when we pursue those things apart from God’s bidding and design. Sex, romance, and marriage, though amazing and powerful gifts of God’s grace, are just that: pictures of Jesus, who is far greater and far more worthy of our pursuit and devotion. No one looks for pictures of the Grand Canyon on his/her smartphone as the real thing expands before them on the Arizona horizon. In the same way, no “created” thing provides the level of satisfaction, meaning, and joy that is found in the Creator himself. Through the saving work of Jesus Christ, we are invited to receive joy, satisfaction, and meaning in God himself, rather than the things that he has created.

Virginity pledges might “succeed” occasionally, but only in terms of external behavior manipulation. On the other hand, even genuine believers are prone to fall short of God’s standards, particularly in the area of sexuality. The gospel releases us from shame and guilt, calling us to rely upon Christ’s righteousness and not our own. May our sexual interactions, or lack thereof, paint that glorious picture to our watching world.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.

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