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Virginity Is Not the Point

The new ‘Bachelor’ is a “born-again virgin”—but are our definitions about sex missing something?

You wouldn't expect to hear the word “virgin” and ABC’s The Bachelor in the same sentence. But it's been happening often lately, thanks to the show’s latest season and a “Sean Tells All” special episode, ABC announced to the world that this season’s bachelor is a “born-again virgin.”

Born-again virgin. Although this phrase might not ring a bell with the average TV viewer, plenty of Christians will find it familiar. There are some who, in hearing the words, will flash back to a youth group abstinence pledge night.

It should be noted first of all that "born-again virgin" is grammatically misleading: the term does not refer to someone who is a “born-again” Christian and a virgin. Instead, “born again” is a description of virginity itself. Consider it a restart button—in the case of Bachelor Sean, for instance, the story goes that he had sex years ago but now practices celibacy before marriage.

The real issue with born-again virginity is not a matter of what or even who. The real issue—the problem, too—is about why.

Let’s move past the syntax and definitions, though, because the real issue with born-again virginity is not a matter of what or even who. The real issue—the problem, too—is about why. Why do we have this term and justify using it? Why does the Church, which the Bible insists is made of all broken people, think that lost virginities need their own particular fix?

Of course, virginity is a big deal to Christians. And the heart of this is an entirely good thing—God has made His design for marriage clear, and Scripture shows us a beautiful picture of a man and a woman who are “one flesh”—exclusively and only with each other. This is to be celebrated, preserved and respected.

And yet, perhaps the fact that we put it linguistically on par with Gospel transformation—something lost, needing to be “born again”—indicates we have misunderstood something foundational about not just sex, but purity at large.

Most of us prefer spiritual parameters that add up more neatly than grace does. We like standards that can be striven for and adequately met. This is why we’re prone to hold to our labels tightly, especially the labels that are so nicely cut and dried. For instance: Are you a virgin? Circle "yes" or "no."

But in the Gospel, it does not matter which labels our obedience has earned or which ones our disobedience has lost. No amount of abstinence can save me, and no amount of extramarital sex can put me beyond God’s capable reach. Is is our very idea of purity, in fact, that derives itself not from our own moral abilities, but the Person of Christ—who alone is purity personified.

It is here, when we zoom out to see the bigger picture of the Gospel of grace itself, that we begin to understand what real purity is. Sinning is what we do. Left to ourselves, this is the human state of being. So Christ volunteered for our rags and gave us his clean robe in their place. Now, looking at us, God chooses to see not our sin but Christ’s purity. And in this view, when we step back to see the fuller picture, purity is far more than even a state of mind or sexual conduct. It is a state of grace—an attribute we cannot conjure on our own borrowed from Christ Himself.

That is why the use of a phrase like “born-again virgin” is misleading. It suggests that virginity, not purity, is the point; that there is worth in going back to an earlier, cleaner version of ourselves. But when it comes to our standing with God, the basic point is that what we are and what we were before is obsolete. Our own earned titles are not enough; what matters is Christ’s. Our past, then, is overshadowed by His grace.

It is only when purity becomes our central focus that God's vision for sexuality becomes clear, a cause for celebration and a call to obedience.

This actually adds value to the idea of virginity. It makes it one facet of a much larger, lovelier concept of purity. Making virginity the point results in various how-far-will-you-go scenarios with dozens of different people in which you may not be breaking your pledge of sexual abstinence, but you're also not living under God's larger call to something greater and sweeter. It is only when purity becomes our central focus that God's vision for sexuality becomes clear, a cause for celebration and a call to obedience.

To that end, here is a personal example. On my wedding day, I was a 27-year-old virgin. So was my husband. In this way, we had obeyed part of the biblical sex ethic together—by remaining celibate before marriage. I will even add that we had obeyed with plenty of room to spare.
In earlier parts of our lives, each of us had practiced celibacy for reasons other than joyful obedience. My husband had done so out of a strong commitment to moralism. I had done so because I thought good works were essential for my salvation. In this way, we had both missed the deeper purpose of virginity. It wasn’t until each of us began understanding God’s good news, that obedience in purity became something we could delight in. Because, theologically speaking, a virgin honeymoon was never supposed to be the point—not if Christ’s purity and all it means for us is left out of the picture.

Are you an unmarried virgin? Practice purity. Are you an unmarried non-virgin? Practice purity. Are you married? Practice purity—which will now take the form of fidelity. If we’ve made too much of “virginity” in its technical definition, it’s time now to return to the heart of the matter, the very “why” behind virginity in the first place. Choose purity with gratitude, knowing that neither your label nor your obedience earns you more or less standing with God. That work has already been accomplished, by the only One pure enough to do it.

Top Comments

Holly Campbell

3

Holly Campbell commented…

Purity is a way of life of a Christ follower that just so happens to encompass our sexuality. If we follow Christ that means we attempt to follow him with our whole life... The Lordship thing? That means we know what his expectation is and follow it .... imperfectly ... and repent where we fall short. People seem to prefer justifying their acts or are offended that one should say they are wrong. Neither puts you in a position of repentance and therefore forgiveness and cleansing. Don't be foolish, God will not be mocked, especially by those who call him their God

31 Comments

Marta Czosnowski

1

Marta Czosnowski commented…

Enjoyed the article! I do want to point out a typo in the 8th paragraph: "Is is our very idea of purity..."

Joel Gonzaga

2

Joel Gonzaga commented…

I personally feel that virginity is meaningless. I don't even believe that is a quality given, or even a quality attained. It is a negation. We might as well have a word for "I have never eaten sushi" or "I have never visited New Zealand."

What though, is purity? How does one define to those who do not feel they have lost anything after having had sex?

Lisa Velthouse

8

Lisa Velthouse replied to Joel Gonzaga's comment

Joel, you have a point about negation. Interesting how other "non-qualities" (non-smoker, non-drinker, nontoxic, non-believer, etc.) reference the current state of being—"I don't drink"—versus the state of being since existence: "I've never had a drop."

I'll take the liberty to assert that your questions here actually begin with a larger question. It's the zooming-out that the article talks about: Purity is God. He encompasses it and embodies it. In some capacity (through Christ and because of his death) we are able to pursue purity, but any purity observed or achieved in us is his, finally. When we begin to see and trust God's purity (the completeness of his love, goodness, justice, faithfulness, selflessness, etc.) we also begin to see and understand that our own human definitions and presuppositions about things are arbitrary to the point. The issue is not, for instance, "How do I feel about having had sex?" but "What is True about me having had sex?" When we see that God through sacrificing his own son has proved his trustworthiness and his Lordship, we will care what the Bible says and we will submit our emotions, feelings, and actions to that. This will lead to both hatred of and repentance for disobedience. It will also lead to both hatred of and repentance for our pride in obedience. It will birth a deep awareness of our sinfulness and a resounding joy in being forgiven. All other questions about behavior and so forth will be secondary.

Unfortunately for purposes of explaining this to others, it is something that cannot be understood unless it is lived.

Beyond that, and if it helps, my original submission of this article included the word "purity" only in reference to Christ and God, not in reference to sex. (I used "celibacy" in those references.) While English translations of the Bible use the word "purity" in talking about sex, I think we tend to muddy the waters when we do so.

Okay Ana

2

Okay Ana commented…

I love sex! I'm so happy now that I have sex regularly, I do it with the man I love and with whom I know I will spend the rest of my life. Boys have orgasms since they're very young without even trying, that's just not fair for girls, they masturbate because it's necessary for their bodies and stuff, so you might as well enjoy premarital sex, just do it with someone who's important for you, someone important enough to talk about marriage and knowing that you both want the same for the future, it's just like any other christian relationship, but with sex.
Enjoy your sex life, it's disgusting how plenty of christian people get married in their early twenties instead of waiting and getting to know more about the person and enjoying a healthy relationship throughout different life stages just because they will want sex and too much time with the person will cause them temptation (Those are real comments made in churches, christian schools and bible colleges by people close to me) Just read the Unlikely disciple and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Holly Campbell

3

Holly Campbell replied to Okay Ana's comment

Disgusting is those who marry for the wrong reasons as well as those who who encourage others to violate Gods design . Romans 1:32"

Rocky

13

Rocky commented…

I guess I "get" the point of the article, that Christians should focus more on purity regardless of their sexual history, rather than emphasizing their virginity or lack thereof and trying to get a "re-do". Unfortunately, for centuries now, a false definition of purity based upon the myth of celibacy being required outside of marriage has overtaken the moral reckoning of many. Purity, that is freedom from uncleanness, should be defined by the Bible: abstinence from those sexual practices that make one unclean. Not included among those taboos are sex by singles outside of marriage, sex by married men with single non-kin females, prostitution by unmarried women, concubinage, polygamy with restrictions, masturbation and lesbian behavior. Included among sexual taboos in the Bible are a couple things that married people might do: sex during menstruation and anal sex. Our current teaching that celibacy is mandatory before marriage came from the practice of paying a bridal price for virgins, after which time they were regarded as wives until they were ready for their wedding day. No such rule was in place for those outside of this category. Nearly all such teaching is based on false definitions of Greek "porneia".

Holly Campbell

3

Holly Campbell commented…

Purity is a way of life of a Christ follower that just so happens to encompass our sexuality. If we follow Christ that means we attempt to follow him with our whole life... The Lordship thing? That means we know what his expectation is and follow it .... imperfectly ... and repent where we fall short. People seem to prefer justifying their acts or are offended that one should say they are wrong. Neither puts you in a position of repentance and therefore forgiveness and cleansing. Don't be foolish, God will not be mocked, especially by those who call him their God

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