The world screams a message that makes sex seem common, casual and cheap, but for the most part, ministers aren't talking.
It sounds basic, but the main problem that exists in the church today regarding sex is that it isn't being discussed. The world screams a message that makes sex seem common, casual and cheap, but for the most part, ministers aren't talking. And when the church does discuss it, we're often either naively or vagrantly abusing the truth about where we are.
So how do you train your singles and youth to abstain? There are at least five elements that should be in your "Wait Training" program.
1. Focus on the truth rather than denial. One of the greatest mistakes many Christian parents, youth workers, pastors and educators make is to distort the facts to make them fit better.
For instance, a common myth among Christian educators is that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, penetrates condoms through microscopic voids. True, the voids are significantly larger than the virus, but it has never been proven that the virus has ever been contracted in this manner.
This tactic only discredits the abstinence movement because the information is unreliable. There is no need to exaggerate the facts. The truth is devastating enough.
Roughly 42 percent of conservative Christian teens are fully sexually active by the age of 18 and this does not include those engaging in alternative forms of sexual behavior. Increasingly, kids are turning to sexual behaviors that were once considered taboo in order to maintain their "technical virginity." For example, 24 percent of teens consider anal sex abstinent behavior, according to a recent North Carolina State University study.
Approximately 65 percent of Christian men struggle with sexual addiction or compulsion which might include pornography, compulsive masturbation or other secret sexual activities. Studies reflecting the teen population's use of porn and masturbation aren't readily available but most struggling men say it started in their teen years--years when porn wasn't just a click away.
Depression and suicide are rampant among sexually active kids. The suicide rate among sexually active teen girls is somewhere between six and 12 times higher than their virgin peers, depending upon the study you review.
Leslee J. Unruh, founder and president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, cites a groundbreaking new study from Heritage Foundations that associated sexual activity with depression and suicide, indicating that most teens regret their initial sexual experiences. This should help us redefine how we approach abstinence, Unruh says.
"I've worked with teens for years and have seen with my own eyes the kids that engage in premarital sex are much more likely to be depressed," she explains. "Just as we must operate within the truth of the devastation of sex, we must also operate in the truth that the church is not immune to extreme sexual dysfunction and the future spiritual livelihood of the body of Christ relies, in part, upon our willingness to face the monster of seduction."
2. Focus on purity more than abstinence. When you define correct behavior according to what you should not do instead of what you should do, the focus quickly becomes negative, joyless and counterproductive.
Asking today's teens who are living in a sex-saturated culture to abstain without focusing on the joys and benefits of purity is like asking a middle-aged guy to diet without some reward of physical strength, health or betterment. Why would you skip the chocolate cake if there weren't a reward?
God's Word defines sex as a holy representation of His passion for the church. (see Eph. 5:31-32). Just as our relationship with Him yields many practical as well as heavenly benefits, so using His gift of sex produces fantastic results. One that quickly counters the lies of the culture is God's desire to make it fantastically fun.
Sex is fun. But God's Word also teaches that when God asks us to live according to a specific standard it is so that we will prosper. So, is God withholding the fun and pleasure of sex from today's Christian teens, or is He saving something better for them?
The most credible sexual study conducted to-date came out in a layman's version titled Sex in America in 1996. It showed that people in a monogamous sexual relationship have a greater level of sexual satisfaction; married, middle-aged Americans, not the teens and 20-somethings Hollywood portrays, have sex more often; those who abstain from sex until marriage enjoy sex more than those who misused God's gift!
The truth of purity is powerful. Focus on motivating young people to say "yes" to experiencing sex in the fullest blessings of God's plan rather than just telling them to "just say no." Abstinence is about not having sex. Purity is about waiting to have it right!
3. Focus on holiness more than purity. Sexual temptation is not a sex problem; it is a sin problem. First Thessalonians 4:7 tells us, "God has called us to be holy, not to live impure lives" (NLT). This holiness causes us to be set apart and less likely to give in to the temptations that surround us.
Succumbing to sin--whether to sex, gluttony or gossip--is like planting dandelions: Pull one out and a dozen more sprout up! Every action either makes or unmakes character. Yielding to temptation plants one more seed that gives birth to future temptations.
In our lives, we must establish solid boundaries so that casual contact doesn't allow seeds of future temptation to be planted. These boundaries create a holy place that is only for you and your Savior--a place where you can hear His voice.
Sexual purity does not produce an intimate relationship with God: An intimate relationship with God produces purity. Many times, we teach purity as a goal rather than holiness, and it causes us to focus on the wrong battle.
That which brings you closer to Jesus increases your faith. That which takes you further from Jesus personally decreases your faith.
4. Focus on intimacy more than holiness. Intimacy with God and with others unlocks the power of holiness in our lives. Intimacy clears the channel for freedom in Christ and with those we love. Sin separates us from God and breaks the connection.
Take pornography, for example.
In a past edition of the Promise Keepers newsletter, one guy talks about his struggle with sexual temptation. Introduced to pornography as a teen, when he finally got married, he was aware that he was a sex addict. He writes:
"I know it may sound hypocritical, but because of my Christian beliefs, I stayed a virgin until I was married. I assumed that when I got married the preoccupation would chill out."
Later, he explains: "Our wedding night was a big disappointment. I'd brought the only sexual experience I knew into a loving relationship, and there was no connection ... I was crushed with the realization that my wife wasn't exciting."
It can take men or women years within their marriage to reorient themselves to approaching sex from the perspective of relationship, service and intimacy. But when they find intimacy, sex is finally fulfilling what it was meant to be.
The knowledge that sex is more satisfying within the parameters of purity and intimacy is a critical fact when making the case for purity.
5. Focus on God, more than intimacy. Ultimately, it is the character of God as revealed to us in Scripture and by His Spirit. "How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word and following its rules" (Ps. 119:9). It doesn't get much clearer than that.
However, many times the battle is lost because we fight the wrong battle. The goal is intimacy with God through His Spirit and His Word. Ultimately, we are all like the girl facing the Lion in the C.S. Lewis classic The Silver Chair:
"'Are you thirsty?' said the Lion.
"'I'm dying of thirst,' said Jill.
"'Then drink,' said the Lion.
"'May I ... could I ... would you mind going away while I do?' Said Jill.
"The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
"The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
"'Will you promise not to ... do anything to me, if I do come?,' said Jill.
"'I make no promise,' said the Lion.
"Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
"'Do you eat girls?' she said.
"'I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,' said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
"'I daren't come and drink,' said Jill.
"'Then you will die of thirst,' said the Lion.
"'Oh dear!,' said Jill, 'I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.'
"'There is no other stream,' said the Lion."
God alone can fill the empty places in our lives. He alone brings lasting fulfillment. There is no other strategy that will lead us to the Father ... and to purity. There is no other stream.
Bob and Dannah Gresh are the founders of Pure Freedom (www.purefreedom.org) in State College, Pennsylvania. Their books, including And the Bride Wore White, Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty and Who Moved the Goalpost? are used internationally to equip believers to enjoy abundant lives of purity.