We Evangelicals are known for our obsession with virginity. Now don’t get me wrong—I affirm that it is good and God-honoring to remain sexually pure before marriage (and within marriage and after marriage). As a pastor I want to teach the people in my care the value of having their first sexual experiences with their spouse in the marriage bed and not with a prom date in the back of a car. I want my children to value sexual purity and to understand that lust is not love, that love expresses itself in self-control. Virginity matters because sexual purity matters because God says it matters. But it is not the highest of virtues. It is not the measure of a godly young man or young woman. It is not the goal and the measure of Christian living.
This Evangelical obsession with virginity manifests itself in youth conferences where a flower is passed around a room, going from hand to hand, until the speaker can hold it up, all bent and twisted, and ask with a knowing grin, “Who would want a rose like this?” The teens look and say, “I would never want a rose like that.” But then there are the few who silently look away and weep because they are that rose. They learn they have been spoiled, that their beauty has been given away. (As Matt Chandler reminds us, Jesus wants the rose!)
The obsession manifests itself in the pre-marriage course where the young man who burned up his teens and early twenties staring at tens of thousands of pornographic images somehow thinks he holds the moral high ground over the young woman who had sex one time with one boyfriend. After all, he is a virgin and she is not. She is the one who ought to seek his forgiveness for giving to someone else what was rightly his.
It manifests itself in young people who ask questions about “technical virginity” like doing these sexual acts, which stop short of full-on sexual intercourse, are somehow less serious or less morally significant than going all the way. “It’s okay, I’m still a virgin!”
This obsession with virginity measures so many of the wrong things, asks so many of the wrong questions, delivers so many of the wrong answers.
Not only that, but this obsession causes such pain. Elevating virginity to the first place among the virtues hurts those who were raised in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, who were genuinely saved, who knew better, and who chose to ignore God’s good command. They may feel they sinned irreversibly, that this was the greatest of all sins, that they have been relegated to a lesser class of Christian, that they can only ever disappoint that future spouse.
It is painful to those who were raised in ignorance of what God commands, who simply acted the way unbelievers will act as they committed sexual sin. They may feel like second-class citizens of the kingdom, those who gave away the most precious thing they could bring to a marriage.
It is particularly painful to those whose virginity was taken from them, who were unwilling participants in abuse or rape. They may feel spoiled, like all they had to offer was brutally, heartlessly taken from them, and they now carry a diminished status into marriage.
God does not look upon his people as non-virgins and virgins, spoiled and unspoiled, defiled and undefiled. He does not see two classes of people: those who have waited to experience sex within marriage and those have not. So why do we? Why do we obsess about those who have experienced sexual intercourse and those who have not, like this remains a matter of the utmost significance? Why is this the one sin in the whole pantheon of sin that forever marks a person, that forever changes their status?
This whole obsession with virginity misses one New Testament key, the gospel key. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth he specifically addresses sexual sin along with a whole litany of other offenses against God. He addresses the sexual immoral, the adulterer, the homosexual, and at the end of it all he says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” A key word in all of that is were. Such were some of you. You were these things, but then God washed you. You werethese things, but then he made you holy. You were these things, but then he justified you. And now you are these things no longer. Your sexual immorality was transferred to Christ and he bore its shame, its guilt, its punishment.
Paul tells us that in God’s eyes we are all holy. Through Christ we are all redeemed, all forgiven, all made new, all unspoiled. In Christ we are all virgins.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.