One area of cultural concern I’ve been anxious about gospel-driven sanctification taking root is the teen abstinence movement. One year I attended the local crisis pregnancy center’s annual fundraising banquet and listened to a speaker decry teen pregnancy and the abortions the pregnancies often lead to, and while of course I shared the concern—I
wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t—I was chagrined to hear only the minor notes of the gospel, and even those were covered by the din of fearmongering, enemy-identifying, and law-building. Must we teach our teens to be responsible, to cherish their purity, and to save the gift of sexual intimacy for marriage? Yes, without question. But so many of our
efforts amount to condemning present affections without that expulsive power of a new one. We give them the “no” to sex with a “yes” to virginity or freedom from disease and pregnancy, but no “yes” is as propulsive for saying “no” to sin as the “yes” that is in Jesus.

In 2010, Christianity Today ran an opinion column in which different spokespersons gave their perspectives on the solution to the teen pregnancy and abortion crisis. I was very happy to see the truth of gospel-driven sanctification promoted by Richard Ross, cofounder of the popular True Love Waits organization. In his piece, Ross writes about gospel wakefulness as a spur to successful premarital purity:

The promise is kept most tenaciously by teenagers who have moved beyond moralistic therapeutic deism and who adore the King of Kings with awe and intimacy. They know their Lord and Savior said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Their walk in purity is a way to express deep love for him and to respond to his supremacy.

For teenagers who know Christ, that is a far stronger motivator than a desire to avoid disease and pregnancy. Risk avoidance is a weak motivator during adolescence, since the development of the brain’s prefrontal cortex (which governs self-control) lags well behind the development of the amygdala (which drives emotions and impulses). Teenagers need to
know about the risks of promiscuity, as well as about the benefits that total life purity brings. But the most powerful way to impact prom-night decisions is for parents, leaders, and peers to more fully awaken teenagers to God’s Son.

Ross is using the wakefulness language in a way not often thought about: as the way to strengthen the sexual purity of the unmarried. “Risk avoidance is a weak motivator,” he says. He reminds us that awe of Christ is “far stronger.”

— from Gospel Wakefulness (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2011), 137-138.

And for those who’ve failed? Gospel still.

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22 thoughts on “How Do We Cherish Virginity Without Moralistic Fearmongering?”

  1. T.Newbell says:

    Thank you for this! Amen! Jesus wants the rose. My heart is seriously thankful.

  2. I strongly agree with this. As G. K. Chesterton points out the purely negative moral motivation is totally inadequate. And if I remember my days as a teenager, they are inundated with this sort of thing and it is largely shrugged off. We need the positive motivation of the gospel.

  3. Kevin says:

    I do a lot of speaking with youth/students about the purity issue. It’s a delicate balance between warning of the consequences and presenting the forgiveness found in the gospel.

  4. Thanks for this, Jared. There seems to have been a full-on flood in recent weeks of all sorts of blogs, tweets, articles, etc. about what some of them termed “virginity culture.” It concerned me for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which was that there seemed to be little gospel in the “Hear me roaring!” that went on—even from those who profess Christ.

    Whether we’re deemed pure or impure, clean or unclean, kept or unkept, Christ came for us while we were yet sinners. Matt’s piece about the rose is more than just about a broken purity culture in the Church, it’s about THE Bride of Christ. Christ presents us as pure—we’re impossibly void of any opportunity to do that on our own, all broken stems and pulled off petals. I love the Church, but the sooner she realizes her value isn’t in what she deems worthwhile, the better.

  5. Avery says:

    Thank you for this great article. I found it very helpful and God glorifying… The only thing that will keep us from giving ourselves away is the knowledge and trust in our Savior.

  6. Rachael Starke says:

    YES and AMEN.

  7. Caleb W says:

    So the best way to combat the abortion/teen pregnancy crisis is to make all teenagers into Christians. What about those who do not convert? Just keep preaching at them? I’m sorry but I don’t find this all that helpful.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      The context is in already-Christian communities where abstinence programs are popularly employed. But while nobody can “make” anybody be a Christian, I would say that yes, the way to honor God with our sexuality is to know God in Christ. But if honoring God with our sexuality is not the goal in mind, there are of course other goals with other means.

      1. Caleb W says:

        Is there an abortion/teen pregnancy crisis in already-Christian communities where abstinence programs are popularly employed?

        And could you clarify what you meant by your last sentence? Other goals with other means?

        1. Jared C. Wilson says:

          Is there an abortion/teen pregnancy crisis in already-Christian communities where abstinence programs are popularly employed?

          In some, yes. The Ross quote comes from a Christianity Today “roundtable” of sorts where leaders were addressing the growing reality that abstinence programs *even targeted in church communities* don’t seem to be making much difference. His point — and my point in the post — is that simply teaching behavior modification doesn’t provide motivation to change. In Christian communities, the desire to remain sexually pure is primarily seen as a means of obeying and honoring God. My point is that the heart to obey and honor God comes not from “law” but gospel. So it is awe of Jesus that helps us change, not simply being reminded of what’s right and wrong.

          And could you clarify what you meant by your last sentence? Other goals with other means?

          I just meant that in non-Christian (or generally irreligious) programs, the ultimate goal is not to honor and obey God but to avoid disease, prevent pregnancy, curtail abortion, or the like. Those are all great goals, of course. In the Christian worldview, they are ways to honor God. In the nonChristian worldview, they are ways to have a better society or value ourselves or some other thing — that’s what I mean by “other goals.” Not bad goals. And not even anti-Christian goals. Just not specifically Christian goals. And so if the goal is not to honor God but primarily to avoid disease, certainly means other than becoming Christian will be employed b/c you don’t have to be a Christian to simply avoid sexually transmitted diseases or teenage pregnancy.

  8. Deloris says:

    How can we teach children about promiscuity, when contraceptive are virtually being offered in the classroom, sex is an advertisement on our television screens and people who should be teaching right from wrong is saying it’s ok. Is it any wonder our children do not listen to parents or even their pastor, when sex is advertised as a breakfast cereal? We have our children who were brought up in Christian homes, exploiting themselves just as those who weren’t, having and bringing babies into the church and it’s accepted as normal, practice, because we are to ‘love’, but with love comes a price and Jesus showed us that on the cross. So where do you draw the line, as it appears that this this leaves the door open for all youngsters to do the same.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Deloris, people are sinners. Sinners sin. None of us “catches” sin from the world. We are all carriers. When someone in the church falls into sin, no, we don’t treat it as “normal,” but we do treat them with grace and love (no scare quotes), because that is how Jesus treated us, at great cost to himself. So while we want to urge the cross-taking of obedience to each other, let’s be very mindful to remember to take up our own cross, work out our own salvation, and love others as Jesus loved us, knowing that as it pertains to sin, we are no better than others, and if not for the grace of God, we’d have committed their sin. And still may in the face of his grace.

  9. Melody says:

    I like this article and have always loved what Matt Chandler has to say about grace. I have mentioned this in parenting classes when some of the parents get off track in their requirements for their children’s spouses in the future. It would be nice if my children found spouses that had saved themselves for marriage but I would rather they found someone that is as committed to their relationship with Christ as they are, even if it means they came to know Him later and come from an unchurched family.

  10. JohnM says:

    Closer supervision of sub-adults by adults with a realistic understanding of human nature might help. Something our culture has practiced in several generations, and may not be practicable at this point, I don’t know.

    1. JohnM says:

      Should have been “has not practiced”

  11. Akash Charles says:

    That was beautiful!!!!

  12. Donna says:


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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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