We fast and pray on Mondays for marriages to those who desire them, for men walk upright into relationship, and for women to be softened instead of becoming embittered.
Want to know what is a strange feeling? Finding my old True Love Waits “pledge card” signed by my teenage self at a summer youth conference years ago. Weird. Reminded me of all the Josh Harris books and creepy wedding-band-esque rings and overly dramatic skits about the dangers of having sex before marriage. Some part of it made me laugh, but I was a bit sad to think how much I had believed that life was as clear-cut as “sign an abstinence pledge, don’t have sex, find nice boy, get married, have kids, figure out the rest later.”
I’m not the only evangelical kid of the late-90s who got sad (and then angry) upon learning that real life was a bit more dicey than the formula. Finding the pledge card triggered some musings over the basic premise of TLW: save yourself for marriage. When I hear that now, I hear some messed-up assumptions:
- It’s self-centered: the pledge was mostly about me and making sure I had the best shot at a good marriage with amazing sex (obvi) due to my abstinent teenage years. To be fair, this was an excellent marketing point that meshed quite well with my culture’s overt worship of sexual indulgence. The church just said you can have all the indulgence – just make sure you’ve put a ring on it first. Sounds great – where do I sign?!
- It’s self-reliant: The pledge said that I was the one who had to do the saving…it was up to me to bring my best self into marriage. The pledge was making a commitment to “God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children” that I would be sexually abstinent until marriage. Notice that God is the party to which I commit, not the strength by which I live out the pledge.
- It’s a defensive posture: TLW language often made it sound like I (as a teen) had some magically sexually sinless heart and body. And it was my job to protect that from other people aka boys. The idea that sexual sin was already alive and well inside my heart somehow got lost in the mix.
- Marriage is the goal line: This has been, to my single celibate self, the most destructive lie. There was never any conversation in TLW about not getting married. The goal was to get the virginity football to the marriage end zone. That’s it. Game over. End of story. So not getting married caused some serious theological problems for me. What was the purpose of being abstinent if I wasn’t ever going to get married anyway? Where exactly is this mythical spouse for whom I’ve been “saving myself” (albeit poorly)? And do I miss out on “true love” if I don’t find that spouse?
Fast forward to today: my experience as a single, trying-to-date, celibate adult has often been awkward. Sometimes it feels like the realistic path is to get angry at how TLW misled me and instead jump into the culture’s hook-up-centric Tinder cesspool. But I know that isn’t a better option…and it often ends badly. Sexual sin always leads to bondage. There isn’t life at the end of misused sexuality…no matter what shape it takes.
I don’t want to be enslaved to self-centered bitterness because I’m angry at and cynical toward “the church.” And I don’t want to be enslaved to my culture’s idol of selfish sexual consumption.
Maybe there’s a different path. A path of following a living God who gave us the gift of His Spirit to lead us, in real-time, toward freedom in truth. A God who gave Himself to pay for all the lies and all the rebellious, entitled, consumer, selfish sexual sin of our individual choices and the consequences of others’ equally sinful choices toward us.
I think it is better to follow God’s design, just not for the reasons TLW said it was. God does know what He’s talking about when it comes to our bodies and our souls and our loves – whether I get married or not. God knows all the lies I absorb on a daily basis, and He’s relentless at knocking them down so I can glimpse more of Him – which is the only thing that really changes me.
As we fast and pray together this week, think about places where you might have absorbed lies about sex or the body or romantic love from the church or the culture or elsewhere. And let’s enjoy the fact that those lies are absolutely no match for the truth and freedom of the Gospel.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. (Romans 8:1-3)
By His Grace,