Every couple, whether engaged or not, must inevitably answer one question before they’re married. And their answer reveals not only how they define their relationship with one another, but ultimately how they define their relationship with God. They want to get married. They want to share their lives. And they also want to finish with their bodies what their hearts have already begun. So whether consciously or unconsciously, the question goes something like this: “We’re going to get married anyway. Might as well have sex now, right?” And this is when the moral rubber hits the road. This is when personal integrity is tested. But abstinence is about more than ethics. It’s about faith. That’s because, ultimately, marriage isn’t about you. It’s about Christ.
In teaching our young people to abstain from premarital sex, a host of godly warnings are helpful:
a. He/she may not be the one you marry.
b. Don’t “give yourself away.”
c. Be a man/woman of your word.
d. Sex outside of marriage is a sin.
All of the above admonitions are valid warnings to young believers in their struggle against sexual sin. But they’re all a bit hollow and meaningless without the primary reason for sexual abstinence: Jesus. The Gospel is the reason for marriage and monogamous sexual union. (Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Cor. 6:15-20) Therefore the exclusive Gospel is the very reason we pursue such an exclusive relationship. Our waiting is worship. Our abstinence is an acknowledgement that the sacred union between man and woman is designed to say far more about Jesus than it does about the man or woman we’re marrying. Just as the Gospel fuels our marriages and seasons our sexuality; it also gives us a delight to faithfully present such a precious, delicate story with our own lives and bodies.
If painfully abstaining from premarital sex is for any other reason than to pledge oneself to the Bridegroom of the church, it merely has “an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2:23) In other words, there are plenty of young men and women who remained physical virgins while their hearts whored after their own glory and Pharisaic pride. Holiness isn’t stoicism. In other words, we don’t measure our holiness in terms of what we don’t do. Rather, holiness is an expression of who (or what) we love most. If a young woman loves another sinner more than anyone or anything in the world, she will almost always defile herself by giving sexual precedence to her fiancé over the Bridegroom her marriage is designed to celebrate. But if she loves Jesus with all her heart, mind, and soul, she wouldn’t dare violate the very union created by God to portray Christ’s faithfulness to her. If marriage is a picture of the Gospel, our pursuit of marriage is also a picture of that very message.
Unfortunately, when Christ is detached from marriage and sex loses its Gospel character, the “birds and the bees” talk slowly devolves into a scientific, pragmatic lecture on making right decisions and being faithful to ourselves rather than Christ’s faithfulness to His church. And when this happens, parents not only lose wonderful opportunities to present the Gospel to eager ears; they ultimately betray their own confusion about the reason marriage was created. Too often our most crucial conversations about personal integrity silently exalt the bride and groom rather than the Bridegroom. We’ve made sex about cold morality instead of theology, about the wisdom of the world instead of the foolishness of God. (1 Cor. 1:25) Therefore it’s time to stop merely presenting abstinence in terms of “smart choices” or avoiding unwanted pregnancies, as if the most important message we have for our younger generation is to better themselves instead of dying to themselves. The birds and the bees belong to Jesus. And if our sex declares His glory, so does our waiting.