How Do We Cherish Virginity Without Moralistic Fearmongering?
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.