By Elizabeth Spencer, Crosswalk.com
I’ll never forget the time I talked to my baby sister about premarital sex. She was a teenager and I was a college student, and I’d been burdened by the need to do my (big) sisterly duty for a while. We were driving to the mall one day and came to a red light that I knew from past experience took a solid five minutes to cycle back around to green. So I open my mouth and tried to share my heart.
I was raised in church and had been active in my youth group before I went off to college. Long before I plunged in with my sister that day (praying the light wouldn’t change too soon), I’d decided I was going to wait on sex until I was married. I didn’t make that decision out of guilt or fear but rather with the hopeful conviction that, in temporarily denying myself some pleasure, I was gaining for myself long-term blessings.
Now, as the mom of one teenager and one young adult, I’ve had many more conversations about sex before marriage (none of them at traffic lights). I’ve tried to present God’s call to preserve the intimacy of “knowing” each other for within marriage not as His tight-fisted order against something bad but as His open-handed offer in favor of something good.
Our Christian kids are often told not to have sex before marriage “because God says so” or “because the Bible says so,” and it is true that God’s Word on a matter—born out of His goodness, love, and wisdom—is all that is required for us to be called to obedience.
But before waves of hormones and attraction and opposing viewpoints from the world and peer pressure and curiosity and natural desires crash in, we as parents do well to equip our kids with a more developed conviction about what, exactly, they’re waiting for when they wait for marriage.
As I’ve tried to encourage my children to choose to save sex for marriage, I’ve packaged these 5 Scripture-supported gains as worthy gifts.
1. You Gain the Blessing of Obedience
God consistently attaches His favor to following His ways. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you,” He tells Abram. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).
“All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God,” He tells the nation of Israel. “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:2,6).
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching,” Jesus tells His disciples. “My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23).
As parents, we often tell our kids what God says not to do without telling them why. Our children need to see that God establishes limitations not nearly so much to keep them from something as to keep them for something…not to deny them a good thing but to preserve them for a better thing.
Too, within God’s restrictions, there is freedom. I think of how we put our babies in play yards. We do this for their protection against harms on the other side of those structured walls. But within those boundaries, they enjoy the freedom of safety, exploration, and enjoyment. And there, they are preserved for future expanded discovery and delight.
2. You Gain the Peace of Protection
Not only does abstinence until marriage protect against physical consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases and premature parenthood, it also provides a safeguard against emotional scarring: the wound of regret, for instance, over having given something precious and valuable to someone who turns out to only be a temporary part of life.
One of the benefits of sexual intimacy is the bond it creates. When this bond is forged prior to marriage through the powerful persuasion of sex, it can create an artificial connection. Choices are made based on heightened, come-and-go emotions rather than deep, long-lasting reasoning. But when this beautiful bond is formed within the sanctity of marriage, it is like glue—a very good thing indeed that helps to hold a couple together when forces inside and outside their union try to rip them apart.
3. You Gain the Strength of Self-Control
Self-control is a spiritual muscle, and like other muscles, it has to be used, worked, and developed in order to have any power. But when it is used, worked, and developed, it becomes strong.
Any married couple will tell you that self-control is a muscle they have to use often in all aspects of day-in, day-out life together. Husbands and wives cannot always say what they want to say. They cannot always do what they want to do. They cannot always dish out what they feel justified in letting loose. If self-control is built up in the waiting for sex before marriage, so much the better.
But self-control is not its own end; it is a means to an end…the end of love. “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
Several elements in this equation that start with faith and adds up to love are mirrored in James’ linear path from trials to perfection. “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds,” he says (James 1:2)—and he doesn’t list waiting for sex as an exemption from the “many kinds.” From there, he continues, “you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:3).
When a couple is the “trial” of waiting for sex until marriage, they may not be able to fully see what good that testing will bring them, but they can have faith—“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)—that it will bring them good.
Finally, James counsels, “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). What couple doesn’t want their marriage, as much as possible, to not lack anything?
4. You Gain Intimacy without History
“Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 NRS). “One flesh” is as close as two people can get. The intimacy sex creates is not only physical but also spiritual, mental, emotional, and relational. This is no surprise to God, who created this expression of marital love on purpose for a good purpose.
When we enter into a relationship with another person, we bring our histories—our past stories—with us. In marriage, when sex is saved for just that unique, one-to-one relationship, the bond of intimacy is not weakened by former experiences, expectations, or comparisons.
A husband and wife can turn to a brand-new clean page in their life’s story—without any tracings from the past on it—and start to write a new chapter together.
5. You Gain a Truly One-of-a-Kind Wedding Gift
Saving sex for marriage allows couples to give each a gift like no other. It grants them the sacred joy of gifting each other with a piece of themselves they have never given to anyone else. It is a rare, custom gift that, when preserved, demonstrates not only how much the giver values the recipient but also how much the giver values themselves.
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…” (Hebrews 13: 4). To honor someone or something is to show reverence and respect for them, to give them the best we have to offer, even if—especially if—it costs us something to give. Protecting sexual purity for presentation to a mate in marriage may be expensive. It may cost us our temporary pleasure, our reputation in the eyes of those who do not understand our convictions, or our personal preferences.
But when we commit to paying this price, we buy for ourselves a treasure that is not only for one wedding night but for all the nights of a marriage.
In all of this, God is—always—God of redemption and grace. Unmarried couples who have not waited for marriage can turn and start to walk a new way toward many of these gains. Married couples who did not wait can humbly approach the throne of grace with confidence and, through confession, begin a new season in their life together. The thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) is proof that, up until the moment we draw our last earthly breath, it is never too late to reverently acknowledge the righteousness of God‘s ways.
One of my favorite quotes is from the Caroline Ingalls character in the Little House on the Prairie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: “there’s no great loss without some small gain.” In the case of choosing to save God’s gift of sexual intimacy for within the covenant of marriage, though, I think it is beautifully fitting to say there is no small loss without many, greater gains.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Hiraman
Elizabeth Spencer is a wife, mom, freelance writer, baker, Bible study facilitator, and worship leader from Battle Creek, Michigan. She writes about faith, family, and food (with some occasional funny thrown in) on her blog, Guilty Chocoholic Mama, and on Facebook. She is the author of the devotional Known By His Names: A 365-Day Journey From The Beginning to The Amen.