The Same Old, Same Old Salvation Story, And How My Cynicism Got Punched in the Gut.

My church-related cynicism took a fresh hit of reality this weekend, one that was well-needed.

At a church event, the people leading it shared their testimonies. They were (separately) dealing with similar issues. They had heard of Jesus-related things when they were young, but they shoved it aside. Instead, they pursued drugs and alcohol, sex and sports, just about anything else to find happiness in life. Traumatic events shook them. Eventually, they found themselves ready to end their lives, sinking in desperate situations.

But God intervened. Maybe it was a Gideon Bible in a cheap motel room. Maybe it was a kind word from a family member or friend. Whatever it was, God intervened, pulled them out of the gutter and brought them to a place where they chose to follow Him for the rest of their lives.

When I heard these testimonies, I shook my head and thought, “Not again. How old and tired is this narrative? Are they just embellishing to make a bigger point? It couldn’t have been that bad.”

I carried that thought with me for an hour or so. See, not every salvation story is that way! I didn’t do drugs and drink alcohol in high school. I never hung with the wrong crowd. Not for as long as they did, at least, maybe for a couple hours at most before I realized they were the wrong crowd. So what does this have to do with me?

Eventually, I got reminded of something that’s amazing about God.

He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And there’s something about that sameness that is ubiquitous in these kind of salvation stories.

See, humans are, at their core, the same. We’re all looking for the same thing. Happiness, fulfillment, contentment.

And, for the most part, we go to the same thing to find that. Attention from others, substances of some kind (drugs, porn, alcohol), pouring ourselves into our work.

And the same thing happens every time – it doesn’t fulfill it. It doesn’t do the trick. It doesn’t really help us.

So we all often find ourselves in the same basic situation – stuck, lost, hopeless. Maybe it turns to us wondering why we should even live anymore, but we essentially wonder what the point of life is.

And then God reaches us with the same message – “I love you. I care for you. In me, you will find rest for your souls and forgiveness for your sins. I am the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Then we ask God the same thing – to forgive us of our sins, come into our lives, make us whole again.

And the same thing that happened to everybody else who accepted Jesus happens to us: He does it.

I realized something else today as I was writing this: Those testimonies can perhaps be the most powerful because we can all find some way to relate to them. We may not have dabbled in drugs, but we’ve got something that gets us high but ultimately leaves us unfulfilled.

And that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. It relates to every single situation that man faces and provides the same answer: Jesus, on the cross, taking on sin, so we could live forgiven and fulfilled. The ultimate answer doesn’t need to adjust based on what we’re going through.

You know how one medicine doesn’t fix everything? You can’t take Advil to cure internal bleeding (at least I don’t think so). You don’t need chemotherapy for a flesh wound. That’s not how it works with Jesus. Every illness, every disease, every problem has the same cure.

That’s something to celebrate every time we hear the same old testimony of death to life. Because really, my testimony isn’t that different. I didn’t do drugs, but I was pursuing things that didn’t bring true fulfillment or joy. Then Jesus intervened, and I began to pursue the thing that did.

Cynicism can be a good thing in the right and proper context (that’s a whole other conversation for another time). But sometimes I’d wish it would just go away and let me rejoice in the beauty of the Gospel.

That’s the same thing I’ll be working on for a while.

So please, people, go on and testify.

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(For)Getting All the Feels: Rethinking the Way We Follow Jesus

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve ever learned about following Christ is that you can’t base your relationship with Jesus on emotions. Just because it “feels like” it’s not going right doesn’t mean that it’s not. And vice versa.

But after going to church and being around the Christian culture for 23-plus years now, I’m left to ask this question: Why does it so often seem like we try to get people pumped up emotionally?

Let me explain what I mean.

The Emotional Church Experience

Ever been to a megachurch? You know, the ones with the lights and the full band and the backup singers and so on and so forth. I’ve visited a couple, and in that atmosphere, it’s so easy to get caught up in the emotional side of faith.

That one song comes on and you’re swept up in the butterflies of the piano chords, the melodic harmony of voices, the dimmed lights, the rising choruses. Perhaps it’s a song about how good God is, or maybe how His love is so great.

Or maybe the song is about us, that we’re children of God, and how awesome it is. The hands get raised. Tears start streaming down your face.

Then the preacher comes on. He utilizes the most powerful story of death to life, with all the appropriate pauses and voice-raises he can muster. The band comes on as he closes and those guitar strums as he hammers home his point.

Then one more worship song where you surrender your emotions to the Lord, let Him “lead you” while you sing with all your feels.

But during the week, the emotions get lost. Maybe you don’t listen to Christian radio for whatever reason. So by the time you get to Sunday, you’re emotionally-starved again. So it’s back to church, back to the worship, back to the tear-jerking stories.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Now, two caveats:

  1. I’ve visited a megachurch with the lights and the full band and have had genuine worship with genuine songs that weren’t about making me feel good. The pastor spoke about reality and was honest about himself and his own sin. It wasn’t fluff. It was real worship and real truth.
  2. The worship songs are often all true theologically. Completely accurate. But…

The Loss of the Intellect

I haven’t done a lot of serious research into church culture (I’d really like to someday), but I’ve done a lot of observing. I’ve thought a lot about why churches do what we do, and I’ve come up with a theory. This theory could be disproven by some serious research, but I’ll take a stab.

Humans are emotional creatures. Always have been. Adam and Eve were swayed by the emotional draw of being like God. David’s lustful feelings drove him to pursue Bathsheba. When Stephen’s being stoned to death in Acts 8, Paul “approved” of his execution; there had to be an emotional element to that.

And emotion is not all bad. Sometimes God uses our emotions to help us realize we need Him. Our sadness following a loss of a close friend or family member can lead us to remember that God has them now if they’re a believer, and rejoice in that. My great excitement and happiness on my wedding day pumped me up even more for the beauty of the ceremony and the marriage that I’m now two months into.

But what happens, unfortunately, is that we often shove aside the intellectual part of it and cling to the emotional side when it comes to being a Christian. That’s what happened to me.

When I was younger in the faith – late high school, early college – I really began to dive into the emotional side of following Christ. I would raise my hands during worship, close my eyes and sing, and sometimes I might shed a tear or two.

But when I wasn’t in worship mode, I was wondering where God was. I didn’t feel Him, so was He really there? I didn’t feel saved, so was I really God’s child? I saw my sin and felt like crap. I felt bad, so obviously God wasn’t with me and wasn’t happy with me.

Things started to take a turn during my senior year of college. I’ve written about this before, but I’ll write it again – a guy named Curtis Allen spoke at a college ministry conference I was attending and said the most important thing I’ve ever heard about following Jesus:

The secret to Christianity is not changing how you feel, the secret to Christianity and obedience is changing how you think.

Boom.

I started to (slowly) recognize that I had been living my life with Christ based on how I felt I was doing and that was not at all what it meant to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is first and foremost an exercise of the mind, an exercise of faith in the truth. And faith is not emotional. Faith is something you think, something you believe with your mind.

The Reality

It’s not sexy to present faith in Christ as a mind exercise. It’s not something that, on the surface, will draw in thousands of people to a worship service.

We want to feel good. We want to feel that emotional high.

But like any other kind of high, it won’t last. So we have to go back. And churches love when people return again and again and again.

Church leaders and bloggers and authors wonder why my generation, the college-aged, is leaving the church. I’d wager one of the reasons is this – there’s no substance to their faith. It’s built on that emotional high that they got at camp one time or maybe that one night they had a serious conversation with their youth pastor. Perhaps we were genuine in that moment, but without any serious intellectual foundation or building upon that moment with truth, we lose the drive, the desire.

It’s in the moments when we lose the emotional side of following Jesus that our faith is really tested. And often it’s in those moments where we lose our faith.

If we’re going to follow Christ, it has to be first and foremost about what we think. Belief isn’t about emotions; it’s about truth. To my knowledge, the Bible never speaks about trying to “feel” a certain way, but to think a certain way. A few examples:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… – Philippians 2:4-5

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:5-8

So What Should We Do Instead?

I’m not an expert. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way. But I can’t help but think there need to be changes in how we present church and worship and truth.

I’m not saying we need to get rid of megachurches and that all are bad. As I said before, I’ve been to one where there was genuine worship, genuine preaching that wasn’t just intellectually true but stimulated a real approach to faith. I do believe there are some that are not helpful. And I think that you can go to churches that aren’t mega and find worship and preaching and teaching that stimulates an emotional response.

I also understand there’s another challenge: You can do everything you possibly can to make faith an intellectual thing in your church, but people will still respond primarily with their emotions.

I’m also sure there are plenty of preachers and churches that have the best intentions in the world that are doing this. They’re not trying to lead people into making their faith emotional, but for whatever reason that’s how it’s turned out.

We can’t change how people respond to what we do in church. But we can change what we do.

I wish there was a fix-all, but here’s a couple thoughts:

I wish that we’d be more careful in how we choose our worship songs. Maybe break out the old favorites every once in a while for some emotional worship time, but not lean on them.

Before we sing, explain to us what the lyrics mean. What truth are they presenting? What should we believe? What are we affirming when we sing?

I wish we’d rethink the way we preach, presenting more of the Bible and more of truth rather than concocting the best emotional plea. Prosperity gospel preachers somewhat make their living off of this idea. And some non-prosperity gospel preachers do too. Tell us how we should think, not what we should feel, and base it on the Bible.

That’s just a couple thoughts.

I really hope you don’t walk away from this emotionally-charged.

We Must Learn to Be Content in Any and Every Situation, Even If Culture Goes Awry

No, you can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need – The Rolling Stones

The Stones had their finger on something. I wish the Church would grasp it sometimes.

Whether it’s homosexuality, abortion, religious liberty, etc., some Christians come out sounding like petulant toddlers when we don’t get what we want. Some churches become shacks of whining instead of bastions of strength.

Not all Christians are this way. Some Christians go with the flow, handle the punches given to Christians in America. They say, “OK, this is a blow, but let’s see what we can do positive instead.” Abortion is legal? OK, let’s host a ministry for single-mothers-to-be to encourage them to have the baby and either help raise the kid or give the kid up for adoption. Gay marriage is legal? OK, let’s talk about the value of marriage God’s way and the joy that comes from following Jesus, and let’s love people without asking them to change who they are first.

If things don’t go the way we want them to, we get all up-in-arms like we’re owed things to be exactly how we want them. And that’s not the case.

The basic foundation of Christianity is that we’re owed nothing, and God freely gives us something so great and beautiful called the Gospel. So why do we act like we need the world to behave and act just like we’re supposed to act? That’s right, not “act like we act” but “act like we’re supposed to act.”

This is perhaps my biggest frustration with evangelical culture. We don’t like something, so we go out of our way to complain. And I know that I’m doing the same thing right now. But sometimes it takes doing what you hate to point out that something you hate is going on. If we’re supposed to hate sin, why don’t we hate our own, our grumbling, our complaining?

Since the Church is full of sinners, there will always be sin. But I get the sense that we’re coming off as whiny toddlers, and that’s not what the first church members did.

You never hear Paul or Peter complaining about their circumstances or whining about the governmental policies enacted in their day. In fact, we hear the opposite:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

So isn’t there a chance that we’ll be more reflective of Christ by accepting the situation we’re in as a Church and simply make the most of it? Finding out how to be content while, admittedly, the culture is going opposite of how we would like it to be?

This is a difficult balance to find. And I know plenty of people will disagree with me. But I’ve read the book of Acts. We don’t see the apostles going out of their way to speak into the culture. They’re not going to war with the culture. Jesus didn’t go to war with the culture either. I might be misinterpreting Scripture, so if I’m wrong please let me know. Paul argued spiritual matters, he reasoned in the synagogues. But he didn’t go grandstanding.

We often interpret not taking a strong stand as approval of a certain sin. And that’s just not true. You can disagree with certain decisions your sports team makes, but that doesn’t mean you go picket outside the team’s headquarters until something changes.

Yes, in the United States of America, we have the right to petition the politicians and make our voice heard. And I understand the desire to help people see the right way to live. But it starts with the Gospel! It’s always started with loving God and loving people. That’s the greatest commandment:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

And you see some ministries doing that. XXX Church (my favorite example) is pursuing loving those in the pornography industry without actively campaigning for the end of the business. They’re loving God and loving people.

And that’s what’s most important.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear. But The Church Hasn’t Been a Place Where That Happens.

A Reddit feed on Christianity had a post back in December 2012 that read like this:

Hi there, I recently Felt i have lost touch with my christian faith. I prayed today that God would hear my cry and forgive me of my wrong and help me to live as christ would in this destructive world, but im so scared sometimes that sin would just be too much for me to handle. I want to be holy and pleasing in God’s eyes and celebrate fellowship with other believers, but whenever i went to a bible study they seemed to gossip and talk about other people and how bad they are for sinning. I don’t know whats keeping me from going back to church, but i just want to be accepted by God and my community and become strong in my faith again. I just am worried my pastor will be angry with me.

The post was titled “Afraid to go back to church.” Commenters on the post shared similar struggles and gave some helpful pointers. I’ll get to them later.

How many people are afraid in or of church? I’d willing to bet you that many people sitting in a church pew are afraid of something in the church building. Some of my guesses of fears…

  • The pastor saying something that will make them question their goodness
  • Being rejected/judged because of their struggles
  • Being rejected/judged because they think differently than the majority
  • Going “too much” against the status quo

The first one of these reasons is probably a good reason to get scared. We should all be questioned of our “inherent goodness” as humans and realize that, well, we suck. We fall short of obedience in just about everything we do. Paul David Tripp tweeted today: “Today we’ll be tempted to deny the sin inside us. Denying reality is never a step toward the grace that’s the help for what we’re denying.”

But every other reason on that list is inexcusable in the church. And here’s why.

1 John 4:18 says this:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I think this verse has two practical applications. One of them is a personal application, and the other applies to the church as a whole.

First, the more we understand the love that God has for us, the less we will fear Him. So often we live in fear of God and His judgement for our sins. But when we realize the depth of His love for us, and the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), the fear seeps away and is replaced by love and gratitude. We fear the punishment, but when we realize the punishment has been taken, we can accept the love and, hopefully, be “perfected in love” as John talks about.

The second is an application of that idea to the interactions with the people around us, particularly in the body of Christ.

Some more comments from the Reddit feed:

“I know the feeling, I’m still too afraid to go to my place of worship even though it’s pretty much throwing a gift from God away. 😦 I’m just worried other people will judge the gringo in the masjid who doesn’t do everything perfectly. Hopefully we’ll both be able to go and perhaps find a group welcoming of us.” – Doctor_Yi

“A big part of the church’s job is to be a hospital where hurting people go to get healed and then gain the ability to help others. The church should also be equipping its members to deal with the challenges of others. If neither of those is happening, you need to find a different church to go to because yours is broken.” – macrobite

“God isn’t going to bed upset. Your pastor isn’t going to be upset – and if s/he is, you really need to find a new church. As for the cackling hens of Bible study, there is no good way for you to deal with them alone. Enlist the help of Church elders, officials or someone in a position of authority to put them back in their place. Cackling hens who are not called out on their behavior are a cancer in the church and one of the reasons I refuse to set foot in or have any contact with one of my local congregations.” – In_The_News

These comments reveal the real fears and real concerns of people in the body of Christ. There’s a fear to go to a church and be yourself because of the judgement or the gossip or the rejection. Fear of rejection is a legitimate thing that goes beyond a girl turning you down for a date. And in the body of Christ, this should not be happening.

Of course, some people’s fear is based on biases and a refusal to accept that there could be any other way. But even that is often founded in a bad experience within a church where a lack of love from the church led to fear.

When the Church doesn’t actually love people as God loves us, an atmosphere is created where fear is cultivated, and we have ourselves to blame. I’ve been on the side of being afraid, and I’m sure I’ve been on the side of creating that fear in others. It’s not God’s fault that people are afraid of church, because God loves. If people are afraid of condemnation from God, they don’t know God because He offers love in place of condemnation. If people are afraid of condemnation from Christians, we don’t know how to love people. Our call is this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

There is one difficulty: we will never love perfectly. But we can’t solely accuse those who are afraid of church for not giving us grace and not coming. We must also, and perhaps primarily, blame ourselves and seek to grow in our giving of love.

Perhaps my favorite response on that Reddit post was this:

anybody that gives you a hard time for being a prodigal son needs to get kicked right in the butt. then, they need to do the christian thing and turn the other cheek.

but seriously, if you are worried that people will act unchristian towards you (especially the pastor) because you lost your way, then find another damn church, because the one that gives you crap for not being mr. perfect is not teaching the message of christ.

prayers are with you, and god bless you.

I echo this.

The Church Culture of Church Exceptionalism

Back in May, U.S. President Barack Obama called out the Christians in America to focus more on poverty than divisive issues like gay marriage and abortion. An article on Breitbart.com reported on it:

“There is great caring and great concern, but when it comes to what are you really going to the mat for, what’s the defining issue … this is often times viewed as a ‘nice to have’ relative to an issue like abortion,” Obama said.

He argued that churches should spend more time pursuing “powerful” ideas such as helping those in poverty in order to attract more followers.

“Nobody has shown that better than Pope Francis, who I think has been transformative just through the sincerity and insistence that this is vital to who we are, this is vital to following what Jesus Christ our Savior talked about.”

I find it interesting that this is basically a reflection of what the church often does to President Obama. I could cite a million things that Christians have said that were critical of the President.

Christians get so defensive when the church is criticized. There’s an immediate rush to defense of Christians through all generations. We try to explain away the Crusades. We dismiss the crazies who want to burn Korans. We rush to support Christians who mess up and claim God’s forgiveness for them, while not offering grace to non-Christians who mess up.

All of these things are symptoms of what I would call “church exceptionalism.” And it’s one of the most dangerous things about Christian culture today.

What is “Church exceptionalism”? From my perspective, it’s this:

Seeing the church, both locally, nationally and universally, as above reproach and as an example of what is right. Perhaps there is some acknowledgement of weakness, but generally there’s a distinction given where the church is higher than, for example, the government, Hollywood, the media, any non-Christian entity.

There is a sense where we are called to exceptionalism. But just because we’re called to it doesn’t mean we can claim it for ourselves.

The Church Isn’t Better than the World

See, the Church is no better than the world. It’s not better than the government. It’s not better than Hollywood. It’s not better than the media. Let me prove it to you.

What do we bash the government for? Cover-ups, not following up on their promises, being fake and phony.

There’s a whole website called StopBaptistPredators.com dedicated to “Shining light on Baptist clergy sex abuse.” I was stunned to find it. There’s a list of articles detailing different cases of pastoral sexual abuse. Is there some hokeyness and probable over-exaggeration on the site? Sure. But the news articles – like this one on a Baptist pastor whose molestation of young boys was ignored for years – speak to the dangerous truth that we cover up things all the time.

In 2011, a pastor named Jim Moats was revealed to have never been a Navy SEAL, which wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that he told his congregation at the Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, Penn., and The Patriot-News newspaper that he was. Apparently, this deception is common. Don Shipley, a retired SEAL who reportedly has access to a database of all former SEALs, said, “We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up.”

What do we bash Hollywood for? All the divorces and cheating, disregard for and mockery of people of faith, their liberal politics.

The recent Ashley Madison hack and revelation of who used the site is a prime example about how no one is exempt from the temptation to cheat. R.C. Sproul, Jr., a professor at Reformation Bible College and the son of theologian R.C. Sproul, was one of the more prominent names to surface on that site. Christian vlogger Sam Rader was another popular name that came to light. Blogger and researcher Ed Stetzer guesses there were somewhere around 400 pastors on the list.

Think about this: how often do we make fun of or speak disparagingly of other religions like Islam? Members of the Church have called for burnings of the Koran. I’ve heard and read un-loving hate speech towards other religions like Mormonism, Judaism, atheism and agnosticism come from Christians.

What do we bash the media for? Blowing stories up more than they “should be,” an anti-Christian bias, pushing agendas.

We push agendas. Let’s be real. Is our agenda more God-glorifying, Jesus-exalting? Sometimes. Sometimes we spend way too much time focusing on the Supreme Court decision to make gay marriage legal. Sometimes we spend way too much time focusing on pastors having sin in their life. Sometimes we spend way too much time on saying how terrible Hollywood/teenagers/government/secular music is. The church may not have an anti-Christian bias, but like Hollywood, we echo the media in how we mock other faiths.

The Church Is Called To Be More

To a degree, we are called to be set apart from these institutions. There’s an obedient stature to be taken inside that “Church exceptionalism” definition.

As a set-apart people, this is our calling: to go make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), to seek holiness in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:15). We are supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be that light on the hilltop, that salt on the steak (Matthew 5:13-16).

And if you look at how the Church has behaved, there’s a significant distance between how we’ve acted and what we’ve said we’re about. So there’s no room for Church exceptionalism. There’s no place we have to claim the Church is better. But we ignore that.

What’s the side effect of that ignorance? A few things.

We don’t talk about how we mess up because we think we have to be “better.” The everyday Christian sees him or herself as generally a good person, so we don’t think it necessary to confess the gossip we partake in every day at work, the lust we hold in our hearts towards that person at the grocery store or the bitterness towards someone from long ago. We know we’re supposed to be a “good person,” so we don’t talk about or we ignore the crap we’ve done/we do, the crap we’ve thought/we think and the crap we’ve said/we say.

We are highly critical and shaming of others. We ride our high horses all over the Internet to bash President Obama, CNN and Hollywood progressives who don’t interpret the Bible how we’d like them to. Forget the fact that Jesus wasn’t that way towards those types of people. We’ll go on Twitter and use all 140 characters to lament the state of the country, the state of the media and the movies in the theaters. We say, “Why all this ‘separation of church and state’ talk? It’s not even in the Constitution!” “Look at Hollywood screwing up the Bible!”

We don’t accept the need for grace in our own lives. We get scared if we talk about grace too much. But the truth is we need it so bad! We need grace desperately. We’re a messy people in need of a thorough Savior. If we see ourselves as exceptional, we can miss the need for the Gospel being applied to Christians.

We’re called to be more. But we’re not. And, honestly, we will never be.

The government will never be perfect. Hollywood will never be perfect. The media will never be perfect. The Church will never be perfect.

That doesn’t mean we don’t raise our voices when we see issues. We just keep those things in mind when we examine those entities. And we act/speak/think accordingly.

We give grace and patience to those institutions. We speak grace and love. We avoid harsh, judgmental, overboard criticism. We speak loving truth. We lead with love – the greatest of all things that will abide (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Let us be a Church that leads with love, that always leads with love. If we’re going to be exceptional in anything, let it be that. Let the ego that’s led us die out, and let it be replaced by love, patience, grace, hope and an understanding that nobody is even close to being perfect and never will be.

We’re no better. That’s a fact. But it’s OK because of grace. We’ll make it.

3 Reasons It’s Bad That Christians Idolize Virginity

I’ve come pretty close to having sex.

It’s not the easiest thing for me to type that. Instantly, my mind starts to freak out and worry and wonder, “What will these people reading me think? Is my credibility shot? Will people ever trust anything I say?”

To be honest, I kinda don’t care, but at the same time I do deeply care. See, there’s a respect in the church for people who haven’t sinned in “certain ways,” like they have this Christianity thing figured out, so we can listen to them. But if they’ve done certain things, we can’t listen to them, we can’t trust them.

One certain sin that might “disqualify” someone is having sex before marriage, or losing your virginity to someone other than your spouse. It’s like this threshold that, if you cross it, you’re made to feel like you’ve lost something so precious and so holy that you’re nearly beyond repair. Phrases like “you’re still a virgin in God’s eyes because He wiped away your sin” emphasize this kind of thought in a subtle, more gentler way.

But I think virginity is a terrible idol. A dreadful one. Virginity becomes the thing that Christian dating couples want to pursue more than anything else. And as long as you don’t have sex, you can deal with anything else.

I think we should look at it a little differently. Because while virginity might be the “ideal,” we take it from “ideal” to “idol” real quick. Three reasons why that’s bad:

1. Sexual sin is sexual sin, no matter how far you go.

Let’s compare two dating couples where both parties in each relationship are Christians. In Relationship A, the guy and the girl do just about everything but have sex. It’s maybe a once-a-week thing, sometimes more, sometimes less. In Relationship B, the guy and the girl have sex one time but are pretty clean the rest of the relationship.

Which one gets a worse rap in the church? I’d wager it would be Relationship B. And that’s screwed up.

If we look at it biblically, they’re on level playing fields. Jesus set us the standard in Matthew 5:27-28,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

A man who lusts after a woman once is a sinner just like the man who has sex with his girlfriend every night. There’s no levels to sexual sin. Yes, there is much more impact on a person and on a relationship when premarital sex is had, but at the end of the day, we’re failing God and His people by treating one with much more intensity than the other.

Actual loss of virginity outside of marriage is sinful, but so is looking too long and thinking about it. It comes back to the idea that sin starts in the heart. When David sinned with Bathsheba, his response in Psalm 51 wasn’t asking God to not let him have sex outside of marriage anymore. It was to cleanse his heart, to change his thinking. That’s the key.

2. Nowhere in Scripture is virginity the sign of a good Christian.

To my knowledge, there’s no verse that says, “To be a Christian you must stay a virgin until marriage.” But it sure seems like that sometimes, doesn’t it?

I’m not bashing ministries, books, pastors, etc., who promote that virginity is ideal. It is. There are even many non-biblical benefits to waiting for marriage to have sex. It’s also the biblical command. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

But nowhere does it say that you must be or have been a virgin before marriage to pray, to read your Bible, to lead small groups, to speak, to get married. We end up making things like this some unwritten qualification for being honoring to God when it’s not. It’s putting something “in the Bible” that’s not actually there. And that’s never healthy.

3. You losing your virginity doesn’t diminish the Gospel being applied to you.

No sin can outweigh the greatness and the depth of the grace of the Gospel, “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” as Romans 5:17 says. Being a virgin might be “ideal” but it doesn’t disallow you being forgiven and loved by the Creator of the Universe.

I think we in the church make far too much of sin and far too less of grace and the Gospel. Have we forgotten who we are, and who God is? Have we forgotten that we have sinned, sin and will continue to sin? Have we forgotten that God is powerful enough and loving enough to forgive us of every sin, past, present and future?

If you’re a Christian and lose your virginity before marriage, your identity is not in that you are no longer “pure.” It’s as it was before: forgiven, loved, child of God. You’re not stained in a way that Jesus can’t clean up.

Will it affect your life? Sure. I’ve already been negatively affected by the physical interactions with the opposite sex I’ve had even if it didn’t include sex. It’s left me with some terrible memories and overwhelming anxiety. But God still calls me His. He doesn’t condone what I do, but He loves me still.

No sin changes that about me. If you’re a Christian, it doesn’t change that about you either.