Sean McDowell | February 8, 2022

The Forgotten Reason to Seek Sexual Purity

There are many reasons why a young person (or really any person) may desire to avoid sexual immorality. In my experience, we have forgotten the main reason. Let me explain.

Recently I asked a group of Christian high school students to list the reasons they believe it is wise to not have sex before marriage. Here’s a few of their answers:

  • To not risk pregnancy
  • To avoid a sexually transmitted disease
  • To avoid emotional hurt
  • To not bring guilt into your life
  • To avoid future problems in marriage

While the students gave a few other answers, do you notice a common theme? All of the answers are anthropocentric. In other words, they are about how sexual activity may affect us. They are looking at the question of sexual morality from a human perspective.

Seeing God's Perspective

I pointed this out to them and asked them to consider a theocentric perspective. Rather than looking at the question of sexual immorality from how it might affect us, I challenged them to look at it from a divine angle. In other words, what is the heart of the reason why God calls us to be sexually pure? Is it because sexual immorality may bring harm to us, or does it go deeper?

I started by bringing them to Leviticus 18, which contains prohibitions of various immoral sexual behavior–committed in Egypt and Canaan–that God commands the Israelites to avoid. Why does God call them to avoid these actions? The answer is found at the start of the next chapter: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2b).

The primary reason God called Israel to avoid sexual immorality was not the negative effects such behavior would have on their community (although God wanted them to flourish relationally), but because they were His people and He called them to be holy. The Hebrew people were God’s chosen people who were set apart to reveal the character of the one true God to a sinful world.

Holiness Today

While we live under a different covenant, the same motivation applies to Christians today. The apostle Peter says the reason we should be holy is because God is holy: “but as he who called you is holy; you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).

While there are emotional, physical, and relational consequences for stepping outside God’s design for sex, avoiding such consequences should not be the primary goal. And it should not be the core means by which we encourage students to be sexually pure. If we tell students not to have sex because of the consequences, then many will start to calculate ways to be sexually active without experiencing the consequences.

Framing the Issue Theocentrically

Framing the issue in terms of God’s character changes everything. I realize it’s not as simple as telling students that God is holy. There’s a ton of rewiring we have to do in terms of bad ideas they have adopted from culture (and many times, from the church!).

But that is where Scripture starts. And that is why in my book Chasing Love: Sex, Love and Relationships in a Confused Culture, I encourage students to approach the issues of sexuality from the theocentric question of how they can best love God and love others. Rather than focusing on how sexual immorality hurts us, we should be focusing on how living God’s design is a means of loving Him and others.

And our primary motivation should be holiness. Why? Because God is holy.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: