Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Basis of Abstinence, the Basis of Obedience

The other day I watched a show (well, while I was at the computer, Tim turned on a show and I saw it from the corner of my eye, or over his shoulder, so to speak)...the show featured a number of families who were celebrating their daughters' entrance into a covenant with the parents for chastity, purity, abstinence...you get the idea.
The announcer tried to be kind to them, but she was skeptical. You could tell she didn't buy into it, and they did their best to be some salt and light to her. By the end of it, I'm sure they convinced her of nothing, and I can't blame her for keeping her point of view by the time they were done.
These families obviously made a huge emphasis on this one ideal, that their daughters remain pure until marriage. There was, strangely, extremely little mention of sons following this same ideal. The families had yearly celebrations, for which there was great preparation complete with expensive dresses and much fanfare. The fathers spoke at the dinner about their daughters, and danced with them and basically tried to show them how a virtuous man would behave so that the daughters wouldn't fall for a man whose intentions might be less than pure.
The announcer interviewed one woman who had grown up in such a family. She, however, had not followed her family's ideal. She had become pregnant, become engaged at her family's wishes, lost the baby, cancelled the wedding, and continued in a lifestyle rebellious to her parents' ideals. She considered herself happy, except that her parents had not met the boyfriend with whom she was presently living. She expressed gladness in various terms for the turn she had made against her parents' wishes. There was no mention of how she stood with God. In fact, generally, I gathered far more stressing in general that these daughters please their parents, their father, than that they please and obey God.
The announcer interviewed two young sisters who were trying to explain to her the reason behind this emphasis on purity, and you could still sense that the announcer wasn't buying it. They said that it was one of the commandments. "Which one?" the announcer asked. The girls looked at each other. The older one said, with uncertainty, "The seventh." One said that it was about adultery. The announcer asked, "Well, adultery's only once you're married, right?" The older daughter slowly explained, as if she was trying to remember the right reasoning, that a girl wants to remain pure when she's married, because especially if the husband has remained pure, it wouldn't be fair to not remain pure for him too. It would be as if she had committed adultery beforehand. I've heard this argument before in the youth ministry at a church we used to attend, and I consider it an inadequate argument, especially in light of the fact that there are such more direct ways to address the issue of purity before marriage, and how readily the tempted mind will dismiss such an argument.
The Bible says that we are supposed to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us. I think this also could mean that we should be able to give an answer for why we obey God in ways that are strange to unbelievers, such as the idea of abstinence. We obey because we have love for God, we have hope in Him, and our obedience isn't to what might seem a convoluted application of a commandment. There is a reason for abstinence clearly laid out in the New Testament; no one can deny its straightforward meaning, and no one can deny the consequence that is laid bare there. 1 Corinthians 6:8-10 says, Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Now this seems like an odd verse from today's human view of sin; there are many attitudes mentioned here in such a way that it is clear that God takes a much stronger stance against them than we tend to; there are some we consider extreme, and some we seem to consider minor. God, however, sees it all the same: sin is sin. The fact that fornication is clearly one of those things that so offends God that the hope of heaven is lost as a result is sobering. Now this is an argument that would be very clear, hopefully convincing, when an unbeliever asks why a person would abstain.
And yet, that is not enough. It is not enough for a person to realize that there is behavior that offends God; it might deceive them into thinking that if they abstain, they will go to heaven, or that now that they may have messed up, there's no road back. It is important that everyone also hear Hebrews 11:6, And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. They need to know that there is nothing on their own that they can do that would clear the matter up. Abstinence in itself will not please God. Nothing we do in our own strength can please God! Ephesians 2:8-9 says, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. God gives us faith as a gift, by His grace, and saves us; it's not any obedience that earns it. Obedience is a fruit of knowing Him--of our love and thankfulness toward Him, a realization of what He has done for us and how we can never deserve His salvation.
They also need to know that God is a forgiver of sins, that they can be washed clean of the sins they have committed: 1 John 1:9 tells us that If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Not only that, Isaiah 1:18 states it more vividly: "Come now, and let us reason together,"Says the LORD," Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool."
So the show saddened me, that the whole reasoning for obedience was not presented and did not even seem to be fully known, when the fruit of that one particular obedience, in itself, seemed so important. In fact, the emphasis they placed on abstinence seemed way out of balance. Obedience to Christ isn't a singular item, it isn't a list, it's an attitude. It's a life, a progression, a response. A whole life of abstinence could still result in an eternity in hell. A life headed for heaven is a life lived out in love for God, in joy of knowing Him, in the fruit, many-faceted, of obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit. It isn't something that comes from us, but from Him, and reflected back to Him.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation


Anonymous said...

Hi, Mrs. Abbott! My Genesis, Life of Christ, and Bible Basis of Missions teacher Rick Barth gave a chapel message and a two-week-long class on sexual purity. One of their motives really struck me, and the TV show reminds me of it: Christian teens only hear the negative aspect of abstinence. It's all about things to avoid, like you're being withheld from something. If only the teachers discipling them would also show the positive aspect, that God has those boundaries not to be mean to you but to PROTECT something PRECIOUS! They are told the grim-but-necessary truth that sex outside of God's intentions has huge consequences; but they don't see what they gain in their relationship with God and their spouse, and many others, by waiting. (Not that it's our job to be seeker-sensitive or to cater to their "What's-in-it-for-me" mentality!) I want to obey God because of His agape love He gave me and commands me to imitate... a love that esteems others above oneself.

NeverAlone said...

You're right, Shani! It's too bad that people tend to focus on all the peripherals, rather than the most central issue: the love of God for us, of us for Him. One other thing that you touch on that I neglected is the matter of how unloving it is to engage another in a sin that is sure to separate them from God.
Of course, this is not the only sin issue in our lives. We all have sinned, we all need Jesus' cleansing forgiveness. Praise be to God for His indescribable gift! To anyone who doesn't know, whatever your sin, you need to confess it to Christ, and He stands ready to forgive you: 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Hallelujah! Amen!