Over the years, one thing that has always stood out to me and others I have talked to outside of Christianity is the church’s focus on behavior and clean living. Whether it’s deserved or not, the reality is when most people hear the word “Christian” they think of someone who spends their day concerning themselves with making “correct” choices and lecturing others along the way on their need to do the same.

And when it comes to sexual behavior this is especially true. 

Spend any time immersed in evangelical culture and undoubtedly you will hear the word purity come up any time the topic of sexuality is addressed. 

So many books, courses, podcasts, and sermons have been churned out over the years promoting the need for purity and suppression or denial of sexual desires. Witness the fact that if you type the word “purity” in when doing a book search on Amazon you’ll get over 10,000 results.

The result of all this? 

A lot of unhelpful advice that doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, the word “purity” is not a dirty word. God calls us to be “pure,” but when we reduce the meaning of the word “purity” to a checklist of do’s and don’ts we miss the bigger and deeper picture.

And when applying this type of behavior focused thinking to sexual brokenness it not only isn’t helpful, but can be extremely harmful.

For instance…

  • I’ve reviewed paid courses from “experts” that refer to porn use as “just a habit” and suggest that the “fix” to chronic porn use is as simple as getting into healthier habits. 
  • I’ve seen popular books that tell guys the cure to their lustful behaviors is just constantly diverting their eyes from the women that capture their attention.
  • I’ve heard pastors and authors who promote locking down or locking out devices and entertainment choices as the cure-all for poor sexual decision making.
  • I’ve scrolled through comments on our social feed from others asking questions like, “Why is [porn] so big a problem, if ministers are teaching chastity to their congregations?”

All of these suggestions and comments lead to the same message… 

The answer to your porn addiction lies in better behavior so just try harder.

Consequently if you are a person struggling in this area that type of messaging can leave you feeling…

  • Hopeless – because you just can’t seem to stop no matter what.
  • Confused – because trying harder seems to make things even worse.
  • Weak – because you lack the willpower and discipline to say no.
  • Shameful – because clearly you don’t have what it takes to live pure.
  • Isolated – because everyone else is expecting you to pull it together and you’re the odd man out.
  • Condemned – because clearly the real issue is your lack of resolve and faithfulness.
  • Frustrated – because you become convinced over time that things will never change.
  • Resigned – because it’s easier to just give up than beat your head against a wall every day.

It sounds crazy, but more often than not when we welcome someone into our online small groups or communities like Live Free there’s a deprogramming process that needs to take place because so many guys are carrying around these incorrect beliefs that lead nowhere but futility.

We need to understand that if the church is going to do a better job at addressing the needs of the sexually broken we must focus less on purity and more on pain.

Because at the end of the day the real issue behind sexual brokenness is not the choices we make, but the reasons we make those choices in the first place.

  • Trying harder doesn’t work.
  • Denying sexual desire is just suppression.
  • Willpower only takes you so far.

What people need is healing, grace, and a safe place where they can seek these things out.

We need to stop treating hurting people like they are children who can’t behave themselves and more like the wounded souls they really are.

We need to open up our arms and hearts instead of shaking our heads and pointing fingers.

We need to recognize that deep healing is the key to true restoration, not our ability to alter one’s choice and desires.

As St. Augustine once said, the church is “a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” 

And so we need to adopt this type of healing mindset even more so when offering help and care to the sexually broken who carry around some of the deepest wounds you can imagine.

Recognize that purity is not a bad word. But if we want to experience the benefits of a “pure” life we need to address the pain of living in the first place.