May 2009 Simple and Pure Susie Magill Shannon Ethridge Shanna Crossley Randy Alcorn
Part two of STV's series on sexual purity talks straight to the ladies. For last month's feature on male purity, click here.
"Sexual temptation and purity is a man's issue, not mine."
If you're like millions of women, that thought probably crossed your mind when you read the subhead of this article. And no wonder. On the surface, the evidence is pretty convincing.
In today's world, physical temptations aren't often geared toward women. Strip clubs, X-rated magazines and Internet pornography mainly target men. So, it is justifiable to assume that men are the only ones who deal with sexual impurity, right?
Just because most women don't have the same kind of battle as men doesn't mean they aren't in the middle of a fight — one more complicated and subtle, but every bit as dangerous. When we as women assume that the battle for sexual purity doesn't apply to our lives, Satan has done his job of deceiving us. When we believe him, we don't arm ourselves for the fight.
It is a little-known fact that for every guy who falls into lust and sexual sin, there is usually a woman who is falling along with him. And often, she is unknowingly responsible for initiating the behavior.
Yes, ladies, sexual impurity is something we need to confront. It's not just your man's problem anymore. It never has been. So, take the blinders off. We are going full-speed ahead into what some may see as unexplored territory, to examine what God says specifically to women about purity.
"It is a little-known fact that for every guy who falls into lust and sexual sin, there is usually a woman who is falling along with him."
THE ROOTS RUN DEEP
We all remember the affections of our childhood. The first time we held hands on the school bus. The time we got up the nerve to write that love letter to the cutest guy in school. That first kiss at the movies that made us see fireworks. Each one of these firsts created a euphoric feeling, and, as emotional beings, our hearts locked onto that feeling and sought to recreate it.
This is where our problem usually begins. You can't reproduce that feeling. Once you have a first, you can never experience it again with the same newness and awe. That unhealthy expectation that we create, however, presents a problem in a woman's psyche that can lead her astray from God's perfect plan for sexual integrity.
When we are single, we often look for more attention, affection and affirmation to build up our feelings, making it the responsibility of the male gender to meet our emotional needs. This is a need that, according to Shannon Ethridge, author of Every Woman's Battle, should only be met through a relationship with Christ.
"We can use all kinds of excuses for why we look for love in all the wrong places, but the real root of it is because we doubt that God's love is truly sufficient to meet our every need," Ethridge said. "We think we have some sort of special needs that create an exception to all the biblical rules of purity. But if we truly believed with all of our hearts that Jesus Christ is the only lover of our souls we need, we wouldn't end up in relational entanglements that lead to destruction."
There is a reason why God asks us to guard our hearts in Proverbs 4:23. He is very aware of how He created us — that where our hearts go emotionally, our bodies desire to be physically. The battle is not simply for our virginity or sexual faithfulness, but rather for our emotional integrity. When we protect our emotions and the level at which we allow ourselves to connect with men — those who are not our husbands — we are ultimately protecting our purity.
TIME TO GROW UP
Still, the battle isn't over once we enter into a committed, godly relationship. We can also spend too much energy trying to maintain a level of emotional intensity that was experienced in each of those "firsts," regardless of how innocent they were. But ultimately, it is God's desire for us to experience healthy intimacy, not intensity, in a relationship.
"The new always wears off," Ethridge said. "That was true for me. And when I wasn't all excited, I started thinking I must have made a mistake — that my husband wasn't really my soul-mate. I was tempted to go looking for someone else who lit my fire again. But I had to grow up and understand that that is the nature of human relationships. Intensity is not the goal, especially at the cost of one's integrity."
The root of purity at any stage of life is in the understanding of God's complete and full love for us. When we understand that truth, we don't fall into the temptation to find our fulfillment in men.
At its root, seeking that approval from men is a form of idolatry. Our self-confidence and identity should be found in Christ alone, and when we place more value on the attention of a man than on the Lord, we are guilty of serving another god.
Because our God is a jealous God (see Exodus 34:14), He cannot fully bless us when we put the self-gratifying pleasures of this world before Him. It is only through Him that we find ultimate joy and satisfaction. Everything else will leave us longing for more, both emotionally and physically.
As Randy Alcorn writes in his book The Purity Principle, "Those who drink of immorality are never satisfied (John 4:13). Those who drink of Jesus are fully satisfied (John 6:35). I can either have my thirst quenched in Jesus, or I can plunge deeper into sin, in search of what's not there."
THE LION'S DEN
Sexual purity isn't guaranteed simply because a woman has faith in Christ. It isn't automatically something we'll take down the aisle on our wedding day and keep for our husbands. If we aren't vigilant, we will put our head halfway in the "lion's mouth," as Ethridge calls it, before we even realize we're standing in the middle of its den.
"We are all fallen daughters of Eve," Ethridge said, "and we're very capable of messing up on any given day. We're all only 15 minutes away from totally blowing it."
But in Christ there is hope. When we acknowledge our sinful nature and the weaponry Satan is using, we can better guard ourselves against the enemy's attacks.
Ethridge suggests four areas of a woman's life that should remain well-guarded: the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. Like a table with four legs, if any one is weak, the whole table will topple. Women must constantly reassess the stability of each area, seeking God openly for anything that may need reinforcement. As long as one leg of the table is weak, so is our resistance to temptation. What may start as casual conversation and flirting can result in promiscuity and infidelity.
"A woman can be physically a virgin but spiritually, mentally and emotionally a harlot."
"Once you start putting your little toe over the line, you want to put the whole foot, and then the ankle and knee, and then no lust is satisfied," Ethridge said. "You're going to keep needing to break your own boundaries and go against your own level of integrity in order to fulfill your desires. Sexual integrity is jeopardized in the little decisions."
This is why women should, as it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV), "Abstain from all appearance of evil." Avoid those late-night meetings at the office with a male co-worker. Don't stay overnight on the couch at your boyfriend's apartment. Pass on the 10-hour road trips with the guy who is “just a buddy” and skip the one-on-one counseling sessions with church friends of the opposite sex. No matter how innocent these may seem, they have the potential to develop unhealthy, emotional bonds that can lead to impure thoughts and actions.
One way to keep our actions above reproach is to establish accountability with another woman — someone who is more spiritually mature than we are and who will speak truth into our lives. That will hold us up to God's — not man's — standard of morality and integrity.
What exactly are those standards? Scripture doesn't specifically define the rules for a first date or where to draw the physical lines before sex. What God does explain in His Word regarding His expectations for Christian behavior, however, goes much deeper.
First Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) states: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."
In a sense, we are just renting this physical shell we live in. It is not ours; it is God's. Therefore, we must constantly consult the Holy Spirit and Scripture in every decision we make and allow the Lord to permeate our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. This makes our responsibility much greater than if God had listed exact details for dating and relationships.
"The truth is, if you act naturally, you're toast," Alcorn said. "But if you act supernaturally, drawing on the power of the indwelling Christ, you'll enjoy great personal benefits, now and later."
BUILDING OR STUMBLING BLOCK
Being temples of the Holy Spirit, we are subject to the same standards set by Christ. Philippians 2:5-7 shows that Christ's attitude was one of a humble servant. Regarding relationships, then, we must ask ourselves if our motives are self-fulfilling or self-serving. Do we cause men to fall into sin because we are desiring to have our physical and emotional needs met? Are we dressing in a way that draws men's respect or causes them to lust? Are we serving our brothers in Christ by building them up, or are we causing them to stumble?
As Christian women, how we behave, our tone of speech and how we dress speaks more about who we are than any of our words. So, whether we realize it or not, the message we are sending men can be one that doesn't reflect Christ.
"We are each responsible for our own integrity," Ethridge said. "But girls have got to wise up about how physically and visually stimulated guys are and avoid awakening that."
Women also can be guilty of awakening their own impure desires; it just might not be as obvious. Both single and married women can easily be led into impure fantasy relationships through movies, Facebook chats, phone calls, texts and e-mails. Just because there is no physical contact doesn't mean the relationship or desire is pure.
A woman who allows her mind to envision sexual relationships or who participates in sexual conversations or electronic messages with a man who is not her husband is engaging in immoral behavior because, in her heart, she has committed that sin. As Scripture assures us in Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV), as a woman thinks in her heart, so is she.
"There is a big difference between virginity or faithfulness and purity," Ethridge said. "A woman can be physically a virgin but spiritually, mentally and emotionally a harlot."
When we fall into temptation and sexual sin, we run the risk of destroying future relationships. Those memories become baggage that we will carry with us the rest of our lives if not dealt with properly. They can rob us and our husbands of true sexual satisfaction due to mental comparison and the awakening of old mistakes and regrets. Instead of sex being a gift between a husband and wife, it becomes associated with promiscuity or guilt and causes a lack of sexual fulfillment in marriage.
But the beauty of having a relationship with Christ is that there is no dirt, stain or blemish that He can't remove to create a new and pure heart, mind, soul and body. Once we are aware of our sins, we must be quick to acknowledge them to our Savior and ask for His forgiveness. As Ephesians 1:7 (NIV) states: "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace..."
We can't allow Satan to tempt us to wallow in self-pity or guilt. When we hold onto the sin, we run the risk of repeating the same behavior.
"Sexual integrity is jeopardized in the little decisions."
"If you don't let go of your sin, you will walk right back into it," Ethridge said. "It becomes your identity and who you truly think you are. But what Christ did for us on the cross was enough to cleanse us and make us a new creation in Him."
Christ's sacrifice is sufficient enough for any sin. And "...if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36, NIV).
Alcorn still warns us that, even through forgiveness, inactivity isn't enough to have true victory over sin. Satan will continue to strike at our points of weakness, and we will fall again if we are not prepared.
"Sincere intentions, and even prayers, are not enough," he stated. "To have victory over temptation we must have clear goals and sound strategies, and we must diligently carry them out."
And it is within those strategies, accountability friendships and boundaries that we find the true freedom to be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually pure.
"A smart traveler doesn't curse guardrails," Alcorn said. "He doesn't whine, 'That guardrail dented my fender!' He looks over the cliff, sees demolished autos, and thanks God for guardrails. God's guardrails are his moral laws. They are there not to punish or deprive us, but to protect us."
TAKE THE STEP
The myths that tell us women don't struggle with sexual purity are just that: myths. And it's time that we accept the responsibility we've been given. We must find an accountability partner and create boundaries for our relationships, even if we aren't currently dating. We must begin reading Scriptures that encourage us to live a life that is holy in God's eyes. And we must pray continually for the conviction of the Holy Spirit to make us aware of any weakened defenses so that when we are tempted, we'll stand ready.
Fortunately, the task of living a pure life isn't something we have to do on our own. God has provided us with His Word and His Spirit and with other Christians who can help keep us in check. We just have to take the first step.
The battle for our purity is already waging war on our souls. Now that we know it, it's time for us to join in the fight.
The Purity Story
WNBA star Shanna Crossley wants her story to encourage you to live a life of purity.
"It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my entire life."
Shanna and Andrew Crossley
With that statement, Shanna Crossley wasn't referring to the challenge of playing four years of college basketball under Coach Pat Summit. She wasn't talking about missing last year's WNBA season because of an ACL injury or the ensuing physical therapy. Those challenges paled in comparison to the effort required for one of Crossley's crowning accomplishments: remaining sexually pure before marriage.
"I knew what God had in store for my marriage," said Crossley, now a guard for the San Antonio Silver Stars. "But with what the media talks about, what the world says is cool and what was expected by some friends to happen in college, I had to go against the grain in absolutely everything around me and against my own personal desires and hormones."
Crossley met her husband, Andrew, during her sophomore year at the University of Tennessee. He was on the football team and active in Athletes in Action. Crossley was playing basketball for the Lady Vols and was involved in FCA. It didn't take long for the two to realize that God was calling them into a relationship, but marriage was something that would have to wait.
From the very beginning, they agreed to save themselves for their wedding day. Not wanting to be blindsided by temptation, they set boundaries and created accountability relationships to help them stay above reproach.
Finally, when the wedding day arrived, both Shanna and Andrew stood unashamed before God, each other, their family and friends. They had waited for that day to give themselves fully to each other and, looking back, don't regret their decision.
"Being able to say we waited, now knowing the true gift of what God gives you in marriage, is something we are both thankful for," Crossley said.
Regardless of your past or present situation, it is never too late to start writing a purity story of your own. You can change your current or future relationships by following this advice from Shanna Crossley and author Shannon Ethridge.
X-RAY VISION: "I couldn't have remained pure without my accountability partner. We would pray before I went on a date. She would know what we were doing, where we were going and what was said during our time together. There was nothing hidden that she didn't know. If we were getting close to a line we vowed to not cross, I had to tell her." – Crossley
SET THE STANDARD: "Lying down on a date was a 'no,' and we never stayed together past midnight. We always tried to do stuff in groups. Time at home alone was very limited. We also waited until our engagement to have our first kiss and say, 'I love you.'" – Crossley
ARE YOU READY? "If you think you need a boyfriend in order to be somebody, then you aren't ready for one. A relationship isn't about finding someone to complete you; only God can do that. And, if the two of you can't talk about spiritual matters, convictions and boundaries, you have no business dating." – Ethridge
KNOW YOUR ROLE: "We knew how strong our feelings were, and that made it hard. On the nights when I was completely beside myself and not strong, he would be and vice versa. But if there were nights where we were both weak, we would cut off the date early because we knew it wasn't a good situation." – Crossley
DRESS THE PART: "Guys can get really frustrated because girls ask them not to look at and think about them inappropriately, but then they wear clothes that flaunt too much. When we were dating I would ask Andrew if what I was wearing would make him stumble. And sometimes he would tell me to put something else on. If they truly respect you, they will tell you honestly." – Crossley
RESPECT YOURSELF: "People will say they'll fix issues once they get married, but marriage can make things harder. If you respect yourself before you are married and set boundaries, then you know who you are in Christ and have a healthy identity, and that will carry over into your marriage." – Crossley
MESSING UP: "If you have been inappropriate with a guy, you need to have a zero-contact rule. If you know it is a lion, stop sticking your head back into its mouth." – Ethridge
SEE NO EVIL: "You have to constantly protect yourself — your eyes and ears — to protect your relationship. And that doesn't go away after the wedding day. Just because you can have sex in marriage doesn't mean everything is going to be OK. There are many venues in the world that can fulfill those sexual desires if you don't keep your eyes on Christ." – Crossley
SEX AND LIES: "Sex is not just intercourse. It can be anything that is going to gratify or satisfy your pleasure. You can never go back over a line you've already crossed. You already know the feeling and the emotions associated with that behavior. But if you never step over that line, you are going to save one more thing for your marriage." – Crossley
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photos courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images/San Antonio Silver Stars; Shanna Crossley.