Help for today. Hope for Tomorrow.

Beyond Abstinence

If you were asked, “What are you teaching your child about sex and morality?” my guess is that you might say something like, “We are teaching him that he should wait until he is married to begin having sex.”

How do you think your teenager will interpret and apply, “Wait until marriage before having sex?” Would he answer, “Being a virgin on my wedding night?” Or, “Everything but intercourse?” Or something else?

In this culture, challenging your child with the goal of virginity is excellent. Off and on since 1971, we have worked with teens and preteens. And through the process of rearing our own teens, we developed a strong conviction that virginity is not a high enough goal. Nor is it the ultimate biblical goal. Unfortunately, studies have found that even our Christian teenagers are engaging in sexual activities reserved for marriage, yet are maintaining technical virginity.

This point was underscored during a recent television news report on churches that are teaching abstinence to their teens. One teenage girl who was interviewed was adamant about maintaining her virginity until she was married. Yet in the next breath she mentioned that heavy kissing and petting were okay as long as she didn’t engage in sexual intercourse!

Scripture does not command us to preserve a technical virginity. The Bible presents a number of pointed principles to ensure that our relationships with the opposite sex are appropriate and rewarding. The key words underlying all of them are purity and holiness. Here are several basic passages:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3—5, 7)

“Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18—20)

“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22)

The goal of our instruction with our children was not just protecting their virginity, but helping our children protect their purity and innocence. And those two God-given gifts are lost long before intercourse when your child begins to experience the sexual response that God designed for marriage.

Ask yourself a couple of questions that helped us clarify our convictions: Just how much of sex do you want your child to experience before his marriage bed? How much of sex do you think God wants your child to participate in outside of marriage?

Our culture is robbing far too many Christian parents of their standards, convictions, and courage. As a result, many of our teens are morally bankrupt of the standards and convictions that will protect and lead them through the most tempting and vulnerable period of their entire lives.

We must set our sights high and challenge our children to the highest standard, God’s standard. As parents, don’t we want them to arrive at marriage innocent of evil, pure in their sexuality, and with a healthy view of marriage—not encumbered by a lot of emotional baggage from sexual mistakes during the teenage years?

Abstinence is a part of the answer. It’s just not the total answer.

Picture a beautiful, exquisitely wrapped package. Inside are the most delightful, untainted pleasures you can imagine. Now, wouldn’t you want to give that gift to your child? That’s what this gift of innocence is, helping your child understand who he is as a sexual creature, reflecting the image of God. Once you make that your goal, it will change the way you think about how you guide your teenager.

Okay, we can hear a parent saying at this point, “But, Barbara, Dennis, you are talking about something that is so far above where our children are right now. I’m not sure we can get there!” Our response? It’s better to have the highest goal and fail, than to set a low goal and succeed.

Modeling purity

No matter what you teach your child, your model of purity will go farthest in protecting your child. He needs to see a commitment to purity in your life.

If there is anything that can disqualify a parent from being able to talk to a son or daughter about sex, it is being presently involved in sexual sin, sexual addiction, an affair, or an affair of the heart.

If any of these issues are ongoing in your life and you have not repented, your sin is not just personal; it will have an impact on your children, your grandchildren, and beyond. Repent and have your conscience cleansed by the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

At this point we can hear you saying, “Barbara, Dennis, are you suggesting a return to the Victorian era?” No. But we feel it’s past time for parents to reject passivity in this area and to get actively involved in helping their preteens and teenagers stay as far from danger as possible. The stakes are too high to sit quietly on the sidelines.

As parents, we have been duped into thinking, There is nothing we can do. Teens can’t control themselves. We can’t help them. They don’t want our help. Peer pressure is too strong. It’s their decision to make, and we shouldn’t interfere. Is that propaganda true? No! With God’s guidance and grace this is a winnable war! You can do it!

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.


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