The day I discovered that a purity ring doesn’t help young people live purely was a shocking blow. And it changed how I view Christian purity.
I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition, so I know the ropes well. Campaigns that were intensely popular when I was a pre-teen, such as True Love Waits, promised that if I bought a ring and signed the included commitment card, Jesus would be happy with me, and I would be well on my way to a good Christian life.
So, with sincere intentions and my neatest handwriting, I wrote my name in the blank that said “I, _________, promise to do this and that” and signed my name in cursive. I slipped on the ring bearing a “True Love Waits” engraving and quickly became accustomed to its presence on my finger. And there I wore it, assuming its constant presence as my only guard through high school. When I lost the original in the dirt at a softball game, I bought another one, which I wore so much that it cracked. I proceeded on with my life, resting securely in the notion that I was pure and holy because I hadn’t broken the promises on the commitment card yet… nor had I ever been given the opportunity to do so.
When it came time to replace the cracked True Love Waits band, the next purity ring I wore was different. It was a thin, graceful band featuring an “unblossomed rose,” and I guess the rose represents my virginity or my body or something (which was glaringly awkward when people asked the significance behind it).
I wore it as I entered my college years, proud to have graduated from the tacky campaign bands to something delicate and lovely, and at this point, utterly unconcerned with the meaning behind it. I had always worn it for the sake of Christian “tradition,” and I deserved to wear it because I had never had sex and I had never even kissed a boy because I was saving my first kiss until marriage.
But of course, that’s not the whole story. Is it ever, Christian ladies? If you’ve been around my blog very long, you know that I’m not exactly an unblossomed rose anymore. My struggle with pornography — which, if I remember correctly, began frighteningly close to the time I received my first purity ring, possibly even before I received it — combined with a pretty lousy track record of setting boundaries with boys, has nearly obliterated any sense of emotional or physical purity that I ever possessed. The image you might have when you think of a young woman described as an “unblossomed rose” looks nothing like me.
In one of his sermons, Matt Chandler tells a story of a sermon he once attended, which ultimately turned him away from the Christian church.
The preacher passed a red rose around the congregation, asking each of them to touch it, smell it, feel it, enjoy it.
At the end of his sermon, the pastor retrieved a rose that was wilted, bent, and broken. It was not the beautiful, pure rose that it had been at the beginning. It had been handled roughly, like so many women have. He brought it back to the stage, intending to demonstrate the effects of sin on a person with no virtue.
I didn’t even know why Jesus would want me. If He could use a holy, pure woman for His glory instead, what would he ever want to do with me? And trust me. I graduated from the largest Christian college in the country, so I’ve seen and envied my fair share of pure, holy women who truly deserve to be used by God.
Insert Matt Chandler’s response, the truth that wipes away those doubts with a promise that God himself has made to me:
“Jesus wants the rose. That’s the point of the Gospel.”
Jesus knows the dirt. He knows what shameful things I’ve done with the gift of sexuality that He gave to me. He sees me as I am – he’s not even faked out by the purity ring – yet he still loves me. But that’s not the best part. Jesus died to take away the dirt. Romans 5:8 says that while we were miserable, helpless sinners, Christ died for us. His death on the cross pays the penalty, which is death, for every mistake I’ve made. He restores purity to me, at the cost of His life.
What’s more, Jesus wholeheartedly desires my seemingly ruined purity, and He wants to do something about it. He wants to redeem it and use it for something purposeful. Yes, I have made bad choices, but from where I stand now, I can reach down to someone else who is drowning in an impossible ocean of impurity, offering them the same lifesaver that rescued me: Jesus Christ. He wants to use my mistakes to bring me to a deeper understanding of his grace, so that I can share it more authentically. He wants to instill compassion and mercy as defining traits in me, by showing them abundantly to me first. He wants me to love others as graciously and endlessly as He has loved me.
I lost that stupid unblossomed rose ring when I was playing in the snow last winter. Incredibly, when it fell off my finger, I didn’t lose magical purity powers like Samson’s strength when his hair is cut. In fact, I was no different except for a naked absence on my ring finger.
You see, purity rings are powerless. They’re just symbols, devoid of any meaning by themselves. The strength and diligence to believe and live in a manner of purity – that comes from Christ alone.
These days, you can find my ring finger occupied by a ring with much more value. The ring I wear now bears the form of the cross. I don’t need a True Love Waits ring or even a well-meaning commitment card in order to be pure. When temptations arise, it stays on my finger, immobile and useless. For all the good intentions of those conferences and Bible studies, they’re empty on their own. The temptation to give into fleshly desires is far stronger than Christian slogans will ever be.
No, I need something more powerful than the positive peer pressure of a purity conference or cheesy resources. The only power strong enough to combat the evil forces of temptation is the power of the cross – the power of Christ in me. Francis Chan said that no matter how strong the temptation, one reason is powerful enough to help you walk away: Jesus is better. And He is. His love is sweeter than the fleeting lust and attention of a man, or the pleasure of fantasizing about a future relationship.
Beloved, remember: your purity ring won’t give you the strength to be pure, but Jesus can, and He will.