How Authentic Friendships Encourage Sexual Purity

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For young Christians who are striving to live in purity, the church must provide an environment where authentic relationships can grow and purity can be produced.
For young Christians who are striving to live in purity, the church must provide an environment where authentic relationships can grow and purity can be produced. (Charisma archives)

If your church is anything like the ones I've attended, there are probably a few fake plants and a couple of fake trees decorating the stage. This greenery may be beautiful, but it's not real. Unfortunately, this is emblematic of what sometimes happens in the church.

What we see looks wonderful, but is not always real. The truth is that fake trees look great, but they produce no fruit. In terms of confronting sin and building healthy relationships, the church is often presenting fake trees when it should be bearing lasting fruit.

For young Christians who are striving to live in purity, the church must provide an environment where authentic relationships can grow and purity can be produced.

The struggle among young believers to live a pure life is probably more difficult today than it has been for any generation in recent history. The availability of sexually explicit media and the cultural acceptance for sexually impure activity seems to be much more now than when I was a teenager just 13 years ago.

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While sexual immorality is certainly not a new phenomenon, the present need for the church to rise up and speak to this issue is urgent. The voice of our society is continuously screaming about this issue. The voice of the church cannot afford to be timid or inconsistent.

Indeed, we have all felt this aversion to purity. Paul declares in Romans 1 that humanity, apart from God, is inclined to make poor decisions in terms of moral purity. As Robert Mounce writes in his commentary on Romans: "God's wrath mentioned in Romans 1 is not an active outpouring of divine displeasure but the removal of restraint that allows sinners to reap the just fruits of their rebellion."

We all face temptation because we are children of sinful Adam and Eve. Paul describes this in Romans 1:24: "Therefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their own bodies among themselves." Left on our own, overcome by the effects and result of original sin, we almost instinctively choose what is impure and displeasing to God.

Thankfully this is not the end of the story. Paul declares in Romans 5:6 that "while we were yet weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." As a result, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are no longer slaves to sin. The powerless become powerful in the face of temptation. The unrestrained become steadfast because we count ourselves "dead to sin but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11).

The problem is that this spiritual reality is scarcely nurtured among the young men and women in our churches. We are consistently told what not to do but rarely informed of or trained in the enabling power available to the believer to abstain from sin and live in purity.

Yes, Paul proclaimed that the work of Jesus frees us from our bondage to sin, but he also offered to his spiritual son Timothy "training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). This is a neglected ministry. Young people know they are called to righteousness, yet they also feel that inclination to make bad decisions when temptations arise.

The lack of restraint that leads to bad behavior is still a strong force in young believers. It is the default mode for many people. Salvation does not simply impart restraint into the life of the believer. It provides access to a power greater than that of our old nature. This is why Paul emphasized being trained in righteousness.

The best training the church can provide to young believers striving toward purity is authentic relationships. A class or curriculum dealing with purity will be of little effect unless those instructions are designed to supplement already significant relationships where people feel comfortable and safe discussing the reality in which they live.

Paul was able to speak with authority and relevance to Timothy because he had developed a deep relationship with him through years of co-working through struggles and victories. Many of Paul's instructions concerning purity and righteousness are given in the context of community life, not individual achievement.

Unfortunately, many churches fail to facilitate the formation of genuine friendships. Such a church is more a crowd than a community. It is a place where instructions are given, but it is divorced from the relationships we need to carry out this instruction.

Many young believers do not have authentic friendships. Sure, they can point to thousands of Facebook friends. They can even identify many real-world friendships that develop as a result of work, school or hobbies. The problem is that within such friendships conversations dry up after the work, the class or the fun is over.

The reality is many young believers want deeper relationships, but they are not able to find them online or in their usual hangouts. The church should be the place where such friendships are formed. Working on our own, we can do little better at overcoming sin than our first ancestors, Adam and Eve. However, when we work together in genuine and empowering relationships with one another, we can live the lives we are called to live in Scripture.

I do not blame the church for moral failure among young believers. I do, however, believe that the church should be more intentional about enabling purity through authentic, organic relationships.

Some communities have tried various methods, including the "accountability partner" program. Unfortunately, relationships created in such programs often lack the authenticity required to be effective. Ultimately, if the church is truly concerned about the purity of the body, fundamental changes need to be made to address the issue.

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