There’s a memorable scene in C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Great Divorce, where this ghostly person shrinks back from entering heaven dur to the interference of a small red lizard on their shoulder. The creature represents the sin of lust and it repeatedly whispers into his host’s ear that he cannot go on living—or be fulfilled—without him. An angel comes to the person’s aid, but when he realises that his intention is to kill the little beast, he says:

Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.

The angel assures the man though, that it must be put to death. After much internal struggle, the man agrees. But then a remarkable thing happens. The little red lizard is transformed into a beautiful stallion, and the person—who was formerly a ghost—is also transformed into a person of full-bodied substance and colour. And together, they go riding into heaven.

It’s a powerful illustration as to how every believer should respond to temptation (Matt 5:27-30; 1 Cor 6:18). In short, we are to strive for holiness, “…abstaining from the sinful desires which war against our souls” (1 Pet 2:11)

Impurity in the Church

However, not everyone shares the same zeal, especially when it comes to sexual purity. Progressive Christians, in particular, have been lining up in recent years to critique the apparently toxic practice of “purity culture” within the evangelical church. But is this really such a pressing problem? With the rising rates of addiction to pornography amongst Christian leaders, many would agree that we have an impurity problem! 

Note the notorious incident involved Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor in the U.S, who fashioned a sculpture of a vagina from donated melted-down purity rings. This was then publicly presented to Gloria Steinem, the feminist icon who has consistently championed abortion. According to Modern Reformation:

Those who donated their rings received a ‘Certificate of Impurity’, stating that the donor will vow to lead ‘a SHAMELESS, open and free life, with love for themselves and their body, knowing that they are already holy,’ as well as a ‘SHAMELESS impurity ring’.

Purity in the Bible

However, it’s worth remembering the emphasis which the Bible—and in particular the New Testament— places on sexual purity. What follows is a brief summary of just a few of the more pertinent passages on the topic:

‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman’. Job 31:1 This single verse has become something of a life verse for many a man I know—as well as more than a few women. But the goal is clear. Lust starts in the heart and we must do all that we can to put it to death and give sin no opportunity. As the great John Owen once wrote, ‘Be killing sin, or it will be killing you’.

‘I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that might present you as a pure virgin to him’. 2 Corinthians 11:2b.Using the analogy of a protective father, the apostle Paul describes his relationship with the Christians in Corinth as follows. For background see Deuteronomy 22 and the seriousness of sexual immorality before marriage for both sexes.

‘Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity’. 1 Timothy 5:1b-2. Significantly, in this verse, the onus for sexual purity is on the man. Both in how he relates to older women as mothers and younger women as sisters, with “absolute purity”.

‘These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes’. Revelation 14:4a. Once again, the undefiled virgin is a metaphor not just for women but believers of both sex. The ideal is that of purity, both sexually and in every other way.

Purity in the Heart

Clearly, sexual purity before, as well as after, marriage is incredibly important to God (Col 3:5-6; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Heb. 13:4). And as such, one can understand why Christians have—however imperfectly—attempted to promote purity as a virtue. But for those critical of ‘purity culture’ within the church there is hardly ever any reference to Scripture to support their case. Instead, they rely on ad hominin attacks on statements made by those who are trying to promote purity within the body of Christ.

The evangelical church today needs to reaffirm its commitment to purity. For this isn’t just a subject pertinent to women but to everyone (Phil. 4:8). As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:1, “Since we have these promises dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Or as C.S. Lewis’s angel would urge, the little red dragon of lust must be put to death.