She lived a life of promiscuity, going from one dysfunctional relationship to the next. She’d earned a reputation for herself. Everyone knew what she was about — she was easy enough and guys knew they wouldn’t need to impress her with nice dates, pursue a committed relationship with her, or courageously protect her purity — she had compromised that a long time ago. And when Jesus encountered her, He said to her “I won’t condemn you. Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11).
As Christian women, there’s a temptation to believe a very skewed idea, actually a flat out lie, about our identity, our goodness, and our sexuality. That lie goes something like this: as long as you remain a virgin before marriage, you are good. If you don’t though, if you fall in some way or another, you are damaged irreparably.
This lie, like all lies, distorts a truth — the truth that our sexuality is good, has a purpose, and needs to be integrated into who we are; therefore, we shouldn’t abuse or seek to harm our sexuality through sin. When we jump to the conclusion that the moment we fall into sexual sin, we become damaged and are no longer good, that very good truth becomes distorted — it becomes a lie. That lie reduces us, our identity, and our worth to our sexual purity. We are so much more. Our identity, our worth, and our dignity rests in something so much greater than our sexuality.
Jesus shows us this when He encounters the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John: He sees her, a whole person made in His own image, and loves her. He sees her sin, but He doesn’t define her by it, He sees her past but looks beyond it — He sees her, loves her… and calls her to a better life than what she’s settled for in her relationships of artificial love.
Our goodness rests in our identity as daughters of God. We are good because we are desired by God. We are good because we are loved by God. And He loves us, not because of anything we will ever do, but because we have been created by Him and He desires us. This is why our mistakes don’t irreparably damage us, but rather give us an occasion to seek Jesus and let Him love us.
Whether you’re living a life of chastity or have fallen into sexual sin, you deserve so much more than the narrative that this lie perpetuates.
If you’re still a virgin, I have a few thoughts for you:
- Use your virtue to lift your sisters up
It is really difficult to not fall into sexual sin. Really, really difficult. If you haven’t fallen into sexual sin, praise God. Purity is challenging to protect, but just because you have been successful in that battle doesn’t mean you have any greater dignity or worth than any of your sisters who are struggling.
When we let our pursuit of virtue become a source of pride for us, we completely miss the point. We’re all sinners on a journey and comparison helps no one along that journey. We all have our unique sins, faults, temptations, and circumstances that can affect those things. When we grow in virtue, we need to use that as an opportunity to build up those around us who might be struggling in ways we aren’t. Our virtue is not a source of pride, but a source of encouragement and hope for our community. We’re on this journey together and we need to be that support to those around us.
- Comparison helps no one
Comparing yourself to your sisters who may be struggling in ways that you’re not is not going to help you or them on your journey to holiness. We can’t compare ourselves to others on some imaginary barometer of sinfulness/holiness because, in reality, we can only truly know the whole story on one person’s sin: our own. We praise God for giving us the strength and grace to pursue virtue and holiness because, left to ourselves, we’d be helpless in that pursuit. But we walk with those who struggle with things we might not struggle with and acknowledge that, together, we’re all just weary sinners in need of a Savior.
- Your goodness rests in God’s love for you, not anything you’ve ever done (or not done)
You are good aside from your acts. You are good simply because you are willed by God, because you are an eternal being, created by God and designed for union with Him. Don’t reduce your own goodness to your ability to avoid sexual sin. You are so much more. Remember your identity as God’s beloved.
If you’ve fallen into sexual sin or lost your virginity, I have some thoughts for you too:
- You are not loved any less by God because you had sex outside of marriage
Sin is messy. Humanity is messy. But just because you’ve fallen into any sin, even sexual sin, does not reduce the Father’s love for you. There is absolutely nothing you could do to diminish His love for you — He desires you and your love relentlessly.
Your desire for intimacy is a desire that He desperately wants to satisfy. He wants to meet you in your longing for infinite love — seek Him. Do not be tempted to believe that, because you’ve fallen into sexual sin, you’re anything less than what you were before. You are still loved by the Father and He wants to elevate your life to something greater than what you settle for when you sin. We all sin, we all fall. And each time we do, when we run to Jesus, He says to us: “I won’t condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”
- God wants so much more for you than a life of imitation love
Having sex outside of marriage isn’t bad because sex is bad or because we are bad. Having sex outside of marriage is not good because it diminishes our capacity to accept God’s real love and grace, turns both us and the person we’re having sex with into objects, and rejects God’s plan for our bodies and sexuality. God has created you with a capacity to give yourself away freely, totally, fruitfully, and faithfully and to receive someone in the same manner, reflecting the eternal exchange of love of God. Outside of marriage, that mutual self-gift is incomplete — it’s not as whole, and therefore not as good as it was designed to be. And God wants you to know the fullness of that love. This is what you were made for and, regardless of your past or where you’ve been, you can live in pursuit of this love. You’re never far from God’s mercy and His grace. And by His grace, you can be transformed and your love elevated to the fullness of what God has created you for.
The woman caught in adultery was seen, known, and loved by Jesus in a way that He sees, knows, and loves each of us. He wants us to let Him in, despite however much or however little we may have fallen in the past, so that he can tell us “I won’t condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Jesus longs to behold us and when we cling to our good actions as means for attaining His love, or when we despair that our faults are too messy for Him to see, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to be truly seen, known, and loved by Him.
She’d let herself become convinced that she was nothing more than her sin, which is why Jesus’ words were so scandalous — He knew her as so much more than this one thing. He knew the woman caught in adultery as His beloved.
What does Jesus want to say to you, His beloved, right now? What have you let yourself be convinced of that Jesus is looking beyond so He can truly love you? Be brave enough to let Him in and believe Him when He looks at you, with the truest love there ever was, and says to you, “I won’t condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”
Editor’s note: the scope of this article does not address the very real struggle that young people who are victims of sexual assault may face. If your first experience with sex came through sexual assault (past or ongoing) or rape, it is imperative that you know and believe that you are not responsible for what happened to you and you are not at fault or guilty of any sin. If you haven’t shared what you’ve gone through (or are currently going through) with a trusted adult and/or sought counseling, please do so. Please don’t be ashamed of what has happened, but know that Jesus longs to console you in your pain; seek out the people He has put in your life to love and support you.