Is Emotional Purity Harmful? – Purity Part 4

Part 1 – Emotional Purity: What Are Your Thoughts?
Part 2 – What is Emotional Purity?
Part 3 – The Struggle For Emotional Purity: A Guest Post By Emily Long

“All the broken hearts in the world still beat/Let’s not make it harder than it has to be/Ohh, it’s all the same thing/Girls chase boys chase girls” – Ingrid Michaelson

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I think many people take the approach Ingrid Michaelson does in her song, “Girls Chase Boys.” What’s the big deal with emotional purity? All the broken hearts in the world still beat, let’s not make it harder than it has to be. That makes sense, right?  Emotional purity just over complicates things.

Others would go on to say that there are serious problems with the idea of emotional purity. Some mock emotional purity as unrealistic or a fantasy. “Surely emotional purity isn’t even possible in this day and age.” Others claim it is downright harmful, while still more insist that to have emotional purity you must “invent a sin” such as this article argues.

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Do these critics have a point?
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While I believe that—like all good things—the concept of emotional purity can be twisted or abused, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The idea that we are to be pure in more than just our physical actions is good, Biblical, and very possible to maintain. As I said in part 2 of this series, I believe “emotional purity” is an unfortunate term to use, since people infer it is all about controlling emotions, when it’s actually about directing our thoughts, and being wise with our actions. This spiritual purity is rooted in self-control and love, both of which the Bible advocates.
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But, there are some concerns.
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It’s a False View of Love:
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Critics claim that it’s impossible to “give away a piece of your heart.” They insist that love expands, like when parents have a second child. Their love doesn’t divide, it increases. The pie gets larger, not divided into more pieces. Therefore, we should reject the idea that we should save our deepest feelings for our future spouses because we cannot give parts of ourselves away.
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While I agree that merely having feelings for someone does not mean you have given your heart away, I do believe that the further you go down that road, the more you start to give away that was meant to belong only to your spouse.
There is indeed baggage which comes from dating multiple people, as this study shows. This is because the love one experiences in a romantic relationship is different than the love one has for their children. We unfortunately only have one word for love in our English language. The Greeks accurately identified four different kinds of love.
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The love a parent has for a child is “storge” which means “affection,” and “agape,” which is a spiritual unconditional love. These are different from romantic love, “eros.” God designed romantic love to only be shared with one person, your spouse. Baggage will be accumulated if one makes a habit of emotionally and spiritually giving themselves to other people. We are well aware of the consequences of physical promiscuity, but spiritual and emotional promiscuity have consequences of their own.
This is why I think the phrase, “Love like you’ve never been hurt,” has some truth to it. Someone who has constantly been hurt in romantic relationships, may be less trusting and more guarded in their marriage. It will be harder to be vulnerable, or connect emotionally because the scars will get in the way. Certainly, there is healing in Christ, and the presence of such scars are not an impossible barrier to overcome, but a life of spiritual impurity does have consequences.
It Cultivates Self-Centeredness and pride:
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Opponents of spiritual purity claim that the concept of saving yourself for your future spouse cultivates pride. Pride because if you are emotionally pure, suddenly you are better than everyone else. Pride in human accomplishment.

“Am I emotionally pure enough? Am I saving myself enough? Am I too vulnerable to that person? Does God still love me because I gave part of my heart away? Is there still hope? These are all questions that center on self, merit before God, and our future spouse. Not only is it self-focused but emotional purity is also condemning of those who fall short and elevates rule-keepers because “surely God loves them.” A culture of comparison and condemnation is cultivated.”

Just about anything can lead to pride. We can become proud of how loving we are toward others. We can become proud of how selfless we are. We can become proud of how giving we are. Just because we can take a good thing and make it bad doesn’t mean we should get rid of the good thing. This is exactly what Satan wants, and why he tries to twist so many good things and make them bad in our minds.
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Trying to save yourself for your future spouse shouldn’t make one proud. If it does, then that person’s thinking is very wrong. Emotional purity should be cultivating an attitude of selflessness, self-control, and love. It is a gift that we can give to our future spouses. Saving or not saving yourself does not make you “better” than anyone else. No one is perfect, and compared to Christ, we are all woefully short of where we need to be.
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We can do nothing good except through Christ. We cannot be pure apart from God (Psalm 16:2). Christ  is the only one who can make us pure; therefore, there is no place for pride, since it is not by own striving that we can make ourselves pure.
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Instead of focusing on ourselves, the focus of emotional purity should be on how we can better love others and our future spouses, how we can better will the good of our neighbors. There is no cultivation of pride here. In fact, there is actually a cultivation of selflessness and humility. 
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It Forgets Jesus & Limits Love
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Those who believe we should do away with “emotional purity” believe that this idea completely leaves out Jesus.
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“Purity culture says the love you have is like a jar of water. The message of Jesus, however, is one of unchanging and unconditional love. In Christ, we have a fire hydrant of love to give, not a finite mason jar.”

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Perhaps purity culture does say this. I wouldn’t know since I have not been among it. If this is an accurate representation of what the purity culture teaches, then the critics are correct that this is false. Love and purity are not finite.
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However, again, just because someone butchers emotional purity it does not mean we should throw it out. Many people have misused the Bible and taken it out of context, but let us not dispose of the Bible.
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Properly understood, emotional purity honors God and expands love.
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Jesus loved many people, and a couple of his best friends were women (Martha and Mary). We, however, do not see Jesus talking to them in private, or discussing deep personal issues alone with them. We always see them together in a context of other people. They were together a part of a close friendship that included Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. The four of them together formed one friendship.

Friendship is so much more powerful within a context of others. As C.S. Lewis so elegantly points out: 

“Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a friend… for in [friendship] “to divide is not to take away.” Of course the scarcity of kindred souls – not to mention practical considerations about the size of rooms and the audibility of voices – set limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”

Group friendships more resemble “Heaven itself,” as Lewis points out, before going on to explain how a one-on-one friendship with a member of the opposite gender is doomed in the long-run:

“When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass – may pass in the first half-hour – into erotic love.  Indeed unless they are physically repulsive to each other or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later.”

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Emotional purity isn’t the doctrine that you have a finite amount of love. The greatest kind of love is agape, unconditional selfless love, and emotional purity is a champion of this kind of love. It’s a love for others that does not cause harm—spiritual, emotional, physical—and looks out for what is best for others. What is more, whole and total purity allows us to love our future spouses before we even meet them, and to give them a great gift once we do enter into marriage.
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Spiritual purity expands love, it does not limit it.
Emotional purity causes shame.
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Critics also claim that emotional purity causes shame because they believe it teaches that once you give pieces of your heart away you can never get them back.

No one is ever perfect at anything. No one has lived a perfectly pure life (except Jesus of course). Ultimately, it is only the grace of Christ that can make us so. Certainly, there are consequences for disobedience to Christ, but this does not mean we should hang our heads in shame. Instead we should “go and sin no more,” a Jesus instructs.

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True emotional purity doesn’t cause shame. It doesn’t look behind us and throw our past failures in our faces. Only our own attitudes can do that. Living a holistic life in Christ, living in purity that goes beyond just the physical, leads to an abundant life of joy and love. We can relate to members of the opposite gender in love, rather than trying to get them to like us, or having to worry about how they think of us, or seeing every one as a potential romantic partner. We can completely die to self and focus on loving others, and helping to protect them from temptation and sin. This is life in the body of Christ.
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They create skewed views of relationships which lead to dysfunction:
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Some also claim that seeking to keep one’s self spiritually pure before marriage leads to dysfunction within marriage. One such critic proves this dysfunction by stating, “I am still uncomfortable hugging one of my best friends who is a guy because we were taught never to hug or have physical contact, even innocent, with a guy.”
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This same author goes on to say,

“Thank you, Josh Harris and Co. I hate this about myself! I am a strong, confident person. But the idea that I can defraud just by a look, that I could become emotionally impure just by a thought, that I might become damaged goods with pieces of my heart strewn all over creation, and that guys “have only one thing on their minds” and we need to help them control themselves, has truly negatively affected what should be normal interactions with my friends.”

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Umm…I don’t hug members of the opposite gender. It’s not that bad, and it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you; however, this woman does seem to be struggling internally. I do not understand why this is, since I have read Josh Harris and Ludys whom this author blames for her “dysfunction,” and perhaps I have forgotten, but they never say that you can defraud just by a look, or that you become damaged goods. So I don’t know where she got that thinking from, but it wasn’t from anyone I know or have read. Regardless, I think it’s a bit irresponsible to blame our own thinking on others.
I personally know several people who have similar views regarding emotional purity that I have, and they are very well functioning people, and we interact fine. If emotional purity was as this author described, then yes, I could see that leading to problems. But! They are describing something I have never heard of, and certainly not part of being spiritually pure.
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Emotional purity deceives us into thinking that living by formulas is “safe”:
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“1 + 1= 2. Emotional purity + Biblical courtship = Godly marriage. But life doesn’t work that way. You can do everything ‘right’ and your life can still go wrong. You can do everything “wrong” and still be blessed. Rain falls on the good and evil.”

It is true that God causes rain to fall on both good and evil. God just loves doing good! He can’t help Himself! That being said, there are consequences for sin, which is why God hates sin. We harm ourselves and others. Emotional purity is not at all a formula, but rather a commitment to self-control, and to love others and our future spouses. There is certainly no formula to accomplish this, though there are wise steps we can all take to live with total purity (physical, emotional, spiritual).
Emotional purity isn’t about acting out of fear. In fact, it takes a lot of guts today to give up all the “good things” the culture says we’re missing out on by striving for purity. People hate purity today. The gospel of the culture says we should take and use as we please. If you try to defend purity, you will get attacked, you will get ridiculed, and people will think you’re crazy. It often will seem much safer to forsake purity. After all, there are so many fear-inducing articles online expressing the horrors of emotional purity, and purity in general.

This is why I find it so ironic that many claim emotional purity is a doctrine of fear. Most of the arguments I have seen against emotional purity are arguments from fear, whereas the support I have seen for emotional purity is providing insight into how to live the richest kind of life.

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It is courage, not fear, that should drive us to remain spiritually and physically pure. If we stumble, we should get back up and keep going, “burning grace like a 747 burns jet fuel.” There is reward in that, and it is a much better way to live.
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You have to invent a sin:
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“Since neither casually knowing someone nor friendship nor vulnerability nor having feelings is sinful, we have to fabricate some sort of emotional impurity, which is why some evangelicals trumpet the idea of pre-cheating. As in, when you “give yourself” to someone emotionally, you are being unfaithful to the person you will one day marry.”

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This author goes on to contend that Proverbs 31:12 which states,
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““[A wife] brings [her husband] good, not harm, all the days of her life,” is a “nice verse, but what does it have to do with Emotional Purity? How does dating/trusting/even loving someone at some point in a woman’s life dishonor her husband later?”

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She claims that this,
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 “says to a girl, you are not free to crush or date or love or otherwise feel unless it is in relationship to a man – one man, the man, your future husband. This idea is controlling, and just plain absurd. Marriage is two separate, whole, individual people coming together as one to make a future together.”

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Her last point reveals a lot. The reason so many seem to detest the idea of spiritual purity is they don’t understand marriage. Marriage is about being faithful to one person, and one person only. That’s how we were created. Marriage is meant to be a picture of how we relate to God. We certainly are not free to worship many other “gods” before we finally “marry”. In marriage, we have to die to ourselves. There are no longer two separate individuals, but only one person. This is what the world doesn’t understand about marriage, and why so many fall apart, or why we have decided to redefine marriage and therefore abolish marriage.
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If you are reading this, then you are probably not a baby (if you are a baby, then please forgive me for insulting your intelligence. Your reading comprehension skills are far advanced for your age). If you are not a baby, then there is a good chance your future spouse is alive, and walking around somewhere on this Earth ( or perhaps doing something a bit more exciting than walking). Does the fact that my future spouse can’t see me, that I have not yet made an official commitment to them, afford me the liberty to pursue temporary romantic flings with other people which I would not do if I were married?

Maybe. There are different seasons of life after all. Perhaps before we are married, we really are free to give our hearts, minds, emotions, and bodies to other people since we have not yet made any commitment of faithfulness to anyone. But this doesn’t seem right to me for some reason.
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Before we made our commitment to follow Christ…was all our past unfaithfulness okay? Was our choosing to worship and idolize false “gods” okay because we didn’t yet know God, and hadn’t yet made a commitment? No, not at all. We were unfaithful.
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And if marriage is a picture of our relationship to God, does it not follow that even before we know our future spouse, we should be faithful to them? That we should commit ourselves to them though we know not their name or the color of their eyes?
Even if we are permitted to encourage romantic thoughts and activities before marriage, is that helpful?
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Emotional purity (or spiritual purity as it should be called) isn’t about battling emotions. It’s not something to become proud of. It’s not something to be ashamed of if you don’t do it perfectly. It’s not something to run to out of fear. It doesn’t invent a sin.
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Emotional purity is simply an extension of the Biblical commands to be self-controlled, to love our neighbors, and our spouses. We are not our bodies, though our bodies are part of us. We are a whole person, body, mind, heart, and soul, and we should be pure in more than just the physical. We all know that we can do something with our bodies but not really be in it mentally or emotionally. Sure, we can refrain from physical acts of impurity—which is good—but we can still be impure with our thoughts (Matthew 5:28). Purity begins in our hearts and minds, and from there, it influences our actions.
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Personally, I have no desire at all to seek romance with other women before marriage. I find it rather sickening actually. That being said, I still am far from perfect when it comes to practicing spiritual purity. I have failed in the past, and I can do much better now, so I am not saying I am the example that should be followed. Rather, I am saying this is what I believe to be the ideal. This is what I am striving for. The good life. A life free from the baggage and regrets of past loves lost and unfaithfulness.
My reasoning tells me this will lead to a better marriage, the data backs this up, and the experiences of others confirm it. From my perspective, why would you not want to commit yourself to your future spouse even before you have met them? It’s so much more beautiful! Why settle for anything less?

Click here for part 5! “Is Emotional Purity Biblical?”

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I think your last question summed it all up; “why settle for anything less?” I think many people want to see how close they can get to yet not actually cross the line of sinning, whereas this should not actually be our mindset. Instead of saying, “how much can I do that won't be considered adultery?” we should be saying, “How much can I save for the one who I'm going to walk hand in hand with for the rest of my life?” When we view it this way, I believe, it puts everything into perspective. And I think it is that way because Christianity is not a “religion” or a set of rules. It is a walk, a way of life, a war that we must either win or die eternally. We can't just try to live by the rules, it has to be from the heart of trying to serve the Lord in the best way we possibly can!
    Any way, I enjoyed reading your article!

  2. I agree with your assessment that emotional purity (properly understood) is a good, wholesome, thing. However, I think the other side has a point when they identify absurdities such as having “limited heart pieces.”

    I think the problems that the other side has with emotional purity is not with emotional purity itself, but rather, with the way emotional purity has been presented to them and the way they were taught to apply it to their lives.
    Josh Harris and the Ludys (so far as I have read) don't mention limited heart-pieces or becoming damaged goods (and you pointed that out as well), but somewhere along the line, those views have been propagated within conservative Christian circles. I've come in contact with these views many times myself, and I think we can agree that they're pretty ridiculous.

    Emotional purity is a wonderful thing, but I think it's been carried out the wrong way in some cases and I think it's been misused and abused. Like you say, we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater, but we can't deny the fact that people (such as some of the people writing these articles) have been hurt due to an improper understanding or application of emotional purity. I think we need to admit that there are problems that have cropped up within the movement, and we need to go about fixing those problems and healing those that have been hurt by them.