Worth The Wait - How The Gospel Defines Your Purity
Since 1987, Clayton King has crisscrossed the country, speaking to more than 3 million people. Many of those talks centered on the issue of sexual purity. Now, the teaching pastor of New Spring Church in Anderson, S.C. and a campus pastor at Liberty University is bringing a rebooted abstinence movement to millennials: the True Love Project.
Q: Did you have any interaction or experience with True Love Waits as a teenager?
True Love Waits didn’t launch until I was about 20 years old. When I was 17, I was elected National Beta Club secretary. It was a service organization where students have to have a B+ average and you have to do service in your community. When I ran for a national office, I ran on the platform of sexual abstinence. I had been preaching at that point for about two and a half years and talking about purity. So when I was elected, I had to start tailoring this message of sexual abstinence for a secular audience. I was 17 and I was flying all over the country speaking to public schools, huge conferences, 3,000 or 4,000 students at a time. I was sharing my story of being adopted, of being a product of a one-night stand, how my mom chose not to abort me, how I was a virgin, how I committed to abstinence until marriage because of my faith in Christ.
So by the time True Love Waits launched as a movement, I was a sophomore in college and I had about four years of practice on this message. One of the first regional events that took place when True Love Waits launched was in the New Orleans area. The Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans wanted me to do a big conference at their church. While I was down there, I preached for the event the entire weekend.
So fast forward 20 years. I get a phone call from Ben Trueblood. I go to Nashville, meet with the LifeWay team, and they said, “Hey you need to meet Eric Geiger. He’s got a really neat story to tell you.”
So I go up to Eric Geiger’s office. He said, “I was a high school student in 1994 when you came to speak at a DNow at a True Love Waits event in New Orleans.” He said, “God grabbed my heart that night. I recommitted my life to Christ. I repented to the Lord. I broke off the bad relationship that I was in. I went on to college and seminary, got my doctorate, wrote a couple of books, got hired at LifeWay. I’m sitting in the room with Thom Rainer when he asks, ‘Who should we get to be the face and the voice of the [True Love Project] movement?’” Eric said, “‘I’ve got the guy’ and told everybody my story. Thom Rainer said, ‘That’s our guy.’”
Q: What do you think have been the greatest successes of the True Love Waits movement?
This is my limited opinion and experience in it – it did force the evangelical church to have an honest conversation about a topic that had been taboo and off-limits for the history of American evangelicalism. It forced pastors, youth pastors and parents to address the issue of sexuality because the culture is not shy or bashful at all. It took that off-limits category and put it right in front of the church and said, “We are not only going to have to deal with this, but we need to teach it from a biblical perspective because if our students are not taught a Christian worldview, they are going to adopt the world’s view which is ‘no limit, do whatever you want.’”
Q: Do you think there were any unintentional negative results from True Love Waits that you are looking forward to rectifying?
Unfortunately, with anything that’s good, there’s always the possibility people will misunderstand it and that there will be some negative consequences. A lot of people misunderstood True Love Waits to be all about the purity ring, the pledge card and the commitment to virginity.
That’s no fault of True Love Waits. But for the people who only saw that one dimension of the movement, if they messed up or if they lost their virginity, then oftentimes they would simply quit. They would throw their hands up in defeat and say, “Well, if I’m not a virgin, then what’s the use of trying? I might as well go all out now and give it up.” And they misunderstood the whole big point, which is your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
So what we are trying to do now is make sure everything focuses people back on the Gospel. The Gospel defines your purity. It’s not a checklist. It’s not a pledge card. It’s not being able to say that you are a virgin. It’s being able to say that by God’s grace, you commit to living according to His Lordship and when you mess up, you receive His mercy. So the main message of True Love project in one phrase would be: The goal is not to be a virgin on your wedding day. The goal is to belong to Jesus on Judgment Day.
So we are still sticking with the biblical truth that God wants you to stay pure, that you should strive for virginity, that you should abstain from sexual immorality, that you should have a plan to combat pornography and lust and sexual experimentation, but it is the Gospel of Jesus that saves us from past, present and future sins. In the future you will sin and when you do sin, the Gospel that saved you from your sin on the day you trusted Christ is the same Gospel that continues to save you from your sin right now.
Q: So would it be fair to say that the message hasn’t really changed, but the primary focus has potentially shifted?
Yes, the approach now is that the goal is not virginity; the goal is faithfulness to Christ. We are deliberately trying to bring the focus back to the person of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer to stay pure.
There are Hindus and there are Muslims all over the world who practice sexual purity to the degree that most Christians would be jealous of. So you can do everything right and still get it wrong if you miss out on Jesus.
Q: What do you think are the greatest misconceptions students have about sex right now?
I think the top three misconceptions that students have about sex are:
1. That sex is no big deal
2. That sex has no consequence
3. That if you have sex with someone that equals love and affection
Of course, those are what the culture teaches.
Q: How can ministers and parents best communicate Christ’s love to students who are struggling with sexual shame?
When you look at the statistics, 1 out of 3 females is sexually abused at some point before the age of 18. It’s 1 out of 6 guys. What we realized is we have to do a better job of explaining to people that their identity is not wrapped up in their sexual history. Your sexual history is a part of who you are, but it doesn’t define who you are. The Gospel defines who you are.
What I hope leaders will take away from the True Love Project is that we have to let students know that they are loved by God. God doesn’t stop loving them when they mess up. God doesn’t hate them because they look at porn or are struggling with same-sex attraction. God’s love for them endures forever and ever and ever. Because He loves them, He can’t stand to watch them suffer and sexual sin always causes suffering. It always causes us to hurt. Just like a good mom or a good dad can’t stand to watch their children suffer pain, our God is a good Father. He can’t stand to watch us suffer pain so He wants to transform us. So He warns us in scripture to avoid and abstain from sexual immorality. He also gives us grace and forgiveness and mercy whenever we do sin.
For youth pastors and leaders, moms, dads, pastors, volunteers, we have to continue to teach purity from a biblical standard. At the same time, we have to season that message with God’s enduring love and mercy and grace, and we have to be willing to talk openly and awkwardly with issues that make us all feel a little uncomfortable.
In researching for the book, I read lots of books that give scientific and physiological research to back up what the Bible has always taught us about what’s right, what’s wrong, how it affects our brains, how it affects our body – endorphins, adrenaline, oxytocin – and the parts of the brain that light up during physical contact and the parts of the brain that store those memories. There was always a design in God’s mind when He made the human body and He never made us to experience sex and forget about it. We are designed to remember it forever and ever.
Q: Why do many parents leave talking about this important topic up to the church?
One reason why parents don’t teach their children how to live a godly, pure life is because parents themselves don’t know how to. They look at porn themselves. A dad confessed to me, “The reason why I don’t have filters on the internet at our house” – and this is a man who had gotten caught and lost his marriage over it, he said – “I wanted HBO and Cinemax in my house because I was watching that stuff.” It’s a big 800-pound gorilla in the room and we need to be talking about it with parents. Some of the kids who do the True Love Project curriculum live in homes where Mom and Dad aren’t really connected to their teenager’s heart for purity because Mom and Dad don’t really know how to be pure themselves.
Q: How do teens pursue purity into adulthood?
My wife and I are very honest and very transparent in the book about how we are continuing to fight for purity. We have been married for almost 15 years. You have to hate the temptation, starve the temptation and outsmart the temptation. So the same tools that apply to purity as a teenager are the same principles that apply as a young adult, as a young professional, as a married, into your 40s and 50s.