© April 17, 2018 | Schulter Etyang
Over the years, counsel given to Christian singles and those seeking to marry and even remarry has bemused me. Some of the counsel given through pre-marital counselling sessions, books on dating and courtship, or even from one Christian to another to Christian singles and those who have experienced the sad loss of a marriage through divorce or death has been strange, if not outright unbiblical.
I listened to a preacher on Christian television read out a list of things you should ask your potential mate before saying, “I do.” The list was long and detailed. His message went viral. People lapped it up. Yet, if you listened closely to what he said, only a chosen few could meet his criteria. Most of what is counsel on dating sound like the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 – You shall and You shall not. The Ten Commandments were based on a reward system. If you kept them, you got blessed. If you didn’t, you were cursed.
The problem with counsel that emphasizes on steps and laws is it puts people into two categories – those who make the cut and those who fail to make the cut. The ones that make the cut feel proud and self-righteous and the ones that don’t make the cut are left reeling with feelings of unworthiness, guilt and condemnation. Those who make the cut enter marriage with false assumptions and those who fail refuse to enter marriage, and even when they do, they do so with a lot of inhibitions.
The 40-year-old Virgin
The one advice that I find most odd though is the idea that if you are still a virgin by the time you get married, you have a higher percentage point of success than those who enter marriage having had pre-marital sex. Is this true? Is this scriptural?
Pre-marital sex is a big no-no within most religious circles. Within some Christian circles, singles are encouraged to wear purity rings to indicate their commitment to stay pure until they get married. At a surface level, this sounds really spiritual. But is it?
The film, The 40-year-old Virgin featuring Steve Carrell is a crude but funny film that depicts the life of Andy Stitzer (Steve Carrell) as a 40-year-old adult man who has never had sex. Andy is depicted in the film as weird and out of touch with the world. His colleagues then set up encounters to lure him to break his virginity and join their ranks. During the film, Andy meets Trish on the sales floor and start dating. Long story short, Andy and Trish marry and the film ends on this cheery note.
Films like these reinforce this idea that if you stay in the straight and narrow, you will fly away into bliss and live happily ever after. Yet we don’t know what happened to Andy and Trish after the credits rolled. Why? It is a film. It is all fictitious.
So let’s unravel this claim that if you are a virgin or abstain before marriage, that you have a higher percentage of success. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being a virgin before marriage is not surety of a long and successful marriage. Conversely, not being a virgin is not warranty for failure in marriage. Studies show that 90% of Christians are not virgins when they enter into marriage. This high number is simply due to the fact that many Christians were (past tense) unsaved sinners. Unsaved sinners do what unsaved sinners do — they sin — they sleep around — they fornicate.
Therefore, it is preposterous to suggest that a major reason why Christian marriages succeed is that both spouses were virgins before they got hitched. If so, then 90% of Christians have no chance.
Marriages don’t succeed because the spouses were virgins before they got married. Conversely, marriages don’t fail because the couple was promiscuous or had engaged in pre-marital sex. There are lots of marriages of both the chaste and the impure that implode.
Being a virgin before marriage is not surety of a long and successful marriage. Conversely, not being a virgin is not warranty for failure in marriage.
Marriages succeed and fail based on a combination of factors and not just simply because one was a virgin or not before they made their vows. Being a virgin or not is not the recipe for success or failure in marriage. When this kind of view is taught, people enter marriage with inhibitions and those that were virgins enter it with pride and rely on their own strength to do marriage.
What is self-righteousness? For the Christian, self-righteousness is anything that you depend on other than who Jesus is and what he did for you. If you are trying to derive your significance, hope and identity, on anything other than Jesus, then you are self-righteous.
If you are relying on your virginity and purity as the basis for a good marriage, then you are self-righteous. On the flip side, if you have despaired because of your many sins you did before marriage, you are also self-righteous. The virgin is relying on their good works and the impure one is also relying on their bad works. Both are in self-righteousness.
This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus comes to us and says, “I am your righteousness”. Jesus says to the virgin, “Don’t look to your good works for success. Look to me. I qualify you. I define you. I love you.” He also says to the promiscuous one, “Don’t look to your sins for failure. Look to me. I qualify you. I define you. I love you.”
For the Christian, self-righteousness is anything that you depend on other than who Jesus is and what he did for you.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong advocate for pre-marital counselling. I am for Christ-centered, gospel affirming and spirit led counselling. This is counselling that points people to Jesus and the gospel of grace. This is counselling that aims to help people see how sinful they really are and at the same time show them how loved they are. This type of counselling approach helps couples apply the gospel to issues such as sex, finances, generational patterns, character issues, parenting etc. If this is it, then I’m all in.
Marriage for honoured failures
Tim Keller has this working definition for Christians. He calls Christians, “ honoured failures.” Christians are people who don’t have all their acts together and yet they are so honoured by their father. Therefore, when a Christian couple gets hitched, they come together as “honoured failures” willing to rely on the perfect one – Jesus – to make their marriage work. In and of themselves they won’t succeed. I have written before and said marriage is for weak, impure, sinful, fearful, and foolish people. Marriage is not for strong, pure, self-righteous, bold and wise people.
Marriage is for weak, impure, sinful, fearful, and foolish people.
People outside the Christian faith should know that our marriages work not because we are good people but because we are “honoured failures”. It’s in our failures that God really gets to use and work within our marriages.
To the single
If you are pure and intend to stay that way till you get married, then we root for you. Please stay pure. Stay excited about the future. God will bless you with a spouse not because you are pure, but because He is good to you. Your marriage will succeed not because you were a virgin, but because you built it on the Rock, Christ Jesus.
To the married
If you weren’t a virgin when you got married, cheer up. It’s not over. You could still enjoy your marriage (coming from someone that’s only been married for 7 years) What a joke! The experienced ones roll their eyes – as if experience makes a marriage work.
If you are haunted by thoughts of your impure actions before you got married, you need to consider this. Please consider that Jesus is your holiness and righteousness. You are holy and righteous because He is holy and righteous. (1 Corinthians 1:30) His holiness and righteousness have been imputed to you. God accepts you as He has accepted Jesus. Hopefully, if you allow this truth to sink deep into your heart, you will relax and enjoy your marriage.
That’s what grace looks like