According to tradition, the seven virtues of the Christian life are kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity. These character qualities embody the new self that Christians are called to put on in Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). In this seven-part series, we will familiarize ourselves with each of the seven virtues, with the goal of developing new habits befitting our new selves in Christ.
Properly defined, chastity is intentionally choosing to refrain from immoral sexual activity. Immoral sexual activity can be defined as physical acts with or entertaining sexual thoughts about people who are not one’s spouse. This virtue applies to married couples and singles alike.
It is important to note that virginity is not synonymous with being chaste. It is possible to be a chaste, sexually active married person; it is also possible to be an unchaste virgin. That’s because chastity is primarily concerned with respecting others and cherishing and honoring the sanctity of marriage. Chastity has less to do with whether or not someone is sexually active and more to do with their behavior in and outside of marriage.
From the first marriage of Adam and Eve in the garden, God created sexual desire to motivate men and women to enter the sacred covenant relationship of marriage, which is reserved for one man and one woman and is intended to be for life. Marriage is a good gift from God; it should be delighted in and protected. Scripture tells us, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). It is good, natural, and beautiful for a husband and wife to be intimately united together as one flesh (Gen. 2:24). As Paul explains, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Cor. 7:3).
Chastity requires refraining from entertaining sexual thoughts and engaging in sexual acts while not married, and when married, remaining faithful to one’s spouse (Job 31:1). Habits of chastity can include dressing modestly, being self-controlled in dating relationships, looking to Jesus for our ultimate satisfaction, and not using others for our physical or sexual pleasure. For those who are married, chastity includes the giving of oneself to a spouse and honoring them and God with one’s body, heart, and mind.
Chastity’s opposite is the vice of lust, and it plagues both men and women. In the final chapter of her book Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung describes lust and how it distorts us, noting:
Lust makes sexual pleasure all about me. It is a self-gratification project…In lust, sexual pleasure is divorced from love and mutual self-giving. And when we lust we certainly want nothing to do with giving life and the future commitments that might bring…I want my pleasure, says the lustful one, and I want it now.
Lust wants all of the pleasures but none of the responsibility that accompanies sexual desire. Lust is unable to give of itself; it only takes. It takes away from the beauty of the unity between a man and a woman, the gift of new life, and the commitment of a covenant union before God.
The vice of lust has plagued humanity throughout history. But today, in our auditory and visually stimulated and pornography-saturated society that prizes anonymity, there are more temptations than ever to succumb to the temptations of lust. Moreover, television commercials, shows, movies, billboards, social media advertisements, and sexually suggestive songs reinforce the notion that modesty and chastity are concepts from an old-fashioned, bygone era. But for Christians who take their cues from Scripture rather than the culture, it is important to remember that God’s standard hasn’t changed. In fact, the standard of purity outlined in God’s Word is still binding on followers of Jesus (Mat. 5:28).
Unlike our secular culture, which either mocks chastity or declares it impossible, Scripture places a tremendous value on the virtue of chastity. For example, Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” (1 Thess. 4:3-6a). Lust does not honor the image of God in others or who God has called us to be as ambassadors for Christ.
Rather than indulge in the passions of the flesh, Christians are exhorted to “walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:13-14). Lust says “yes” to the old self and the desires of sinful flesh, but chastity says “yes” to the new self which is in Christ Jesus. Like all virtues, chastity requires courage to walk away, to close one’s eyes, and renew one’s mind (Rom. 12:1) for the glory of God and the honor of others.
Throughout this series on virtue and vice, we have considered what it means for a Christian to put on the new self. As we seek to become more like Christ, we must courageously resolve to fight against the vices in our lives, which represent the old self, and put on kindness, humility, diligence, charity, patience, temperance, and chastity, which befit the new self. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).