4 Min Read

In a recent music review, NPR’s Ann Powers gushed over a female artist’s decadent and unrestrained sensuality that apparently runs throughout her latest album. It is not surprising that the recent release was the opposite of chaste, or that Powers celebrated its “utopian eroticism” as a great virtue. Chastity, the virtue of self-control in things sexual and sensual, is supposedly a relic of a puritanical past.

But it’s not that simple, is it? Most of my neighbors still want and expect their spouses to be faithful. They teach their children, with varying degrees of success, not to become sexually active, view pornography, or use vulgar language. So maybe chastity is not as much a relic as pop culture and social media may suggest.

Then again, when was the last time you read a piece by a contemporary author commending the virtue of chastity, or even heard the word used in a positive, non-fetishized way? The loss of chastity—and of commending it as a common virtue—is more tragic than any of us probably realize. That much of the church seems to be silent is sobering too.

Chastity is an exquisitely beautiful form of love. It is love that is genuine, true, undivided in its devotion, and fulfills its vows (see Ps. 51:10; Rom. 12:9; 2 Cor. 11:2; Phil. 1:10). Love that “issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Paul writes that this type of love is, “the aim of our charge” and the mark of “sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:5, 10–11). It is Christlike love.

The virtue of chastity shines a spotlight on the purity of love. As God is pure, so also are His words, wisdom, and deeds (Pss. 12:6; 19:7–11; Hab. 1:13; James 3:17). Those who represent God in church office, therefore, are to faithfully embody the purity of His love. The evidence of a candidate’s purity of heart and mind is found, among other places, in his faithful and undivided devotion to his wife (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).

All married couples, not just church officers, are called to display the love of Christ and His church through marital fidelity (Eph. 5:22–33). The seventh commandment teaches as much in its universal proscription of adultery (Ex. 20:14; Deut. 5:18). Adultery is a self-destructive folly (see Prov. 6:32) that arises from an untrue or divided heart (Mark 7:20–23) and is biblical grounds for divorce (Matt. 19:3–9). Adultery is a marriage-destroying act and is, therefore, the epitome of unchastity.

Chastity, the virtue of self-control in things sexual and sensual, is supposedly a relic of a puritanical past.

Chastity is the form of love that fulfills the seventh commandment. On one hand, chaste people restrain, deny, and mortify the impure passions of their soul and the lustful impulses of indwelling sin. On the other hand, as Christ gave Himself for His people, chaste people give themselves fully, freely, and undividedly to the other. In worship, that is to God; in marriage, that is to their spouse; in other relationships, that is to their brother or sister or neighbor, according to what is proper to each relationship. Hence, Paul instructs Timothy to treat “an older man . . . as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1–2; Titus 2). Chastity gives to each person what he or she is due and does no one wrong.

Unchaste people give rein to their impure passions and sinful impulses. They are consumed by lust however mild or wild their lustful conduct may be. Lust seeks only its own satisfaction and gives only to get what it wants. In this way, lust turns even the most intimate relationships into transactional affairs. The effects are devastating. Thomas Watson remarks, “Since the fall, holy love has degenerated to lust. Lust is the fever of the soul.”1

The unchaste soul is sick with the fever of lust. Contrary to Christ, lust does not serve others openly and freely but reduces them, in mind and act, to objects of self-gratification. The lustful person moves through the world like a hurricane, sweeping up everything around it in a desperate effort to fill the void within, leaving a wake of destruction in its path. An unchaste soul is sick with lust and ruinous in all it does. That soul does not know the blessing of receiving, much less of giving, but only varying degrees of want, desperation, and strife.

Christ is the opposite of all this. He took up His cross, denied Himself, and exercised self-control on levels impossible for us to comprehend to make a perfect satisfaction of sin on behalf of His sinful people. Here is the husband who is always faithful, always true, and always fully, freely, and undividedly devoted to His one and only bride, however unworthy she may be. He loves her and is sanctifying her that she might “be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:10–11). Our Lord calls His people to imitate Him with such chastity of heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

This article is part of the Virtues and Vices collection.

  1. Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 153.